I’m not sure where this letter will take me, but I want to start by saying, beloved daughter, that I adore you, admire you, and have the utmost respect for you. I will forever be indebted to you. You saved my life. I am a better person because of you, there’s no doubt about that. Had you not come into my life when you did, I feel certain that I would have lost the will to live. You gave me purpose and meaning. Your light was a beacon of hope. You kept me busy. You needed me and I needed you.
You were so tiny the day your daddy ended his life. Just eleven days old. You were in my arms when I heard the shotgun fire. In the moment, I didn’t realize what that startling acoustic was. You were in my arms when I walked in the bedroom and saw a scene that caused me to never watch another horror flick again. It’s hard to write about this. I’ve tried to step into your shoes many times — to know how you must have felt when you learned how your daddy died. I told you when you were five, and that was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. But the truth had to come from me. I didn’t want you to learn about it from anyone else.
I was afraid of what you would think and feel; that he didn’t love you enough to want to live. But I watched his face as he gazed into your eyes with wonderment each time he held you. I saw tears flow down his face when the doctor placed you on my tummy shortly after you took your first breath. Your tiny hand griped his finger as though you sensed it would be the last time you’d become one with him. He was holding back his emotions, hesitant to show them publicly because the moment was so sacred. I knew he wanted to weep openly with unbridled intensity.
He was in awe; so happy to see you. He whispered “wow” over and over. It’s a moment forever etched in my memory.
Although I tried to be attentive to your every need, I knew a part of me wasn’t fully present for you at times. You never lacked for love but you deserved to have my full, undivided attention when it was needed. I was grieving. I struggled to keep it together. I was in survival mode. Reoccurring nightmares of you dying haunted my sleep. Sleep paralysis occurred often and I’d awaken with a rapid, pounding heartbeat. Dark thoughts and insurmountable confusion gripped me. I tried to hide my anxiety attacks. Many times you wanted to sleep in my room, but I didn’t want you to hear me weep as my mind often replayed the parting scene of that dreaded day. I smiled in your presence. I pretended to be OK.
I did it for your sake, but the toxic biochemicals from acute stress gave me away when my breast milk made you sick.
As though every day was my birthday, you offered me your gifts of love. Yet I didn’t feel I deserved your love; that I didn’t deserve you. I felt intense shame in your early years; shame that was not warranted. For several years after your daddy was laid to rest, I wore my wedding ring because I came to realize that many people assumed you were born out-of-wedlock and they judged us. To compound matters, some family members on your father’s side made assumptions, and initially blamed me for the tragedy. They needed answers, too, but in their shock and grief they sought a scapegoat.
While your grandparents were going through a long and bitter divorce, they were oblivious to the challenges your father and I faced. They were unaware of the many sacrifices I had made as their son’s symptoms, caused by the traumatic brain injury, progressively worsened and inflicted him with delusions, hallucinations and depression. I tried to tell them how worried I was, but they assumed that because I was pregnant I was also hormonal, therefore, overreacting. Looking back, I understand why they needed a scapegoat. They felt shame, too. Although I harbored profound hurt as well as resentment towards your grandparents for a couple of years, I never prevented them from having a relationship with you. Coming to this understanding about their own shame helped me to eventually find forgiveness.
Your daddy left this poem for me the day he parted. I’m sure he knew that I would share it with you someday.
When you were almost two years old I had to go back to work. It was incredibly hard to leave you, especially because of our circumstances. I wanted to be with you, to fill in the gaps of an absent father, and be the one to witness all your firsts. But I had to provide for you. You see, your daddy’s life insurance policy had a suicide clause. I’m sorry for the many times I was exhausted from the unrelenting demands at work, and only had enough energy to fix you cereal or a sandwich for dinner. I’m sorry that I asked you to give me at least one hour of quiet to decompress right when I came home from work. You wanted to express how happy you were that I was home, and tell me about your day. But you never held that survival tool against me. Instead, you would wake up on the weekends, and quietly shut my bedroom door so that I could sleep in. You did this without me ever asking. I was humbled and enamored by your humanity.
There were lean times that required a strict budget. When we went shopping, you’d look up at me with those big blue eyes, and excitedly ask “momma can I get this?” With dread, I had to tell you we couldn’t afford it. But you never complained, nor did you pout. Without drama, you would put the toy or treat back on the shelf. At the age of eight, you never left my side during my week-long stay in the hospital after back surgery. Oh my treasured daughter, I could never find the words to express how much that meant to me. You waited on me hand and foot during my recovery, and never complained, not one time. You gave up your play time for me. You were so in tuned with me, and had awareness way beyond your years. At times you had to take on the role of an adult. When I was weak, you were strong.
I light up when I think of all the times you wanted to hold my hand when we were out and about, even around your peers when you were a teenager. As a young woman, you still want to hold my hand in public. How did I get so lucky to have the privilege of parenting such a beautiful, compassionate, and mindful human being? You’ve taught me so much about love. You breathed life into me.
Kristin, as a young adult, your beautiful nature remains intact. You’re making your own way in this uncertain, paradoxical world. In very recent years it hasn’t been easy for either of us due to the weak economy. But our bond remains strong. I have much to be grateful for, even when times appear grim. I’m so fortunate to be your mother and your very best friend. You are never far from my thoughts. Your unconditional love continues to sustain me. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for making life worth living. Thank you for being you.
I love you Baby Girl. You are my true savior. You are my ❤.
“A mother’s treasure is her daughter.” ~Catherine Pulsifer