A Love Letter to Mom

The writer, Mike Terry, and his mother Juanita in a 2016 photo.

Hi Mom.

First, let me say Happy Mother’s Day and I love you. I will be saying it again on Sunday, May 10.

But Mother’s Day 2020 is going to be a strange one. Even though we live in the same city, approximately 10 miles from each other, I will not be able to see or visit you. The health pandemic that has caused a state of emergency and shut down most cities in California is still raging. And the assisted-living facility where you now stay and receive care will not allow visitors, even family — even for Mother’s Day.

I have not been able to physically be next you since the middle of March. Our connection is a landline phone, so we can talk. Officials at the facility still ask me to deliver your medication, and any necessities or niceties you may need or want. But I can only drop them off at the front desk, and go no farther.

I am certainly not alone in my frustration at currently being a disembodied voice. And I’m not the only person chafing under these “stay-at-home” restrictions. Limiting the potential exposure to coronavirus for the good of all is necessary and practical, at least until a working vaccine is available. I get that.

Yet it can also feel like another grand cosmic reminder of “life is what happens when we’re making other plans.” And it makes me ask myself why does it take a situation like this to shake me from the taking-you-for-granted stupor I can easily slide into when it comes to our staying connected, beyond making sure your bills are paid and your comforts are plentiful. 

All the things you did and have done for me — the list is endless. I could spend every day of the rest of my life contemplating and never fully understanding how you raised an only child as a single parent, foregoing your own pleasure pursuits to go back to school, get a decent job as a social worker, and support my whims and whatever that month’s “gotta-have-it” gizmo was flashing across the TV screen. Of how you unhesitatingly imposed the discipline necessary to keep me from straying into unhealthy scenarios. Or how you insisted on exposure to other cultures and life lessons beyond those in the neighborhoods we lived in.

You raised a Mother’s Son but not a Mama’s Boy. You taught me that love and compassion are not weaknesses like arrogance and selfishness. That people are people, good and bad, and to learn the difference. You made sure my father stayed active in my life, even sending me to live with him (and his new wife) so all my perspectives weren’t all your perspectives. 

I also realize, like the song goes, you’re in the autumn of your years — perhaps winter. A key reason you now need assisted-living is both your mind and body are slowly giving out. You have some days of energy and clarity, and other days where you recede into another world. But I still have you in my life. God willing, we will celebrate your 88th birthday in June together. 

I expect to be able to phone you on Sunday to talk, to make sure your gift arrived. And I’ll be able to say, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you. And thank you for giving me life.”

I sure hope I can say it face-to-face next year.

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