An open letter to my mom

beach-releaseDear Mom,

This is a weird letter.

It’s to “you,” but I’m writing it out loud on the Internet so that other people can read it.

I guess I just feel more comfortable talking to you directly.

Today you called me and asked, “Emily, do you think it’s okay if I eat something?”

So I asked you what you meant, and you said you weren’t sure.

I guess we resolved it and you did end up getting a few bites.

Then I told you about my day and my life and the girls and my thoughts.

I rambled on a lot, as I do.

I described the ocean to you, and how wonderful it was to watch my girls come alive in the saltwater and dash along the shoreline. I explained the game Maddie played with the surf, running in and out with the waves, racing and pacing herself just right to miss the water’s edge. I talked about the old people who sit all day on the benches and watch the streams of people going up and down. “Oh, I love to people watch,” you said.

I tried to paint a visual picture of my hand aching with cold in the ice chest, fishing for a cold drink in the bottom of the cooler and how it hurt, but felt good all mixed in with the sweat and dried salt on my shoulders and the tightness of my skin after too much sun.

You got it all. I know you did.

We talked about the joy of summer and lazy days.

There are things I did not say, though.

I did not say “Thank you for letting me be your daughter right now, and letting me brag to you about how beautiful my life is.”

I did not say “Thank you for being so happy for me – truly, legitimately happy for my happiness and good fortune and my beach and health and all of it.”

You never say, “I wish I had your life.”

You aren’t sarcastic and would never say, “Must be nice.”

You never complain or say, “Why can’t I have that?”

Instead you always say, “I’m proud of you,” and mean it.

I paused after the beach story and said “I really hope we can get you here one day, mom. I want you to be on this beach with me, too.”

The last time we tried this idea was a few years ago and you could not make the trip. You were worried about your colostomy bag leaking on an airplane. You got stressed out thinking about the airport and traveling and it overloaded your mind and so you never made it.

Mom, there have been SO many nights when I lay in my comfortable bed and thought of you in your terrible, filthy, falling-down home, wishing I could do more for you. I’ll feel my tears start to slide out and I will feel guilty for all that I have and all that you don’t have.

You love me unconditionally and never really ask for anything.

When I called tonight to say good night, you said “Just hearing your voice is making my face smile non-stop.”

I gave the phone to Zoey and you guys talked awhile. Not sure Zoey understood everything you were trying to say to her. When I got the phone back you said “We were talking in tongues to each other.”

“Okay, mom,” I laughed at your joke.

Mom, you have so much love in your heart. Even with a mixed up brain, it shines through.

Zoey, who is only 10, can see it, too. It’s contagious.

Do you know that Zoey asked me after the conversation if she could write you a letter and send you some of her birthday money?

It’s not because she feels sorry for you. It’s because she loves you.

I told her you would probably want to take the money and buy a gift for her and send it right back.

“That’s okay,” Zoey said.

She’s wise like that. She understands there is more joy in giving.

Thank you, mom, for that lesson. I’m passing it along now, the best I can, to my girls.

I love you.


  1. “I’ll feel my tears start to slide out and I will feel guilty for all that I have and all that you don’t have”. My tears fall with you, all of you. My parents were sick for a long time before they passed. I was 29 the year they died. Today would have been my moms 64th birthday. I stumbled upon your blog tonight and I feel connected to your struggle in some way. You & your brother are incredible children, I admire your strength & resiliency immensely. Thank you for sharing your story.


  2. My mom had schizophrenia. She died from uterine cancer in 2011. Being her daughter was at times brutal, but often beautiful. I miss her so much as I read this. My 21 year old daughter tagged me in a video of your mom on fb today, and I followed it here. Thank you for this project. It is so important. It humanizes a disease that many people have a very one dimensional view of. Best wishes to your lovely mother, and to you.


  3. I can’t even put into words what I felt reading your blog. Enlightenment, encouragement, sadness, happiness, love, guilt, a sense of being so much better off than others, and then feeling humbled and sad by that thought. Thank you for putting a face to this disease. God bless you and your family. Our Creator knew what he was doing when he gave you and Seth to your Mom to love.


  4. This was a really, truly moving letter. We don’t often remember there’s more to a person than their illnesses, even when their diseases can be as horrific as schizophrenia.

    If we can turn our dialog to one of compassion, as you seem to try to do, and to do so well, I know we could make things much better for those who are made to suffer.

    Thank you for this blog. Your open humanity is so refreshing, and I’ve seldom shed such meaningful tears. You have opened my eyes a little more, and I hope you can do so for many others.

    Thank you. -K


  5. Your blog has touched me and my sister both for we, too, have a mother battling with Schizophrenia and we related to almost everything you said. But as for me, personally, I related most to the intensity and pain and happiness in your brother’s hug towards your mother. It’s almost as if in that brief hug you’re trying to hold her long enough that she won’t fall apart while you’re gone. I have hugged my mother thousands of times and I swear we say more in that hug than we’ll ever say with words.


  6. Thank you so much for this. I seen an article in the news today about your mother and your letter to her. I went to look for your webiste right away and found your facebook page as well. Thank you for being there for you mom. Thank your brother as well. I work for the Mental Health and Addictions centre in my hometown. I see this mental illness every day. It breaks my heart. It breaks my heart to see a lot of my people be turned away from family and are alone in this world. You guys are amazing to your mom. I hope she is feeling well today. She is in my heart ❤ ❤ ❤ she is so lucky to have you.


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