In a rediscovered letter, a dying mother says goodbye to her young daughter
‘When we bought two (copy) books for your homework so that you had the opportunity to use the one ”like all the others” I made up my mind to write a long, long letter to you in the one you didn’t need.
”This is a letter I want you to have by you through life and when you read it then it will be a bit of mummy with you. So often life is lonely and it is in little ways we can comfort ourselves.
”As a little girl and even now at the great age of 10 years and four months you sucked your finger at moments of stress, boredom and loneliness.
”You are a happy, truthful and obedient girl and it may be that those of lesser qualities may often hurt and perplex you. Always try to forgive them darling, to be truthful is so very important — in Shakespeare’s Hamlet there is a famous quotation; it goes like this I think: ‘This above all, to thine ownself be true; and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’
”It means that if you always live your life in the way you know deep down to be right then you’ll never hurt anyone.
”When we look back it is the happy times that stand out and you and I have had many, we had our two lovely sea trips to South Africa and back, we’ve had wonderful outings from here and always you’ve been a delightful companion. One day you’ll have a little girl of your own I hope and know the happiness, heartaches and love I’ve known with you. Not one minute of it all do I want to forget, ‘cept that perhaps at times I’ve been cross and I’ve always been busy either running a house or else working as I’ve had to do the last year, that many times I’ve wished to be fresher and more eager to play with you.”
”We none of us know what the future holds for us and if at times you feel lonely and that the way is uphill or hard just smile, treasure, and remember that the very next day may be lovely. One day when you are grown up you’ll find that has its troubles too, but I know that it is easier for grown-ups to cope ‘cos over the years they gain wisdom.
”I want to talk a little about money for it is a fearfully bothersome thing. One day when you are 21 you will inherit money. Now when one has never had any money of one’s own the temptation is to suddenly buy everything — don’t darling unless it is a great want. Much better to have a little ‘put away’ in case an even greater want comes along.
”If a woman has money of her own when she marries then I think she is wisest to keep it and not let her husband take it over for once it is gone there is no reclaiming it and one never knows what circumstances might arise in which that little bit of money of your own would be very useful.
”I wonder if you’ll be a career girl or not, I wish I’d been able to provide for your future education but that was not to be and life is what we make it so I guess you’ll get where you want to be. I pray somebody will make life happy for you — love the world and the world will love you.
”There are so many things to say and so little time to say them, life is like that so much unsaid, so much undone at the end of each day. All I want to do is think of the lovely times we’ve had, I hope you will be able to remember them too — that lovely warm day we went to Carisbrooke Castle and saw the donkey in the well house, remember the rosy apples in the cottage gardens.
”There will be little things which will be yours now to help you remember me — Grandpa and Auntie Pat may think it wiser to keep them for you for a few years. The broach was left me by Great-Great Aunt Fanny; she was your Granny’s mother’s sister.
”The silver brush and comb set were one of my 21st presents. The silver candlesticks and cigarette case Daddy gave me.”
”I expect most of the things will have to be sold darling for there just isn’t room to keep them and they are costly to move about.
”I hope you keep a few of the books, two lovely ones are Celtic Myth and Legend also Classic Myth and Legend.
”I’ve always meant you to be christened into the Church of England darling, perhaps you’ll tell Canon Hill and he will arrange it. Auntie Pat is to be one Godmother, it was all arranged when you were a baby. Then Mummy was ill for so long that by the time she was well you’d grown out of the christening frock and ever after that there seemed to be enough money to buy you a pretty frock for a christening but that doesn’t really matter and I want you to know the comfort of religion as I have done.
”There is never a right time for a mother to say goodbye.”
As an only child at the age of 24, I lost both my parents within 22 weeks of each other. 14 years earlier it was feared my mother would die and this fear was kept from my 10-year-old self, a fact I deeply resented.
22 weeks after my father died I lost my beloved mother to cancer so I was alone when she died having begged the doctor to sedate her as she was so distressed.
As a nurse I was acutely aware of her rapidly deteriorating condition. She died less than three hours later leaving me with just her wedding ring and her door key. I returned to her flat where, having realised that the same procedures for father’s funeral could be followed for mummy’s, I wondered if she had made a will.
This led me to search among her papers and letters where I found my old school copy with its green cover, containing this letter written 14 years previously.
As I finished reading it I reflected on our last conversations when she said: ”If I’ve got cancer I’m not going to believe in God anymore”.
I replied: ”Mummy if you’ve got cancer you’ve got to believe in God even more.”
This letter was first published in the biannual newsletter of the Bethany Bereavement Support Group, a voluntary parish based ministry which aims to help the bereaved and grieving. The name Bethany recalls the visit of Jesus to Mary and Martha on the death of their brother Lazarus.
There are 105 groups throughout the island of Ireland who are trained to offer a support and listening service through one-to-one support or group sessions at a drop-in centre and home visits.
Many Bethany members have themselves been bereaved, and accept those suffering loss as they are, and support them through the grieving process.
”We want to reach out to others who understand what it is like to lose a loved one or to have a traumatic experience — to offer somebody to walk that journey with you,” says chairperson, Winnie Keogh. ”The experiences of the suffering of loss makes you more aware of people going through it. Our volunteers are trained to listen with their head and their heart, and they can stay with the bereaved as long as they wish.”
The Bethany Bereavement Support Group is hosting a weekend for the bereaved next November 23-25 which will be conducted by their chaplain, Fr Myles O’Reilly SJ and the team. See www.bethany.ie for details.