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Staying Close Despite the Distance with a Litany of Letters


In my family, birthdays are a big deal. There are the streamers, the cake, the notes throughout the house, the special birthday dinner, and the feeling of festivity all day. I used to wish birthdays could last for a week (okay, I still do) because of how fun they were. Was it possible to soak up too much goodness and love?

Still, this week was a big week, because it was my mom’s birthday.

Unlike my mom, the orchestrator of these special days, I usually struggle to know what to “get” for her. My problem was compounded by distance: with hundreds of miles between us, keeping our relationship close already requires intentional planning. Never before has “call your mother” seemed so important.

I'm sure my struggle to maintain close relationships with my family isn't unique. As we get older, it's easy to let our relationships with our parents and siblings dwindle. The old memories get dragged out once, maybe twice, a year, but the stories lose their details over time as people forget. Still, the past is part of your family’s story and sometimes it can be the greatest gift to remember the good times shared.

So despite the nightmarish logistics required to round up my siblings, last year we decided to do “a litany of letters” for my mom. We each committed to writing one letter per week for four weeks, which meant she was getting a letter almost every day for a month. Her mailbox is often filled with bills, coupons, and spam, but these “love notes” contained a little ray of sunshine. Maybe it was a fun memory from childhood or a small sentiment of gratitude; either way, it was truly the gift that kept on giving. All of a sudden, fetching the mail became a fun daily routine and she could linger with the affection that she hungered for so much since we moved away.

Birthdays are about celebrating those who are special to us, a day to dust off the relationship and polish it up for the rest of the year. While it might be harder to communicate that appreciation from opposite sides of the country, it’s a worthwhile effort. And although there might be miles of distance between my mom and me, a little planning and creativity brought us close together again.

[Image via Riley Alexandra]