write the letter

November 17th, 2013

mary-cassatt-letterA few months ago I received a packet of letters in the mail. They were the last letters sent by my mother to a friend who, cleaning out her drawers 14 years later, decided to send them to me. They trace the first months of my daughter’s life, which were also the last months of my mother’s life, for she had just begun a course of treatment for advanced cancer. Reading the letters, I saw what she had written about me and her new grandbaby, the commonplace detail that had given her something uplifting to share. I could see what we have lost in the abandoned art and ritual of correspondence; how by our modest connections we extend our life and love. These remnants of my mother’s simple, selfless friendship remind me to do what I urge you here: write the letter. Write the letter today.

 Aug. 16, 1999

I’m feeling stronger today. I guess time is the best healer. It was so nice of you to take the time and the effort to encourage me and show me your love and friendship.

Karen went home last night from the hospital. Little Georgia will stay on. It will be decided on a day to day basis how long she stays.

Aug. 28, 1999

Georgia now weighs 4 lbs. and 10 oz. The baby came home from the hospital last Tuesday afternoon. We talked to Ed & Karen today. They both sound tired.

Sept. 5, 1999

I talked to Karen this morning. Georgia now weighs 5 lbs. 4 oz. Tricia was with Karen & Ed from Tuesday night to Friday evening. She was a big help. Karen seemed to feel so much better.

I went to a Cancer Support meeting last Wednesday. Met so many nice people with lots of helpful hints & advice. Got a free wig also. It’s got some gray in it, so I’ll finally have more gray hair.

Sept. 12, 1999

Talked to Karen yesterday. Georgia goes for a check-up on Monday. Her dad told me she might weight 6 lbs. She eats all the time. Some friends of mine are going to give me a Grandma shower on Sept. 25th. It’ll be a brunch. Isn’t that nice of them!

My hair is falling out daily.

Sept. 19, 1999

Right now, I have a strange hair-do. I usually wear a hat when I go outside. Don’t want to shock an unsuspecting person.

Sept. 27, 1999

Georgia weighs about 7 lbs. now. She’s had either colic or some stomach distress lately. Karen calls me every week, sometimes 2 or 3 times. She is still very stressed out & worries about everything.

Sept. 29, 1999

Karen sent me directions how to meditate while sitting in a chair. I do it twice a day. Each time about 10 minutes. I hope I’m doing it correctly.

Oct. 14, 1999

We are not going to Calif. this weekend. I had a hard time making up my mind. Karen said since I couldn’t decide, let outside influences determine. The nurse called to tell me about my blood test. My white cells were down. Then on Monday Dr. Bell, the internist, put on a 24 hr. heart monitor on me to see if anything unusual showed up. That’s when I decided home was the best place for me.

Oct. 23, 1999

We had a wonderful weekend when Karen, Ed & Georgia were here. Karen called Friday night and asked if they could come on Saturday, the next day. I got nervous about it, but Jim convinced me to say “yes.” They arrived Saturday at 2 p.m. and left Monday at 11:45 a.m. I relaxed and felt better than I had in a long time. I even slept better. Karen and I talked a lot. I held Georgia a lot or just watched her as Ed & Karen tended to her. She is a precious doll.

I’m sorry this letter seems to be filled with all my various ailments. I do have good moments in spite of all of them.

Nov. 17, 1999

I’m not feeling well at all this week. I had my last chemotherapy on Friday. I am having a very tough week.

I am having trouble with my voice again. It’s very raspy this week. I do get discouraged.

March 8, 2000

I wanted to let you know that I’ll have surgery on Monday afternoon at 1 p.m. Dr. Fine will look in the abdomen to see if there are any very small tumors.

May 1, 2000

Karen called us last night to tell us Georgia had gotten her second tooth. Also, yesterday morning, when Karen went to get her out of her crib, Georgia was standing up holding onto the rail. Karen was so excited. She seems to be learning something new every day. Karen and Georgia are planning to come see us for a week in June—my good week.

I’m enclosing a picture postcard we got from Georgia when they were at the beach.

June 19, 2000

It’s pretty quiet in the house today as Karen and Georgia left yesterday.

I’m not getting chemotherapy today. Dr. Fine wants to study the CT scan report I had Friday before he decides whether I should continue this series. My CA125, cancer blood test, showed a rise, which might show more cancer activity. Oh dear!

Karen asked me to send you the enclosed picture of Georgia. She crawls everywhere and pulls herself up to a standing position on all tables, chairs and table legs, walls, cabinets, etc. She is very active and jabbers most of the time.

July 9, 2000

Got some bad news Friday afternoon. The CA125 blood test results showed my count to be 45—above the normal range. The chemotherapy is being stopped. I am pretty discouraged at this time. I asked Dr. Fine if I could wait a month or two before beginning chemotherapy again. He didn’t recommend it, if all I did was “sit around.” If there is something I really want to do, he says I should do it.

I am going to go out to Calif., visit Karen and family, fly up and spend a weekend with Tricia and family, then back to Sierra Madre. I’ll start the new chemotherapy when I return.

Art: Mary Cassatt, “The Letter”


  1. Write a letter every day. You will beautify yesterday and enrich today.

    Comment by Bill — November 17, 2013 @ 4:13 am

  2. I kind of miss licking the stamp. Regardless, watch your mailbox.

    Comment by Jena — November 17, 2013 @ 9:49 am

  3. How wonderful to be able to read your mother’s handwriting again. I am honored to read her words.

    Comment by Roos — November 17, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  4. Wow. What a gift. And how sad.

    Comment by Meg — November 17, 2013 @ 10:57 am

  5. Your mom was relaxed and slept like a charm with you and your family present. Your presence must have been such a sweet gift.

    Comment by Jane — November 17, 2013 @ 11:46 am

  6. My mum has ovary cancer which can be treated but not cured. I was thinking the other day, I want her to write letters for her two grand daughters of 4,5 and 2,5. Your mum’s letter proves to me how precious it is.

    Comment by Marga — November 17, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

  7. How lovely this post. Always giving us a piece of your heart Karen! These are the letters every daughter should be able to read someday, as well as your daughter. So much love! Your posts always find me in a moment I most need them, thank you!

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — November 18, 2013 @ 9:10 am

  8. Really enjoyed this post and your mother’s letters. Thank you for sharing them.

    Comment by Colleen — November 18, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

  9. How much this must have meant to you. And how wonderful as her life was passing, she had this wonderful new grandchild who would carry her into the future.

    Comment by marilee pittman — November 18, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  10. I had extensive correspondence between myself and my mother when I lived in Italy as a young adult and later lived here in the U.S. I kept these letters for many years – taking them with me each time I moved. I rarely read them but I knew I had them. My mother died 23 years ago. A couple of months ago I threw them away. It was very freeing and almost a rite of passage.

    Comment by Jotai — November 18, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

  11. thank you so much, Karen, for sharing these moving letters. your mother’s pure heart shone forth into your life. her love for her new grandchild is wonderful. so much is conveyed here. may she be in blessed memory.

    Comment by daniel — November 19, 2013 @ 10:05 am

  12. Very moving and powerful stuff, Karen.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — December 5, 2013 @ 2:36 am

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