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Farewell, Elizabeth Borson

Nathan Borson's letter to his mother in her last few days

December 16, 2006


Dear Betty,

You are lying in your bedroom in your beautiful new Ballard condominium. You probably have at most a few days left in this world. This dreadful cancer has taken you from us “a piece at a time” as Kathy Ann has said. I'm sorry you cannot speak but I think you can still hear and understand so I'm going to say goodbye now before even that is taken away.

Now that your life's work is finished I want to remind you of all you have done and how well you have done it.

I wasn't around but based on your character, your intellect, and reports I've had you were an outstanding student. Classmate Joanne Hitterdal wrote that you were “the brightest in the bunch” of your small high school class. No doubt you continued at the head of the class in Concordia College. Later you went to school to learn accounting, then computer programming. After retirement you went to community college to become a medical transcriptionist. As shown in your book collection you have always had an open, inquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge and truth whether it was in science, geography, literature, art, or spirituality. I congratulate you on a lifetime of learning and personal growth.

You started your professional career late in life. You went back to school to become an accountant. As a single mother you took more training to become a programmer in the days before the personal computer was invented, at a time when that field was dominated by men even more than it is today. Now I think that period must have been daunting if not terrifying but if you were afraid you hid your worries from your carefree dependents. You spent more than twenty years excelling as a programmer and later manager, mostly in public service for King County. Your intelligence, competence, integrity, and diligence earned you great trust and respect, even love, from your co-workers and staff. Your sense of adventure and thirst for knowledge inspired you to learn Visual Basic and move from mainframe to personal computing at a time when most of your peers were unwilling, unable, or too fearful or suspicious to make that leap. After a well-deserved retirement you embarked on a new path as a medical transcriptionist. You told me how challenging that training was and expressed uncertainty about whether you would pass the final exams but you excelled in this as in everything you did. Your client Beverlee Reninger wrote to me that “your mom was the best transcriptionist we have ever had.”


I have no children but have seen the challenges Nick and Kathy and my friends face raising their children. Caring for you these past few weeks has made me more aware than ever of the effort you put into child rearing and managing your home -- though I would never know from your words or actions that it was ever a chore or a burden. You performed these duties – perhaps your greatest work – with the same uncomplaining grace with which you approached life in general. Nor did you seek to make life as easy as possible; as your former husband Bob wrote recently, “Your spirit of adventure was a driving force in our decision to move to Sweden in 1965. At a time when many of our contemporaries were putting down roots and creating nests, we sold everything we had and embarked on a great adventure. Not many people would have been willing or able to make the sacrifices necessary to live abroad for five years on my income as a writer/editor and (in Spain) a free-lancer.”

At the time I was unaware of your sacrifices. To me your greatest gift was that simple life without want. It was an upbringing that allowed me to see for myself, years later, that all the riches of my classmates in Marin County, California did not lead to happiness; if anything they contributed to some of the highest suicide and divorce rates anywhere. You gave me “true wealth” which is, as my neighbor Kim Heacox says, “not a matter of adding to our possessions, but of subtracting from the sum of our desires.” So much of my great happiness in life derives from your freeing me from the ugly, empty, hopeless materialism that possesses so many Americans.

Besides this key to happiness you gave me every other advantage in life. I cannot list them all but I will name a few anyway.

  • You cannot take credit for the great genes you passed down from your ancestors but they are necessary, if not sufficient, for the health and intelligence I enjoy.

  • I learned so much from your positive example

    • You never demanded my respect, trust, courtesy, or forbearance; you earned them by showing them -- to me and everyone else. You rarely if ever spoke unkindly of anyone.

    • You taught me independence, self-reliance, and generosity by never asking for help or complaining about what you had to do. Instead you did more than your share without being asked and without expecting recognition or gratitude.

    • You inspired me with your command of language, your thirst for knowledge, your reverence for truth and love of adventure.

    • The courage you have shown during your four-year battle with cancer leaves me speechless. This is one of several examples you have set that I am still trying to learn from and live up to.

  • You gave me all the love and support a child could want. You encouraged me to make my own choices. You welcomed my independence but I knew I could always count on you when I needed you. You gave me the confidence to feel I could do anything I wanted. Knowing I always had you to fall back on gave me the courage to follow my every dream.

  • While I like to think of myself as self-reliant you have provided help unstintingly when I needed it most, whether I asked for it or not. For example, you helped me with college expenses. You helped a great deal in starting Spirit Walker Expeditions. I lived with you at times between jobs. You and Nick started my computer career by giving me my first computer. You purchased a parcel of land in Gustavus together with me. Now you are going to help me buy my first home.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude for all you have done for me and given me. The care I have given you during the short time that you have finally needed help is such a small thing compared to what I have received but I am grateful you have let me make this small gesture.

Nick and I have been the greatest but not the only beneficiaries of your inspiration, example, and generosity. As you have heard so abundantly in recent weeks you have left a your mark on all your friends, family, and co-workers. Rest assured you have made the world a better place, pushing back the tide of fear, ignorance, and hatred. Ultimately this is your legacy – a ripple of truth, love, and compassion that will spread and reverberate throughout all space and time long after the source is gone.

This, your great life's work, is finished now. All that's left is for you to lead us, as courageously as you have lived, wherever we go next. We won't be coming with you right now but we want you to know that it's OK for you to go whenever you are ready. Show us the way and we will follow soon enough.


Safe Journey.

Rest peacefully.

We love you and thank you so much for our time together. We will never forget you.