After Motherless Daughters was released, women started writing to me from all over the country to share their stories of early loss. This was 1994, before the internet had really taken hold, so the letters I received all came through the traditional post-office route. Readers wrote to me care of my publisher, and the publisher forwarded them to me. I was living in New York City at the time, in the West Village to be exact, and on most days I had to pick up my mail at the little Patchin Post Office branch on West 10th Street because there was too much of it to fit in my apartment mailbox. A couple of times the pile was so big the clerk at the post office had to lend me one of those big gray mailbags to lug it all home, and I’d drag the bag over three city blocks and up three flights of stairs to my living room.
I was committed to reading all the letters, which was quite a job considering not just how many there were, but how long most of them were. Some of them took up ten pages, single-spaced, typed or handwritten. I would sit on my living room floor with a mug of tea, surrounded by letters, reading both the most heartbreaking and the most uplifting stories of loss. It didn’t seem fair that I was the only one privy to these stories. One evening when I was at dinner with my agent and editors they asked what I was doing now that Motherless Daughters was out. I said I was reading mail. “Maybe we should do ‘Letters from Motherless Daughters’ next,” I said. I was half joking, punch drunk from spending so much time inside reading letters, but they took the idea seriously, and we all decided that night to publish Letters from Motherless Daughtersthe following year.
It was important to me that this book not merely repackage the material that had appeared in the first book, so with that in mind I decided to order the letters not according to age at time of loss, or age at time of writing, but instead according to the amount of time that had elapsed since the senders’ mothers had died. In this way, the earlier chapters include letters from girls and women whose mothers have just died, so their grief is still very raw, and the later chapters include letters from women looking back over long periods of time and writing about how the loss has shaped their lives. I wanted the book to offer an overall message of hope, by showing how hard it is at first to lose a mother, but how over time the pain does heal and often leads women into unexpected and rewarding places. I got permission to use every letter in the book; in fact, not one woman who I contacted said no. When they heard about the project, they were all eager to let their words help other women on similar journeys.
This book is the one I usually recommend for teens, since it includes the voices of girls their age and may be a little more approachable for younger motherless daughters, especially those whose losses are still very recent.