Would Have Been


A couple of weeks ago I was riding in a car with my uncle, and we were musing about life, love, family, forgiveness and football (there are no greater subjects on which to muse), when he mentioned that my mother, his closest sibling in age and one of his best friends, would have been 50 years old next month.

Would have been.

I hate that phrase.

I’ve written to you before about my mother. I’ve told you about my memories of her. I’ve shared some of her writing with you. I even went all in on trying to capture what it means to grieve for someone. Of the hundreds of letters I’ve written you, and of all the things I’ve posted on the internet, I’ve mentioned her just a handful of times. Sometimes I wonder if I bring her up too much. Other times I wonder if it’s enough. All I know is that when I, or anyone else, brings her up it usually includes the phrase “would have been.”

My personal definition of tragedy is unrealizable potential. Not unrealized potential… that’s a phrase my elementary school teachers used to use when they called my house in a fit of frustration over my unsolvable scholastic laziness. Unrealizable potential can’t be met. It leaves us speculating on what could have been rather than what could be. Often times when we lose a grandparent, or a celebrity passes on at an advanced age, our grief is soothed in knowing that it was unlikely that person would experience any type of fulfillment that they hadn’t already known. When the young are lost, we’re forever left with the question of what would have been.

I don’t know how things would have turned out if my mother hadn’t passed away early. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have grow up where I did, around the people that I had the pleasure of growing up with. I probably wouldn’t have met your mom. This letter wouldn’t exist, as you boys wouldn’t be around to receive it.

Thinking about what would have been is a futile exercise. I’m happy. Sure, something in me will remain forever curious, but despite that curiosity, our current circumstances have my heart filled to the brim.

If for any reason I’m not around to see the three of you become men, I don’t want you to waste thoughts on what would have been.

Know that I’m proud of every day that you make the choice to grow.

Know that the silly mistakes you make where no one got hurt make me laugh.

Know that the only time you disappoint me is when you aren’t there for each other.

Know that in a dispute, I side with your mother… even when she’s wrong, which is never.

Know that I see the people you choose to love as family.

Know that I make mistakes. Know that I pray about those mistakes. Know that prayer has never been a mistake.

I hope you’ll be able to find all these things out firsthand, but I know better than anyone that life doesn’t always work that way. If there comes a time when you’re counting birthdays and wondering how I would have spent them, just know that I would have gladly spent them with you.




  1. Ralph,

    Your post and the links to previous post touched me. Your words are eloquent and in each post you made me smile, cry and laugh. Your sons are very fortunate to have you explaining life through this series of letters.

    In the short time you had with your mother it appears to me that she succeeded in her words “I hope I can pass my knowledge, patience, love and everything else that grows in me from the seeds my parents planted, on to my son to help him grow as a person also.” And, you now are passing this on to your sons.

    All the best,


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