How to be Brave – An Apology Letter

We all wrote in the middle of the field. The chilled breeze whipped around cotton sweatshirts, backpacks, and used composition notebooks. I tried to keep the prompts light until after lunch, and I’m still in shock I was crazy enough to take all my classes out. On the senior English writing pilgrimage, students sat among the trees then encouraged each other in a circle to speak out their apologies. I never asked them to stand in the middle and share. They just gravitated to the center of their universe.

It was my favorite prompt all day: “At the end of every stage in life, it is always good to tie up loose ends. Quietly, write an apology letter to someone to whom it is due in your life. It doesn’t matter if you ever share it, but it’s important you write it”.

Then as students sat away from each other, the air began to fill with the splashing of tears on grass. Nearly 95 high school English students in my three classes returned their tears to the earth as pens scratched on college-ruled lined paper.

When they were done, I wanted to show them how to be brave. So after calling them back to the circle, I said aloud to them, to the air, and to Shiloh, my apology which was scribbled in purple felt tip pen- knowing they would see both strength and immense weakness. This is not eloquent – it’s just raw. And right or wrong, it’s what burned in me as we wrote and as I spoke it into the air.

Dear Shiloh,

Mommy wanted to say sorry. I get mad when you pull my hair, but honestly I let your tiny fingers pull an extra second longer just to remind me I’m still alive and all my strands are secure. You see, I know the science. I know you will not remember the first time I held you that I smelled like sweat and morphine. Or that you breathed two days into this world before I got to see the irises of your eyes. 

You see, Mommy couldn’t hold you because Mommy was trying to survive a seven-hour surgery escaping from a two syllable “cancer” to express a one syllable “love” to you. I don’t know if I loved you at first sight because I was trying so hard not to drop your tiny body as the room spun from the IV drip. Everything is a haze of needles and warm hospital gowns, and I’m sorry to say I was relieved the nurses took care of you because I couldn’t even stand. I’m jealous other eyes got to see you before mine opened again, and for days others got to marvel at you before me. It’s not fair.

I’m sorry it took weeks after you finally came home at a two AM feeding, one hour before the next pain pills were due, to really look into your eyes and realize I loved you. 

I know it’s no one’s fault I had cancer, but I don’t know who to blame for stealing our time. 

Everyone kept saying just do what you can and that you won’t remember. But I do. The image of your father holding you for the first time while his new bride was dying on an operating table is still tattooed in my mind, and it has not yet begun to fade – the ink still shines.

I hope when you grow up and read this you will be proud. That you know I did my best, and I’m still scared some nights cancer will try to rip us apart again. 

I cannot give you another sibling – and I’m sorry for that too.You will never be able to compare noses and hair because the place where I held you was diseased and ripped out to save my life and forever losing others. 

But I teach your brothers and sisters every day. They swing into my classroom lined with posters and too many books I never had, and I claim them as my own because at the core I am a mother to more than one though my body says I can never – I’m done.

I know it’s no one’s fault, but I don’t know who else to blame. 

We cannot get back those months. I cannot give you another sibling, but I can give you the rest of me. They didn’t take it all. See? My heart is still beating.

Sometimes we lead by example – and other times we grieve by example, and there is a fine line between both.



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