Dozens of letters from an aunt in Wisconsin allowed Karen Hicks to get to know her mother.

My favorite Christmas happened in the year I finally got to know my mother — and also myself.

Mother died of cancer when she was 29 years old. I was 4, and my sister was 6. For the first two years of the 1950s, Mother had been in and out of the hospital, and I have very few memories of my life with her. I remember having my tonsils removed when I was 2 and being allowed to stay in a crib in my mother’s hospital room. I remember almost getting hit by a car and Mother taking me into her bed and making me feel safe again.

I remember Mother’s funeral, and the casket closing, and my sobbing pleas to snuggle in those safe, loving arms once more.

The rest of the few short years we had together are not a blur, but a vacuum.

My father remarried a couple years later, and I had a caring stepmother to raise me. But I still missed knowing my mother.

As an adult, on a trip home to Wisconsin for Christmas, I visited my aunt, Francis Quinn. I had no way of knowing she was about to give me the most wonderful gift imaginable: dozens of letters my mother had written to her from the time of her diagnosis to a month before her death.

What an emotional but thrilling experience to read about the minutiae of our daily life! The letters reveal my mother’s strong will to try anything to survive; her faith, courage, optimism and wit; and her practical thoughts about her husband and the two young daughters she would not see grow up.

The year I received her letters, I turned 50 on Dec. 20. Mother would have celebrated her 75th birthday that Christmas Day. She always said I was her favorite Christmas gift, and, that year, a loving aunt gave my mother back to me. Reading her thoughts and visualizing the stories she told about our daily happenings, I also recognized traits she had passed on to me, values she had instilled. A priceless gift I will always be grateful for.