Edging into mid-life, we are lucky if we still have our parents with us. Until we don’t. When my adoptive mother Elaine Kain died, I lost not only my one-and-only mom, but my best friend, movie date and companion extraordinaire. I was left without my former identity as an adult child, a daughter, a caregiver. To be alive means losing things, people, and animals we love, but this loss? It was devastation. I’d lost my reason for being. My first thought was, “Who will take care of me?”

One type of creativity literally saved my life: writing letters.

I began writing Mom letters, exploring the dark caverns of my pain as I penned poems I never dreamed existed inside me. I demanded visitations, answers and comfort from my deceased mother. I lived for the time I got to spend with “her” with pen and paper or computer screen.

But after months of exploring my pain, I turned a corner. In the midst of acute grief, I got
bored with just telling Mom how bad it was without her. A new desire sprung up, a wee flower bursting through the tiniest crack in the concrete — what if my mother could write back to me?

This dialogue became my book, Letters to My Mama: An Adopted Daughter’s Creative Journey Through the First Year of Grief. This hearing back from her changed everything. How many of us have wondered if we did enough, said too much or never got the chance to say anything to our departed ones? I was allowed to say the words I’d always wanted to and best of all, I got answers.

While they weren’t always pretty, they rang with the truth of mom’s love. She still told me to go to bed earlier and not to wear leggings. (“They’re not right for your body type, dear,” she whispered.) But most of all, the letters reminded me that no matter where she is, she will always be my mother. After a year of letter writing, Mom’s hope had integrated into my psyche and I became able to feel the love in the letters become my strength.

This type of “echo writing,” as I call it, works for all kinds of losses. Whether you are grieving a person, beloved pet, health, job or even a cherished dream, writing to whom or what you have let go of, and hearing back from “them” hits a sweet spot in the heart.

Dear Mom,

I remember sitting with you, the car top down, in “your beach” parking lot, just listening to the surf, content in each other’s company. I still can’t believe you’re gone. I wonder if there is a day, a year, a season that comes, when I will finally believe and accept the loss? I need to hear from you! Should I discontinue thinking you are Somewhere? Is it unhealthy to reminisce like this, and want you back? I’m so angry that you left this place. I’m sorry.

I still love you,

Dear Cheryl,

It is never a bad thing to talk to me. I hear you, I’m always here, and I don’t care if your therapist believes that or not. It’s real, to me and to you. That is all that matters. I wish I was there to hold your hand or tell you what to do. Just hold on and trust and keep taking good care of yourself. I’m glad you’re feeling better from your cold. It is nice here, where I am. You’ll see it someday. For now, just make the best of where you are. Drink more water, dear and stop talking so much to that negative friend of yours. I know it’s frustrating for you, but you really won’t be this sad forever, I promise. You know that I’m often right!

I didn’t leave you on purpose and I knew you and your sister would be all right. It was my time to go, Cheryl. Now is your time on earth — you have a lot to look forward to, even if it seems hard now. You’ll be busy with writing and more music. It’s been rough on you, without me. You have wonderful friends, so let them be there for you. Everything will ebb and flow, and the passing of time will help, sweetheart.

Remember, dear, I’m always your mother.

I love you,

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