Whether they’re from the US, Caribbean, India, or the UK, all of the contributors to A Letter for My Mother share one thing in common: thoughts that have been left unsaid to their mothers and mother figures—until now. In this moving book, thirty-three women reveal the stories, reflections, confessions, and revelations they’ve kept to themselves for years and have finally put into words. Written through tears and pain, as well as joy and laughter, each offering presents the mother-daughter bond in a different light.
Heartfelt and deeply meaningful, A Letter for My Mother will inspire you to admire and cherish that special relationship that shapes every woman.
Excerpt from A Letter for My Mother
My ex-husband’s mother was dying. During the time I was married to him, our relationship had been at best, tenuous. I married her oldest son and she never forgave me for that, or at least it seemed that way in my head. I couldn’t seem to understand some of her ways and she couldn’t understand mine. I was from a different place than she and my life was different than both hers and that of her daughters. At times, she seemed to resent me for that. Some days, she went from insulting me, my family, my upbringing and lifestyle in one sentence to embracing me and trying to nurture me, all in the space of a twelve-hour period. It was infuriating. I retaliated, resisted, rebelled and refused to accept. I’d already had a mother. She’d died when I was six, and no one could replace her. Various female members of my biological family had given me all the mothering I thought I would need so I saw no need to accept any from a stranger.
Over the years, our relationship changed and softened, especially after the children came, but I’ll admit I was never comfortable with her. When I divorced her son, I thought I was walking away from her family too and struggled with the link that lay between us and the desire to do the right thing. I was more compelled to stay in contact with family than my ex-husband was, but didn’t want to overstep my bounds by staying in touch with his family for my children. Divorce was a relationship quagmire I had a hard time negotiating. I wanted my children to know and love their family, all of it, but I didn’t want to be the uncomfortable bridge that made that happen. My mother-in-law didn’t care what I felt. She was always going to be here, and though my last name had changed, she still offered her opinion, advice and whatever else she felt like when we spoke, making me still more uncomfortable.
I knew she was ill, but I still felt as if I’d been knocked off my feet when I received the call that she was dying. Tears and confusion flooded my brain. At first, I couldn’t understand why I was not emotionless. My sister, the main mother figure in my life, explained my reaction to me and encouraged me to tell my mother-in-law what I had to say to her before I no longer could. She assured me that even though I was unwilling to admit it, I was close to this woman and couldn’t avoid being unnerved. We had developed a relationship over the years. My sister encouraged me to write down what I wanted to say to the woman before she died if I was unable to speak the words. The result was the letter that led to this book.
As I wrote, I realized that although she and I were very different, my mother-in-law had been mothering me all along and didn’t care whether I wanted to accept it or not. Because I had been raised to do the right thing, I started out treating her with respect, and even though my respect was peppered with defiance, it didn’t stop me from loving her. Over time, I treated her with respect not because I was supposed to, but because I had come to respect her.I finished my letter and my mother-in-law died three hours later. I was as devastated as if she had given birth to me, but I did feel some relief that I had said to the universe the things I wanted to say but hadn’t been able to for the fifteen years our families had been linked by my marriage to her son. In writing my letter, I discovered that I had been so stressed by our relationship because I wasn’t open to mothering and mother-wisdom of the kind that we receive from the more seasoned members of the female community. I don’t know why this was. Perhaps it was because my own wound from losing my mother so young had not yet healed, some thirty-plus years later. I read my letter over and over, and as I did, it occurred to me that I was not alone.
As females, we have a way of nurturing others, usually children and men, but we are often reluctant to nurture and share with each other. As young women, we are often mean girls (or the victims of them). We might make a few close friends as young adults, but throughout our lives, many of us are very slow to let new women in. Rather than embrace each other, we push away. We argue with and resent our mothers, and more often than not, fall prey to the idea that our mothers-in-law and stepmothers, all “outside women,” are evil rather than a source of support or knowledge. As we do so, we miss our lessons until finally we only see them in hindsight.I invited other women to write a letter to a mother in their lives, someone who guided them when they didn’t want to be guided and perhaps someone they’d never thanked. In the letter, they were to tell them what they wanted them to know. The recipient of the letter needn’t be alive or biologically related, just someone to whom they had things to say to but lacked courage or foresight to be able to say those things, a thank you. Many of the writers I asked to participate agreed to do so right away. What I hadn’t counted on though were those authors that were my friends who would refuse to participate. They had no issue with the concept.
Instead, their reluctance was based on where they were in their own personal journeys with the mother figures in their lives. Some were not able to say anything positive so chose to say nothing. Others had no idea what they would say or they hadn’t worked through their feelings about that mother-daughter relationship yet and they feared the experience would be too painful for them. There are emotional wounds that only another woman can inflict on you, and theirs had not yet begun to crust over. I received many calls and notes from those who did choose to participate, often filled with apprehension and tears.
This task I was asking of them was harder than any of us had imagined, yet those who got through it reported experiencing a catharsis they had never counted on. The relationship that was closest to us proved to be the hardest to be honest about and the hardest to resolve. Writing these letters, love letters to our mothers, forced us to let go of the anger that had hung around our necks for years and let it float away from us. We had to give the bad memories to the universe and embrace the good and how that had shaped us into adulthood.While I read the submissions, my love and respect for these women grew exponentially. I’d asked them to participate because I respected them and where they were in their craft and professional lives. I challenged them to look beyond the ordinary and find something positive in their relationship with their mothers. This proved to be harder for some than others, but once I was given a glimpse of their journeys and the women that had helped to shape them, they were all much bigger in my eyes. This process was like therapy for many of us, and as we navigated the murkiness of our childhoods, our paths through our womanhoods became that much clearer.
Charlenne T. Greer died on a Friday in May, 2012. Cigarettes killed her. She was not my mother or even related by blood. Still, I am thankful for her lessons.
Meet the Author
is an award-winning filmmaker, playwright, and novelist. She writes as both Nina Foxx and Cynnamon Foster. Her work has appeared on numerous bestseller lists around the country, and her films have won awards at the Sundance Film Festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, Cannes, and the Rome International Film Festival. Originally from Jamaica, New York, she lives with her family near Seattle, Washington, where she works in Human-Computer interaction for a major software company. Nina is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, The Links and Jack & Jill of America. Visit her at www.ninafoxx.com
or her blog at ninafoxx.blogspot.com