A year has passed.
No, you didn’t sleep through the last several weeks of the year as well as New Year’s Eve. The year that has passed is unlike any other I have marked. It has been a year of knowing that the woman who raised and loved me was no longer physically present. In the first hours after sunrise on this day last year she breathed her last breath.
In the year since that day I have breathed. I have breathed in the love of family and friends. I have breathed out frustration, sorrow, and peace. In that year I have also thought much about my mother’s life and how it impacted mine and that of many others. The choices she made. The way she faced her many days of pain and illness. And I have thought about what she taught me.
My mother taught me to call people older than me by their last name prefaced with either Mr. or Mrs. She taught me to not talk when I had food in my mouth. She taught me to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’. But she also taught me to dance, to keep a clean room, and to do my homework before going out to play.
Most of the lessons my mother gave me were intentional but many were taught without either of us realizing it at the time.
She had to come and get me on my first day of school because I was sobbing so hard the teacher thought I was going to make myself sick. When we got out of the car at home, with tears in her own eyes, she scolded and spanked me and told me what had happened that day would NOT happen again. The lesson she intended was to make sure I went to school and not to think I could get out of it just because I missed her. The real lesson she taught me was that sometimes we have to do things we don’t like. Sometimes life hurts but, as the current saying goes, we just have to “put on our big girl panties and deal with it”.
When I was older I would often call her to find out how she made a particular dish. Her instructions would basically include the ingredients, how to mix them together, and at what temperature to cook them (if the ‘recipe’ included baking). Her recipes didn’t include X-number of teaspoons, cups or tablespoons. She taught me that cooking was learned by trial-and-error and by the taste of the outcome. But the larger lesson was that what goes into doing something isn’t always as important as the result.
As I’ve mentioned in other pieces about my mom when we had housework to complete it was often accompanied by 1950’s music from her collection of ’45 rpm records. Housework was serious business in our home. It was well-known that you could safely eat off of the floors in our house at any given time. My mom was an immaculate housekeeper so we dusted, cleaned bathrooms, vacuumed floors every Saturday. And when I say we dusted that means every item on any surface was dusted, removed from where it rested, and then the surface dusted. Moving items on the surface or dusting around them was considered ‘half-assed’ by my Mom. Once a month we dusted all baseboards in every room. I remember this vividly because one of my ‘jobs’ was to crawl under the beds and make sure the baseboards behind them were cleaned. I don’t keep house as meticulously as my Mom but she taught me how to do so if necessary. The lesson she didn’t know she was teaching me was that any arduous task could be made more endurable just by adding a little music, a touch of laughter and maybe a dance step or two.
I watched my mother go through many illnesses; back surgery, broken collar-bone, TIA’s and Myasthenia Gravis. I never heard her complain. In fact, she always had a ready smile, was extremely kind to everyone around her, and took even the smallest gestures of care as though they were invaluable gifts. Through her attitude and endurance she taught me that it is possible to be kind and thankful even when enduring severe pain.
The nature of humor and the value of laughter run through a lifetime of lessons. Mom didn’t tell jokes but she had a unique way of relating things that displayed a wry wit. Many times she didn’t intend to cause laughter but if such a situation arose she would end up laughing with everyone else – even laughing at herself. Through that she taught me that when things don’t go quite like you plan a good laugh can smooth over the rough spots. She also taught me it isn’t always the best route to take oneself too seriously.
Her blood may not flow through my veins but something more important flows in and out of me. Her lessons – intended or involuntary – which helped shape the person I am today.
I miss you Mommy. Not a day passes that I am not reminded of you and that is the last lesson you taught me. You don’t have to be physically present to be loved. Once you have known true, deep, and abiding love it surrounds you all of your life.