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Telling Your Kids You’re Sorry

This is a post I wrote in June 2008.  It was written to my two oldest children at a time my youngest was still in chemotherapy treatment for Leukemia. Hopefully, you will never need to say apologies like these.  But I have been written an by untold numbers of siblings who said “I wish I had this letter”.

Don’t ever be afraid to tell your kids that you’re  sorry for mistakes you felt you made.

They may not remember the mistake, but they will remember the apology.

Dear Nathaniel and Rachael,

Although many, if not most, of the things I’m going to talk about here were far beyond our control, our ability to do differently and no one’s fault, I feel the need to address them.

I’m sorry your sister got cancer.  I’m sorry for what this meant for the past years of your lives.  I’m sorry your childhood was marred by the knowledge of cancer, chemotherapy and loss.  I’m sorry for the time that can never be regained and the innocence forever gone.  I’m sorry for all of us, but especially you.

I’m sorry I asked you to be forgiving when your sister treated you in ways that would have gotten a stranger laid flat out with a mama-given sucker punch.  I’m sorry that you had to be afraid in your home, fearful of awakening the beast that slept inside your sister more times than I can count.   I’m sorry for the times she yelled hatefully at you, pinched you, made ugly faces at you and generally made your life a living hell. I’m sorry that you lost that sweet baby sister for so long, to have her replaced with the angry, cranky, sick child that came home from that first hospital stay. I’m sorry that THIS became your new normal life.

I’m sorry for the mornings I wasn’t there to make your lunch and kiss you goodbye in front of the school.  I’m sorry for the nights we had to say goodnight over the phone and I could hear the tears you were so bravely holding back….or not holding back.  I’m sorry for the times when you woke up in the night to find that I was gone with your sister to the hospital, the days you were picked up from school by someone telling you that we were inpatient. I’m sorry I wasn’t there every bedtime to hug your freshly bathed body and get a toothpasty kiss. I’m sorry for the nights you went to sleep wondering what was happening, what was wrong with your sister and I wasn’t there to explain and comfort.

I’m sorry for the menu plans that heavily rotated around McDonalds and Cracker Barrel.  I’m sorry for the mornings we woke up to realize there were no clean uniform bottoms and you had to wear the least dirty ones to school.  I’m sorry for not realizing your shoes were too small until they’d given you a blister.  I’m sorry for the mornings you woke me up instead of the other way around.

I’m sorry for the times you felt jealous when cards and gifts came for your sister and you got nothing.  I’m sorry for those moments when you stood there unnoticed as another person asked, “How’s Peyton?” and didn’t ask how you were doing.  I’m sorry for the times when your own friends said hello to Peyton first and oohed and ahhed over her when they should have been clustering around you.

I’m sorry for the last-minute book reports and projects that were forgotten. I’m sorry for the field trips and competitions and sports days that I wasn’t there to be a part of and to cheer you on.  I’m sorry for the day you lost that math competition and needed me to hug you and tell you how proud I was of you for even being chosen to go but I could only talk to you on the phone. I’m sorry for the cupcakes I couldn’t bring, the cookies I didn’t bake and the class parties that I made you take Publix baked good.  I’m sorry for the birthday parties we missed, the playdates we couldn’t make.

I’m sorry for the times I bought gifts to keep you busy instead of spending the time with you that I should have.  I’m sorry for the nights when I didn’t have any more to give than to kiss your lips goodnight and tell you I’d read you a story the next night.  I’m sorry for the many MANY nights your sister was allowed to sleep in our bed and I told you that you couldn’t.

I’m sorry for the too-many-to-count trips to the hospital.  I’m sorry that you had to see your sister sick, weak, looking rather scary.  I’m sorry for the times you had to eat hospital food for dinner, but those cheese sticks are pretty good.  I’m sorry you had to watch your sister go bald, get fuzzy, go bald again so many times.  I’m sorry you had to learn that cancer kills people and understand that your sister had THAT.

I’m sorry you had to see and hear me cry so many times.  I’m sorry I wasn’t a stronger mother and able to suck it up until I was alone.  I’m sorry you had to make friends at support group who could identify with what your life was, although those are super friends and you would have loved them anyway.  I’m sorry for the times you comforted me and were responsible for the only bright moments in my day.

I’m sorry for the times I yelled, snapped or barked at you for minor things. I’m sorry that I projected my anger and frustration at our situation onto you way too many times. I’m sorry for all the times I was at the end of my rope and left you dangling by a string. I’m sorry for the times I should have spent time with you and I had to leave instead, had to go do something for me.  I’m sorry I couldn’t be the mother I should have been over the past 24 months, that I had to focus so much of my attention on your sister and never had enough for you. I will be eternally sorry for that.

I’m sorry for those conversations about Heaven and where our friends went….you’ll never know how sorry I am for that.  I’m sorry that you have to understand what death is. I’m sorry that I couldn’t put it all back together. I’m sorry that you lost that “my mom can fix anything” way too early in life.

I’m so sorry that I can’t tell you it’s going to be ok.  I’m sorry I can’t tell you that our lives will ever go back to normal. I’m sorry that I can’t promise you that your sister will always be with us.  I’m sorry that when you ask me now, I can’t promise that your world will ever be right again.  I’m sorry I can’t tell you the cancer is gone for good and will never come back, I wish I could.

I hope you know that although it might have felt differently, I love you two every bit as much as it is possible to love another human being, as much as I love your sister.  You are just as precious, treasured and adored.  I am thankful every day for the privilege of being your mother and I could not have gotten more perfect children.  I pray that someday you will understand what happened during this time and that you will be forgiving of the many upsets and mistakes that were made.  Mostly, I just pray that you always know how much you are loved.

Love,

Mom

photo credit: link

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