YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Healing Words

Robin Bernstein and Cathy Moore have forged a bond like few others. Partners in publishing, they found themselves chronicling a fight to survive.


Dearest Robin:

Just a brief note--it was good talking to you Sunday and I hope as long as you feel like it, or as long as we have things to discuss, that you will feel free to pick up the phone on Sundays and call Mom and me. . . .

So begins the first letter, written in October 1972 by Leonard Freeman to his daughter, Robin, at the time a freshman at Denver University.

In all, there were five letters, the last written from the 10th floor of the UCLA Medical Center two months before his death in 1973.

The letters did not delve deeply, but even today they are precious to Robin Freeman Bernstein for their reflections of day-to-day life back home in Pacific Palisades, the perpetual musings of a father who took time to express how he missed his oldest child, his friend, the first to leave the nest.

I have taken very long walks . . . on my sojourn today, which took me down Ventura Boulevard almost to the Tail O' the Cock, where I remember a couple of pleasant lunches with you over the years--you were on my mind. All good thoughts, I might add.

The letters from her father--a television writer-producer whose credits included "Route 66" and "Hawaii Five-0"--provide an added dimension to Bernstein's memories of a time and a man, now both gone. As she reads them, his words draw her close.

Bernstein, 42, became a therapist with her own practice in Santa Monica. Thirteen years ago, she met Cathy Moore, now 45, a Redondo Beach psychologist, and the two of them discovered they shared an appreciation for letters and journals. Moore had kept a diary as a child, a journal as an adult. Both encouraged clients to use writing as a means of untangling and venting feelings--not realizing how important that tool would become later when cancer touched their lives.

They also shared a penchant for entrepreneurship, which resulted in "Letters for Tomorrow: A Journal for Expectant Moms and Dads," published by Doubleday last year. The journal--which is divided into trimesters so parents can document their thoughts as they make their way through pregnancy--was based on letters Bernstein and her husband, Nat, wrote to their unborn child during the months leading to his birth.

June 20, 1988

You are now 14 1/2 weeks old. We had the chance to see you for the first time today. It was at Dr. Francis' office and the time was approximately 3:15 in the afternoon. It was our first ultrasound, and both of us were very excited and full of wonder. . . .

I just wanted to set this scene for you and tell you how we're doing this. Your mom decided today to start a kind of diary for you, so here I am at the computer typing and she is relaxing on the couch "writing" this letter right alongside of me. She is busy patting her tummy, trying to soothe both of you. . . . I, meanwhile, talk to you secretly through her belly button. Needless to say, we both love you very much and are very excited about what the next six months will bring. . . .

Well, it's 7:00 at night and Mom is starting to feel a little nauseous. . . . We'll come back as often as possible during the next six months with thoughts for you to someday share with us. How does that sound? Good.


Mom and Dad

The letters continued after their son's birth. Not all of them were joyful. Some reflected the world around them, events sometimes painful. On Jan. 19, 1991, Bernstein wrote:

Dear Matthew:

Two days ago on Pop-Pop's birthday war broke out in the Middle East. It is terrifying. The code name for the war is Desert Storm. . . . Israel has been attacked again. Tel Aviv. Four missiles. We pray for peace. . . .

On April 5, 1992, Matthew began asking his mother about his grandfather Leonard Freeman and death. Matthew was 4 years old.

Before you go to bed, you seem to ask very intense questions.

Tonight you asked me, "Did your father die?" I answered "Yes."

You continued with, "Why did he have to die? Is he a skeleton and where does his skeleton live?" (My father, your Grandpa Len was cremated so this is an extremely difficult question to answer. I wish so much he had a grave that I could take you to visit.)

"Can he talk? Does he have a voice?" you questioned further. . . . Eventually I did my best to help you relax and put your mind at ease. I said good night and left the room trying to collect my thoughts, totally unsure about what to say. I then heard you crying and I went back into your room.

I asked you what you were feeling. You said, "I'm sorry your father died, Mom." This took my breath away. . . . Then you asked the question I expected, "Are you and Daddy going to die?"

As best she could, Bernstein explained to Matthew that he should not harbor such fear. But it was something she had thought about. All parents do.

"God forbid something were to happen to us, but if it did, he would know us through these letters," Bernstein says, "and that's something I learned from my father."


Los Angeles Times Articles