Letter to My Mother

There’s a major and happy milestone for our family happening this week.  It made me think of my mother, and how grateful I am to her.  Though she has passed away (more here), I still think about her influence on me.

So, I a few weeks ago wrote this letter.

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Dear Mom,

I am writing to thank you for the many awesome things I learned from you.  Because you were my mother, I am the person I am today. So, I wanted to thank you:

  1. You gave me my love for cooking.  I remember when I was too young to go to school, and I used to hang out with you. Brigitta [my sister] was away at school and father was working. It was just you and I, hanging out in the Brooklyn apartment. I still remember how you patiently taught me how to crack open eggs and then beat them.  I remember botching it pretty badly, but you were so cool with it.  I remember the awesome birthday parties you threw for me in that apartment, how you would single handedly cook 10+ dishes and have over a huge crowd.  People marveled at how talented you were. Those parties made me feel incredibly safe, warm and loved. You worked so hard for me.  When I started to cook in 3rd grade, you would brag to your friends about my attempts. It made me feel so proud and loved that you were proud of me.  I distinctly remember my campaign to master bagels. In the end, after many tries, they were actually pretty good. I think you spoke with your friends non-stop for months about them.
  1. You encouraged my humor. You loved it when I was goofy. I really enjoyed making you laugh, particularly when you were feeling down that we were living in a tough part of Brooklyn or after you became sick.  So, you really encouraged me to be free to be funny.
  1. You taught me to work hard.  Before you were sick, I remember how you made a hot meal from scratch for every meal.  When I came home from school, you had a freshly prepared meal for me, which was different from dinner.  Before you were sick, the house was spotless. You poured yourself into our lives.  You were full of energy and quick to smile and chuckle. You embraced the work, never complaining.
  1. You taught me to place last my needs.  At meals, you always gave the best pieces of a dish to your children and husband. Today, when I cook a roast chicken, for example, I eat the pieces the others don’t want. I don’t say anything to them, for I am mimicking your behavior and it makes me feel great to do so, that I am giving them a secret gift.
  1. You taught me grit. It must have required true mental strength to deal with almost losing your life a few times, the debilitating effects of dialysis, the numerous surgeries you endured, and later, the rounds of chemo. You tried to keep your sense of humor.  I really admire you for that.
  1. You taught me to be merciful. I still remember your stories about how your family suddenly became homeless, poor, and desperate during the war. How you, your 6 siblings and parents lived in one room with one light bulb.  How embarrassing it was for your father to borrow money from relatives, knowing full well that he couldn’t pay them back. But, yet, when a beggar showed up, your mother always gave money. Wow.
  1. You taught me to study.  You always encouraged me to get a good education. You talked about how your father owned property, but he didn’t have the education to recover when he lost his assets.  I worked like crazy at school. In my jobs, I stayed late. I don’t want to be that father who cannot provide for his family, and so, I work as though my hair is on fire.
  1. You taught me faith. You never lost hope in God.  Near the end, you awoke once. You commented on how cute one of your granddaughters looked in her yellow dress. You then looked at the painting of Christ on the wall, started to pray and fell back asleep. That was the last time I heard your voice or saw you awake.  So, until the end, you prayed.
  1. You motivate me to have character.  At your funeral vigil, there were 700+ people.  There was no room in the church. It was insanely packed.  Many actually left because they couldn’t hear anything outside, even though the church doors were open, because there were so many people spilling out the doors. You didn’t graduate from college. You didn’t write a book.  You weren’t on TV. But, you were famous for your love. So many people whom I didn’t recognize came up to me at the wake to tell stories about your compassion, mercy and acts of love.  At your funeral Mass, I thought about my fancy Ivy League degrees, the money I’ve made, the career success I had.  And, I realized that my accomplishments paled to yours.

I could go on, mother.

How I miss you!  We had such a special bond, didn’t we?  I really am my mother’s son.

Your grateful son,

Jo

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