From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Cards for Mom

I’d lost my dad three years earlier, and my mom was visiting for what I suspected would be the last time. We still were hoping that there’d be a rally. We thought she might be able to beat brain cancer the way she’d beaten lung cancer, but we weren’t nearly as confident.

My “white tornado” of a mother—so named because the cleaning product ad reminded us of her whirlwind energy—was suddenly weak. She was becoming accepting instead of being the defiant warrior we’d observed during her first battle with cancer. I recognized the signs of impending death because I’d too recently been through it with Dad.

Mom pulled a box from her suitcase just before she left and she handed it to me, asking me not to open it for a few months. I knew what that meant, and I braved out the next few hours with her, only cracking as she drove away. The tears seemed to flow from then until Christmas Eve. The call that she was gone came just as we were leaving to drive the seven hours to be by her side. I’d seen her many times since she’d left the box for me. We’d talked about everything but what was really happening.

The week of Christmas passed in a blur. My sisters and I all tried to salvage the holiday for our children even as we were coming to terms with the fact that we no longer would be able to lean on the strength of our parents.

I’d been home from the funeral for several weeks before I even remembered the box . . . a few more weeks before I could bring myself to open it. I steeled myself with a cup of tea (the panacea used by all Scottish girls) and sat cross-legged on the floor to open the battered blue file box that my mother had left to me.

To my surprise, the box was full of greeting cards. My mother, the same one who’d incurred my wrath as a teenager for indiscriminately throwing out my treasures, had saved every single card we’d ever sent to her. The card on top was a recent one, a get-well card from her time in the hospice, received while she’d been fighting her first cancer. It was from my sister. Inside my mother had written her own note to us about how much it had meant to her that we’d been there for her and with her. Her spidery writing reached out to me from the card and made me cry.

I dug to the middle of the box and came up with an anniversary card from another sister who had been sixteen when it was sent. My heart skipped as I saw that there was another note written from Mom inside, in a bolder hand: “Hen, I’m looking at you and Terry and feeling so proud of what a beautiful woman you’re becoming. Seeing you with your first boyfriend makes me look forward to the day when I’m sending you anniversary cards, too.”

Mom’s reserved Scottish upbringing kept her from lavishing praise out loud, yet every card, from the fanciest store-bought ones to the crudest childish drawings, was etched with my mom’s hopes and dreams for us. More than that, these were the words she rarely expressed to us in life. She was proud of us. She loved us. She thought we were wonderful. We’d always known these things, but in her urgency to see us succeed and surpass her goals for us, more often she’d push and nag us.

I could see evidence of her own tears on the card that was signed by her first grandchild. I read of her joy as each of us married the men who would become the sons of her heart. I laughed as she shared her worries for us in a voice I could hear as clearly as if she were standing next to me.

I was suddenly hungry to see my own cards. I quickly found one. Reading it, I began to sob. I reached for another . . . and another. Over and over, my mom told me I was beautiful and smart and funny. She wrote about how much it meant to her that I chose cards that were so beautiful and then put my own lovely words on them. She told me she wished she could express herself as well as I could.

In the months that followed, I wished I could have told her that the way she had expressed herself on all those cards would help her four daughters through some of the hardest days of their lives. And that she’d left behind a more lasting legacy than anything else she could have done.

The blue box is much lighter now that I’ve given the appropriate cards to each of my sisters, but there’s a new layer forming. After each holiday, every card that I receive is put into the box with my own heartfelt message—and the vow that I’ll say those words out loud as often as I can.

Even so, I will leave my own stack of cards behind so they can buoy up my dear ones when I’m gone, and keep my love for them alive . . . the way my mother’s cards have for me.

Mary Ann Christie

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