‘Why I’m leav­ing my sons an “emo­tional will”’

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - CONTENTS - By Lau­ren Lib­bert

My older son turns 12 this week. And aside from wrap­ping presents and or­gan­is­ing his birth­day trip to the cinema, there is one more an­nual task be­fore the big day – writ­ing him a let­ter.

The let­ter might not be read for years to come but is writ­ten each year and filed in dig­i­tal and print form. I do the same for his 10-year-old brother and one day, when I’m gone, I imag­ine them dip­ping into these birth­day files as and when the urge takes them – draw­ing com­fort and guid­ance from my words when I am no longer there to say them face-to-face.

This year, I will record my son’s en­thu­si­asm for start­ing sec­ondary school and his ease in mak­ing new friends, and re­mind him to be softer and less im­pa­tient with his younger brother. And of course, I will tell him, like I al­ways do, how much I love him.

To some, this may seem un­nec­es­sary; a touch mor­bid, per­haps. After all, I am 47 and, thank­fully, healthy. When BBC ra­dio pre­sen­ter Rachael Bland, who died in Septem­ber, re­vealed she’d wrapped 18 years’ worth of birth­day presents for her three-year-old son, Fred­die, and writ­ten a mem­oir con­tain­ing a life­time of ad­vice for him, that was un­der­stand­able. She had been di­ag­nosed with ter­mi­nal can­cer.

But leav­ing a spir­i­tual legacy or ‘emo­tional will’ for my chil­dren, where I note down my boys’ in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter traits and strengths and record any sig­nif­i­cant child­hood scrapes or acts of kind­ness, is some­thing I feel I need to do. Be­cause after my mother died three years ago, I was left grasp­ing for some­thing – any­thing – per­sonal from her to me.

My mum was a won­der­ful mother. She left my four sib­lings and me a rich legacy sim­ply in the way she blazed a trail through life. It’s be­cause of her that we en­ter­tain and cook and open our homes with a warmth and ease she gave us. She is the rea­son we love dogs and can sniff out a sweet can­taloupe melon from one that tastes like a potato. She’s also why we travel, work tire­lessly to cre­ate pretty win­dow boxes and eat peas straight from the pod.

But my mother’s legacy is not an in­di­vid­ual one. It is shared be­tween the five of us equally, with no pri­vate words or life lessons whis­pered into my ear alone – some­thing I be­gan to long for in the weeks and months after she’d gone. When you lose a mother, you lose a part of your­self, for a while at least. A mother gives birth to you, feeds you, nur­tures you and guides you; no one can know you or love you un­con­di­tion­ally quite like she does. She is the lens through which your early years are lived; the store­house for your mem­o­ries. And with­out her, you stum­ble.

When I leaf through fam­ily al­bums to­day, stupidly ig­nored for so many of the years she was alive, I ache to have her be­side me so I can ask her all the ques­tions that spool through my mind. What was I like grow­ing up? Were my sib­lings and I al­ways so close? And two years ago, when I was go­ing through my di­vorce, I’d stare at a pic­ture of her sit­ting be­side me on my wed­ding day and won­der what ad­vice she’d have to give now. But there are no an­swers. Just si­lence.

Like so many moth­ers rais­ing chil­dren in the 1960s and ’70s, her moth­er­ing was more in the do­ing than the talk­ing. And so I am try­ing to do things a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ently, by build­ing a wall of words and mem­o­ries for my boys to lean on should they ever need it, one birth­day let­ter at a time.

Lau­ren co-hosts It’s a Grown Up Life!, a pod­cast for midlife women, avail­able on Ap­ple Pod­casts

Above Lau­ren with her el­dest son on his fourth birth­day

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