Dear Mama,

Dear Mama,

Can you believe we made it? To the other side, I mean. It’s been four years, to the day, since you transitioned to the next Universal space.

Mama, I’m sorry I haven’t written to you directly before now. I didn’t know what to say. I had no desire to try and pull you to me with wails of sadness. I have wailed in sadness, too many times to count*; however, that is not what I wanted you to hear. I hope you are listening now. Sometimes the pain in my heart is exhausting; it has been since Daddy died. It is also my gift to love and help and to hope.

I’m happy to report that I have evolved considerably in the last four years. I advocate for myself – that’s always been hard even though my career is built around advocacy. Also, instead of honoring you through remembering, I have, instead, absorbed my love for you as reflected back to me. What does that even mean? Well, it means that my memories of your stories, our time together, and the rivers we loved have become so ingrained that I no longer worry about forgetting. Absorption.

When Daddy died I rejected the possibility of absorption, and it was available. He came to me nightly for months after his death, to the point that seeing him was too painful so refusing to sleep was easy. Awake in the dead of the night as a child is part of me. The moon, the stars, the dread, the emptiness.

I declare that I welcome you into my dreams. I have never had anything to hide from you and appreciate that you visit me often. Recently, we shopped at Target, wearing masks, standing in line, buying pajamas, and scoffing at jerks. Or what about all that stale bread we threw from closets, drawers, and memory chests? Watching rainbows explode, eating pancakes, or admiring the stars, I want to thank you for being here with me – no matter if it is me reflecting you – totally irrelevant.

You have become my hidden asset against a cruel, pandemic riddled world. Your words are my words.   I look into the air around me after I hear your quotes leave my mouth.

“Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow.”

“Happiness is a choice.”

“Life’s easy until you make it hard.”

“There’s always more truth than you know.”

“Do the best you can for as long as you can.”

“If you can make meaning out of suffering then you no longer suffer.”

A couple of years ago, someone said about me that I talked about you too much. (People will complain about anything.) “She talks about her dead mother too often.”                        

I didn’t stop talking about you, but my priorities shifted away from trying to model what grieving could look like. (My family is not the typical family when it comes to grief. My mother took me to my father’s gravesite six years after his death. It was surreal nothingness. “The part of him that loved and laughed went to be with God,” as she explained it to me. “He is not here.”)

My grief for you has been open, as you taught me. To hide it because it made others uncomfortable became a strange luxury. I have never known private grief. Grief is part of who I am; sadly, it is part of the world. Through tears and sadness, I can get up and check the flyer left at my gate on a hot day or wipe my tears to order a taco at a drive-thru or get out of bed and make the best of the day by washing the sheets, mopping the floor, listening to music, making a journal, cooking seafood risotto, watering my garden, etc.

So, instead of openly telling your stories, our stories, or your sayings – I am just being in your memory. What a gift for us to be together. I assumed you would leave, and maybe you have. But, my ability to reach you instantly has not changed. I am grateful that you have remained close.

Thank you for teaching me to spot pain and suffering by feeling my own, however small, so that I may be able to give love or help or joy to my fellow human. Thank you for teaching me that I need not know the specifics of another’s grief in order to honor it. It is through making suffering meaningful that we no longer suffer.

Mama, I told you before that I would be ok. And, I mostly am, but I don’t always want to be. Sometimes, I scream at the pain of the world because I know a fraction of it. If we allow it then our common grief can unite us and we can “begin again.”

Please know that each day God grants me, I serve your memory and your legacy. It is your hope, your love, that I give to the world. For without it, I am nothing. You taught me to love is “to seek the spiritual well-being of another;” therefore, I love many, far and wide.

You are my favorite mother, counselor, teacher, friend, and …… human.

Goodness, to think we have been apart for four years is almost too much for me to process. The vastness of your absence will surely reunite us some day.

Until then, I send this message to you as a tiny reminder of my love.

Yours always,

Arlis Ann


*My most memorable “wail” was when you dropped me off at my first apartment at UT in West Campus. I know you remember. How you gracefully descended three flights of stairs to your car with me screaming and crying for you not to go, I will never know. I NEVER wanted to be away from you. Remember when I would call you homesick at a sleepover, any church camp ever or a stay with a family member?


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