I wrote this to my mom on what ended up being her last birthday. It also shows how much of an impact losing her had on me.
First of all: please don't ever think that I would forget your birthday! I wasn't sure how to approach it with coming home for Thanksgiving, especially because I felt guilty about having had a gift for you last year and nothing for you this year. I considered making a card, but I didn't want it to be something plain and superficial, and I really didn't have the time to put into it the time and effort needed to make it worthy.
My plan had been to e-mail you, like I'm doing now, with a different kind of gift: an explanation of how much I admire you.
I've admired you since I was a little girl - for your love, your creativity, your friendship, your intelligence - but most of all for your undying optimism, and your courage and bravery. Every day you amaze me with the way in which you manage to face the world despite how hard it tries to beat you down - and the way in which you manage to remain strong and stable to support those around you.
I know how hard it is to try and keep living and keep wanting to live when I'm enveloped in depression and the unending stress of life. I have learned to find the strength to be there for myself, but through it all I've had the comfort of knowing that, when all else fails, I have you to be there for me. When I would otherwise feel as though I might as well just give up and end everything, even if I haven't spoken to you in ages, the knowledge that you're there and that you'll always be there for me is all the hope I need to keep pushing through, to keep working at bettering myself, and to keep developing my own personal strength. I know a lot of the time (or even most of the time) you feel as if I'm just cutting you out of my emotional process, but the truth is, even when you know nothing of it, you're the very foundation of my ability to stay strong.
I've told you many times how much I admire you, but I know I can never really express the extent to which I truly do. The picture of your life that you've painted for me is so full of difficulties and hardships that you should have come out the other end bitter and pessimistic - but the opposite is true. It seems as though when you gush out encouragement towards me and my brothers, you shouldn't be able to come up with anything other than fake optimism - but I can feel your true hope and lust for what life and love have to offer. I'm a pessimist in words, but an optimist at heart - and to hear someone else express that integral part of life - that love - is sometimes all I need to remember what I'm doing. I admire you for your ability to overcome all the world has thrown at you (and God, the world has thrown at you so much, especially in this past little while) and still have faith - not even in an external, omnipotent force - but in YOURSELF. I pray that one day I can have such faith in myself. I'm working on it, but right now I survive by having faith in YOU.
You were my idol growing up, and you're still my idol today. It would be fake to say that I want to be just like you, but the core part of you is the model that I want to integrate and build myself on. It's been a really rocky road thus far, but you - and daddy - have proven to be of such great character that I can't help but feel I have what it takes to survive life and all its difficulties.
I know a lot of the time you feel as though you screwed up somewhere in the process of raising us, and it's understandable. The three of us are pretty screwed up, in many ways. But that was the world's doing. Not yours. Your doing was giving us the resilience and the passion to keep fighting for our place in the world despite it all. S****'s patience and contentment? That comes from you. D*****'s love for the world and ensuing hope throughout his hell? That comes from you. My lust for life and people and my determination to be as strong as I can be? That definitely, definitely comes from you.
When all you have is the burden of your own difficulties and that of your family, I'm sure it can feel as though you haven't really accomplished much. I often fear that you might not feel accomplished. But I've heard your stories, and I have a picture of who you used to be, and it amazes me how far you've come. You have become the ultimate woman: you are incredibly strong, beautifully weak. You are confident, outspoken, opinionated. You fight for what you believe in, and you sacrifice what others may think of you for staying true to who you are. These are things that everyone strives for, and that very, very few accomplish even by the ends of their lives. You've already secured that. You have made the ultimate accomplishment of humanity - and I strive towards the very same. I'm working hard to find my own path and go in my own direction, but when I lose sight of what my path is, I simply step back into your footsteps, remember the ultimate goal, and step off onto my own path when I've remembered what it is.
No matter where we are, what either of us are doing, how old we are, or how long it's been since I've spoken to you...I keep your footsteps nearby when I need them. You are so much more than a mother to me. Please never forget that.
Today, when you celebrate your birthday, please don't simply celebrate the fact that you get attention and a slice of cake. Celebrate who you are, how far you've come, and how much I - and all of us - love you. And if you ever lose sight of how amazing and beautiful and accomplished you are, just give me a call. I guarantee you I will never run out of words to praise you.
I love you with all my heart, Mommy. Happy Birthday.