BY ADRIENNE PIEROTH
I received this letter towards the end of my freshman year in college. I was away from my hometown of Denver, Colorado, attending Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. It had been a year of adjustments for me — some good, some challenging — like most 18 year-olds spending their first long period of time away from home. My mother had always been the center of my life, the touchstone I would return to over and over again for comfort, love, a hug, a laugh, or a cup of tea and a much-needed chat. My mother was British and had me late in life the at 39 years old.
Perhaps it was her older, wiser years that made her such a solid and grounded figure in my life. If you asked me what defined the word “home” for me, I would say without hesitation, my Mum. While being away from the comforting home and life she had created for me was difficult at first — her care packages and letters she sent each week made all the difference. Most of the letters were about daily stuff — what was happening at home, with my Dad, or how the cats were doing. But towards the end of the year, this letter arrived. I knew it was special from the minute I opened it. I had no way of knowing that less than five years later, I would be sharing the words in this letter as part of the eulogy I gave at her funeral.
Throughout my high school years my mother battled a rare form of cancer. During those years, I lost track of the number of surgeries, and the radiation and chemotherapy treatments. But all the while, I never once remember her complaining, or asking “why me?” Perhaps the fact that my mother grew up in England during World War II, where nights spent in bomb shelters, rations and stories of sacrifice and bravery defined her youth. All I knew was that my mother had incredible strength, optimism, and not for one minute did she ever believe she wouldn’t survive her battle with cancer.
When I first read it, the part of the letter that struck me most was that she was proud of me. My mother always told me she loved me and how proud she was of me, but it was something different to see it in words, written on a page, in her beautiful handwriting — handwriting, by the way, I couldn’t read until I was nearly ten. My mother had been a secretary and knew shorthand, so her writing was a combination of cursive and shorthand in a style all it’s own.
Years later, at her funeral, it was her last words that spoke to me most, and the ones I shared with family and friends gathered to say goodbye. They were:
...we have to have some grey days in our lives in order to appreciate the bright sunny ones, and we have to make the best of them. I can’t help thinking how wonderful it is that at your young age you seemed to have learned this. Some people live a whole lifetime, Adrienne, and they never learn to love the rain.
If I learned to love the rain, I learned from my mother’s example. Looking back, I wonder which of her grey days she was remembering as she wrote those words. The day I read those words as part of her eulogy was the greyest day of my life to date, even 26 years later, but the brightness of her love and the memories of my time with her outshine the rain. Whenever I want to remember this, I need only to open the envelope that contains my mother’s beautiful words of love and support to be reminded.
April 29th, 1985
My Dear Adrienne,
I am looking forward so much to having you home for the summer. To hear the front door open & to hear you say, “Hi it’s me.” Your dad & I have missed your very much since you went off to college but we know this is the first stage of our daughter’s independence. We love you very much & we are so very proud of you. We know you have worked long & hard in all of your classes & it’s been a struggle, so many times wanting to go out & have fun, or go to a party, but knowing that you have homework to do and that the studies come first.
You have always been able to appreciate the small things in life, Adrienne – a diamond ring – a new 28oz – a trip around the world! So just kidding, I really mean the small & important things in life. When we talked on the phone last week I remember your comment on the weather. It was raining & you said when you were passing a couple of students they were complaining about the rain; how wet & miserable it was. You told me you were smiling inside because it brought back memories of England back to you & the air smelt so sweet & fresh.
Life is a little like that – we have to have some grey days in our lives in order to appreciate the bright sunny ones, & we have to make the best of them. I can’t help thinking how wonderful it is that at your young age you seemed to have learned that. Some people live a whole lifetime Adrienne & they never learn to love the rain.
From your ever loving,