My mother was a beautiful blend of sweetness, gentleness, kindness, shyness, humility, feigned incompetence, and fierce fiery grit. This woman would helplessly ask me to change her clock time or her lightbulb, but she faced cancer like a warrior woman!
Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from my dear mother:
Do not collapse when you think you can’t go on – You are stronger than you think!
When my dad left her for another woman after 32 years in an era when a woman’s only job was to devote her entire life and being to her family, she did not collapse. Facing unwanted independence in her early 50’s, she showed up for herself. She hadn’t worked since her 20’s, but she launched herself into temp work that ultimately led her to a position in our local library that she held onto into her early 70’s because she loved it so much.
Kindness is the way to go. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
When a waitress was particularly gruff, rather than getting upset about how badly we were being treated, Mom brought in gentleness, understanding and compassion… offering “Maybe she just broke up with her boyfriend…”
Don’t bear a grudge – forgive and bring loving compassion to people and situations, even when it doesn’t seem reasonable
After my parents’ divorce, she never spoke unkindly about my dad and encouraged us to be involved with him. She found a way to forgive, I guess. I don’t think she had a bitter bone in her body, but rather gave people grace, compassion, and loving kindness.
Flow with what life brings your way
I always knew I would lose my mother too early in my life – she was 44 when she had me, after all. I was undoubtedly an accident (ultimately a happy one, I believe) after my parents adopted my oldest brother when it seemed they couldn’t have kids, and subsequently gave birth to 4 more. It had been 10 years since a baby had been in the home and my sister was deathly ill. I don’t know how my mom did it, but somehow, she created a loving home for one more. She opened her arms to a baby, tended to her daughter in the hospital, cared for the others, and pulled it all together – finding a way to clean the house, cook the meals, bake the cookies, and love on us as if we were all that mattered. She was the epitome of a good mother!
Be free!! Enjoy this life.
When I was 12, my dad left us, having found a woman who he thought better matched his intellectual and adventurous tendencies. While devastating in some ways, this also deepened the richness of my life with my mom and our opportunities to live our own adventurous life! I was the only one at home, so we bonded together and began to travel the world – we ate out more often, we laughed more often, we found things we enjoyed doing together, and we became best friends. We made it through, and we made it through in style, choosing to live rather than crumple into a defeated puddle. St. Croix, Disney, Texas, Arizona, and cruises called to us, and we said “Yes!” Summers were spent at our cottage in the Finger Lakes, playing cards, savoring root beer floats, entertaining friends and family, and basking in the beauty and peace of this place that mom had bought with her own money.
Don’t be fooled by the soft veneer – underneath a mighty giant lies in wait to awaken when she is called
When Mom was 72, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatment involving surgery, radiation, and medication. Grateful to live nearby I was able to support this modest woman with wound care, meals, home care, and rides. She went on to beat this cancer and found remission. She lived life and enjoyed her family, friends, work, music, theater, and travel. Cancer was not going to stop her.
Persevere in the face of adversity
6 years later, a new cancer came, likely a result of the medication she had taken for the breast cancer. She stayed with us post-surgery and my family and I were able to support her through recovery, and the ongoing chemo. She loved her medical team and even seemed to look forward to her chemo days. She did all that she could to beat this disease so that she could continue to thrive.
When the choice is life, choose it!
For nearly three decades she had shown me what it could be like to live life fully, and she wasn’t about to stop now. She made the decision to leave the home she had lived in for about 20 years to move into a senior living facility in order to have community and support. Moving is always a big transition, but she handled it with grace and ease. She enjoyed meeting new people and sharing activities and meals with them.
When it’s time to go, go in your own way.
On the day before her death, my sister and I (having no idea that the end was so near) visited with her, cleaned her apartment, ironed her clothes and got things in order. I think this mattered a lot in the sense that things were “tidied up.” She had hurt herself in a fall over a week before and was in a good deal of pain, food no longer tasted good and that was a big loss for my mom – she loved to enjoy her food!
I don’t even know why, but I asked her if she sometimes wished she could just die, and she acknowledged that yes, she did. I suspect there was an unspoken permission to go in that conversation. She told the nurse that night that she wished she could just close her eyes and drift away… this seems to be exactly what she did. They found her the next morning, “unconscious and unresponsive.”
And, though it wasn’t the end I envisioned, because I strongly wanted to be with her by her side as she passed, I realize she would never have wanted that. She loved us but would not have wanted to distress us with her final breaths. I find comfort in witnessing how much choice she seemed to have in the timing of her departure – before the cancer that was invading her belly took over and things got really miserable. She went at the exact age she had always told me “seemed like a good age to die.” She had lived a full, rich, and loving life, and she was ready to be done.
Love transcends time and space.
I still feel her here with me, breathing through me, inside of me, emanating out, supporting me as I move through my life. I know she walks with me, loves me, and looks over us all. I can lean into her soft and gentle embrace (I can still feel how gloriously smooth, warm, and soft her skin was). I can remember her tender look and feel. I am softened by her sweetness. I thought it would kill me to lose her. It hasn’t. It has added to my will to live, and I will be forever grateful for that!
I love you and miss you every day, Mama Bear!! Thank you for being my mother and my best friend!
p.s. a few more lessons that might have supported me and might serve you well:
Baking soothes the soul (as do the smell and taste of fresh-baked bread, cookies, and cake!)!!
There’s always time and room for “a little something” (her version of a shared sweet treat)
Live well, laugh often, love deeply!
Wishing you a little something sweet this week!!