A Mother’s Letter
By Robin Patterson
I wish I could express to you the deepest sorrow that I feel at this time. No one could understand, save they, too, have buried one of their own. That is something that every parent fears. But I suppose that even they who have buried their own could not fully understand my grief. I try not to think about it too often, but the memories are still fresh in my mind.
I remember the day that I brought you into the world. Things were different then. I don’t remember exactly when they started allowing fathers into the delivery room, but it wasn’t too long after you were born. I don’t know if your father would have been there, even if he had been allowed. You know how old-fashioned he was. I still miss him.
I wish you could have gotten to know him better. I fear that you were denied one of the most wonderful opportunities because he passed away when you were only ten. He was a good man, the best I have ever known. I was proud to know him, even prouder to call him my friend and husband. He worked so hard, so that you would have a life that was relatively problem-free. That’s not to say that we went without problems.
I pleaded with him to not take that last job. He didn’t say much. He let me yell at him while he just sat there. Finally, when I was too exhausted to yell at him any more, he simply said that he had to do it – no other miner had the experience necessary to save those men.
You know, he did save them – every single one of them. Knowing that offers at least some comfort. He was the kind of man that even if he knew the end from the beginning, I truly believe he would have done it anyway. It’s easier to let him go knowing that. Letting you go is so much harder.
I remember fondly your growing up, and all the times you would come into the house crying. Sometimes it was because the other children wouldn’t play with you, sometimes it was because you had fallen and scraped your knee, and sometimes it was because you had lost your ball. Somehow you believed, somehow you knew that I could make it all better. I was okay with letting you think that.
I suppose I’m no different than any other mother who wishes that her child would always stay that age. I would bake you cookies, I would kiss each scrape, I would bandage every bruise until the day I died if I could. I think that that is one of those prayers that God doesn’t answer because He knows that there are much richer blessings – and heartaches – in store in watching your children get older. Mothers just don’t have the wisdom to understand that until it is done, and we would very likely deny ourselves those blessings if we were given the opportunity.
You see, son, a mother needs to be needed. That is what brings her her greatest joy. I suppose that is what makes part of every child’s growth, and particularly your passing, so difficult: you don’t need me anymore. I guess every mother experiences that at some point or another; at least I like to think so. Believing that makes it easier.
There were times that I thought you would never make it to your eighth birthday. No one could have convinced me that it would all be okay, that you would make it through each and every scrape and bump – well… almost each and every.
In some ways I think it’s harder for a mother to watch her child get stitched up than it is for the child. You see, son, there are no visible scars for the mother to show off and brag about – the way that children so often do – once the stitches come out. I do not think any of us would want it that way either. It is one of those unspoken rites of passage that all mothers share. It is the soul stretching that we’ve never asked for, yet wouldn’t trade for anything in the world
I suppose children, too, have their own rites of passage. Even now I don’t think I could have ever told you no when you asked if you could have a puppy. I held off on that for a bit. Children tend to ask for things and then forget about them in a day or two. You were no different in a lot of ways, but not about the puppy.
What impressed me the most was not that you still wanted one, even after a month of “we’ll sees”, but that you started doing extra chores just to prove yourself responsible enough to take care of a pet. How could I say no after that?
The day we brought home your puppy was one of the happiest days of my life. You were smiling the entire day. The two of you made the cutest pair. He loved you so very much. I knew the two of you would be the best of friends.
I was really impressed that this was one gift that you never outgrew. You cared for him the best way that you knew how. I remember all of the tricks that you tried teaching him. That dog was pretty stupid sometimes, but you never gave up on him. And, son, I never gave up on you.
I think that if I had been given the chance to take the pain away, I would have. You never knew that when your dog didn’t come home, I cried the entire night. It’s not that I was overly attached to him or anything. He was a queer dog, but he was yours. I cried because I knew how much you loved him and how much his absence hurt you. I cried because you cried. If you only knew how different the tears that I cry now are.
I remember the day you brought home your first girlfriend. You were so excited when she came over for supper. You wanted us to like her so badly. Sweetie, I want you to know that I did like her, and that I saw in her the kinds of things that you saw in her. Most of all I liked her smile. That smile melted away all my angst and I knew that she genuinely liked you.
I remember your calling me, telling me that she said “yes”. Son, I thought that was the hardest part that I would ever have to deal with. I didn’t want to let you go, yet I knew that I had to. I knew that she loved you as much as I did, and that to hold onto you would be to smother you. Oh how I wish that that really was the hardest part; I wish for that pain now.
You see, that pain has the complexities of both joy and sorrow in it. The pain that I feel now, even as I write this letter knowing that it can only be delivered to your grave, is far, far worse – there is no joy in this pain.
More than anything else I wish that I could see the end from the beginning now. I wish I knew how to stop the chaos. I doubt anyone recognizes the signs at the beginning. It only starts off with a drink or two to celebrate; it turns into an out-of-control, vicious cycle.
I watched as you attended your support groups – I even believed that you would make it. I saw your struggling with this demon that had so much power over you. I wish I could pinpoint the time and place where your drinking became more than a social thing. I wish that I could have taken your burden upon myself so that you didn’t have to struggle with it. I would gladly bear it if it meant you would come back. But somewhere inside I know that it cannot be that way.
I think that most parents have ingrained within themselves knowledge that as painful as it is to watch our children go through some of the things they do, we must. We cannot carry your burdens. We would be guilty of a greater crime: depravity of experience. We know that you must learn things for yourselves, even if it doesn’t end as we would like it to.
That night I went over to your house after your wife called me, I knew something was wrong. When she said that you two had been arguing, that it was worse than normal, I knew I had to see if there was something I could do. When she said that you had been drinking, my heart sank. All the scraped knees and name-calling in your youth couldn’t add up to the pain that was in my heart at that moment. I really thought that you would get it this time.
She was crying, absolutely bawling when I got there. You told her that you had decided to give up on not only yourself, but also your family. Oh how my heart ached for her, and for you as well. I couldn’t even begin to understand what you were going through, but, son, we must never give up, ever!
Son, you must know that I love you – you have to know that. But you also have to know that I cannot tolerate certain things. When you came home – still drunk – I hoped that you might consider talking with us for a bit. Even when you and she started arguing again, I hoped. When you started hitting her and strangling her, I knew what had to be done. That is why I grabbed the knife. I knew, then, that you had to be stopped.
Son, I didn’t want to hurt you – I never wanted to hurt you. You have to understand that your actions were unacceptable. You have to understand that. I hope that wherever you are now, you have found peace. I hope that you have found the rest that you have sought for a long time now. I hope that you will forgive me.
I do not apologize at all for what I did. In many ways I feel like it was a stranger that came into the house that night. I do not know what happened to the little boy I once knew, but I hope that he is okay. I hope that he has found his ball; I hope that he has found his dog.