Motherhood

A Dying Mother’s Letter to Her Daughters

Julie Yip-Williams letter to her daughters; The Unwinding of the Miracle

What would you tell your young children if you knew you were dying? What would you want them to know? For Julie Yip-Williams, the answer is funny, tender and astonishing…

Julie was born blind in Vietnam. She narrowly escaped euthanasia at the hands of her grandmother, fled political upheaval with her family to Hong Kong, and then came to America, where a surgeon gave her partial sight. Working to create a happy ending, she became a Harvard-educated lawyer, married a wonderful man and had two little girls. Then, at age 37, she was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer. In her memoir, The Unwinding of the Miracle, Julie tells the incredible story of her life, and writes this final letter to her two beloved daughters.


Dear Mia and Isabelle,

I have solved all the logistical problems resulting from my death that I can think of — I am hiring a very reasonably priced cook for you and Daddy; I have left a list of instructions about who your dentist is and when your school tuition needs to be paid and when to renew the violin rental contract and the identity of the piano tuner. In the coming days, I will make videos about all the ins and outs of the apartment, so that everyone knows where the air filters are and what kind of dog food Chipper eats. But I realized that these things are the low-hanging fruit, the easy-to-solve but relatively unimportant problems of the oh so mundane.

I realized that I would have failed you greatly as your mother if I did not try to ease your pain from my loss, if I didn’t at least attempt to address what will likely be the greatest question of your young lives. You will forever be the kids whose mother died of cancer, have people looking at you with some combination of sympathy and pity (which you will no doubt resent, even if everyone means well). That fact of your mother dying will weave into the fabric of your lives like a glaring stain on an otherwise pristine tableau. You will ask as you look around at all the other people who still have their parents, Why did my mother have to get sick and die? It isn’t fair, you will cry. And you will want so painfully for me to be there to hug you when your friend is mean to you, to look on as your ears are being pierced, to sit in the front row clapping loudly at your music recitals, to be that annoying parent insisting on another photo with the college graduate, to help you get dressed on your wedding day, to take your newborn babe from your arms so you can sleep. And every time you yearn for me, it will hurt all over again and you will wonder why.

I don’t know if my words could ever ease your pain. But I would be remiss if I did not try.

My seventh-grade history teacher, Mrs. Olson, a batty eccentric but a phenomenal teacher, used to rebut our teenage protestations of “That’s not fair!” (for example, when she sprang a pop quiz on us or when we played what was called the “Unfair” trivia game) with “Life is not fair. Get used to it!” Somehow, we grow up thinking that there should be fairness, that people should be treated fairly, that there should be equality of treatment as well as opportunity. That expectation must be derived from growing up in a rich country where the rule of law is so firmly entrenched. Even at the tender age of five, both of you were screaming about fairness as if it were some fundamental right (as in it wasn’t fair that Belle got to go to see a movie when Mia did not). So perhaps those expectations of fairness and equity are also hardwired into the human psyche and our moral compass. I’m not sure.

What I do know for sure is that Mrs. Olson was right. Life is not fair. You would be foolish to expect fairness, at least when it comes to matters of life and death, matters outside the scope of the law, matters that cannot be engineered or manipulated by human effort, matters that are distinctly the domain of God or luck or fate or some other unknowable, incomprehensible force.

Although I did not grow up motherless, I suffered in a different way and understood at an age younger than yours that life is not fair. I looked at all the other kids who could drive and play tennis and who didn’t have to use a magnifying glass to read, and it pained me in a way that maybe you can understand now. People looked at me with pity, too, which I loathed. I was denied opportunities, too; I was always the scorekeeper and never played in the games during PE. My mother didn’t think it worthwhile to have me study Chinese after English school, as my siblings did, because she assumed I wouldn’t be able to see the characters. (Of course, later on, I would study Chinese throughout college and study abroad and my Chinese would surpass my siblings’.) For a child, there is nothing worse than being different, in that negative, pitiful way. I was sad a lot. I cried in my lonely anger. Like you, I had my own loss, the loss of vision, which involved the loss of so much more. I grieved. I asked why. I hated the unfairness of it all.

My sweet babies, I do not have the answer to the question of why, at least not now and not in this life. But I do know that there is incredible value in pain and suffering, if you allow yourself to experience it, to cry, to feel sorrow and grief, to hurt. Walk through the fire and you will emerge on the other end, whole and stronger. I promise. You will ultimately find truth and beauty and wisdom and peace. You will understand that nothing lasts forever, not pain, or joy. You will understand that joy cannot exist without sadness. Relief cannot exist without pain. Compassion cannot exist without cruelty. Courage cannot exist without fear. Hope cannot exist without despair. Wisdom cannot exist without suffering. Gratitude cannot exist without deprivation. Paradoxes abound in this life. Living is an exercise in navigating within them.

I was deprived of sight. And yet, that single unfortunate physical condition changed me for the better. Instead of leaving me wallowing in self-pity, it made me more ambitious. It made me more resourceful. It made me smarter. It taught me to ask for help, to not be ashamed of my physical shortcoming. It forced me to be honest with myself and my limitations, and eventually to be honest with others. It taught me strength and resilience.

You will be deprived of a mother. As your mother, I wish I could protect you from the pain. But also as your mother, I want you to feel the pain, to live it, embrace it, and then learn from it. Be stronger people because of it, for you will know that you carry my strength within you. Be more compassionate people because of it; empathize with those who suffer in their own ways. Rejoice in life and all its beauty because of it; live with special zest and zeal for me. Be grateful in a way that only someone who lost her mother so early can, in your understanding of the precariousness and preciousness of life. This is my challenge to you, my sweet girls, to take an ugly tragedy and transform it into a source of beauty, love, strength, courage, and wisdom.

Many may disagree, but I have always believed, always, even when I was a precocious little girl crying alone in my bed, that our purpose in this life is to experience everything we possibly can, to understand as much of the human condition as we can squeeze into one lifetime, however long or short that may be. We are here to feel the complex range of emotions that come with being human. And from those experiences, our souls expand and grow and learn and change, and we understand a little more about what it really means to be human. I call it the evolution of the soul. Know that your mother lived an incredible life that was filled with more than her “fair” share of pain and suffering, first with her blindness and then with cancer. And I allowed that pain and suffering to define me, to change me, but for the better.

In the years since my diagnosis, I have known love and compassion that I never knew possible; I have witnessed and experienced for myself the deepest levels of human caring, which humbled me to my core and compelled me to be a better person. I have known a mortal fear that was crushing, and yet I overcame that fear and found courage. The lessons that blindness and then cancer have taught me are too many for me to recount here, but I hope, when you read what follows, you will understand how it is possible to be changed in a positive way by tragedy and you will learn the true value of suffering. The worth of a person’s life lies not in the number of years lived; rather it rests on how well that person has absorbed the lessons of that life, how well that person has come to understand and distill the multiple, messy aspects of the human experience. While I would have chosen to stay with you for much longer had the choice been mine, if you can learn from my death, if you accepted my challenge to be better people because of my death, then that would bring my spirit inordinate joy and peace.

You will feel alone and lonely, and yet, understand that you are not alone. It is true that we walk this life alone, because we feel what we feel singularly and each of us makes our own choices. But it is possible to reach out and find those like you, and in so doing you will feel not so lonely. This is another one of life’s paradoxes that you will learn to navigate. First and foremost, you have each other to lean on. You are sisters, and that gives you a bond of blood and common experiences that is like no other. Find solace in one another. Always forgive and love one another. Then there’s Daddy. Then there are Titi and Uncle Mau and Aunt Nancy and Aunt Caroline and Aunt Sue and so many dear friends, all of whom knew and loved me so well — who think of you and pray for you and worry about you. All of these people’s loving energy surrounds you so that you will not feel so alone.

And last, wherever I may go, a part of me will always be with you. My blood flows within you. You have inherited the best parts of me. Even though I won’t physically be here, I will be watching over you.

Sometimes, when you practice your instruments, I close my eyes so I can hear better. And when I do, I am often overcome with this absolute knowing that whenever you play the violin or the piano, when you play it with passion and commitment, the music with its special power will beckon me and I will be there. I will be sitting right there, pushing you to do it again and again and again, to count, to adjust your elbow, to sit properly. And then I will hug you and tell you how you did a great job and how very proud I am of you. I promise. Even long after you have chosen to stop playing, I will still come to you in those extraordinary and ordinary moments in life when you live with a complete passion and commitment. It might be while you’re standing atop a mountain, marveling at exceptional beauty and filled with pride in your ability to reach the summit, or when you hold your baby in your arms for the first time or when you are crying because someone or something has broken your tender heart or maybe when you’re miserably pulling an all-nighter for school or work. Know that your mother once felt as you feel and that I am there hugging you and urging you on. I promise.

I have often dreamed that when I die, I will finally know what it would be like to see the world without visual impairment, to see far into the distance, to see the minute details of a bird, to drive a car. Oh, how I long to have perfect vision, even after all these years without. I long for death to make me whole, to give me what was denied me in this life. I believe this dream will come true. Similarly, when your time comes, I will be there waiting for you, so that you, too, will be given what was lost to you. I promise. But in the meantime, live, my darling babies. Live a life worth living. Live thoroughly and completely, thoughtfully, gratefully, courageously, and wisely. Live!

I love you both forever and ever, to infinity, through space and time. Never ever forget that.

Mommy


Julie Yip-Williams The Unwinding of the Miracle

Julie’s memoir, The Unwinding of the Miracle, comes out tomorrow and is available for pre-order. Random House is hosting an event next Monday, February 11th, to celebrate the book. Her widower, Joshua, will be in conversation with Pineapple Street Media’s Eleanor Kagan and Julie’s editor, Mark Warren. You can find tickets here.

Julie Yip-Williams The Unwinding of the Miracle

P.S. How to write a condolence note, what to say to a grieving friend, and 17 wonderful reader comments on grief.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo. Photo of Julie courtesy of her family.)

  1. Penny says...

    Beautiful letter! The day before my husband unexpectedly passed he told me so many things that I tried to repeat to our family & friends. I knew he was failing but hoped he would recover from cancer. I didn’t realize that he was so ill at the he wasn’t going to recover but he obviously knew. I wish I had written a letter for him soon after those conversations throughout the day to give to the family members & friends he was addressing.

  2. The tides of grief are common and normal experiences. This is a beautiful love letter. I also hope she recorded it, so her children can always hear as well as see her voice.

  3. Caroline says...

    Joanna, thank you. I have a limited sight, and I don’t have the support of my mother, lately I feel so lonely in this life journey, this letter helped me a lot today.

  4. Tender, and compassionate, and wise beyond measure. I’d say to Julie, (and firmly believe she can now see all that happens in this world of ours), that you have seen more clearly, and deeply than those blessed with sight.

    Heart-breaking, and life-affirming at the same time. As Julie has written, life is full of paradoxes. I lost my husband to brain cancer eight years ago. We were around him as he passed, but struck dumb with grief. Would want to offer him this article by a stranger (but are we ever strangers?) in the hope that his soul realizes we loved him with just as strong a love as Julie’s is.

  5. Mochanita says...

    I have been trying to get my husband to write a letter to our kids. Though they’re just 3.5yo and 1.5yo. My husband’s brain cancer has unfortunately came back aggressively with multiple recurrence in the last 2 years. He had been refusing to discuss about his illness and the possibility that he might die. In the last 1 week, he condition deteriorated, and now he is unable to comprehend what we are saying to him, nor able to engage in meaningful conversations. He has no interest in anything else other than eating and sleeping. He basically sleeps when he’s not eating.

    My heart breaks watching our 2 kids roam around him and not getting any reaction, only to be responded with blank stares… I wish I had been more insisting for him to write the letters for our young children.

    Julie’s letter is amazing, and I can feel LOVE pouring out from her words. I wish I could have gotten the chance to get a letter from husband too..

    • sj says...

      Maybe you could write the letter for him? You could be honest and say that Daddy couldn’t write it and needed your help ( true fact). I am so sorry to read about your family’s pain. I was widowed suddenly when my 42 yr old husband had a sudden/fatal heart attack. It has been a number of years now, and I can tell you this-you will be forever changed, but you will not be forever broken. Wishing you peace in your heart as you deal with life’s unfairness.

  6. Nina says...

    Well, that was sad and happy. Inspiring and soul-crushing. Thought provoking and made me want to shut off all thought and feeling – no, no, no never let me leave my child and at such a young age. thank you for sharing

  7. Katie Ellis says...

    This wrecked me. I read somewhere once that grief is the last way we love someone, which makes the pain worth it nearly 15 years after my beloved grandmother’s passing. Thank you Jo for not being afraid to share the heartbreaking (but lovely) as well as the funny and quippy.

  8. Sara says...

    This was so incredibly lovely and heartbreaking.

  9. Francine Capizzi says...

    A miracle that almost didn’t happen. It is good that you weren’t being born full term in New York. They would have done away with you!

    • Rebecca says...

      Francine, this comment makes my heart hurt for you. I hope you are able to resolve some of your anger so you don’t have to post such insensitive comments on deeply personal and emotional blog posts ever again. Be well.

    • Aine Whelan says...

      This is a vile comment to leave on this post, as well as being a lie. The law in New York allows late term abortions for life threatening issues in the fetus or serious health complications to the parent. These abortions are not elective- they’re mostly a choice between watching your infant die or limiting their suffering.
      I wish Jo would delete your comment because it is cruel to anyone who’s had to go through this. Think of the grief from not being able to raise a planned and wanted child because they won’t survive out of the womb, or because you’re at risk of a life changing health condition from giving birth, and stop yourself from adding to it.

  10. Debbie Hager-Katz says...

    Thank you for sharing such a deep meangful letter.
    My children & I have experienced a year ago such a subbed lost. thank you for the courage and strength I gained while reading your letter.
    With humbleness
    Debbie HK

  11. Well it seems that Julie had better vision than any of us. Such courage.

  12. Jessica says...

    Reading a letter like this makes me feel like it should be a standard part of getting your affairs in order: a will, power of attorney, and letter to your loved ones. In the event of sudden death, I can imagine that reading words in your loved one’s own voice – where you receive a heartfelt goodbye, permission to grieve, and final words of encouragement that you will get through this pain – would be an indescribable gift.

    So often sudden death throws people into a spiral because their world fell apart with things left unsaid. If we all wrote a letter to the people who we know might benefit from hearing a goodbye, we could help ease that spiral of despair if the worst happens.

    This is all to say that even though I’m single with no children, I think I’ll go write a letter for my family, taking it as seriously as I did putting together my living will, and take comfort in knowing I’ll be able to say goodbye in my own way, even if the universe has a different plan.

  13. Tears… for the universality of Julie’s fierce love for her babies. Of gratitude to you, Jo, for connecting me to yet another kindred soul. And of familiarity for our shared stories of life, loss and living beyond…

    I, too, am helping yet another motherless daughter navigate the treacherous terrain of mother loss. Although I did not “write” her a letter, I invited her to help me fulfill a promise I made to her mother, Terri Luanna da Silva, when she whispered to me, “I think I’m dying. I want you to tell people.” Together, we just released her mother’s posthumous memoir, “Graceful Woman Warrior: A Story Of Mindfully Living In The Face Of Dying.”

    The parallels are uncanny… Terri too wrote a transformative blog about her journey with Stage 4 metastatic cancer, inspiring people all over the globe with her deeply affecting prose. Like Julie, Terri grappled with the meaning of life in her quest to understand the grace lessons contained in life’s suffering. And Terri too dreamed of her blog someday becoming a book.

    Four years to the day my niece Terri died, I fulfilled my promise to her. And Terri’s now nine-year-old daughter wrote the coda to the book…

    Watching Marisa read her own letter to her mother during a book talk for her 4th-grade class, I literally saw Julie’s words come to life as I witnessed Terri’s “blood flowing” through her daughter: “Dear Mamãe, I miss you so much. I miss you every day and I love you. And I want you back. You were everything to me. You were the one that made me. I wish you were here making new memories. The old memories are fine with me right now. The most important thing is that I was with you.”

    So deepest gratitude, Jo, for lighting the spark of serendipity that led me to Julie. And truth be told, I firmly believe it was Terri who led me to you. Her cousins, Jamie and Jeanne, literally texted me last week within minutes of each other, insisting I read “How do you think about death? (Just an Average Tuesday Question), recognizing the connection to their beloved cousin Terri’s story.

    Which then led me to Kate Bowler, whose podcasts I literally devoured in one day! But my heart was cracked wide open by the mind-blowing synchronicity that unfolded next. As Kate interviewed Lucy Kalinthi I suddenly realized she was your sister! (Paul’s book was one of my “bibles” as I embarked on organizing Terri’s story). Suddenly, I realized she was now in love with Nina Riggs husband, John (“The Bright Hour” was my other bible)! And now, thanks to you, I just added Julie’s memoir to my library of posthumous “love stories.”

    May our shared stories continue to light the way❤️

    With deep respect and gratitude,
    Laurie O’Neil

  14. Theresa says...

    I cried while reading this, but it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve read. Thanks for posting.

  15. M says...

    This is beautiful and made me cry. My mom died of cancer when I was just six and she was never able to write me a letter or say goodbye. This is a beautiful gift to Julie’s daughters and to us all.

    • Erica says...

      Xoxo — yes. This does feel like a gift to us all, but I hope even more so to you.

  16. Betsey says...

    Well done Cup of Jo, you made it to the Dougy Center post. In the world of grief, especially children’s grief… this is the king. ❤️Thank you for the post. My college roommate died 2 weeks ago, at age 46. Leaving behind a loving husband, 12 yr old daughter and two 11 yr old boys. A recurrence of ovarian cancer, metted basically all over her body. I am devastated, for all of them mostly.

  17. Margot says...

    This month its going to be 10 years since my mom passed. I dont know how i survived without her love and guidance and yet, at the same time, i know that i owe it all to her and the way she raised me. To be strong, to overcome, to push through, because indeed, we walk alone, but still, to never stop loving this life and the people. Te iubesc, mama! ❤️

  18. Courtney says...

    Losing a mother is the greatest struggle I have ever dealt with. Unfortunately I lost her to addiction and mental illness. She is still living but both illness have completely ravaged the person she once was. I sadly only had glimpses of her true sober self while growing up. I do believe that I have learned so many lessons but sometimes I am ohhh so jealous of the people who get to just have a mom. This is a beautiful letter and appreciate reading the comments from all the “motherless moms” out there.

    • Olivia says...

      Courtney, thank you for writing this. I too have lost my mother to mental illness and addiction – it’s been over two years since I’ve seen her, though she too is still living. Estrangement from one’s parents is a topic I wish were discussed more openly. I am still struggling with how to talk about my mom when people ask about her. Or, if I want to tell a story from the past that she’s in, I risk opening this awkward door if follow up questions come along — Q: “where does your mom live now?” A: I have a guess but the reality is, I don’t really know.
      I feel constant doubt around for my choice to remain out of her life while she is not herself and engaging in damaging behaviors (to herself and to me). So, I just want to say thank you for being brave enough to post this and helping me feel not as alone.

    • Courtney says...

      Olivia, I so appreciate your response. It has been over 15 years that I decided to end our relationship. I have seen her a handful of times at family gatherings but it is a quick hello and then I move forward. It’s been hard but I mourn not having a mother more than anything else. The impact of her illness continues to deeply affect me and I know I have to take care of myself. Unfortunately she never did that even when I was a young child. I hope you find strength in your decision and know that there is someone else out there who understands exactly what you are going through.

  19. Nikka says...

    My mother passed away 11 days ago. There was no advance notice, no time to write a letter. It’s strange how the person I miss is the only person I feel who could comfort me right now. I can imagine, but I wish I knew for certain what she’d say. There are so many questions I have for her that I never asked. In a strange, unexpected way, this post brought me a first feeling comfort. While these may not have been her words, I believe her message would be the same.

    • I’m so sorry, Nikka.

    • Carolyn Reny says...

      Nikka,
      It’s been 5 1/2 years since my mother passed away; I was 36 when she died. It wasn’t abrupt or sudden but there was no letter for me either. Your post took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes; the computer screen is all blurry but I wanted to say this to you. Your are your mother’s best memory. Please find comfort in that. I spent many days being angry at myself for not doing more, not asking, more not saying all the things I could have, for her and for me, but eventually I came to the realization that I wasn’t honouring her with my anger and my regrets. I honour her with my happiness, my ability to find even the smallest joy in life {even when it really shitty] and by being a resilent, opininated, strong-willed, giving zero f*cks woman, wife, and mother. I am at the point in my grief, where thinking about my mom doesn’t physically take my breath away anymore; I can talk about her and tell stories about her and remember her {even the not-so-good parts}. I am her best memory and so are you. I empathize with you and I hope you continue to find comfort. Even though you feel so very alone, you are not. xo

  20. Kristine Farnum says...

    This is one of the most beautiful letters I have read. Thank you Cup of Jo for being brave and posting about hard and beautiful things. XO

  21. I am looking for someone to talk to me about this. I felt related when she wrote about finding your tribe somehow. I just left a hospital here in Sao Paulo, where I live, to visit a mother that just had a baby that was born with the same condition as my oldest. When he was diagnosed with gastroschisis at first I felt a lot of anger and I just left the hospital discussing that we should find a reason for this. Maybe I was supposed to meet her, maybe I don’t know…

    The courage of Julie is beyond everything. Thank you Joanna for building this space and community so amazing stories like this can reach us all and teach us something about what being human is, after all.

  22. Pooja Rao-Pennington says...

    Just plain beautiful! [Made me cry] as I thought about my own father’s death to prostate cancer five years. Life indeed is not fair but one learns to move on…

  23. Cynthia says...

    Just beautiful.

  24. Princess Hajjar says...

    How could anyone not sob as they read this. My goodness. Thank you for sharing this treasure.

  25. AHawkins says...

    I’m really thankful that you posted this because I can relate to what it is like to have a loved one leave you something like a letter. I lost my best friend when I was a sophomore in high school to suicide. He didn’t leave me a note or anything about why he did it or even why he felt like he was alone in the world. I always wondered why he did it. Years later, I received a letter in the mail from his parents. It turns out he explained that he was suffering from a terminal illness and felt like he was a burden to his family. He didn’t want his family to suffer watching him waste away in pain, so he decided to do what he did.
    I remember in his letter that he apologized for not being able to ever see the day I would get married or be the godfather for my future children, but that he would always be able to see from wherever he was at. He also left me a small list of what I should do after he was gone and some advice about life in general. To this day, I keep his letter in my room. And whenever I feel like there is nothing going right in the world, I would pull out his letter and read these words, “Trudge through the times where there is no hope. You may not know it yet, but there is a light at the end of that tunnel you’re in, and you will find a new world just waiting for you to explore it. Keep going. Don’t lose hope. There’s someone out there that will need you as I needed you”. He may not be here anymore, but he will never be forgotten.

    • Kristy says...

      this is beautiful

  26. Heather says...

    Sobbing. So beautiful!

  27. sandra lynne avis says...

    I am in the midst of writing letters to my “boys” 29, 27, 24. I am 4 years into a terminal cancer diagnosis and while I’m thriving and responding to chemo for the moment, the law of averages is running against me now.

    I am lucky that they will carry vivid memories with them the rest of their lives of our time together and one on one. I have taken a mother-son trip alone with each of them in the past two years. Each trip was made of up their favorite things or related to a theme from their childhood-their choosing. It has provided not only memories to last a lifetime, but given me the gift of alone time with each of them-which is so important, sick or not.

    I am making arrangements to have 3 baby quilts made for each one of them-(this is the part that crushes me.) While I may never hold my grandchildren, I will hand pick the fabrics that will wrap them in warmth.

    Like Julie, I hope my words will provide them comfort on a rough day, a little insight to my quirky habits, and the knowledge that I loved them unconditionally and fully everyday of their life. Life is hard, it knocks you down, but you have to get back up. It has been my mantra for the last 4 years. In the vein of Kate Bowler’s wise words, love and embrace the mundane. There is beauty and light all around even when you can’t see it.

    • Your family is lucky to have you, Sandra Lynne. Thinking of you and wishing you a lot of quality time with those you love.

    • I wish I can hug you because .. I dont know. Do we need a reason. You are amazing. Your words are lovely.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      sending so much love your way, sandra lynne.

    • Connor says...

      Sandra Lynne – You are wise and a wonderful mother. Sending you love and peace.

    • Beth Nesbit says...

      Sending much love to you and your family Sandra Lynne

    • Jenn P says...

      “While I may never hold my grandchildren, I will hand pick the fabrics that will wrap them in warmth.” This. It brought me to tears. Thank you for sharing, Sandra Lynne.

    • Haleigh says...

      What an incredible gift you are giving and already have given your boys. I can only imagine how they will share your love with your grandchildren someday. Sending hugs and love.

    • Kara Michelle says...

      As someone who lost my precious mother as a young adult but before I had my children, I can tell you that those baby quilts will be treasured. By far the biggest struggle in my grief for my mother is that my children don’t know what love she would have had for them, although I speak of her often. What a heartbreakingly thoughtful and perfect gift for your boys. How I wish that I had taken a one on one trip with her after her young-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis but before she was no longer able to travel. I am filing these ideas away in case I end up suffering the same awful fate.

  28. Kate says...

    ooooft, incredible writing, so brave. I second the thanks for sharing – have made so many beautiful discoveries via your recommendations.

  29. G says...

    This was hard to read.

  30. Thank you for posting this, it is perfect. Today is the birthday of my twins, who were born at 27 weeks. After years of grief and fear, I now live with gratitude and strength as a result of that experience. I know the range of human emotion that she writes about, and it is my greatest blessing. My boys are happy and eleven years old today. Joy has a way of coming back :).

    • Liz says...

      Hi Eve. I felt similarly reading this as a mom to my daughter who was born at 29 weeks. She is only two years old and so I am still in the middle of grief and fear and many other emotions, but I know one day I will feel normal again. I list my dad a month after my daughter came home from the NICU as well. My life feels very fractured still, but I’m slowing glueing the pieces back together.

  31. Stephanie says...

    I lost my mum when I was nine suddenly. I was actually saying to my husband about 10 minutes before I saw this article that I am going to write letters to my children to be given to them if I pass away. All I ever wanted was to have tangible written evidence that I was loved and that I should back myself even if no one else did. Losing a parent is brutal it makes you evaluate your life constantly. It is what pushes you to keep moving to make the best of the time you have. It is the most amazing lesson on what you emotionally have the ability to cope with (over and over because the ache for your parent never ends university, wedding, babies the illness of your only remaining parent). It has made me live more deeply, take more risks, travel more, push myself more than I ever thought possible and never take experiences for granted. What Julie has written is beautiful and such a gift to the world, life is not fair, her girls have learnt that the hard way. But from this they have an opportunity from this experience to make a life that is anything but ordinary.

  32. Belinda says...

    What a genuine letter of practicality, logic & wonderful hope. It shows a love that is boundless not only to her girls but to others as she is teaching her daughters to love. I did not cry. I felt empowered & felt the strength she was giving them.

  33. Ann says...

    I can so relate to her words as I was born deaf and then lost most of my vision in my twenties and now at age 38 can only see 10 degrees, like looking through a straw. I will lose the rest of my vision at some point as there’s no cure. I am also a lawyer.

    I’m not a mother but I can so relate to her thoughts about how blindness makes you more empathetic, resourceful, interdependent, smarter.

    I recently sat with my mother in law as she took her last breaths dying of ovarian cancer. Due to the struggles that I’ve been through, I felt I was able to be emotionally available to sit with her through her next journey. It was an honour and a privilege to be there for someone’s last chapter. I’m not sure if I would’ve been there for her had I not experienced suffering.

  34. Peggy says...

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    I lost my mother to breast cancer when I was 5 years old, after she had been sick and in treatment for 3 years. And yet, 1 week ago I was relayed the news that my stepmom’s, my dad’s life partner of 8 years, breast cancer has returned and is stage IV.

    I find this part of life cruel. Tragic. I feel my mother’s loss with every passing milestone in my life – graduating high school, going off to college, completing my degree, moving across the country, my first job offer, getting engaged, buying a home…the list is endless. They say when you lose a parent early in your life you feel the loss over and over and over. The tragedy and grief of my mother’s loss is raw and at the surface lately as my fiancé and I delve into wedding planning. It turns out planning out the day you commit to your life partner brings up a lot about your family.

    I also know that this experience in my life, this hole in my heart, has made me a stronger, more authentic, more empathetic, more perceptive human being. It has shaped who I am in many positive ways, but with painful methods. It is a bittersweet reality to come to terms with.

    I have often wondered what my mom would say to me, what she would have written if she had known the time would’ve gone so quickly. This letter ripped my heart wide open, but spoke to me in a way I’m sure only few can understand.

    Sending so much love to anyone who is leaving too soon, or has a loved one gone too early. Grief is like a backpack you did not choose to pick up. Some days the load feels heavy, the pack taking up your whole back, weighing down each step. Other days the pack feels light, small, and airy. But everyday you know it’s there and are anticipating its ever changing form.

    • Nuala says...

      My father died of myeloma when I was 5 and I completely relate to what you say about feeling the loss over and over. I’m now 26 and I think his death and his absence have meant different things to me at different points in my life and have had to be reckoned with repeatedly. Different life events like going to medical school and meeting my partner have thrown his death into different lights and have forced me to process it all again.

      I too wish that I had a letter from him. I wish, desperately, that I had a video of him. To hear his voice would be miraculous.

  35. Tristen says...

    I cried so hard I couldn’t make out the words and had to read this in multiple sittings. There is nothing like a mother.

  36. Vikki H says...

    My 54 year old father died 38 years ago today (Feb 4th) just before my 30th birthday. He was unable to speak after an unexpected stroke the month before. It was very hard as I was his ‘favorite oldest daughter’. Fortunately he had sent several handwritten letters during my college studies and early married years stating his love for me and affirming me as a person. This mom left a wonderful gift for her children.

  37. Jo Ann Crumpler says...

    What a fantastic read. What a wonderful mother and how blessed her children will be. She shares so much truth and that we all can learn from. I pray for God be with her children as they continue with their life , and for their wonderful and supportive dad to remain dear to their hearts. Just reading this , I feel so thankful she chose her endearing way of leaving her heart to her family. As you all continue to heal, I pray her words will always and forever remain with you. Only a mother’s words can be held so full of love. 🌺🌸🌼

  38. AMK says...

    Gut wrenching and soo sooo beautiful. Thank you for sharing ❤️❤️❤️

  39. Charlie says...

    Dear Mom, I lost you about 7 years ago, when I was 23. You didn’t write me a note or a book but you said such similar things to me and tried to teach me such similar lessons, that I know this letter, in this womans words for her daughters, are your words too. I feel you speaking to me through her. You told me to be more generous. You taught me to be gracious and strong, to pull resilience and grit out of hardship and pain. I haven’t forgotten. I’m trying to grow into the type of person you were, to keep loving and learning these lessons you left me. I love you. I miss you. Thanks for this post, mom, julie, and all the other moms who left us this same message, in different ways.

  40. sarah says...

    I’ve just set up an email account and written my darling girls their first letter from me. I’m lucky enough to enjoy good health, but my heart aches at the thought of them ‘searching for my voice’ if something were to happen. My voice is strong and gentle and tells them a million times over how much I love them . Thank-you, CoJ, and Julie for the inspiration.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s beautiful, sarah.

  41. Victoria says...

    I loved….well many of the thoughts in this letter. But most of all the thought that loved ones you’ve lost are there when you are most passionately and courageously living your life – that the energy you create in those moments calls them back to you. That brings such comfort.

  42. Maren says...

    Absolutely beautiful.
    Also, thank you CoJ for linking to an independent book store (Powell’s, based in Portland, OR). If you’re ever in Portland, a visit to their Burnside location is my number one recommendation!

  43. B says...

    This cuts so close to the bone. How very thoughtful and poignant and loving and brave. There can be no doubt that these girls were, and are, through time and space, loved with their mother’s whole heart. The further I venture into the deep woods of motherhood, the more wrenching it is to imagine having to leave my children too soon. Perhaps this is odd to say, but when I first read her obituary in the NYT in the spring, it reminded me that many years back, a doctor had recommended a colonoscopy. All these years later, I finally scheduled that colonoscopy. A precancerous polyp was found and removed; the preparation and procedure were absolutely manageable and nothing like I’d feared. I know she would have done anything to stay here with her babies longer; it was a very good reminder that I should never take that privilege for granted. I hope that these girls are surrounded by love, and made of the same strong stuff as their incredible mom.

  44. Molly says...

    What depth and courage and reflection does this woman have. I’m amazed at this letter and do hope that her daughters will treasure it. When my mom was dying from cancer a few years ago, I wished we were able to have some sort of meaningful exchange of what this would all look like and feel like for me. But I also know that that would have been so hard for her, as she never came to a place of peace or acceptance about her death. I wanted that talk. She didn’t and that is ok. She was the healthiest woman I knew, always took good care of herself, got colon cancer and died right after turning 60. I had just turned 27, my brothers were 24. Four and a half years later, life sometimes feels harder now than it did then, sometimes normal, sometimes so different that I don’t even recognize it as my own. But I do stand by Julie when she says that there is incredible value in pain and suffering and that walking through the fire to get to the other side can be done – arriving to the other side a phoenix. Cheers to Julie and her fierce daughters.

    Also – I highly suggest considering a series on grief like this around losing parents (or anyone!). Grief can be so so beautifully written to give others strength and courage (and like Julie said, to not feel alone) and – of course – everyone goes through it eventually.

    • Liz says...

      You write beautifully, Molly.

  45. Julee says...

    The most beautiful thing and such comfort is has brought me, but I could barely read this through my tears.

  46. Stacy says...

    This is so beautiful – thank you for sharing it. I just read it aloud to my soon to be 11 year old son. His father died the week before his 8th birthday from colon cancer (at age 41). He’s been having a hard time lately and we both had a good cry.

  47. Shena Baruch Hays says...

    Oh the tears. How terrible and wonderful.

  48. Poorva Gabori says...

    Raw beautiful and painful. Reading this letter, with sobs and shudders, my heart burst open.

  49. Kensey says...

    This is truly so touching, thank you so much for sharing it.

    I have to tell this sweet community about the charity Inheritance of Hope, which helps families find hope as they handle the loss of a parent. I just returned from a retreat to Disney where 30 families who are dealing with metastatic breast cancer were able to enjoy a weekend together, with counseling and activities to help them process what is happening. It was incredibly humbling and inspiring to watch the families as they found hope and joy.

    I’d definitely encourage everyone to help them with their mission!
    https://inheritanceofhope.org

  50. Heartbreaking….incredibly moving and poignant. Thank you Cup of Jo for always posting such significant content. I lost my father when I was young. It was unexpected so my brother and I were never able to receive a letter such as this… in some ways, reading this is quite like the letter I imagine he would have written for us had he known. Thank you for giving me this chance to read it. From my own experience, much of what Julie writes will likely ring true for her girls, both the pain and the profound compassion that are born from intimate loss. Wonderful that her daughters will have this legacy to reflect upon and know her better when they are closer to her own age some day. xox

  51. L says...

    This is so wonderfully beautiful yet heartbreaking at the same time. Much of this letter reminds of the very things my own mother told me repeatedly while growing up that have stuck with me my entire life.

  52. Ingrid says...

    My greatest fear as a mother (besides losing one of my children) was dying and leaving them without a mother. I couldn’t have written such an eloquent letter, but everything in it is just what I would have wanted them to know, especially that I would always love them and would be with them in some way. Her letter didn’t make me cry, but the comments of those who have lost their mothers early break my heart. I just hope they know their mother will always love them and I’m sending mother love their way too.

  53. Marlena says...

    I’m going home and hugging my teenagers tonight, rolled eyes be damned. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  54. Blair says...

    That is such a beautiful letter and one I wish I had received from my own mother. My mom also had colon cancer and passed away when I was 16, 3 years after my dad had passed. Her words were true and resonated deeply in what that loss and grief feels like, and yet what you can gain and give from experiencing it thoroughly. Thank you for sharing this. I will need to pick up this book, and a Costco supply of tissues.

  55. Maureen says...

    Thank you for sharing this. One of the most beautiful letters I’ve ever read, as I sob…

  56. Catharine says...

    This was a beautiful piece and one that touched my heart. I lost a dear sister to cancer who had 5-year-old triplets. An astounding tragedy. I felt so much of my dear sister Jane in this letter to her babies. So sad, but after I read this I can see that her children have grown up beautifully and her spirit lives in them. It made me realize that the hardship of losing their mother may help them to have even more fulfilling and complete lives. This was a sad but compelling piece. A remarkable gift to her children and husband. And it is striking…as mothers we always worry about the mundane things like the dog food and the power bill….good for us!

  57. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried so hard from reading something. Wow. I cannot imagine the strength this mother has. So beautiful and powerful and gut-wrenching.

  58. Anne Sophie says...

    wow, so wise and beautiful.

  59. AJ says...

    Wow. Incredibly beautiful and stirring and anchoring words. What a gift to her girls – and also to all of us. I want to reread this forever.

  60. Rebecca says...

    I am always amazed when people going through such acute life (or death, as in this case) experiences are able to write about them with such insight and perspective. It is humbling and beautiful.

    I lost my own mom when I was 30, and she was never able to talk to me about the eventuality of her death or what would come after. The only thing she ever said about dying was that she was leaving me some money so I could pay for a house cleaner. (Haha! A very clear statement on my housekeeping abilities!) She never said goodbye, and that has been VERY hard; and yet she was an incredible model and inspiration for how to live life to the fullest, even in such miserable circumstances. She never complained and continued to want to learn about the world, read new books, see friends, listen to NPR, go to museums, watch movies, go for walks when she was able, and generally just carry on up until the very end.

    I will tuck Julie’s book title away for a later date, when I am ready. As a woman who has lost her mom too soon and as a mom of young children, just reading this blog post tore me up (as it seems to have for just about every reader commenting here). In the meantime, I will remember to write more to my children and to be grateful for every single day (even the worst ones). Thanks Cup of Jo for keeping it real and writing about the hardest of topics (from time to time—I also love reading about lipstick and TV).

    • Charlie says...

      Rebecca, same. I lost my mom at 23 and still haven’t really gotten over it. I don’t think I ever will, grieving is a way of loving, I once heard, so it never ends. But I hope you know your mom is with you. And the are others out there with a similar experience, rooting for you.

  61. Chauncey says...

    and now I feel alive. Thank you for the reminder to live in the moment, even when it hurts.

  62. Erica says...

    I am currently pregnant with my second daughter, so of course this made me SOB! She was such a beautiful writer. Thank you for sharing this with us. P.S. I called my own mother just to chat after I read this (after I pulled myself together enough to not sound like I had just been sobbing).

  63. Zineb says...

    You left me in tears, because I can probably relate to it now. If I read this letter three months ago, I wouldn’t have probably felt this way. My dad was recently diagnosed with Cancer. The thing about Cancer is the constant reminder that you may lose that person in any second, and that you have to live without it. I see him getting thinner everday. I eavesdroped hearing him talking about the time he might leave, and how my mom should be stronger to take the lead. He is so open to the life he will leave behind, and how we should learn to accept life as it is without him. How am I to picture that ?

    • Spyridoula says...

      Zineb,
      last month I lost my father from cancer. He is the first close person to me that died. Be sure that God gives us strength to endure what happens to us. Maybe we think than we can’t handle it but we do. We feel the pain, we suffer but we learn how to live again. You are much stronger than you think you are.
      Someone in Greece is praying for you.
      Spyridoula

  64. Kim says...

    This might be the most beautiful thing I have ever read

    • Dawn says...

      I thought the same thing!!

  65. Colleen S says...

    This is sad and yet sweet. My own mom had a health scare in November when she went to the ER for back pain, and ended up being hooked to an EKG and having a CT of her kidney. Luckily, it wasn’t anything terminal, just a staghorn calculus in her kidney that is being removed the end of the month. But I remember thinking that I am 35, and not quite prepared for her to go. But my mom is the same– she’s the only one who knows where everything is, even the things she’s not in charge of.

  66. Lisa says...

    This is so beautiful but too sad. I can’t even think about being separated from my babies because the pain would be too much.

  67. Oh my goodness. Oh. I can barely type this, but I hope through my now nearly soaked keyboard, covered in tears and snot, it won’t short circuit first, so I can share the depth of resonance I feel from reading Julie’s powerful letter. Her girls will not recognize its gift just yet, but they will. The light and resilience that comes of contrast is transformative, given the willingness to appreciate the tiny as huge. They will get it. It will resonate at the most unexpected times throughout their lives. I understand this viscerally. My mother passed from cancer when I was six years old. And although my five older siblings recall her gathering us all together around her bed in the hospital, reminding us to always remain together through life’s trials- what I remember are these words from her, when it was just the two of us, “On the morning of your birthday, put on your sneakers, go outside with daddy, and look for the rainbow. From now and forever, every time you see a rainbow you’ll know I am watching over you. ” And so on my birthday, six months later, I woke up, put on my little yellow sneakers, asked my father to go outside with me, and there is was. The most beautiful rainbow. I remember as my father sighed, he put his hand on the top of my head and said, “There’s mommy.”
    I am a California transplant from having been raised in New England and the rains are rare but plentiful lately. So is the sunshine. This morning, I woke up to a rainbow. Thank you for always fostering a community of connectiveness. A tiny act made huge.

    • Katie says...

      The sadness and beauty of this makes my heart ache.

    • Molly says...

      I see my mother in rainbows as well, Catherine. And saw a rainbow from my little house in Berkeley, CA this morning too and thought of her. I was 27 when she died, not 6, and we both know that age is one variable in a multitude of ways losing a mom is so different from one another but I appreciate what you shared and connect to it. Take care.

    • FGB says...

      Catherine, that is so beautiful.

    • Robin says...

      I was already sobbing from the letter, but now this too. I’m so sorry for your loss. I love that your mom still comes to you.

  68. Marcie Ambrose says...

    So much wisdom and beauty in her words. This helped me today to see a little clearer in the murky waters I am currently swimming in. Now, if I could just stop crying!

  69. Ana says...

    I am crying a river. All those posts that I have read since my mom said goodbye last march…spoke to me in ways I have never imagine I could possibly think about life, about close relations, about power of love, loss, about greiveing, about myself, my deeper self…and I am most of all so deeply sad of the fact that my mom never truly ever spoke to me about her leaving too early…I was expexcting that since she was soooo open to everyrthing in her life, she was so talkative, free, so fearless, she will open her feelings and thoughts about her destiny….she never ever complained about anything about her deadly illnes (ovarian cancer)….she thought it was nonsense to talk about it and make us sad and miserable….in one way I needed this, I needed her to talk about it openly, on the other hand nobody wanted to think about it, in fact I was sooo naive….she knew, but she choose to live life with us normaly as always….but this letter and all memoirs tell something about us….it is so interesting and captivating that there are people who are willing to talk and write about their own “leaving this life too soon”while going trough any kind of deseas…and address it to their families. It is a big thing,astonishing act to do,brave. My mother lost her whole leg at 15y. She gave birth to me and my.younger sister…she never asked herslef why that accident happened to her,she danced,she smiled,she was a boem…and the same while fighting that cancer…I am thinking about doing the same,a memoir even though Im healthy…but somehow feels bizzare at the same time…Im scare to die, I do not whant to,I have many fears…since I gave birth to my love-son and since I lost my mom…thanks for sharing those aspects of life,I-we need those…to understand better who we are,what is our purpose,why do we live and die,why do we love.

  70. Amy says...

    So beautiful, my little one is sleeping on me right now while I’m tears and boogers.

    • jade lees says...

      I am not sure which letter affected me more. What an incredible gift Julie left both her life partner and children.

  71. Ana says...

    I am crying a river. All those posts that I have read since my mom said goodbye last march…spoke to me in ways I have never imagine I could possibly think about life, about close relations, about power of love, loss, about greiveing, about myself, my deepers self…and I am most of all so deeply sad of the fact that my mom never truly ever spoke to me about her leaving too early…I was expexcting that since she was soooo open to everyrthing in her life, she was so talkative, free, so fearless….she never evet complained about anything about her deadly illnes (ovarian cancer)….she thought it was nonsense to talk about it and make us sad and miserable….in one way I needed this, I needed her to talk about it openly, on the other hand nobody wanted to think about it, in fact I was sooo naive….she knew, but she choose to live life with us normaly as always….but this letter and all memoirs tell something about us….it is so interesting and captivating that there are people who are willing to talk and write about their own “leaving this life too soon”while going trough any kind of deseas…and address it to their families. It is a big thing,astonishing act to do,brave. My mother lost her whole leg at 15y. She gave birth to me and my.younger sister…she never asked herslef why that accident happened to her,she danced,she smiled,she was a boem…and the same while fighting that cancer…I am thinking about doing the same,a memoir even though Im healthy…but somehow feels bizzare at the same time…Im scare to die, I do not what to,I have many fears…since I gave birth to my love-son and since I lost my mom…thanks for sharing those aspects of life,I-we need those…to understand better who we are,what is our purpose,why do we live and die,why do we love.

  72. Mekhala says...

    I have never cried so hard reading a post. I cannot imagine a pain more emotionally acute than saying goodbye to your children for the last time. I needed a post like this today to remind myself to hug my children a little closer and marvel at how special the time we have together is. As always, thanks for making me think and examine my feelings a little harder.

    • Kay says...

      Me too. My kids were driving me bonkers today & then I read this and regained perspective. God, this was an emotional read. Thanks, Jo. And all my love to Julie and her family.

  73. Flora says...

    Man, this Monday has really been kicking my butt, and this letter has really been the thing that I needed.

  74. Kim says...

    I read Julie’s blog for years before she died… How amazing to see her life’s work come to fruition and read this heart wrenching letter. Yes, I’m in tears on the bus, but feeling privileged to check in on Mia and Isabelle and read their mother’s sacred words.

  75. Well that was a good sob. So full of wisdom. I feel instantly grateful for this very normal day. Certainly put things in perspective for me.

  76. Erin says...

    This one really tugged at my heartstrings, both as a daughter and a mother. Thank you so much for sharing.

  77. Mae says...

    I might come off as oversensitive, but I have an idea…is there any chance the CoJ team would consider designating a specific day of the month to publishing such heart-wrenching, gut-punching, staring-into-the-abyss posts so that readers who just plain aren’t up for the read can skip it? Obviously, we have the choice not the click through, but there are days when I come to CoJ for a distraction from a deep, bleak bout of depression, and even reading post titles like this one and last month’s about thinking about death can hit a really wrong note for me. Not sure if any other readers ever feel this way, and not trying to gloss over the simple fact that people die, but just trying to say that sometimes it’s too much. Thanks for considering.

    • Gillian says...

      Oh my goodness. I would second that. I can’t take any more gut wrenching without warning. I feel raw most of the time anyway!

    • Gretchen says...

      I feel this way, too, but I’m not sure what the answer is.
      When I saw this headline I was so thankful that I am no longer in the place I was mentally a few months ago. For a large part of this past year I struggled with severe health anxiety–constantly convinced that I was dying–and a headline like this would have caused a panic attack.
      Pieces like this are so important, and these stories need to be shared. I am just wondering how we can share these pieces in a way that isn’t an unwelcome surprise.

    • Claudia says...

      I strongly agree with this comment, and had the exact same reaction to this post. Mae, I am sorry to hear that you are struggling with depression. I have been there. I hope you are getting the help you need. In the meantime, take good care and try to surround yourself with easier things…

    • Mae says...

      Gillian, Gretchen, and Claudia, thanks for raising your hands with me. I was nervously checking back today to see if the team or anyone had responded. I’m so grateful that your responses were all gentle and supportive. Like you, Gretchen, I’ve been struggling with severe health anxiety and am just too full of mortal fear. I’m encouraged to hear that yours is getting better. I am in therapy and recently began taking anti-anxiety meds…improvement is slow, and stumbling into posts like this one can cause a panic attack, a backslide…I’ve been depressed before, and I’ve been anxious before, but it’s been a different animal this time around, after having a baby. I don’t need any help thinking about how terribly precious my life has become to me since my son was born, or how destroyed I would be if I ever lost him, or that whenever my time comes, I will never feel that I’ve had enough time with him. It’s far too easy for me to get knocked back down the hole I’ve been trying to climb out of, when nudged by a story like this one.

  78. Laura says...

    I read an advance copy of Julie’s book, and it was amazing–so, so moving. She clearly was an amazing person and it would have been a privilege to know her. This excerpt gives you a wonderful idea of what the rest of the book is like. Highly recommend it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so excited to dig in.

  79. Kathy says...

    How beautiful, poignant and utterly heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing. I will definitely read her book.

  80. Stefa says...

    How generous of Julie and Joshua, Mia and Isabelle to share these words. What an incredible woman and life, too short, well lived.

  81. Gisela says...

    Don’t mind me…. just bawling my eyes out at work. Oh my heart. So beautiful.

  82. Katie says...

    About to hop on a video call, and I just can’t.

  83. Louisa says...

    In addition to my heart breaking, I was heartened to know that, even if you’re a Harvard-educated lawyer with impaired sight and terminal cancer, you’re still the one who knows when tuition is due, how instrument renewals take place, and where the dog food is.
    I, too, am keeper of the air filters and know the identity of our piano tuner.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      <3 <3 <3

    • Such lovely insight♥

  84. liz says...

    beautiful letter full of wonderful advice. i’m surprised she’d want to share that publicly, but happy she did

  85. sandra says...

    I have been writing a journal to my son since he was about 6 months old and he is now 3. I lost a friend to cancer when she was 36 and she had a 9 month old son. She tried at the end to write him birthday cards but just didnt have the strength which was so heartbreaking. The journal I write is to him and about him and our family and whats going on at that point in our lives. I did it thinking if I were to die early he would have letters from me at different stages in his life. They are also for him to read as an adult.
    If he is not interested in them, then I at least get to have the memories of the little things that happen day to day in baby/toddler life that are so fleeting and that you so easily forget.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so beautiful, sandra. i’m sure he will absolutely love them.

    • Ruth says...

      I’m nearing the end of active treatment for stage 3 breast cancer. I’m 31 years old and have a 6-year-old and 3-year-old. This post and comment are inspiring me to start writing to my kids too. Thank you.

    • Louisa says...

      I do the same! I set up an email address when my daughter was born, and a dear friend has the password for it. After 4 1/2 years I have 70 emails – ostly little things about her childhood I want her to know — short emails like, “Today you informed me that your ‘toothpaste tastes like castanets.’ Goofball.” Or a favorite song, or a selfie of us. But sometimes I write things just in case I’m not around. (It turns out I love going back and reading it.)

    • Christina says...

      Similarly, my mom wrote in a journal for the first 18 years of my life, with her musings, and day-to-day accounts of our life together. She handed them off to me after I graduated from high school with one empty book to start our next chapter. They are my greatest, most treasured possessions…

    • Willow says...

      I do this too and for the same reason- though I don’t tell anyone that’s why in case it sounds a little morbid! If anything were to happen to me, I want my sons to have those moments preserved and to know how much I love them.

  86. Luis says...

    What a beautiful letter, so many things that I know my wife Margaret would want to have written to our two beautiful daughters (11 & 6) before she passed 19 months ago. I will share it with them on her coming anniversary, It has also helped me today as we continue our journey for Margaret, especially the “Life is not fair” as our 6 year old says when she is having a bad day. ” It’s not fair that my sister got to know mommy for 11 yrs and I only got 6″. Well written, I loved it. Thank you Mindy for sharing.

    • Bonnie says...

      Sincere condolences for the loss of your treasured Margaret, Luis.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so sorry for your loss, luis. your wife sounds wonderful, and your daughters so lovely. xo

  87. Gayle Wilson says...

    To find beauty in the unimaginable. How extraordinary. I had a high school teacher that quoted a quote he had read when we as hormone driven teenagers talked about how unfair life was. Sadly, I don’t remember the quote verbatim, nor the person who said it, because I was a a hormone driven teen and that was a long time ago. I have googled searched words I do remember and have not been able to find it. This is what I do remember, he said that we are all given strings of life to play, and like a violin, we choose whether to play the strings with beautiful music or with sour notes. Julie Yip-Williams chose the beautiful music even in the midst of the tragic.

  88. Claire says...

    I lost own my mother when I was a young girl, and for years, I searched the same drawers over and over again looking for her voice, something, anything, in the written form; some message to me that I could carry along as I was growing up, getting married, having my own children. I have long since forgotten what was the sound of her actual voice, but I have felt her presence at the most simple and most significant times of my life (i.e., my wedding day, the birth of my children). What Julie gave her girls is breathtaking. I will read this again and again as a gift from one mother to another and remember my own. I will continue to appreciate what my mother has given me many of which I am only starting to realize are from her in the first place.

    • Justine says...

      Oh my heart goes out to you, imagining that search as a little girl ❤️

    • Jo says...

      your comment about searching the drawers as a little girl brought tears.. I wish you love and strength <3

  89. Caitlin says...

    Thank you for this. As someone who lost her father far too soon, and who is holds her five day-old baby in her arms, it is a beautiful reminder of how fleeting and unpredictable life is, and of the beauty and power that grief brings to all of life’s moments that follow it.

  90. Justine says...

    As a mother of two very young boys this tore me to pieces. What a work of beauty. I actually logged on to COJ to reference Caroline’s fall book list, having just finished one of the novels she recommended. I will read this next. Thank you.

    PS: I was re-reading my journal last night. It was three years ago that I read When Breath Becomes Air. In my journal I wrote about how moving it was. It still is. These memoirs are special and important.

  91. Lora says...

    I remember seeing a news story about her on CBS Sunday Morning. What a beautiful, strong woman. While her daughters would never choose to he without their mother what a gift she has given them.

  92. Steph Gilman says...

    My sister died at 43 from pancreatic cancer…she had 4 kids, ages 6 to 11, and as their aunt I LONGED for my sister to write something like this to them. She felt so burdened to leave them not only because she’s their mother but because my brother-in-law is a narcissist and isn’t a good man. She was an incredible mom. We often wonder why she was the one that had to go. I don’t understand it at all. But now that her oldest, my niece, is 16, I feel compelled to send her this letter. Her dad remarried – to a woman who never wanted to be a parent and is just obsessed with my brother in law and doesn’t treat these kids anything like my sister did – and so I’m afraid I could be overstepping by forwarding this link. But at the same time, there’s truth in here that I feel could be so good for my niece’s heart, in the midst of the world of pain and chaos she has to experience on a daily basis.

    • Lyna says...

      As one aunt to another, overstep your boundaries until you’re told otherwise, as long as it comes from a place of love. I’m Julie’s sister and aunt to her daughters, and I too struggle with that.

    • Tracey says...

      Build the relationship you want with the kids. Do not bad mouth their father or step mother in case he restricts their (essential) contact with you. You are a lifeline to their mother and they are heading into the time they need her most. At the worst case they will grow to be adults who knew there was someone in their corner.

    • BH says...

      Lyna, I read your sister’s blog and it was clear not just how much she loved her family, but also how much it mattered to her that you’d be there for her daughters. I wish you and all your family the best in the grieving and healing process.

    • Steph Gilman says...

      Lyna and Tracey, that’s so encouraging. Thank you for your words. I’ll keep loving on those kids as best as I can.

  93. Cara says...

    This was too much (in all the best ways).

  94. Katie says...

    Just wanted to say – thank you thank you for linking to this book at Powell’s, and not at Amazon. I’ve seen you get that feedback before (to link to an independent bookstore) and I’m so happy to see you followed up here!

  95. Seriously Jo!?! It’s Monday afternoon! Too soon for this tearjerker!

    How utterly joyful and tragic all at once. Near impossible to read without tears streaming.

    • Perfectly said, Laura!

  96. Sara B. says...

    How very beautiful and deeply moving. As a motherless mother, what an incredibly eloquent reminder to live fully and to teach my children to do the same. Thank you for sharing this.

  97. jill d. says...

    oh wow, this was so heartbreaking and beautiful. i am thinking of her daughters – knowing a bit too well what it’s like losing your mom to cancer when young. but i believe, like julie wrote, that out of loss comes strength and courage and even more love if you allow it to do so…. thank you so much for sharing – this brought tears to my eyes thinking about my mom.

  98. CEW says...

    …yeah, I need to go home and hug my son RIGHT NOW.

    This is a beautiful gift she gave her daughters. I hope it gives them strength in the years to come.

  99. m kilian says...

    Oh dear god – this was the most difficult to read today. I cannot fathom writing a letter of this magnitude to my two girls.

  100. Holly says...

    Absolutely sobbing at my desk. What a remarkable, beautiful, and transcendent spirit she is.

    • Sara says...

      same.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      the “sweet babies” line really got me. they’ll always be her babies. xoxo

  101. Catharine says...

    My father died of cancer when I was a teenager. I had lived a privileged and perfect life with two incredible parents, but I later realized that his death had been his greatest gift to me. It forced me to “walk through the fire” and come out a brighter, more self-aware, more determined, and more grateful person than I ever could have been if my dad had not died. I never became bitter or angry because of his early death, sad, absolutely. However, now ever grateful for him and the life I get to live because of him and the lesson that his death provided to me.

    • Same thoughts here Catharine. I lost my father when I was only 9. Our life during my formative years was a comfortable life and it all changed when he died. Today I’m 26 and I miss my father terribly much more now that I’m an adult. I keep on thinking he could’ve been that one friend I need now to seek advice from regarding adulthood, career, life, etc.

      But I couldn’t agree more that sometimes, a loved one’s death could be our life’s greatest blessing. I wouldn’t be what I am today if not for the struggles we had to endure after my father’s death.

      This struck me most in the letter “As your mother, I wish I could protect you from the pain. But also as your mother, I want you to feel the pain, to live it, embrace it, and then learn from it.”

      I know in my heart this is what my father wants too. <3

    • Lee says...

      Anna and Catharine- I agree and feel with both of you.. and so many on this page!

      My Mom suddenly passed away right before my 20th birthday, and I did not get to say goodbye- I was studying abroad in Egypt and had to rush home. To this day I feel like my mother was ripped away from me without explanation. It was truly a “walk through the fire” experience and I am definitely a stronger person today- a better friend, wife, daughter. It has been 11 years since her passing and I have recently found myself angry for the first time that she is not here, and feel silly for it. The fact that all of these emotions are coming up so long after has been hard to understand. At times I feel like I have been plagued by grief, and others- blessed.
      I mean how lucky are we to have known the great love of a mother or father?

  102. Natasha says...

    wow. That was so hard to read… So courages!

  103. Joy says...

    So now I’m totally crying at work. I’m a mom of two young daughters, and married to a man who lost his first wife (and mother of our oldest) to ALS. I don’t know how my husband made it through. I don’t know how I could ever be so strong as his first wife was, or as Julie was.

  104. E says...

    So beautiful. Thank you. I lost my mother at ten, sometimes it hurts so deeply still, but have learned I hope in the preciousness of life. Thank you.

  105. Farhana says...

    Thank you, Joanna, for this. I have a friend on hospice right now from cancer. She has 2 daughters, 13 and 14. I think her family would benefit from this book.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’m so sorry, farhana. your friend is lucky to have you and it sounds like she’s surrounded by loved ones. but that’s so hard.

  106. Mindy says...

    Oh my gosh. Wow. Just wow. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  107. Heather says...

    Thank you for linking to the book on Powell’s rather than Amazon; it is noticed and appreciated. Seeing this book on the Powell’s website reminds me to order it from my own local bookstore rather than hitting that one-click purchase button on Amazon.

  108. Lana says...

    I can’t read it. 😢

    • Sarah says...

      Same! I tried to start but felt the tears coming.

  109. Cindy says...

    Crying at my desk…feeling so much. Julie says so much, so eloquently, so honestly, so lovingly. What a wonderful soul she was.

  110. Johanna says...

    This is so beautiful and heartfelt.

    I am glad you can see now, Julie:)

  111. Michele says...

    Wow. This is breathtakingly beautiful, wise and I am simply blown away. Thank you. So much love to all.

  112. This is so achingly sad I could not read the entire letter. My bond with my children is so strong that it’s unbearable to imagine not being here as they grow.

  113. Taylor says...

    Just sobbing at my desk on a Monday morning. Cool cool cool.

    What a miraculous woman, to do and give and love so much in her short life, what a role model for how we should all live, regardless of circumstance.

    • Susheel says...

      I had to close my office door. I shared this post with my sister and mother, with a warning not to read it at work.

  114. Jill says...

    I so needed to read this today, as I mourn the loss of my loving cat. What a beautiful, beautiful posts. Her words truly gripped my heart. What perfect timing for this post. Thank you.

  115. Natalie says...

    Bawling after reading this beautiful passage

  116. Wow, I can barely see the computer screen to type this through the tears. It’s hard to imagine how painful it would be to have to write something like that, yet she did so beautifully. Thank you for sharing, Joanna! I’m adding this to my must read list.

    P.S. This book cover is incredible.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, such a wonderful cover! the book will be part of her legacy. what a life! i’m sure she will be deeply missed.

  117. Katrina says...

    Damn it, now I’m ugly crying! How beautiful and eloquent.!

  118. Katharine says...

    What an incredible, thoughtful, moving letter. I’m so glad I read it. I just wish I hadn’t done my make-up first. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.