When I was seven years old, my mother disappeared. I just woke up one morning and she was gone. I remembered being terrified, running to the kitchen, the bedroom, looking for her everywhere.
It was the single most devastating moment of my young life, and it was only years later that I realized what had happened, that her disappearance wasn’t abandonment. It was love.
That morning, my father was coming to get me to spend a week with him and my stepmother. He was a bit late, and so I wandered around the house on my own. I noticed my mom’s wardrobe standing open.
All her clothes were gone, her shoes, everything. It was then that my dad rang the doorbell and I ran to open the door. “Dad!” I cried, “Something’s happened to mommy!”
My father was just as stunned as I was. He walked around the house looking for her, for some clue as to where she had gone. My dad was at the garage to check if her car was there when I found the note.
My mother had left an envelope on the mantel, addressed to my father, but I opened it. There was a folded piece of paper inside and it read, “Jeff, I’ve carried the burden for the last seven years, now it’s your turn. I need my freedom, and a life of my own.”
I remember my father coming in and taking the paper from my hands, reading it. “Steve,” he said, “mom’s very tired and she’s gone on a vacation, so you’ll be staying with me and Melanie for a while, OK?”
Being a parent sometimes means making hard decisions.
I nodded, but I knew the truth. My mother had abandoned me and dumped me on my father and his new wife as a kind of punishment. I was quiet all the way to my dad’s house and walked up to my room without a word.
Downstairs, I heard my dad’s muffled voice as he explained to Melanie that mom was gone and that I was coming to live with them for good. I thought Melanie might not be that happy about it.
She was nice and very pretty, but she was pregnant, and I knew that once she had her own baby she wouldn’t want me around. Nobody wanted me, I thought, not even my mom.
I was wrong. Over the next months, Melanie went out of her way to make me feel welcome and loved, included. She took me with her when she went shopping for the baby and asked me to help her and dad pick out a name.
My dad told me that he and Melanie were very happy that I was with them, that their baby needed a full-time big brother, and that I was perfect for the job. My sister’s birth three months later was the happiest moment of my life.
Kimmy was so pretty, like a little doll and I loved her straight away. We were a family, me, my dad, Melanie, and Kimmy, and even though there were nights I still cried for my mother, other feelings were growing in my heart.
I discovered that I loved Melanie a lot and I adored Kimmy, but those two feelings grew alongside anger and resentment for my mother. Why hadn’t she loved me as much as Melanie loved Kimmy? How could she just walk away without saying goodbye? How could she hurt me like that?
For years that was something I obsessed over: Why didn’t my mother love me enough to say goodbye? My dad put me in therapy, and it helped a lot, but that anger and that pain never went away. I needed answers, and the only person who could give them to me was gone.
When I turned 18, my dad and Melanie gave me a car and wanted to throw me a party, but I just wasn’t in the mood for celebrations. Kimmy was 11 now and becoming a bit of a brat, but I adored her.
We were in the garage admiring my birthday present when a DHL delivery man knocked on our door. “Delivery for a Mr. Steve Garrow,” he announced. I took the envelope he extended to me.
It was from my mother! My heart started pounding. She’d remembered this birthday when she’d forgotten all the others? With trembling fingers, I tore the envelope open and took out the letter.
It read, “My dearest Steve, you turn 18 and become a man today, and I wanted to tell you how much I love you and miss you. I know you must be very angry with me, but I beg you to forgive me.
“Six weeks before I left, I was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, and doctors told me there was nothing to be done. I had suffered the loss of my own mother at the age of 10, and I knew how much it had hurt me.
“I decided that if I left you with your father, and you believed I’d gone on to a new life, it would hurt you less. I don’t think that at 7 you are equipped to deal with the grief of watching me waste away, as I’d seen my mother die.
“Forgive me, Steve, I hadn’t the courage to see your pain. I hope you will understand what I’ve done. I’m writing this and leaving it with my lawyer, and it will be posted to you on your eighteenth birthday.
“I love you my son, and my greatest regret is not seeing you become the wonderful man I know you will be.”
When I lowered the letter, tears were streaming down my cheeks. I handed the letter to my dad. All I could think of was my mother’s loneliness as she faced her final days alone, all because she wanted to spare me pain.
I was wrong, my mother had loved me, more than I’d ever imagined.
What can we learn from this story?
1. Being a parent sometimes means making hard decisions.
2. Don’t judge someone’s actions without knowing their side of the story.
Share this story with your friends. It might inspire people to share their own stories or to help someone else.
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