What I Learned When I Read Letters to My Mom


When I received a note from a mom friend during a difficult time, it reminded me so much of the letters sent to my mom over the years that I found after she died. My friend’s note was simple and supportive. But she included a detailed story about her impression of me when we first met. This detail reminded me of who I really was, despite needing support at that particular moment. Reminders like that are powerful.

When my mom died, it was the worst thing in the world, of course. I didn’t have enough time to learn more about her. While I knew many things a child learns about their parent, I didn’t know who my mom was as a person in the eyes of others. To me, she was a mom of three and a teacher to thousands. I also didn’t know all of her stories from before motherhood. I felt like I was missing out on knowing so much more if we had had more time together. And as a new mom, there was so much I wanted to know.

How I Found Out More

But the death of a parent always comes with the chore of going through a lot of stuff. And that stuff includes lots of paper. It’s mostly super old 20+-year-old bills, and there’s always some junk mail thrown in. But after the grueling effort of sifting through what most people would just throw out, I hit gold. I found my mom’s collection of letters, cards, and printed emails from friends, family, students, and colleagues.

It’s in these letters that my mom saved for many years that I learned more about the person she was. It also made me realize how important it is to keep in touch with friends when we’re thinking of them. Even if it’s a letter or email out of the blue, years after being in touch.

Letters to My Mom Were Her Special Keepsakes

My mom kept her letters and cards and printed out emails in a special place. I think she referred to them often. Perhaps these letters pulled her back to those people she loved and missed. Or maybe they reminded her of who she was outside of her role as a mom.

As I read through the letters to my mom, I learned about some of the hard times my mom went through. Like all of us, even in the 80s, she had difficult days at work and worries about her kids. I learned that later her medical struggles made it difficult to travel and visit with those she loved. It wasn’t just me she couldn’t travel to see.

I found lots of letters and cards from my siblings and me. Many started off with “Dear Mommy, I love you!” But a lot also said, “Dear Mommy, I’m mad at you for yelling.” From what I know now about what my mom was going through when those letters were written … it puts getting upset at or frustrated with my kids in perspective. There’s always more to the story, and also small fights are always forgotten.

Most importantly the letters to my mom showed me how my mom supported those she loved, even when she couldn’t be with them. Many notes began with messages of gratitude for the phone call or email or letter my mom sent upon receiving news of a difficult moment a friend or family member was experiencing at the time. Or they were notes of thanks for sending thoughtful cards letting her friends know she was thinking of them.

Letters to My Mom Connected Her to Those She Loved

The letters to my mom made me realize how important it is to connect, show up, participate, and be an active contributor to the lives of our family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Really, anyone we come into contact with over the years. Now, whenever something reminds me of a friend, I try to share a note or send a text to let them know I’m thinking of them. I may not know what they are going through at the moment, and maybe a message from me will bring a smile to their face.

I’m not always the best at staying in touch. These days especially with my work and childcare schedules keeping me up until 2 in the morning most nights, it’s hard. And it’s also super isolating. Reaching out — even if it’s to keep yourself in check that you’re not alone out there — is still reaching out and providing support. Heck, at this point, I feel loved if my sister tags me in an Instagram story, even though she’s hundreds of miles away and the photo is from 10 years ago when I looked cute. (Thank you!)

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Support Your Friends With Letters of Your Own

When I think about the letters to my mom, I think about all the emails my mom printed out. If my mom could print out text messages or Instagram stories, I’m sure she would have. Save what you can to refer back to when you need a reminder of your spirit and spark. Those Instagram stories don’t last forever!

Supporting each other matters. Commit to reaching out to a friend (mom or non-mom) and share stories of when you met, what you’re going through, or what your hopes are for the future. Applaud each other for where you are in life. Lift each other up in reminding each other of who you are outside of being a parent. Or who you’ve become because you are a parent. The content doesn’t really matter, because your name at the end of the letter will bring a smile to someone’s face. And the smile is what matters.