When a mother sees her newborn baby for the first time, it’s likely that she’ll never before have felt a love so pure and unconditional. It stands to reason, then, that if her child was cruelly and unexpectedly taken away, the mother would experience immense and inestimable pain. So it’s perfectly understandable that when Cindy Mathis Rader lost her daughter, she needed some comfort from the grief. And she found it in the letters that her daughter had left behind.
On April 10, 2000, Cindy Mathis Rader learned what it was like to truly love and be loved. That was, after all, the day she gave birth to her first child, Macy Mathis. By her own admission, Rader would go on to make mistakes. But nonetheless, Mathis had the heart to forgive and loved her mother unconditionally.
Yes, mom and daughter enjoyed an incredibly close relationship. The two, from Tifton, Georgia, would even share heartfelt messages on Facebook, publicly expressing what they meant to each other. They were, as they so often confessed, each other’s best friends.
What’s more, Rader described her daughter as a second mom, as Mathis would often help out around the house and even had a hand in raising Rader’s three younger sons. But it seems that Mathis didn’t wish to always take the credit. Indeed, one Mother’s Day, Mathis encouraged her brothers to write notes to Rader expressing what they loved about their mom.
Perhaps it was because of Rader’s difficult childhood that Mathis felt the need to reinforce how proud she was of her mom. After all, Rader’s formative years included time spent in foster care and a period of homelessness. The mom even admitted to TODAY Parents that she had faced “a lot of challenges” in her life.
When she was as young as 12, Mathis wrote a poem about Rader for school. In the last line she wrote, “I’m proud to call her my mom.” But it wouldn’t be the last time that the teenager wrote messages for Rader. For her birthday one year, for instance, Mathis wrote a series of letters to her mom that were only to be opened when instructed.
On each of the 25 envelopes, Mathis had written in the top left corner “Open when…” So whenever her mom felt, for example, restless, lonely or excited, or simply couldn’t sleep, there would be a letter from the teenager to comfort her. But each letter was only to be opened when the time was right.
When she gave her mother this gift, Mathis had been dating her boyfriend, Adam Sattler. And it must have been serious because Rader had later spoken to her daughter about the possibility that Mathis and Sattler might move to New York together. But it was an idea that sadly never played out.
At around 10:30 p.m. on November 20, 2016, students at the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College were drawn to a fire in the street outside of campus. The source of the fire was a Nissan 350Z belonging to the 18-year-old Adam Sattler. The Georgia Tech student was in town visiting relatives and his girlfriend, Macy Mathis.
According to a friend, Sattler had attended a cookout where he was showing off his car. After he left, Sattler struck a curb while heading north on Moore Highway and lost control of the vehicle. A second impact on another curb sent the car into the air – before it hit a tree and subsequently caught fire.
Sattler was thrown from the vehicle and lost his life at the scene of the crash. Traveling with him that night was Mathis, who was in the passenger seat. And although alive when first responders arrived, the 16-year-old was in critical condition and was taken via helicopter to a hospital in Macon.
Adding to the tragedy was the fact that the young couple had seemingly had even bigger plans than just moving in together. Indeed, Sattler and Mathis had apparently talked about marriage and the possibility of spending the rest of their lives together. Tragically, though, Mathis succumbed to her injuries on November 25, 2016.
“I did feel lonely when she left me,” Rader told TODAY Parents nearly three months after the crash. “We’d talk about her moving to New York with Adam or living the good life, moving away and leaving, but not like this. I feel like she knew. Maybe deep down, she knew, or maybe God told her.”
But weeks after the accident, and still mourning the loss of her daughter, Rader made a discovery that would help ease the pain a little. Yes, Rader was tidying up her car when she found a letter. It was one of the 25 notes that Mathis had given her for her birthday that year. Rader had all but forgotten about them.
The envelope read, “Open when… you can’t sleep.” The message inside read, “I want you to know that I love you. I feel like I don’t tell you that enough. And since you can’t sleep and you’re probably stressed about something, I need you to know that I love you.” With that, Rader’s tears began to flow freely.
“That’s when I had remembered she had written these letters for me,” Rader recalled to CBS News in February 2017. “I tore my room apart looking for them.” It turned out that Rader had only read three of the letters before Mathis passed away. But from then on, she vowed to only open one when she needed it, as per her daughter’s instructions.
There was one letter, however, titled “Open when… you miss me.” It read, “Hey Mommy. I’m sorry that you’re missing me. I hope wherever you are or whatever you’re doing you’re okay. I’m probably missing you too. I honestly don’t like being away from the house for too long. I get homesick pretty easily.”
The note continued, “When I was little and lived with Dad, I would look forward to being with you. I think some of it was because you always had good food at your house, but most of it was because I just missed you so much. I will always and forever love you, Mommy. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
While she was alive, Mathis had dreamed of traveling the world. And though she never had the chance to do it, her story now continues to touch people the world over through a Facebook page Rader keeps in her daughter’s memory. So whenever Rader opens another letter, it gets posted there.
Rader is understandably grateful to have the letters since the heartbreaking crash that stole her daughter away. She told TODAY Parents, “I’m very thankful for them, because I don’t have closure. They give me a little bit of closure to know how much she knew I loved her. They keep her alive.”