Happy Sweet 16 to Ella Lee

April 12, 2018


Hello missed Ella Lee. Happy would have been 16 birthday my love.

For the past 11 years I sit down every April 11th to write a birthday letter to you; a letter full of words I wish, I think, I hope, I would be saying to you on this or that birthday; words for any birthday expect the one you aren’t really having, really experiencing; these words for this birthday…the mythical sweet 16.

This year’s birthday, the sweet 16, is a year I should, as a mother, be full of words a mother would tell her beloved daughter who stands at womanhood’s door. I should be…full…of words.

I am not. Ella is not at that door. That door; one of so many consistently kicked in by Paris over the years, is no longer available to be opened.

I am so tired Ella Lee. So tired of, so tired from, missing you.

So tired of, so tired from, hoping for your brother. So tired of, tired from, talking about, reliving, always experiencing, your death over and over again. So tired of, so tired from, trying to get others to understand mental illness, mass incarceration, the essence of unconditional love, the nature of hate.

Just so fucking tired. Yep. Tired. Way tired.


I will continue to write you a letter every year for your birthday. I will continue to hold out hope and love to your brother no matter what he comes up with next. I will continue to do whatever it takes to make your death meaningful in spite of what it will cost me in the long run. I will continue to walk raw in the world in spite of what it costs me at this moment right now.

Ella, here is what I would tell you, if I could, on your 16th birthday.

Welcome to womanhood, Ella Lee. Welcome to a time of much to explore, to enjoy, to analyze, to bear, to create, to suffer, to endure. You have probably already gathered enough evidence to know this life is lived in a world of mystery, pain, joy, love beyond compare.

This is a world I am hopeful to be your guide in. There is much I could tell you of this world. There is much you probably wish to know about this world.

There is much neither of us will ever say to one another about our experiences in this world, because for reasons beyond both of our understanding, we will never say these words to one another.

This I can tell you, Ella Lee.

Had you still been here to enter womanhood with me at your back, I would have done so with respect, joy, fear, and fascination to see the woman you should be becoming today. I would have done so loving you as much as I still love you now, sitting here imagining you at 16, writing these not quite right words to you.

Had you still been here with me for your birthday, I would have imparted this essential lesson womanhood has taught me…

No matter how tired you are…no matter how overwhelmed you are…no matter how unfair, how unjust, how unexplainable…no matter what…you can always go on as long as love is your reason, your motivation, and your guide.

You will lose. You will think you can no longer go on. You will fall down, tear your hair, make your mistakes big and small. You will find yourself alone, questioning everything, trusting no one, holding onto faith in yourself in spite of every reason not to.

You will go on. As long as love is your reason, your motivation, and your guide, you will go on.

I promise. You will go on Ella Lee. You will be the guide to reason, to motivation, to promises kept.

Happy Sweet 16-

…That is what I would have said. Now it is what I will continue to live.

No matter how tired I am.

Mom…aka Charity Lee

#sweet16 #ELLAFoundation #lesshatemorelove




This Post Has One Comment

  1. Happy 17th, Ella.
    I’m thinking of you today!

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