Friday, April 27, 2012

An Open Letter of Hope and Sorrow

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine from college passed away, leaving a young teen daughter. This is an open letter I wrote for her.

My dear Sarah,

My heart is breaking today. It is breaking for myself, for your father, for your grandparents, for all your aunts and uncles and cousins, and for everyone who knew and loved your mother, but most especially for you. It is never easy to lose your mother, but it is even harder when she is so young and when you are at an age where your mother is so important.

The first time I met your mother, nearly 25 years ago, she was only 8 or 9 years older than you are now. I was a shy college freshman, and she was a worldly senior who lived on the same floor of my dorm. And she had a car. I think it was probably only about the first week of school when she scooped up me, her roommate Kim, and another friend from the floor, Dorie, and we all hopped into her car and took off on some adventure, probably to get ice cream or burgers. I don’t think that any of us imagined that the four of us would become part of a circle of friends that would last for the rest of our lives. A few months later, a girl named Suzanne transferred in and we all piled into your mom’s car again, this time to go to Pizza Hut, and one more person was added to that circle of friends. We did a lot of laughing that night, and ever since.

That’s always how I think of your mom: laughing and smiling. Even in hard times, she was able to find laughter. The same year I met her, your Grandpa Gray was taken to the hospital in Boston, and your mom and Kim took off in the middle of the night to go visit him. They got lost in a very bad part of town, and when your mom told us the story of two white girls driving through Roxbury at 2am cranking Amy Grant music from the windows of an ancient green VW Beetle, she had us all in hysterical laughter. She was afraid because her dad was very sick, but she still managed to find something to smile about.

Two of the biggest smiles I remember seeing from her both happened in the same place. Your mom and I went to the same church, and I taught a Sunday School class for two-year-olds. We kept the door classroom door closed before class started so none of the little ones would escape, and one morning your mom opened the door just enough to stick her head through. She had a huge grin on her face and when I asked her what was up, she didn’t say a word, she just stuck her left hand through the crack of the door to show me the beautiful diamond and sapphire engagement ring your father had just given her when he asked her to marry him. Only a year or two later, she stuck her head in the door again, this time to tell me that she was pregnant with you. If it’s possible, her smile was even bigger that day.

Your mom had many accomplishments over her lifetime, but the one she was proudest of was you. The day I visited her in the hospital when you were born, she handed me the beautiful little bundle that was you and said to me with unmistakable love and pride in her voice, “Do you want to hold my daughter?” She announced your every milestone to her family and friends with great pride. When you performed in a dance recital, she was proud that you were graceful, but even prouder that you worked hard to do well. When you got a good grade on a test, she was proud that you were smart but ever prouder that you had the discipline to study for the test without her nagging you. When you had friends over, she was proud that you were such a good and loyal friend. She was so proud of the lovely young woman you have become.

It’s hard to understand why people sometimes die young. Part of me wants to be angry at God for taking your mom so soon. I don’t understand why He chose her. But what I do understand is that no mother could have set her daughter a better example, or set her daughter on a better path, than your mother did for you. I know that the woman you are, and the woman you will become, is a person who would make her proud. And I know that her spirit will continue to watch over you and to be with you.

I also want to share with you something that a very wise woman told me when I lost someone that I loved: When someone close to you dies, it leaves a hole in your heart that will never completely heal. But over time, memories of that loved one fill the hole until it’s just a tiny scar. I pray that your happy memories of your mom will quickly fill the hole in your heart. And if you ever need a few extra memories to help fill that hole, I will be more than happy to share some of mine with you.

In love and sorrow,

Aunt Sandy

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