Sometimes, as parent to a grown or almost grown child, just figuring out the role I need to play in a situation is the thing that helps most. When emotions run high, that role can be hard to pinpoint.
When I learned my son had been taken into custody, the news was not a complete surprise. He’d driven six and a half hours over the mountains to come see us, quite suddenly and without his wife and children. For over a week, the story of what he’d done had been unfolding. On our screen porch, in our living room, at our kitchen counter, the story came out. It came first in the sound bite he’d practiced on that long drive. Then, in his answers to our follow-up questions, the gritty details emerged.
In the first moments of his telling, I could feel those grandchildren slipping out of my fingers, and there wasn’t a blessed thing I could do about it.
What in the world could you have been thinking? I wondered and asked.
He was a grown man who knew better. There was nothing I could do for him now. Nothing to undo what he had done. Nothing to keep what was bound to happen to him from happening.
Not that I would. What he’d done was wrong. Clearly wrong. He deserved to face the consequences. And he needed to. Facing the consequences would be part of his restoration.
Still, what’s my role? I’m not his attorney. I’m not his psychiatrist. I’m not his pastor. Even if I were, it’s best to let others play these roles, and for me to play the role that nobody else can play, the role of mother. His mother.
You have done wrong, my child, but I am here.
That evening, I took out a pen and a sheet of paper and began to write, so there’d be a letter going out in the next day’s mail. And every day since that day, every day there’s been mail service, a letter has gone out. Just to keep him company. After the first weeks of handwritten letters, I switched to my laptop.
“Evening mail call feels like Christmas here,” he wrote to me early on. That image of him holding an unopened gift meant just for him has inspired me many times. Many inmates, having burned all their bridges, receive no mail.
At 5 each morning except Sundays and holidays, coffee in hand, I take my laptop to my favorite chair and start again. All I need is a first sentence and I’m off. That first sentence is like a starting gun.
People ask me what I find to write about, but it’s same type of stuff I’d talk about if he was here in person with me.
There are my daily adventures. “Yesterday at the grocery store I ran into …” “Our neighbor just got a dog that likes to …” “After your father left on his business trip, I took a big pair of shears and …” “Pastor Jeff was talking on Sunday about …”
There’s a hefty dose of family history. “Did I ever tell about you my mother’s grandfather, who came over on the boat from Ireland, how he had a condition that made him stagger and people always thought he’d been drinking?”
I don’t spare him the heavier stuff, though. “I was so bummed yesterday, thinking about things, I could barely bring myself to …”
There’s the every-so-often, “I know it wasn’t my fault, but …”
And the topic that just won’t die: “What the heck were you thinking?”
It’s one big mishmash, several novels’ worth of stories.
While consolidating things on my computer recently, I came upon the folder into which the final version of each letter is saved. The number of files is up there. I did a quick calculation of the number of remaining mail days until his release. The total will be close to a thousand, probably a little over.
I did not set out to write 1,000 letters.
I sat to write just one, a thousand times. And counting.
Marilyn Yocum writes at marilynyocum.com.