Being Your Own Mom

It's that painful time of the year again. The time when the constant bombardment of ads for flowers, jewelry, brunches, cheesy cards, keeps telling you over and over not to forget "Mom." Sometimes I just want to scream at whatever media is flashing their reminders that, "NO, I'll NEVER forget her. Ever." It's hard to watch others toting their moms around and celebrating them. I never really had that chance.

My mom died six days after I turned twenty-four. I was barely an adult. She was barely fifty-four and she had had a very difficult life, which turned for the worse when I was eleven and my father, her husband, ran off with my brother's first grade teacher. We lived at the poverty level for years, and if it weren't for her parents who paid our heating bills, our taxes, helped with food and clothing, we would most likely have been on the street. Things turned rotten when mom was diagnosed with cancer, multiple myeloma, right when I graduated from college in 1983 when I was twenty-one. Mom had no health insurance. I wish, so much more in retrospect, that I could have done something.

With Mother's Day approaching I think about my mother more than usual, even though usual is every day. I talk to a painting of her- one that I did above- from memory- and one that a painter friend did of her from life. I tell her what is going on and how much she would love some of the things, and how much she would hate the others. "The others" being the horror show that continues to play in my life, starring my estranged father who recently threw something that resembled an IED onto our porch.

But despite my mothers' failing health and her lack of material resources she tried so hard to bring beauty into my life. It was embarrassing to me at that age- twenty-two, when she would mail me books that she bought used for pennies and stuffed them with letters in which she'd ramble on and on.

Now I am so happy that I saved them. The books and the letters. They live inside whatever book she sent me, and when she died and I inherited all of her books- and there were hundreds... I would constantly find things stuffed in them: clippings from the New York Times with articles about whoever the subject of the book was, gallery invitations for a book about a certain artist, a stray list of errands, and letters.

It has been twenty-seven years since my mom died and in the past seven years I have had so much turmoil in my own life that I didn't think about those letters and what they said...

But today, after I went to visit my Mother-in-Law with my husband to treat her to a lunch of sushi rolls, ("What is this? It looks very interesting. How do you eat it?") I was needing to mother myself, so I pulled out the letter that my mom wrote to me and saw that the date was April 22, 1984.

It was this time of year. It was stuffed into the book of Whitman poetry twenty-nine years ago, and it resonated even more now.

This is what my mom, Frieda Savitz Laden wrote to me twenty-nine years ago when she sent me "Whitman:"

Thought you might enjoy this- the notes are not mine- it is a sample of his work- you already know-

I send you flowers- poems- & love- the sweetness- the beauty of life- and, all the eye can see- that is the fulfillment of living- to see- & to express it- & to become part of it- without doing- it is there- you do not have to "pick it"- "take it!"- "record it!"- it is there- it will always be there for you- as long as you are!- It is my gift to you- you wear it well, my beautiful daughter-

I never expected you- I have never expected anything- really in life- I did not anticipate who you would be- you are far more wondrous to me- then I could imagine- if I had imagined-

In time you will meet- what people can be- you have already- to a degree- in both directions-

You are magnificent- and I am fortunate- you couldn't be anyone else- never stop writing- a small poem will do- or, drawing- a small one will do- or, thinking- a small thought will do- but your's is yours- & no one can say it that way- it is your wonderment- the ugly- the cynic- will always draw the crowd- the ability to break down- to destroy appears to the many- to the big- to the popular- but the other grows in a corner- out of sight- small & very beautiful- all encompassing with the heart & mind!
The softness of a petal of a flower- you are! Happy spring!
Love, Mom

Mom was right. In so many ways. And I try to heed her words, her thoughts, her unconditional love. She isn't here anymore in a physical sense, but I do bring her with me wherever I go. I remember hearing people say how horrible it was to "become your mother." I know I can never be her- exactly her, but I can become the mom/woman/artist/friend she was- to me and to others. 

And that is a gift. 
So be your own mom.
To others and to yourself.
And share the beauty of who you are.

With Love,


  1. So beautiful, Nina. I love this post. Thank you for your honesty and your willingness to share with us both the painful and beautiful parts of your life.

    Many of us will never receive a letter like the one your mom wrote to you. What a gift. Such an amazing gift that you can unfold and read whenever you need a reminder of your mom and a reminder to mother and love yourself.

    1. Thank you sweet Peg! ...and you are right- the letter is a true gift and I treasure it.


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