It was the morning of November 5, 2021. My first day back to school after a stressful and long quarantine period for myself. On this Friday, my husband was in charge of the at-home virtual schooling of our still-quarantined children while I returned to school to teach.
Mid-morning, the blue-tooth on my watch kicked in and notified me of a call from my aunt. I noted it, but couldn’t answer because I was working in my library-art studio classroom with young students. Minutes passed and another call came through from my sister. This can’t be good, I thought to myself. Again, I took a mental note and kept working. Another call notification from my aunt. Something is wrong, I know it. It’s mom. When I had a chance to kneel down behind the desk where I kept my things, I pulled out my phone and was bombarded with messages from family members. Something was wrong, but I still couldn’t stop what I was doing – or was I already in denial?
The first message I read said that my mom’s neighbor noticed that mom’s car hadn’t moved in a couple of days. The neighbor stopped at my grandmother’s down the street to share this with her. Upon hearing the news, my grandmother drove to my mom’s and pounded on the door and phoned mom without any answer. She called my cousin, who worked nearby, and she called for a nonemergency check-in at my mom’s house. By this time, my aunt and my sister had been called, who in turn contacted my brother and myself.
When I finally had a break between classes and recess duty, I had five minutes to listen to voicemails and call my husband. My heart was racing, my mind was in what-if land, and I somehow how to monitor kids playing while I tried to hold myself together. After recess was over, I warmed up my lunch and made calls to my aunt and to my sister to get the latest update. They were waiting on the emergency crew to get into mom’s house for a wellness check. Three bites into my lunch my sister called. She was crying and repeating over and over, You have to leave work, you have to get here, you’ve got to leave right now. My sister’s frantic cries were interrupted by my cousin’s voice. Your mom has passed away.
Tears began streaming down my face and the heavy emotions took control. Immediately I felt guilt and regret. I left my seat and started walking down the hall. My path led me to a colleague who saw that I was crying and wanted to help. I sobbed to her, it’s my mom – she died, and I didn’t get to tell her that I forgive her – I wanted to forgive her. She walked with me down the long hall to my principal’s office, passing by a line of young students all noticing my crying and asking what’s wrong.
The dialogue and sobs repeated as I entered my principal’s office. When asked what was going on, the crying turned to wailing and again I said, my mom died, and I didn’t get to tell her that I forgive her – I wanted to forgive her. In that perfectly timed moment, my principal assured me that my mom knew. Through her faith, a little bit of forgiveness entered my soul, enough that I calmed enough to explain what was happening and what I needed to do next. She insisted on taking me to my family because I was in no shape to drive myself. I called my husband on her phone to let him know that I was leaving work. She comforted me along the ride and shared peace with me when I was welcomed by my family.
The road to forgiveness began in middle of October. I had made it to the last chapter in the book, What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing written and narrated by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce D. Perry. The story Oprah described of herself finding resolve with her mother resonated with me. I knew how I was going to begin building the bridge to healing between my mom and me – I was going to write her a letter and forgive her.
A letter would be perfect. I could take my time and write exactly what I wanted to say with kindness. I imagined my mom finding the letter in her mailbox, smiling at the sight of reading my name. She opened the letter and saw words and phrases that revealed its emotional content. In my mind, I saw mom reading the letter on her bed, stopping when she needed to take a break and returning when she was ready. The letter would be full of loving kindness that gently forgave her for all of the things I held as resentments, as well as what she held onto for so long that trickled into our relationship. The letter would be the first step in clearing the path and mending our relationship. Unfortunately, the letter didn’t make it to her in time.
Once I knew that I wanted to write a letter, I took some time to reflect about what I really wanted to say to her. Then Covid hit our house, and the sickness kept me from much of anything. When I started feeling better, I had the letter on my to-do list (in true Jess fashion – if something was on my list, it surely would get done). The quarantine time was the opportunity I needed to be free from the normal responsibilities of my work schedule. Instead, I always found other things to do to take the place of confronting my feelings and sitting with them as I wrote to my mother. I pushed it off, thinking to myself, I have time. Then November 5th arrived and there was no more time.
I have been holding onto this regret for months. It’s like a bad dream that I can’t escape, but in reality, I am in total control of how the dream ends. In the passing of my mother, I have learned that I have drawn closer to her in spirit. I can talk to her any time I want to and say whatever is on my mind. My thoughts will set me free, and my willingness to finally be vulnerable with my feelings of resentment will be the healthier choice. If I continue to hide from them, cover them up and lock them away, I will suffer, and so will those around me.
I am choosing to lean into the discomfort and discover the light that healing will bring to me. My mother’s spirit is the light now. She is in a place of peace and joy. In her crossing over, she has found the healing that she desperately needed in her life on earth. She is no longer in pain, and would not want pain to be a burden for any of her loved ones she left behind. I am ready to step away from my pain, so I will finally write the letter.
With unconditional love, I forgive you. I know that you carried with you pain that became a heavy burden for you. You locked it away, trying to hide from the pain, but instead, it consumed you. When the pain overwhelmed you, it flowed from you like an awful, gray mist and seeped into every relationship and circumstance that you experienced. You thought that by keeping it locked away and hiding from it, you could forget about how much pain and suffering you were feeling. I forgive you for believing that you were being strong when you were actually feeding your fear and lying to yourself that you weren’t good enough.
Mom, I forgive you and love you for who you were in this life. I forgive you for allowing your gray mist of lies to infuse its negative mess into my life, and the lives of my siblings and of our family. I forgive you for not finding help, but instead coping with self-sabotaging behaviors like alcohol addiction, hoarding, keeping yourself emotionally locked away from your loved ones, losing your temper, yelling, neglecting your children, and choosing the bar over spending time with your kids. I forgive you for calling me awful names, and doing the same for my siblings, too. I forgive you getting into relationships with the men who treated you like you were nothing. I forgive you for not taking care of our childhood home because things got out of hand and overwhelm took over. I forgive you for being late to my wedding. I forgive you for not believing me when I needed someone to understand. I forgive you for your jealously of your sister, who assumed a motherly role for me and my siblings.
I forgive you for all of it. I forgive you for the apology that I really needed. I forgive you for not loving me the way I needed to be loved. I forgive you not being the mother I needed you to be.
With forgiveness, comes reflection. All of these painful resentments I held against you for years impacted me in ways that I never realized. Deep, inner work has revealed that I do not have to keep these resentments as painful memories. I am choosing, instead, to take a different perspective. This new perspective shows me the lessons that I have learned because of my experiences. I want to share with you my gratitude for these lessons you’ve given to me as gifts.
I am grateful for the lesson of unconditional love. Even though our relationship was full of pain, I continued to love you, no matter what, and wanted the best for you, as you did for me.
I am grateful to you for showing me strength and perseverance. I have learned from you that whenever pain is present, there is always light. Having faith reveals the light that is within each of us and we can find our way through that faith.
I am grateful that you taught me to trust that things will get better. I know that sometimes your trust that things would get better may have been said with uncertainty, but you continued to trust in the light.
I am grateful for teaching me that it is okay not to be okay. In this day and age of masking the inner turmoil through a veil of social media, you continued to be humble and ask for help even if it took you until your breaking point to do it. I have learned to be more self aware and ask for support when I need it before it is too late.
I am grateful for the lesson of vulnerability. Showing up, being present, and living in an authentic way requires vulnerability. I have learned how important it is to stand in pain and face it head on, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
I am grateful for the spiritual growth you have given to me. As a result of your passing, I have become more open minded and spiritually aligned with my higher self.
I am incredibly grateful for the gift of forgiveness. We allowed our pain get in the way of our relationship, but love was always at the root of our connection. Because of that loving connection, forgiveness is prevailing and will continue to be present in my life.
Mom, I wish that I would have had the courage to say this to you when you were living. I, too, was living a life of pain that held me from saying the words that needed to be said. As I type this letter to you, I think of each word, phrase, and sentence. I know that you can feel my thoughts and you know that I release you of all of the pain tied to our relationship.
I promise to read this letter aloud. Externalizing all of this will help me process everything that I’ve held onto for so long. Saying my thoughts out loud will be an important part of my journey to forgiving myself for everything that I have clung to for years. The resentments I’ve had for you have internalized and kept me in my own pain. I am ready to break free and begin living my life in the joy and love that you are now experiencing in your spiritual world.
I love you,