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Saying Thank You, Saying Goodbye

It’s coming up on five months since my mom-in-law passed away; the loss still feels new. Jim and I have been a couple for 30 years now, so the relationship between Mom and I was long enough to be parent-child like, but mostly ours was a dear, long-time friendship. She liked to tell people that we were unique among mothers and daughters-in-law because we got along so well and so peacefully! Mom was someone who was always interested in the details of life– what my day had been like, who I had spoken to, what was dinner, what the children were up to, whatever cute thing the granddaughter had said or done, what was happening in the garden. Her fascination with daily events was extraordinary. She cultivated relationships through that love of news and that caring connection.

Just this week, I wrapped up the difficult task of writing thank you notes to friends and relatives who sent cards or meals or attended the memorial services. This writing project took me longer than I wanted it to, but, like grief itself, there were some stages in the process. At first, writing notes just made me too sad so I put it off. Next, I tried to find periods of time to get organized; I didn’t want to miss anyone or to send duplicates to same recipient. Finally, the conclusion that I came to was that I wanted to Do It Right.

For me, Doing It Right meant writing a note to each friend or relative along with the little form card. I wanted them to know that their gestures meant a lot to us– and they certainly did. Being surrounded by friends and family members– in person or by mail– is a wonderful, sustaining feeling in the midst of sadness. Knowing that you are not alone helps you carry on.

I also wanted to make sure people knew how much Mom appreciated them too. Towards the end of her life, she wasn’t able to keep up with correspondence or contact the way she had at one time. Cards went unanswered and calls un-returned. She still loved getting calls and cards, however; I am rather certain she saved every card she ever received! Often I opened and read her mail to her, and she was simply delighted– there is no other word– to get cards and notes.

Some sympathy cards we received came from our friends, but there were many from Mom’s friends, people we know only through her– college friends, old neighbors, committee members from her previous church. When I wrote notes to them, I was conscious too that I was saying a series of small goodbyes along with my thank you’s. The link between those people and me was Mom; we won’t necessarily have occasion to talk again ever. Mom maintained those relationships. It’s because of her that I know of them at all, that they reached out to comfort us, and that I have the chance to share our gratitude while we still grieve.

Posted in • Sitting Still.

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