Motherless Daughters

Ask any woman whose Mother has died at an early (or any) age and she will tell you that her life is irrevocably altered: that this one fact changes who she is and who she will be. Gone is the caregiver, teacher, adversary, role model and guide to being a woman. 

–Hope Edelman from the book ‘Motherless Daughters’

My Mother passed away when I was 28 years old, she was only 58 and I am now 59.

I have officially outlived her.

There is something unsettling about the void even after 31 years.

For the past 27 years, I have celebrated being a Mom to my 3 beautiful children. Yet every year about this time I sit in the wake of my loss at such an early age and wonder if my life would have taken a different trajectory if she was still here. I will never know.

I have manifested a beautiful life with all of the highs and lows of a life well-lived, and I have lost count of the number of times where I needed her council, her coaching, her voice… her arms around me.

A deep healing occurred when I finally sat down and wrote this letter.

To my Mom… some things you need to know.

Thank you for sacrificing so much of YOUR life to make a better one for me. I saw you patch the holes in your stockings with nail polish. This was right after you gifted me a chance to travel with the swim team to Mexico. I know we did not have the money – but somehow you made it happen. I am not sure I ever really shared my gratitude for that trip and every other gift that was given with love.

I guess I was a heavy sleeper – I still am. I remember the Saturday morning wake-up calls with pans crashing together in the kitchen. It was my Saturday alarm clock – there were chores that needed to be done. It was frustrating for me because I knew other kids my age did not have to get up so early…and now I get it. It was just the two of us and I needed to share in the workload. YOU have no idea how that has translated into my adult life. Thank you!!!

The early morning drive down to the lake was scary. I really thought you had lost your mind, driving in the dark. It was only when we walked down to the pier and sat with our legs dangling did, I get IT. As we watched the sun rise you said with great sensitivity and intensity “remember the details – Life is beautiful and it is short… we only have moments – remember the details”.

Thank you for letting me sleep with you till I was 13 years old. I still remember the sound of your heart beating and your gentle breathing at night. It brought me more comfort than you can ever imagine. You never made me go to my own bed. You trusted that I would make the move on my own, and I did. Thank you for loving me enough to let me stay.

Your standards were high in everything you did – and I never thought I was good enough (at the time). Your favorite expression was “If you can’t do it right then don’t do it all”. Although it felt ‘hard on me’ at the time, it drove me to do better at everything I took on. It was a beautiful compliment to my competitive spirit – I know now that you knew it would inspire me and not derail me – YOU were right. And just for the record… I spent years practicing folding towels and sheets just like you did; and I think I got it!

YOU simply amazed and inspired me with your response to your diagnosis. The Lung Cancer that lived inside of you would change you, but not define you. You stepped into your treatment with a powerful intention to heal your body thru determination and mindfulness. You taught me what power and grace looked like in the face of death – And this was the best gift you could have ever shared.

I am so sorry that I was not there to say goodbye to you before you left this earth. I know you know I was in the waiting room, and I know you know that you were the one that gave the orders, if you were in a coma that I could not come in. I know you know how hard that was for me to understand. I spent many years not understanding why you would keep me from you. And then one day I got it. At my deepest core, I know that you loved me enough to not see you in those final hours of breathing machines and your final fight. I know that your intentions to keep me away were born in pure and unconditional love – YOU knowing me, and what I would remember. I think you knew I ‘would remember the details. Your decision has left me with only memories of you laughing in the kitchen, smiling when you got your crossword puzzle right, whistling while you were in the golf cart, and singing in the backyard while you were gardening.  Yes, Mamma – I do remember the details.

You need to know I see YOU in all three of my children. Ethan has your frame, your coloring, and your eyes. Hannah has your drive, creativity, and feisty nature.  Sean was named after you – he has your athletic ability and talent for singing – (when he sings Frankie Vallie, My Eyed Adored You… It brings a wave of emotion over my body). The all carry a part of you inside of them – and I am so grateful.

I am married to a man who is my soul mate and the best friend that I have ever known. He loves me wholeheartedly and treats me like no other. He holds me to my highest good, encourages me to share my gifts with the world, and is always a safe place for me to fall… he continues to show me what love looks like every day – just like you did.

And I miss you…there is not a day that passes that you are not a part of my thoughts or actions. I know I am the woman today because of the lessons you taught, and more so in how you showed up in my life – consistently. You were unfaltering in your love and support of me; and I feel so blessed to have YOU be the one who blazed my trail. I am grateful and humbled beyond measure to be your daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom – I love you to the moon and back.

Is there a letter inside of you that needs to be called forth?


Carolyn Lebanowski
Carolyn Lebanowski
Carolyn began her professional career in retail and grew to become an experienced and respected senior-level executive with expertise in strategic development, organizational communication, and executive coaching. After nearly three decades of career growth in corporate organizational development, Carolyn was ready for a career change—and a life change. This led to a new role and the most challenging, enriching, and rewarding work of her life, as a Strategic Business Leader for nonprofit spiritual institutions. As Executive Director and Chief Opportunity Officer for 2 large organizations, it gave her the opportunity to fuse the professional and the personal, aligning her business acumen with her spiritual identity and passion for the development of human potential—in her colleagues, in her community, and in herself. Carolyn is a writer who seeks above all to share from the heart. Her impulse to write began 20 years ago with letters to her children and grew into journaling that was unedited and life-affirming. Today she writes with a focus on raw, authentic, and lived experience, to explore, express, and make sense of the pain and joy, and struggles and triumphs, of life. In all her endeavors, she champions connection, integrity, and radical positivity. Today, Carolyn is a published author and a Columnist/Featured Contributor at BIZCATALYST 360° and is living in Cascais, Portugal.

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  1. So moving and so touching your post is, Carloyn. I am experiencing the loss of my mother a year ago these days and so this post resonates deep in my heart.

    “Thank you for letting me sleep with you till I was 13 years old. I still remember the sound of your heart beating and your gentle breathing at night. It brought me more comfort than you can ever imagine. ”
    Now, I am in tears.