When your mother was little, she listened to Chopin while she slept at night. She’d say how she loved the quiet sound of the piano. Sometimes, I’d peek in on her after she’d fallen asleep. She looked so beautiful resting amongst her pink and purple sheets. She had soft, cream-kissed skin and flaxen-streaked hair. Cuddled up under her covers, arms strecthed out across her pillow, she reminded me of a water-colored illustration from a children’s book – too picturesque to be real.
It may be hard to imagine your mom this way. That’s why I’m writing you this letter. You see, I understand what you’re going through because I went through it, too. Your mom’s a tough old broad. And I want you to know she was just as tough when she was seven. Though I’m not around to help you out anymore, I want you to promise me that you will look after her always. Be patient, understanding and kind with her. Because as cantankerous as she may get at times, rattling off complaints and barking commands, there’s a beautiful little girl inside who had to grow up awfully fast.
I hope your children are always healthy. May you never see them suffer. Children are a gift of song. When that song is quieted, when it wanes or falters in its pitch, you realize how deeply it is rooted in your heart. Its absence deafens.
There was a girl once, only four years old, who had the most vibrant smile I’d ever seen. When she spoke her eyes widened to sing out blue. She smiled often, raising cheekbones to the skies, showing dainty teeth in the curve of her miraculous mouth. She laughed so hard it tickled others. And she spoke with wit – a wit so vibrant people would stop and admire the verse that streamed from her cupid-bow lips. This was your mom – a bubbly, dreamy, charming girl.
Then came the cancer. I never cried so much as when your mom was sick. My little girl, so sick. She was remarkably strong. For a long time she soldiered on, determined to get better. And she did get better. But the cancer changed her. She grew tired. I remember looking at her one night while she lay asleep. Chopin lingered and cast a melancholy hue. Your mom was thin and pale and very weak. The cancer robbed her of energy. It crippled her for awhile, forcing her to crawl from room to room and go to school in a wheelchair. It shuttered her marvelous eyes. The lids opened grudgingly. Her smile faded, only hinting at its brilliance. And the words that once rolled so eloquently off her tongue, they mixed together and slushed out in incomprehensible expressions.
She was very cranky then, mostly taking out her frustration on your uncle. She was never satisfied. She blamed him for just about everything. If her food was cold it was Lucas’ fault. If she couldn’t find her favorite book, she was certain Lucas had lost it. If not one thing, it was another. Sometimes he ignored her and sometimes they went at it, throwing a boisterous row that me or your Gram would have to end. She was cranky with us, too. At the hospital she’d sass us and order us about. She often went too far, speaking to us disrespectfully. We tried to keep her in her place, but sometimes we let her be a bitch. Yes, I said it. I know you’ve thought it (but never said it, because your mom raised you properly). That girl has an uncanny gift for bitching.
So, this is why I’m writing to you. I know what a pill your mom can be. And as she’s getting older I’m sure she’s getting more difficult. She doesn’t like the things she cannot control, and aging, I’m afraid, is uncontrollable. She needs you. She loves you. She’s earned the right to be a bit hard around the edges. If you knew what she’s been through, if you saw the raw courage she mustered, if you were there to see her body possessed by seizures or beleagured by chemicals, you would understand why she occasionally blasts bully with words. But she loves you. She loves her family and she thrives on life. Give her both in ample doses.
You have always known her as a strong woman. She has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. She is bright, ambitious and bursting with character. But there was a time when much of her life was in doubt. There was once concern that she might not ever be able to have children of her own. But look in the mirror and see that life has its own way of interpreting prophecy. Your mother is a wonderful, buoyant spirit. Aging will not come easy to her, yet she will do it with her own grace and in spite of convention. I cannot comfort her now, but she doesn’t need me. She has you. Ignore her biting insults. Appease her relentless requests. Hold her hand and run your fingers over her wrinkled fingers. Tell her that you love her. Look deep into her wise and restless eyes to find the little girl who happily slept to the tinkling of Chopin, and tell her a simple joke while sitting close by her side. Then tell her that I love her, too.
I know that you will make me proud as your mother has made me before. And when you are frustrated and feeling exhausted because she’s being difficult, think of me and your Gram. Think of us standing by you, encouraging you to take a deep breath and count to three. We’ll be there with you, while you make the old broad happy. And she’ll be there for you throughout the days of your life.
Thank you for taking care of our little girl.