Letters from Mama


I can’t remember when I first stumbled upon this envelope. It was sometimes during Daddy’s short run with lung cancer. We were sifting through papers in his office, getting things in order, just in case he didn’t make it.

There were four envelopes, one for my brother, two sisters, and me. Each in Mama’s handwriting. We discussed what to do about them. Mama’s Alzheimer’s was pretty bad by then, but she still might notice if these disappeared. So we left them for awhile.

But after Daddy died and we saw Mama getting worse quickly, I pulled my envelope from the stack. And took it home. I was afraid it might get accidentally thrown away. I couldn’t live with that.

The next decision was whether to do what she said: wait until she died to read it. Part of me said, “Yes! You’re never too old to obey your mama.”

But another part of me knew that pieces of the woman who wrote these letters had already died. Maybe reading these letters now would help me better help her while she was still with us.

I opened the letters.


Letter # 1, 1988

“Dear Lisa,
I just wanted to write a few lines for you to read at my death. It’s not anything great or magical but just something I want to say.”

She said she never wished that I was like anyone else, and that I’d “never caused us any heartache (at this writing anyway).”

I laughed at that.
Then cried.
And read on.

Letter # 2

She wrote this one while babysitting my first-born one afternoon. I was at a tough spot in my life and she was feeling it, too.

“It’s been one of the most painful things for you to go through and I’ve hurt all along with you. Some things we never understand.”

Letter # 5

After the death of my and Jeff’s baby girl Kali . . .

“It has been so hard not knowing how to help and wishing I could take away your pain and sadness but knowing I couldn’t and that you had to go thru it yourself. That was hell on earth. I don’t think anybody knows the love a mother has.”

Through the years she wrote. The paper changed. The handwriting grew shakier. But the love remained the same.

Letter # 8, final one, last paragraph

“Just want you to know that I love you and still proud of you and so thankful for Jeff being such a loving husband and father. More than likely Keith and I will go before any of you children. We are happy and will be ready when He calls. I imagine I will be writing when I’m 80. 🙂

And that was it. She didn’t make it to 80.

I fold the letters back up, seal them in the envelope, and return them to their safe place.

But my mama, I still carry her and her words fresh in my heart.

She was wrong in saying I never caused her any heartache. I did. And she took my own heartaches as her own.

But she was right in saying the love of a mother is special. I’ll be forever grateful I had hers.


* * *

Have you written a letter to be read after you die? Received one?


20 thoughts on “Letters from Mama

  1. Linda@Creekside

    Oh Lisa … this is so poignant, so priceless. As I get choked up here at my keyboard, I am yet thankful for this personal legacy your mom left you. That you would share it with us all is quite profound …

  2. Brother Ollie

    This is intense. This is such a tough one. I’ve pondered doing this at times, but I am scared to do it. I really appreciated your response. I still need to address the concept of Grace in my class, so you have prompted me in a good direction.

  3. Beverley

    What a beautiful post. It reminds me of when rummaging through some family history papers i found a letter written in my now ex-mother-in-law Rose handwriting. Rose now has Alzheimer’s too. I offered the letter to my ex but so far he hasn’t taken me up on it. Maybe one day he will. Words written from our ancestors to us is beautiful and amazing and somehow without words and beyond price. Hold the letters safe for your daughter.

  4. Constance Morrison

    How wonderful to have the gift of these letters from your mother, particularly when you lose her personality because of the Alzheimer’s.

    The way your mother took on your heartaches makes me think of Jesus taking on our heartaches and sins–all because of love.

  5. Lynn Severance

    Lisa, your mama gave you so many gifts during her lifetime, but to have these special handwritten thoughts that she knew were the nuggets of how she felt, what she wanted you to always remember is a treasure indeed. Thank you for sharing some of them with us.
    I am reminded of Mary, Jesus’ mother and how she pondered so many things in her heart. You are blessed to have what was in your mother’s heart, opened for you to know.
    Feeling joy for you!

  6. Katie

    Oh what a treasure to have. I don’t have “letters” but I have other items from loved ones who have passed on. I have my aunt’s jewelry box: inside was my grandparents wedding rings. I know have them on a chain together.

  7. Lyli @ 3-D Lessons for Life

    Oh, Lisa! What a beautiful gift your mother gave you! Thanks for this reminder that it’s important to put things into writing for those we love. I’m thinking that I need to do this for Christmas — a letter for each family member. Wow, this is powerful!

  8. Krista

    The lump in my throat is quite large after reading this. What an amazing gift from your mother. So many people aren’t fortunate to receive something like this and are left with unanswered questions. What a blessing.
    This touched my heart. Thank you Lisa 🙂

  9. Mia

    Dear Lisa
    I was just wondering if I should do this for my sons this week and seeing how this means so much to you, I think it is a good idea. Each one is so different and I want to leave words that will be a gift to each one alone!
    Blessings XX

  10. ~ linda

    WOW! What a gift! Words from a precious mother that will ALWAYS stay close to your heart, Lisa. Having lost my mother less than a year ago, and finding old cards she had sent and I had saved over the years, like birthday cards and such, I feel the blessings too. Thank you for sharing this special private communication with us. I will go find my cards now. I need to read them again.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  11. christina

    Lisa, I’m so sorry for your multiple losses and for the living bereavement of a parent with Alzheimer’s. My mom went through that with her father. Thank you for sharing such treasures with us. They made me cry, but I’m grateful for good mothers (yours and mine and your daughters’). May the Lord comfort any sadness this post brought to the surface in you. Enjoy having your Jenna home again.

  12. Debbie

    I read your post yesterday but didn’t have time to comment but wanted to return. My mother also wrote each one of her children letters to be opened upon her death. I think it was wise of you to open yours earlier given your mom’s condition. What a blessing! So touching Lisa.

    Blessings and love,

  13. Brenda Maddox

    Loved reading this. Doesn’t it just express what we consider treasures. Money is not our treasure, this is. Mom didn’t leave letters but her notes in her Bible and notebooks tell the story. My cousin on Mom’s side is going through so much heartache taking care of Mom’s sister and I found some of mom’s verses and notes to mail to her.And I do have a recording of her singing Happy Birthday to me. I play it every so often. When I read this, it is a little sweeter because I imagine your mom’s face and smile.

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