The world is a better place because you were in it. Your sarcasm was legendary and you always told the best stories. Every single detail in your stories remained intact, even as the years passed between the time of retelling and the event itself. One simple story that perhaps best illustrates our thirty-plus-years’ relationship is still one of my favorites:
I was a colicky baby and I have been told this time was quite miserable for everyone. You arrived for a visit and found a harried mom holding a screaming baby. Despite her protest, you sent my mom off to bed to rest, saying you will take care of the baby. After my mom left the room, you simply looked down at the screaming baby in your arms and matter of factly said, “I did not give birth to you, I have no maternal guilt, you may keep crying if you’d like.” At this, my infant self must have realized my efforts were futile. You said I promptly stopped crying, looked up at you perplexed, then sort of sighed and decided to sleep for the remainder of your visit.
No, you were not my mother. I already have one of those, and you did not replace her. You were supplemental; a friend of the family who became so much more.
You were my fairy-not-mother, as I like to think of you. Your magic was not the kind of fairy tales, but the kind of magic that real people can bring to the lives of children, should they choose. The magic you brought to my life has shaped the mother I am. For that, I owe you more than a few thank yous, but here are a few that are particularly noteworthy.
Thank you, for always showing up.
Sometimes I don’t want to go to my own family occasions, let alone occasions with someone else’s family. Alas, you were always at our family occasions. I am absolutely certain throughout nearly forty years of occasions there were more than a few that were awkward or less than fun. But, you always showed up.
This was true for the big ones: holidays, graduations, family trips, weddings, and funerals. But you also came for the small stuff: weeknight dinners, babysitting, random errands, and quiet visits with no purpose.
When I was in college and needed someone to take me to urgent care, you were there. After having my tonsils out, you were there to pick me up and take me home. When I needed someone to talk to in the middle of the night, you were there. You were always, always there.
Thank you, for treating me with respect, even when I was a small child.
Adults have a way of discounting the little humans around them. Leaving children out of the loop, or hiding the ugliness of life from them. I don’t know why we do this; it doesn’t seem to serve a significantly beneficial purpose. This lesson is one I think I learned from you.
I feel children deserve respect and to be included as a member of the family regardless of their age. I remember you taking the time to explain the intricacies of adult life with me; taking time to account for my feelings, and answer my questions. You never overshared details that were irrelevant or reckless for my age, but you did show me respect through your communication.
This kind of respect was more than good manners and social niceties. You treated everyone, including children, like humans who deserved dignity, with an approach that made us feel on equal footing. There was no power-differential nor an elitism based on age. Even though I was a child, you showed me that my experiences and perspective were valid. You treated me with respect and expected me to treat others with that same respect.
Thank you, for never judging me or my choices.
I am absolutely positive I have not, nor will I ever be able to, remain fully judgment-free of my child’s choices. I do not possess your superpower. However, I strive to be less judgemental in my child’s life because I do remember the power of having someone that knew every secret, every skeleton, every misstep, and every regret, and still loved me anyway. The power of your acceptance became a place of respite, and I am so lucky I had you to go to when I needed support and, more importantly, guidance.
As I faced adversity and heartache in my childhood, you were able to help me make sense of life with honesty and empathy. When I felt lost in my adolescence you were able to help me decide who I wanted to be. With your help, I learned to let go of painful distractions that seem to matter so much at the time but end up meaning nothing. When I found myself at the lowest points of young adulthood, you showed me my value is not determined by the choices I make. Because of your guidance, I was able to build a life I wanted to participate in.
Thank you, for being honest.
I am aware that when I was younger, you left out details that were too complex for my young mind. But, you never lied to me about what was happening in my world. And as I grew older, and our relationship grew into a friendship of our own, I needed that honesty to make sense of the world and my role in it. You told it like it was, and challenged me to see other perspectives. We had so many endless lunch dates where we contemplated life’s bigger messes, and I always left with a new knowledge nugget to mull over.
You were also the most honest mirror I could look at when I needed to see the truest reflection. You held me accountable in a way only you, and your honesty, could.
Thank you for loving me, even though you didn’t give birth to me.
Even though you were not my parent or blood relative, you did love me. And, I loved you. I am so grateful you became friends with my parents nearly 40 years ago and stuck around. Your presence is one of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me. I can only hope my husband and I are able to keep such important friendships available to our own child so that he can benefit from having a fairy-not-mother or -father someday.
When you died a few weeks ago it felt like my life training wheels were ripped off. Like the scaffolding used to maintain the structure of my life broke away. I feel unsteady and uncertain without you. And I am so terribly heartbroken.
I am grieving for myself, and for the countless lives you have impacted in a similar way. But I also grieve because my child will not get to know you the way I knew you. I am sad he will miss out on your life guidance, your stories, and your magic.
Daily, I come across a cliché about life being too short, and to hug your loved ones because you never know when the last time will be the last time. I can sadly report they are all painfully true. The other significant deaths in my life thus far were expected; elderly and ailing grandparents to whom, luckily, I did get to say goodbye.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to you, and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I never wrote you this letter when you were alive. I wish I had taken the time to call and tell you myself how much you meant to me so plainly. I miss you so much already and I’m so grateful for all the ways I am a better person because you loved me.
Thank you for the magic.