The summer after my mom died ten year ago, I discovered a cache of letters, poems, and old photos I had never seen before, many of which dated back to her high school and college years. It was disconcerting, to say the least, to discover that my mother–my mother!–had once been as immature and silly as I remember myself being during those years. Well, almost. There were other surprises awaiting me as well.
I think I was somewhere in my twenties when I realized that my parents had actually been people before I came into their lives. Interesting, intelligent, fun people, growing and experiencing young adulthood just as I was at the time. My head almost exploded at the thought. “Well, of course,” my mom said mildly, barely looking up from her mystery novel when I shared my discovery with her. My dad just looked at me. “When I was your age, I was fighting a war, ” was all he said, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open and my world tilted on its axis a bit more. Ever since, I’ve been hungry to learn more about them, the young woman and man who became my parents.
My mother’s letters and poems have helped me understand how she dealt (actually, she didn’t really deal) with the sudden loss of her father in a farming accident when she was 20. Reading her prose makes me sad that she never followed up on her youthful ambition to be a writer, and makes me more determined than ever to somehow, someway, realize my dream of becoming one, chronic migraines be damned! Looking through her papers I am continually reminded that although I may not be her flesh and blood, I am so much like her I might just as well be…The passionate love poem she wrote to my dad shortly before their wedding, well, I just have to keep putting that one aside because I can’t wrap my mind around that one, nor am I entire certain I want to!
But most astounding and overwhelming letters that I found were the ones I had no inkling existed, the letters she wrote to God when she converted to the Catholic Church in her early twenties. My mom was a real Christian; she lived the Beatitudes and was warm, generous, joyful, and loving, forgiving, nonjudgmental and kindness itself. But these letters reveal a depth of love so overwhelming that it is shocking, in the the same way some of the more mystical writings of the saints are shocking. It’s a good reminder that not all saints are canonized, that even those we love most have hidden depths, and that, indeed, we are all called to holiness.