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Too many times we think things and feel things and never say them out loud. Sometimes the people that we love best may not truly know how we feel or what we admire or appreciate about them.

Mama, I don’t want to not say these things to you.

You are my center. My core. The heart that beats in my chest – you made that. You put it there and you taught me how to love the whole world with it.

You inspire me. You have since before I remember. I watched you put yourself and your needs behind mine my whole life. You didn’t just place your needs and desires second, no you placed them no higher than fourth – after those of your three children. Often you were even further down the line to have the things you wanted or needed. You also put your needs behind those of your husband. Behind the needs of your job. Yours also came after your friends and family. You gave to everybody else first. Always. I remember. You went without – too many times – so that others could have.

I remember one time, long ago, we had no car. I don’t remember you complaining about it. I remember you making it fun for us kids when we walked to the grocery store with you. You never focused on what we didn’t have, you focused on what we did have – each other. And even better, you taught us kids to see the world that way too. I am thankful for those lessons still today. Life is always an adventure if you let it be. You taught me that. And it’s true. “Count your blessings” you said. And just so you know, I do. Every day. 

I remember many times that you worked two and even three jobs at a time. It wasn’t to support a lavish lifestyle or questionable habits. You worked your work, then worked your other work, then came home and worked on making us kids do right. I was there. I saw you work and be tired and then work again and be exhausted. But you never ever turned me away when I came to you with my world falling apart, you worked until that was fixed too. I remember.

I remember way way back. When you and Daddy stopped being married. I was too little to know anything about the details. But I do remember a few things. I remember that you held your sadness in as hard as you could, until we were safely tucked into our beds at night. That’s when, and only when, you would allow that grief. You had that time privately so it didn’t worry us. I was too little then to understand, but I know now that even then, in your toughest times, you were concerned about our little hearts more than your own.

I didn’t know how to tell you then, but my biggest sad was knowing you were sad. I still remember that feeling of knowing you were hurting and knowing I was too little to make you better. Now that I’m a grown up woman, I can understand better what you were going through. You were so strong and courageous and you kept going even though I know you just wanted to stop. I never want you to be sad again. You deserve all the pretty things.

I remember all those years you worked with disadvantage kids. High school kids mostly who were having a tough time of it. I got to go stay at the group home with you sometimes. When you and my step father were the house parents, those kids were healing. I saw it happen. They were angry. Some were mistreated and abused. You two helped them see that there are people in this world who care enough to listen to their real live human thoughts and feelings.

I have seen the look on their faces when they’ve shown up on your doorstep twenty years later – all grown up with a marriage and children and jobs of their own. I’ve watched their eyes fill with love and tears as they grabbed you and hugged you and told you thank you for changing their lives. Wow. That sure makes a girl proud of her Mama.

You are an amazing example of womanhood. You’re a tough act to follow. I saw you nurture your marriage. I saw you love my step father, even when he was hard to love you kept right on.

I saw you turn hard times into fun times. You took the simplest of things and turned them into magic. You have a gift for lighting up the dark and putting smiles on the faces of the people who love you. You are so very special.

I have watched you lift others up, even when they were trying to drag you down. You have even stood proudly by your children after we’ve done things that hurt your heart. You didn’t chastise, you nurtured and protected us, and even more, you would gently remind us of who we were and where we came from. You inspired us to do better. To be more. It’s a beautiful thing that continues to shape my life. The voice in my head – my conscience – my guardian – is your voice.

Damn girl. Do you know how strong you are? I do. Everyone who knows you does. I just hope you know. You are also beautiful. I want you to know this too. You are a beautiful and lovely and amazing woman. You have to know this, I never want you to feel less than precious.

I saw you lose what you love, more than one time. I saw you handle it. The world doesn’t stop for broken hearts. You taught me that. You didn’t just tell me, you showed me, that life turns and twists on you and a good woman wades straight ahead through the muck with her head high and a plan for the future.

One of the side effects of you working so much and so hard, was that we spent more time with our grandparents than most kids get to. You gave us kids a dear and special relationship with two of the most beautiful people in the world. You shared the people who made you, the people who have loved you the longest, you shared them with us. We gained a wonderful perspective of this precious world by having all three of you be our caretakers and our teachers.

You made our childhood a time of wonder. I remember how you would check us out of school for spontaneous surprise trips to the beach. I will never forget you waking us up early, before daylight, to go have chocolate milk and donuts in the park. I remember us kids, bare footed and free on the river bank, building sand turtles and memories, climbing trees and jumping out into the running water. You knew those would be the good memories, and you gave them to us. Thank you.

Looking back, I know that I was not an easy child to raise. I was hard headed and stubborn and rebellious. I had a strong sense of independence, that you taught me, and sometimes that gift you gave me made it harder to parent me. I realize that now. And I hope you know that I’m sorry for every time I didn’t listen to you or follow your advice. Your advice was always right. I had a stumble or two or twelve before realizing that. But you let me realize those things on my own.

That takes a special kind of strength and love – to watch your child make a bad decision and let her own it – and its consequences. But you did that. You never tried to control me. You realized I was my own person and let me have the freedom to live and learn and fall and get back up on my own. I love you so much for that. And I’m proud of you for that – for letting all of us kids have the freedom to be human.

You taught me the value of a woman. When I was just learning how to try and become a grown-up, you answered my questions – even the ones I didn’t know I had. You taught me to value my mind and my body. To love myself and treat myself respectably. You taught me what a good woman is worth and how a good woman should behave. And still today, I still want to do better. I fall and I fail. A lot. But I want you to know that I am still trying to grow into the promise you saw when I was just a little girl.

You encouraged me to follow my dreams. And even when my dreams took me far away, and you didn’t want me to be far away, I watched you put your feelings aside and encourage me to go. You put me on the bus, the airplane, whatever it took, you said goodbye and packed me up and watched me go – even though you wanted to hold me close, you let me go so that I could realize what the world held for me.

Thank you for all the inspiring and uplifting letters you sent when I was overseas or living far away in this country. I’m not sure if I ever told you, but those gave me fuel. You nourished my soul even when there was a vast ocean separating us. You are that kind of powerful.

Then you did it twice again with my brother and little sister. I know now that must have ripped at your heart. But you stood strong and tall and proud and packed us all up to go chase our passions. And you stayed behind and kept the home fires burning – kept our place warm and ready for us when we needed to run back home. No matter where we headed, you maintained our good safe place so when the world got tough you’d be able to gather us together again in your arms, under your roof, and love us up so that we could recharge and go face it again. You ARE our home.

I saw a little light go out of your eye when your Mother left this world. I saw a piece of you leave with her and it’s never been back. I will miss her forever. I know you’ll miss her even longer. If there is any tiny little bit of consolation, please know that you are also her. Just like I am also you. Just like she took part of you with her, she left the best parts of herself here with you. She’s still right there, beating in your chest. Right there where you keep the love.

I watched you have cancer. I have never been more afraid of anything in my life. And because you raised me to be a strong girl, I tried real hard to make you think I wasn’t scared to absolute hell. I couldn’t even imagine that this world could possibly go on turning without you in it. It was just not an option. I watched you be strong and courageous and I don’t remember you once acting like you were scared too. You actually comforted and reassured us during that time. There you were, with goddamned cancer, and instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you simply did what only a good Mother could – you held OUR hands and told us that we would all, together, make it through. I love that about you so much. I see other women who cry and whine and pout and complain over small things. You don’t do that. Not even when it’s a big thing. You amaze me. You handled it. And you healed. And you quit cancer. You are a survivor – in so many different ways. I admire you and I am so proud of you.

My heart broke to pieces when my step father died. Yours shattered into that sorrow even deeper than I could imagine. It was more than sad. It was unbearable, heart-sickening. We still don’t talk about it much. We just know that we’re missing something now. It’s just the four of us again – and none of us wanted it to be that way. Another light went out in your eye then. But you have to know that he knew that we loved him. I’m sure that he still listens, because I know you still have conversations with him. He still listens.

We’ve all walked through some tough times. Looking back it’s easy to see where our capacity to persevere came from. You have always helped us to see the bigger picture, to look beyond difficulties and find the positive in any situation. Thank you for that too. Thank you for happy memories and fun times and always holding my hand when the storms rolled through.

You’ve got the grandbabies now. You have a place in their hearts now and you have so much to teach them. I want them to know what kind of woman you are. I want them to see that a good woman isn’t a frail and fragile creature – she’s tough minded and tender hearted, she’s wild and free and grounded and home, she’s magical and mysterious and oh so valuable. You are these things and your grandchildren will know this because there’s you, right there loving them and teaching them and showing them that the world is a beautiful place – even in the darkest nights and strongest storms there is a safe place always waiting for them, right there in your arms and your heart.

Those little sparkles that go out in an eye when a loved one passes can surely rekindle as you look at your children’s children. I want us to show them the world you showed us when we were small. I want them to see all the beauty and goodness and magic that is waiting for them if they will only open their eyes and minds and hearts to it. Teach them like you taught us – that every day is an adventure if you let it be. That even in times of sorrow love will lead you home and love will ultimately heal all wounds.

You are a good wife, a good mother, a good grandmother, a good sister, a good daughter. Most of all, you are a good woman – a woman of deep value and extreme worth – the kind that young girls should aspire to grow into and the kind that boys and men should cherish.

Please, Mama, never feel like you are not enough or that you haven’t accomplished what you may have wanted to. Never feel that way because you are so much to so many. You are small but you are mighty. You are everything, the whole world, the shining light in the eyes of your children and their children.

Thank you. Just thank you for all the things – your love, your guidance, your protection, your encouragement and your patience and compassion. Thank you for always believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. It has made all the difference. If I could give you one thing, it would be to give you back what you have given me – that good sweet safe place to always call home. I want you to have peace in your heart, joy in your life, I want you to be surrounded by all the good things. I want you to know how incredible you are.

So smile and laugh and remember all the things you taught us – heed your own lessons. Take care of yourself. Be brave and confident. Chase your dreams. Never give up. Mind your manners. Count your blessings. Speak up about things you believe in. Never apologize for speaking the truth. Go out into the world and LIVE the precious life you were given. Seize the day. Have no regrets. Give more than you expect to receive. Make art. Make memories. Be motivated. Love being YOU.

You have always said that your kids were your greatest gift. My greatest gift is knowing that your blood runs thru my veins. That somewhere inside of me there is you, and there is your Mother, and there is her Mother… I breathe because of the love of strong and beautiful women and because of the men who loved them. I AM because of you.

Mama, you are still – and always – the wind beneath my wings.