Monday, May 5, 2014

For Mother’s or Father’s Day: A Promise Letter

To all mourning moms and dads as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approach: I hope you have a plan for something to do on that day that soothes your hurting soul, whether alone or with others. Maybe it’s looking at pictures and being with one of your lost child’s favorite activities, places, people. Maybe it’s about forgetting for a while, like last year when a friend invited me to get massages together or this year when I’m hoping to take a bike ride, carried by the balm of a spring morning. If you are fortunate enough to have living children, I hope you will make time to be with, speak with, devote yourself to them and they to you. Ride the wave of your grief, yes, but have a plan to keep yourself afloat.

I heard a mother tell fellow survivors how she wished she had been with her son the day he killed himself and how a friend reminded her, “You were with him.” We all need that reminder of our abiding love. 

How to lighten the dread in advance of the holiday? If you’ve never made a list of all the ways you showed your love for your child, both in happier times and when they were struggling, maybe now’s a good time to take stock of all that you did as a parent—and look back at it when you’re feeling desperate. Maybe you wish you could reach out to your child and pour out your love. If so, you could try writing them a promise letter or pledge, detailing your commitment to them and their memory.* 

Here is part of my promise letter to Noah, written a year after his death:

I will never forget you and my love for you and your love for me. I will hold you living in my memory, alive to possibilities, as you were for nearly all your years in the most wonderful way. I will tune into your spirit when doing the things you loved. In honor of you, I will strive to be more free, adventurous and relaxed. I will always believe that you could have been happy and had a good life.

I will continue to reflect on your life and death and try to understand you with compassion. With time, I will forgive you, myself, God, and the universe. I will carry with me from this journey the lesson of opening the heart, showing love and truly listening to others. I will try to give your brother all the care and attention he deserves, with a warm and rich family life and everything I can do to nurture his health and happiness. I will dance when I feel like dancing, cry when I feel like crying, and sometimes both at the same time. I will continue to do the things and be with the people that give me strength, comfort, and even joy. I will try to be happy and have a good life, though it will never be the same.  

I will cherish your tender soul. I will write your name in the sand on every beach. I will love you forever.

*Writing a promise letter to the deceased is one of the exercises in Anne Brener’s book, Mourning & Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner’s Path Through Grief to Healing (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001).


  1. Susan,
    The words in your promise letter to Noah are so so sad and so filled with light. You must have worked on this letter, selecting just the right words, editing it down to what felt really needed. The act of reading your letter, even for me who barely knew Noah, makes me see him alive in the memories of many people. Memory is a remarkable thing.

  2. And friendship, too, a remarkable thing.Thanks, Andra - I am so thankful for friends who read this blog with such caring and sensitivity. And strangers too!