Lesson One: Just Keep Going! On January 29th I will have lived as many days without my Mom as I did with her. This truth is quite surreal. I was in my early 20’s when she died. I learned then that life isn’t fair. I guess if I am being honest, I always knew life wasn’t fair. Not in a poor me kind of way, but in a stop feeling sorry for yourself and be grateful kind of way. My Dad died one month before my twin brother and I were born. Four kids, 13 and under, as a single parent! I CANNOT IMAGINE! My Mom put one foot in front of the other and she moved through it. She just kept going. Is it possible to say our family value was resiliency? Fall down seven, get up eight. That was my model growing up. We never got stuck in a problem. We dusted ourselves off and kept at it. Didn’t do well on a test? Try harder next time. Didn’t make a team? Practice more and try again. Got in a fight with a friend? Take ownership for your part. Apologize. Try to be a better friend. There was no “rescuing”. She was a sounding board but NEVER tried to “fix” our problems. We had to learn accountability, to advocate for ourselves, to trust ourselves, and to solve our own problems. I am even more mindful of the importance of these life skills as I parent my own kids, without my Mom.
LESSON TWO: Accountability. My Mom used to say, “Your word is as good as your promise”. If you say you will do something, do it. If you say you are going to be there at 7:00, be there at 7:00 not 7:01. No justifications or rationalizations. Simple. Honor your word.
Lesson Three: Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin and in Your Own Life. My Mom was authentic. She did not try to be what she was not. She did not live above her means. She did not compare her life to others. She was a widow, a single parent of four kids. We grew up in an upper-middle class community. We had less than my friends in the sense of money and material things yet I never thought about it. It wasn’t until my husband, went on a “tour of my youth”, and asked if it was hard being friends with people who had so much more than me. I NEVER noticed. Truly. I always felt content. Their homes may have been bigger but ours was where they wanted to be. There was love, laughter, and connection in our home. I did not have weekly or even seasonal shopping trips but our road trips from Akron to Cleveland to buy school clothes at Value City and TJ MAXX are some of my fondest memories. We did not get something because someone else had it. If we wanted it and it was not our birthday or Hanukkah we had to earn the money and buy it ourselves. I was taught by example not to compare myself to others and not to live above my means. My Mom taught me to be appreciative of what I do have and to take good care of it. “There will always be people that have more than you and people that have less than you. Be happy with who you are and what you have”.
Lesson Four: Live without Judgment, (yourself included). Thankfully, my Mom did not believe in perfection. That pressure was off from the beginning. She believed in honesty, authenticity, accountability, humor, and friendship. She used to say, “Lead from your strengths not your weaknesses”. She showed us that to be human is to be flawed. She was real. She made mistakes…she apologized. Frozen TV dinners were our norm, (Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes with the burnt brownie was my personal favorite)…we had dinner every night. She yelled, slammed doors, and even cried out in frustration…she showed me that all feelings are okay. She would lay in bed, eating ice cream and reading magazines she had picked up from the library at the end of the day…she showed me that self care is important. She would light Shabbat candles on a foil tray on top of the stove yet never discussed religion. We lit the candles on the menorah, had a white Hanukkah bush with blue ornaments. Easter baskets, Christmas stockings…she believed in celebrating everything and anything. Life should be fun! She used to say, “I know people who go to Temple or Church regularly but are mean to, and judge, others…just be nice, treat others as you would like to be treated, and do what feels right to you.
Lesson Five: Appreciate and Find Joy in the Little Things. My Mom would drive off the road looking at leaves in the fall, pause every night and look up at the stars and say, “star light, star bright….”. She loved the first snowfall and the first daffodils. She loved being at home, cleaning her closet, laughing and eating with family and friends, having slumber parties with me and my brother, watching TV in her bed… She appreciated and found joy in the little things.
“Our roots shall provide the strength we need to grow”. My roots are deep. My Mom is with me. I miss her yet I have learned that to feel our connection all I have to do is pause, breathe deeply, close my eyes and call upon her wisdom, her humor, her no nonsense approach to life…she is always with me. Grief does not define me. Grief has transformed me into who I am today. I miss my Mom every day. I choose to honor her by living my life well.