Memories and Gifts

Mom and Dean, 1950

Losing Mom, the last of her generation, leaves me feeling responsible as the Keeper of the Memories, memories that have been stored in cardboard boxes and manila envelopes and dusty file cabinets and in the back of closets.  I am going through this as a journey through memories of love and sorrow, regret and gifts.  Yes, gifts.

I found a letter I wrote to my mother forty years ago.  I don’t remember writing it, but it is mailed in a Yale University Section of Neurosurgery envelope and appears to have been sent instead of a traditional Christmas card.  It includes a poem that is copied from an unidentified medical journal, written by a doctor identified only as David to his mother on the occasion of her birthday.  I told my mother that it spoke clearly from my heart about what gifts she had given me.  Here’s the poem:

What gift can I give you

On this birthday? You have

Pain in your shoulder. In

Darker moments you have

Sighed and said

Two-thirds of my life are over.


Your children are scattered

Your womb gone. Nature’s trick

So strong in you to gather

And protect, nurture and

Help us bloom like flowers

Yet now, in your Indian Summer

We seem to turn from yellow dandelions

To white, evanescent hairs

Emanating from a seed

Floating where?

Where has your love, your tears

That caring water gone?

Swallowed by a hungry

Seemingly ungrateful earth

The sunlight of your warmth

May seem at times reflected back

Unfelt, unchanged.


And yet, did you know

That when I put my hand

On a crying child’s head

Whispering ssssh

It is you whispering softly

Rocking him close to my chest

That love that I feel for a wide

Eyed baby that I never saw before

That is your love for me

That I can take anywhere, and

Give anytime so filled am I

With this love. I am so grateful

If you take this, my thanks

For your birthday gift

I hope that it will give you

Some peace. It has for me.

Love, David


I’m glad I told Mom what David told his mother:  Her care for me turned into my care for someone else, actually lots of other someones.

Recently I watch a documentary about the life of Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  At a college address near the end of his life he said, “You smile because someone once smiled at you; you love because someone first loved you.”

Fred and David had both discovered this important truth.  Love is never wasted.  Hate fails, anger fails, pleasure fails.  But love is never wasted.  It beats off the chaos and the darkness, it plants seeds that grow into the greatest of shrubs, it gives hope to the hopeless, and gives to the warrior and caregiver alike, courage.

The letter and poem remind me that my bigger responsibility is not as Keeper of the Memories, but as Giver of the Love.  So thank you, Fred Rogers, and thank you, Doctor David wherever you are.

And thanks, Mom.