2: A Birthday Letter

2: A Birthday Letter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

A Birthday Letter

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

~Kahlil Gibran

I was a young, stay-at-home mother and there never seemed to be enough money to go around. Thus, on my mother’s birthday, I found myself lacking a present. My father had died when I was in my teens, and my twin brothers lived far away, so if I didn’t acknowledge my mother’s birthday, likely no one would.

My mother worked during the day, and I had a family to cook dinner for and then a young son to put to bed, so a visit seemed impractical. I thought about a quick phone call to wish her a happy birthday but that didn’t feel like enough. Then I realized I could bake her some cookies. I would take them to her house and leave them with a little note for her to find when she got home.

Sitting down to write a few words of good wishes got me to thinking. My mother and I had not always been close. I resented things that happened in my childhood, and I held them against her. Pouring out words of love and respect seemed insincere, but there were plenty of things that I did appreciate, so I decided to list all of them. Pretty soon, I had several pages of genuine heartfelt thoughts, so I wrote a letter to my mother expressing my appreciation for the things she and my father had taught us as children.

They had taught us to live within our means, and not to go into debt other than a mortgage. They taught us that the color of someone’s skin was irrelevant. My mother taught us that helping others in need was its own reward. She taught me to value the elderly by encouraging me to make May Day baskets and valentines for them. My father taught us to be good neighbors by taking care of our home and helping others if they needed a hand. My parents taught us how to work. They taught me that putting a huge dent in the car was an opportunity to learn how to use body putty and paint. My mom taught us how to see the shapes in the clouds and how, if we were patient, we could see shooting stars on a summer’s night. She taught me to appreciate the way the air smelled after a rain.

The list went on and on.

By the time I had finished the two-page birthday letter to my mother, I realized that I had been given everything I really needed as a child. My mother had not been perfect, but overall she was a good mom. My letter had expressed my love and appreciation after all.

I put the cookies on the table in her kitchen, arranged the handwritten letter beside it, and went home. That evening, she called and thanked me. She said it was a wonderful birthday present, and she loved me wholeheartedly. I was busy with dishes and getting my son ready for bed, so I didn’t spend a lot of time on the phone with her and I didn’t understand just how much that letter meant to her.

Two years later, she suffered a fatal heart attack. While cleaning out her house, I came across a photocopy of the birthday letter I had written to her. It was in the drawer of the bedside table in the guest room. I was confused as to why she would make a copy and stash it in the guest room.

But then I got my answer. Room after room, drawer after drawer revealed more photocopies of the same letter. There was one in the kitchen drawer and one taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet. I found one in a drawer in both bathrooms and another in the sofa table in the living room.

The last room I cleaned was her bedroom. By this time, it had become a treasure hunt. I already held nine copies of the letter in my hand when I sat down on her bed. I was bawling by this time and I opened the drawer beside her bed, looking for a tissue. There I found an old handkerchief and as I pulled it out a wrinkled piece of paper fluttered to the floor.

It was the original birthday letter. It had been smoothed over and over again. I realized that my homemade birthday gift was the best present I could have ever given my mother. It seems that the best things we gave to each other weren’t really things at all.

~Marcia Wells

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners