Late that night, on composition notebook paper, Ellen wrote a letter to each of her children. Her sense of relief upon completion of these letters allowed her to get to sleep. The surgery went well. The letters to her children remained in Ellen’s care. Ten years later, they were rediscovered and given to her children. She has kindly consented to sharing them.
I write this not expecting that I will die, but in case something unexpected happens.
How can I tell you how important you have been to me – my first born, my only daughter, my quiet beauty.
I have so many special memories of our life together: both of us getting the giggles in church; our bright red twin rain coats when you were 3; being in the canoe wilderness with you (even when you didn’t want to paddle); hearing you play Pachibel’s Canon with the orchestra (even though you hated to practice); watching you comfort others like your teammate whose mother died; and buying you a prom dress a year early just because it was beautiful.
You are becoming a beautiful and self-reliant young woman. I am sorry we had to go through moments of distrust last year. I cherish growing close again this fall, even if it was a crisis on the eve of college that helped us to embrace.
Sex has not been an easy thing for us to talk about. It took me a long time to understand that it is a precious gift we can share with another human being, but it is best when love and trust are established first. Men, and some women too, can treat sex like recreation. I know you understand safe sex – please also keep looking for a loving, faithful relationship. Then you will have it all.
You will be a most wonderful teacher – I feel it whenever I see and hear you with children. Continue to take risks and reveal yourself to others. Then life will have a fullness you might not have believed possible.
Remember to give back to the earth. The lessons of the Boundary Waters and of Y Camp, to leave a campsite better than you found it, apply to decisions we make every day.
You have already discovered the joy of volunteerism with Habitat for Humanity, Camp duNord, the North Dakota floods and your service sorority. Keep it as a lifelong habit to strengthen your core values by benefiting others.
Your dad is a good person who wants to be there for you. So do many others – Carol, Marcie, Sue, Susan and your friends. Cry with them, rage with them, or this grief can keep you from your dreams.
My love will always be with you – you get to keep it and remember it forever.
I write to you tonight, not because I expect to die, but in case something unexpected happens.
You are so precious to me and many memories flood my mind. You were such a wanted baby – not to replace your brother who died, but because we believed in family and a son like you could fulfill that dream. I insisted on being awake for your surgical birth so I wouldn’t miss a moment of your life with us.
I also remember you eating dog food (once or twice); sleeping on the bottom landing of the steps, reluctant to go to bed and miss anything; how you loved the sauna and jumping in the lake; how you loved to dress up and do theater; how well you sing; and your face when you opened the violin on Christmas morning when you were six.
I believe you can do anything you make up your mind to do. Practice does not come easy to you, but I see your pride when you put your creative efforts to work. I am a fellow procrastinator, but life is too tense that way. Try it a few times another way and you’ll find unexpected peace.
For any ways we have struggled about weight control, I am truly sorry. My wish for you is optimum health so you can make your dreams come true. Dreams of high school, dating, marriage, children and maybe a career as a veterinarian. Your teacher Denise is a good confidant – she really loves you.
Remember to be good to the earth. You already love canoe camping and the Boundary Waters so you understand how to be a good steward of resources. Continue to embrace the causes and the behaviors that improve the environment.
Volunteerism is a value of mine which I hope you will continue: improving the lakes and rivers or the urban landscape, teaching reading or camping, feeding hungry people – whatever you decide. Your life will be enhanced even more than those you help.
I believe in you – how smart you are, how creative you are, how handsome you are, how honest and genuine and compassionate you are. Lots of people love you and can help you grieve. Don’t run away from the pain and the grief – cry, write, draw, talk, yell with people you trust.
I love you enormously – you get to keep and remember my love forever.