Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Letter to My Mother

**My mother passed away when I was 19 years old, on July 14, 2003.  Since her death, I've written her a letter every year on Mother's Day, and it's become a tradition that I really look forward to.  I think these letters will become my personal history someday, as they always chronicle the ups and downs of my previous year.

I don't usually share these letters but have decided to share this one because it explains the name that we have chosen for our Baby Girl who is due in August.  I miss my mother and am so grateful for the knowledge that families are eternal.  I know that, somehow, she is aware of me and of these letters that I write to her.  I love her.

*Me and my mama, shortly after my birth:

Dear Mama,

Another year has passed with so much news to share.  We’ve had our highs and our lows—but, as always, we have so much to be grateful for.

I’m glad that Mother’s Day happens every year in the spring when the long winter is just ending, the flowers are blooming, and the sky is blue.  It’s a time of year that always makes me feel hope and reminds me that, like the winter, the trials in our lives do end—“joy comes in the morning.”  I’m grateful that it is often with this perspective in my heart that I am able to write my annual update to you.

This year especially, I am filled with joy as I write your Mother’s Day letter because, even as I type this, I can feel a tiny, precious, little being moving around inside of me.  Yes, that’s right, Mama—I am pregnant!  We did IVF in the fall, and miraculously and mercifully, it worked.  My long years of infertility are over, and a little girl will join our family sometime in the beginning of August.  Only three more months to go…I can’t wait.

We are going to name her Sally Grace—Sally, after both of her incredible grandmas, and Grace, because I could not have gotten pregnant or made it through this pregnancy without Him.  Truly, it’s all been a miracle—an experience that I never knew if I would get to have.

After adopting Noah, it no longer really mattered to me if I ever had biological children; I learned firsthand that the children God intended for our family would get to us somehow, and that my love for them would be all-encompassing, unconditional, and inexpressibly deep, whether I carried them in my womb or not.  Yet I am grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to be pregnant, not because my love for this baby is any different than my love for Noah—but because this new experience has taught me just as much about life, faith, and myself as adoption did.

It has been pretty tough, Mama.  The IVF experience was difficult, with daily hormone shots and doctor appointments and procedures—and then I was terribly nauseated for the first 17 weeks or so of my pregnancy.  I couldn’t really function and couldn’t take good care of Noah, and I felt lonely and desperate at times, wishing for no one else but you to come take care of me and help me.  I am almost 28 weeks pregnant now, and I still feel nausea almost every day, though it is not nearly as bad as it was early on.  Add to that headaches and backaches, insomnia and bladder infections, and it’s been quite a tumultuous seven months!  As is always the case when I go through a physically difficult experience, it makes me think of you and your long battle with cancer.  How did you do it, Mom?  How did you live with such grace and gratitude, even when you felt awful?  I have often yearned for your advice during all of this, but when I think about it, I feel like I know what you would tell me if you were here: Take it one day at a time.  Get through the day, do your best, and never lose faith that God is there and He is helping you. I am trying, Mama—I am trying to be like you.

Oh how I wish I could’ve seen and heard your reaction to the news of my pregnancy.  It was so fun to tell our families the incredible news.  There were cheers and tears, fist pumps and hugs—and Ryan and I just felt overwhelmingly grateful that we have such amazing people in our lives to love and support us.  We are mighty, mighty blessed.

I’ve always thought that we would probably name a little girl Sally, since it is so special that both of our moms share that name—but I didn’t want to make a definitive decision until the time got closer.  Once we found out that this baby is a girl, I made a list of all of the girl names that I love—and there are a lot of them!—because I wanted to give each one of them a fair shot; but for some reason, the only name that stood out to me was “Sally.”  My eyes kept coming back to it every time I looked at the list, and it was the name that came into my mind whenever I thought about or pictured the baby.  “I think her name is Sally,” I told Ryan one evening, as I stared at the list of names, and I was surprised when he immediately agreed.  (We had quite a bit of trouble agreeing on Noah’s name before he was born.)

And speaking of Noah, he took quickly to the name as well.  I was afraid he might be confused by all of the Sallys in his life, but he seems to understand perfectly that Grandma Sally is in heaven, Grandma Nielson is “Big Sally,” and the baby in Mama’s belly is “Little Sally.”  Just the other day, a saleslady asked Noah if his mom had an Elmo in her belly, and he responded quite vehemently, “No!  It’s not an Elmo; it’s a Sally!”  He is the cutest, smartest, spunkiest, little boy, Mama.  You would absolutely adore him.  As hard as it can be sometimes, motherhood has been the best experience of my life, and I am nervous and excited to expand that experience with the addition of another baby.  How much love can one heart hold?  Will I really love this new baby as much as I love Noah?  It feels impossible—but I know that I will.

I love that this special little girl is going to have your name and that I will get to think of you every day when I say it.  I hope that she has your strength and resilience, your love of life and your undaunted courage.   I hope she has Ryan’s mom’s amazing ability to nurture and to mother, her innate goodness and her desire to do what’s right.  I certainly want our Sally Grace to be her own person, but I hope she will look to the example of her grandmothers and be inspired by the lives you lived and the people you were.  I hope she will also think about her middle name and always embrace the goodness of God throughout her life—allowing Him to fill her, enable her, strengthen her, and lighten every burden.

I can’t wait to meet her.  As I’ve started to feel her moving more in the past month, I have been filled with a happiness and excitement that is hard to explain—it must be what people mean when they say that pregnant women “glow.”  I am honored to be her mother and to be carrying her in my womb.  As hard as pregnancy has been (and still is at times), it’s an experience that I would not trade; even the horrible nausea has given me wisdom and empathy that I know will be invaluable to me for the rest of my life.  That’s the only worthwhile outcome of trials, isn’t it?  The faith, wisdom, and empathy that come as a result and enable us to better love and serve other people throughout our lives.  No wonder you were so amazing at connecting with and loving people—you’d been refined, humbled, and strengthened through all of the trials you suffered.

Oh, how we miss you, Mama.  We have needed you this year.  Laura had her first baby, Lucas Michael, in January (can you believe it??), and the experience of welcoming him into our family has brought us all so much joy—but it has also magnified the loss that we feel without you here.  Family milestones and celebrations always do that.  Sarah has continued to struggle with depression, and though she is amazingly strong and carries on as a loving mother, wife, sister, and friend through it all, she misses you deeply.  We all do.  A very common text message sent between us three girls over the past few months has been, “I miss Mom.”  Thank goodness we have Dad, who has been simply remarkable over the past eleven years that you have been gone.  We have clung to each other and to Heavenly Father, just as you always told us to, and it has made all the difference.

I do know that you are a part of our lives.  I have a feeling that you are beside us more often than we realize as we mother our own children and do our best to raise them with the same love with which you raised us—but we still wish you were here, beside us, laughing at the stories of our crazy children, and crying at our sorrows and disappointments.  There is no one who can take your place.  And no amount of time will completely erase the pain of your passing—you loved us too well for even decades of time to cause us to forget.

Your three girls are all mothers now, journeying through our own heartaches and joys, trials and triumphs—and we are thinking of you every single day.  On this Mother’s Day and always, I want to say thank you for everything you taught us and gave us and for who you were and how you loved.  Thank you for continuing to be our mother, even in heaven, and for not leaving us behind.  We still need you.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama.

With love,



  1. Beautiful letter. I am sure your Mom loves it. I think the name you picked is perfect.

  2. It's so hard to miss them! I am sure you miss your mom in different ways than I miss my dad, but I know so many of those feelings that you acknowledge. I love this tradition and may have to start doing the same

  3. I love her name and your reasons. She is one lucky girl

  4. Although I never knew your mother except through you, I find myself thinking of her when I'm physically feeling crummy and I think of all the joy she continued to bring to your family over so many years despite her illness and her pain. What a great lady . . . love that you are naming your sweetie Sally!

  5. Crying while walking the streets of Hong Kong. Thank you so much for sharing this. I can't wait to meet your little Sally.

  6. Beautiful letter Rachel. I love the name you have chosen. I imagine she'll be her own little person with some uncanny little bits of the her grandmothers. I know your Mom is close by. The veil is much thinner than we realize and our loved ones are very aware of us. Thank you for sharing this year's letter. Love you tons!

  7. Thank you for sharing this beautiful letter, Rachel! What a beautiful name and beautiful heritage this little girl gets! Love you.

  8. Beautiful. I never knew your mom, but I didn't have to know her to see what a wonderful mother she was to raise 3 beautiful, talented and kind girls.

  9. Beautiful letter. You move me to tears again. Miss you. We should get together sometime.

  10. I absolutely love the way you write! You had me in tears. Love the name, love the letter, loved everything!

  11. Hey Rachel. I was rereading my own blog and missing my dad. I came across your comment and clicked on your name. I did realize you wrote a blog, so I checked in to read some posts. Wow! You have a way with words! I am honored and blessed to be your friend. I am confident your mother is extremely proud of you! I know I am! I still remember the time you were in an accident... injured somewhat badly, yet your first thoughts were about your campers and how to get back to camp for them! Amazing, truly amazing! Your kids are so lucky to have you as a mother, as you were lucky to have Sally as your mom, and how lucky I am to have my mom! Hope to see you in Colorado this summer perhaps?


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