A year or two after my mother died of ovarian cancer in 2000, my father asked me and my sister to clear out our mother's clothes.
It was New Year's Day and my sister was hung over. We went to my father's and she went to sleep on the couch. I started working on the clothes, putting aside the ones that I thought one of us might want. Mostly my mother wore t-shirts that tended to have printer's ink on them, or else she was dressed up in what was nearly a costume for a show or party. Most of her clothes did not fit either of us.
Going through her dresser I found five letters. Two were from my grandfather to my grandmother. Love letters. My mother had told me that my grandmother had trouble swallowing when she was in her 50s. I have pictures of my grandmother where she looks deathly thin, in Turkey. That would have been in 1956 or 1957, because my mother graduated from high school and spent a year in Paris doing art, while my grandparents traveled around Europe and to Russia. I have the coins my grandfather saved. This letter was written five years after the first scare. I don't know if the first scare was while they were traveling or before. I suspect that the second scare was in the early 1960s.
Here is the first love letter:
On the cover: This is a prose statement of a part of what you mean to me. Don't read it now, for it would fuss me. Temp
I'm writing this while you are in French, the last Monday before Thanksgiving, and I shall give it to you when we know that you haven't a cancer. I'm writing it because in the years ahead we are going to have other occasions to be worried about each other's health, and the time will have to come when we must say our last "goodbye" on this earth. I want you to know how I faced the idea five years ago, that you might have a fatal disease, (which for a time, then, I took to be pretty probably) and the renewal though less convincing possibility just now.
I think we are all in danger of letting the future loom too large for us. I don't advocate taking no thought for the morrow. I think one should anticipate and do what one can about the future. But having done so, one should return and live as vividly in the present as one can. For after all, the present is all one really has.
So five years ago, and again last week, I looked at a future without you as squarely in the face as I could, and then I think very successfully returned to the present and our delight in each other.
The future without you looked terribly bleak. But I did find courage to go on, and that seems to me to be important. I would want my life without you to be brief, but, if it weren't to be I was determined to make as much out of it as I could, because I love you so. It would somehow have been a failure to honor your memory to give way to despair.
It would have been far easier to face if I didn't love you so much, but never for a moment did I wish that I loved you less. If I could have the love I've shared with you, only at the cost of empty years without you, it's a cost I'd be ready to pay if I had my life to live over again. Somehow, that decision five years ago, has given me a greater sense of a right to all the happiness you've given me.
You've given me everything I value,- a home, children, music, shared friends,-obviously. But even those things I valued before I knew you, in some way, all have come to me though you. So, even if I had had to face live without you, all that came to me would have been your gift.
But your greatest gift to me is the privilege of loving you. I need to love even more than be loved, and you are so lovable. And that is something that your death couldn't have wholly robbed me of.
I know that sounds as if I planned dangerously to live only with my memories, but I was determined to guard against that. I would have gone on with my work and after retirement continued my reading and writing and done a great deal of traveling. And above all I would have cultivated friendships. I would have tried in some was to continue to make our home a hospitable place and our marriage a source of blessing to other people. In fact I would have regarded my living as a continuation of our life. But as I said I was determined not to do it in a sentimental brooding way.
This looking at myself has driven home to me, what I've often said, - that important as our physical passion is, it is very minor compared with other aspects of our marriage. I would picture myself taking a mistress, but not a wife. I could give my body to another woman, but I couldn't take her into my heart. You have made it wholly your own, and despite all that it might have cost me that is what is best for me.
Thank you for letting me love you