Listening to Mother: a love letter shared

Published 8:29 pm Monday, February 11, 2013


Some time ago I addressed a group of caregivers who have challenging parents and recommended that they thank their aging relatives for the gifts they have shared. During this season of reflection and love, here is a sample Valentine’s Day letter.
Dear Mom,
You were the first person who taught me about love as you held me, cared for me, told me I was wonderful, listened to me thoughtfully and only cut off my endless questions when you clearly didn’t think there would ever be a “last word.” You taught me much and let me take the risk of growing, of climbing exciting big trees even when you had to take me to the clinic to get patched up after I fell. You said “no” and helped me understand that in life there are limits. Yes, I was a curious, busy child whose outrageous personal style is as different from yours as white from yolk. Yet, we’re both “good eggs.”
When I was a child, you said, “Some truths are bitter.”  We have to face them before we can each choose to change directions or keep on. Telling the truth and other loving gifts you gave me continue to season relationships around me, including yours and mine.  You gave me respect for and appreciation of others who are very difficult; a willingness to express feelings; and the encouragement to think about and talk things through … bad or good.
Now having two adult children of my own, I can see how difficult it is to stop protecting and directing those young people’s lives. How many times do you have to bite your tongue, even today, to keep from telling me how I should do my hair or do my job? But your respect for individuality and wonder at our own children’s integrity has always come through.
As we both age, I give you the promise of love and respect that you gave me, and especially the promise to listen and be truthful.  As I watch doors close in your life, I know we need to listen to each other more.  How many times have you told us that you don’t want to become a burden? Your fierce independence is a great model for your children and grandchildren. I will listen to your need for independence. The truth is I hope we can support it to the end. I cannot promise you that you will never live in a nursing home. Today we cannot always find or afford other ways to assure the safety and moment–to-moment help offered there.
However, I promise you that I will listen to what you wish for in your life (even if we cannot always achieve it); to be sensitive to why you find today’s world so challenging (even if we cannot ease the challenges); and to care enough to listen and talk things though (both good and bad). I will listen to the wisdom of your years because I love you.
Your daughter, Ann
Peggy Cohn, RH, Ph.D., writes columns about dealing with the elderly and  for their caregivers.