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5 Things I learned from my mom

This is the first Mother’s Day without my mom and it seems utterly impossible.

This is the first Mother’s Day without my mom and it seems utterly impossible.

Mother’s Tea, 2018.

After Valentines Day, I started avoiding the seasonal aisles of the grocery store in anticipation of the flowers and cards. This week already had me plotting about going dark online Sunday so I wouldn’t have to see all the happy/grateful/blessed mom posts.

And then I paused. My mom LOVED celebrations.

“People say, ‘don’t fuss!’ but I say fuss,” my mom would say. “People are worth fussing over.”

So I’m making a fuss and sharing what I learned from her. I was a bit of a shy kid, so I observed a lot. And mostly my subject was my mom.

And when I didn’t know what to do next, she would say “just set the table.” So simple, but it has often been just the push I need knowing there is always something to celebrate.

In the 80s we had this plate that said “Today’s Your Special Day” and she would include it when she set the table at breakfast or dinner for the person who played in the drum line or did well on a test or got into college or finished a big project at work. It’s not about the plate or the tradition, although it is a lovely memory, but more this thought: if you’re walking around the world with this “You are special” plate, you’re at the ready for good things. You are on the look-out for awesomeness, on the hunt for who to celebrate. You are seeing the success in someone in advance. Mom’s belief in me cultivated my belief in myself because “The will to do springs from the knowledge that we can do.”

She scaffolded a path to where my brother and I could go in life — which she deemed was anywhere.

It changed the way I see my people and it has been carried out by my wise son, Xander, who said famously, “family is saying yay for each other.”

So today, I say yay for my mom by sharing our eulogy from her service in October.

Jan Morency’s Lessons for Living

1) Stay curious about people. Ask questions.

Everyone has a story, find out about it. Our mom was incredibly interested in people, always looking for connections and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Are there really that many people in Park City, Utah from Michigan or was it just that she saw it that way? In our worldview, everyone is connected and the world is small. “Isn’t that crazy that our server also waited tables at Stella’s in Traverse City?” Maybe. But who finds out that much about the server? She always took time to learn backstories and invite anyone who entered her orbit to be part of a celebration. I tell you, this made life way more fun.

2) Everyone needs a pajama day.

My mom worked hard and expected us to, as well. But, she believed fiercely in The Pajama Day. She prescribed it at least once a month or as often as needed and the rules are simple. Do not get out of your pajamas. You can clean the house or write or read or make a pot of chili or… nothing. But you have earned that right. It’s like when someone says to you when the kids are little, “you can have sandwiches for dinner.” It’s so freeing! So, Jan is telling you to get yourself some nice pajamas or a cozy sweatsuit or some yoga pants and follow her advice. It is okay and actually necessary. You can shower at 5 pm and have dinner and then, put your pajamas back on for nighttime and feel a sense of accomplishment.

3) If you’re not sure you know what you’re doing, dress like you do.

Mom taught us that paying attention to one’s appearance matters and that small acts of courage built confidence. “If you don’t think you know what you’re doing, dress the part, show up, and be real.” As Michael Keaton’s character said in the movie The Paper “a clipboard and a confident wave will get you into any building in the world.”

4) Act like the world is rigged in your favor and if it’s not, rig it in your favor.

Our mom was notorious at Getting Things Done. This is evidenced by setting me up with my roommate, Kristy as she met Kristy’s mom on the steps of an IU dorm. (Unbeknownst to them, we had met in the line-up for the French placement exam as “Moyer and Morency” were in the same test session.) It has continued to be the best set up of my life. They hit it off so splendidly, that by the time we realized we were the kind of best friends that meet in 10 minutes, they had already talked to the housing people to switch us to roommates in the most fun dorm. They set us up for friendship lasting a lifetime. What if these two moms just met and said “oh, great meeting you, good luck with your daughter’s first year at college. Safe travels.” No. Instead this was the person who tended to my mom and had some of the last lucid talks with her and read cards and brought her a bottle of Old Faceful water for her last sips. She was the one with my brother who put lip balm on my mom’s lips and coaxed her to drink and gave her meds and made her comfortable with pillows when she was slipping from us. Do you see how she rigged this world in her favor?

5) Don’t wait around for bad things to happen.

Last week, I had a trip to Europe planned — work in Dublin and Paris for my kids that had been on our list since they started French in 1st grade. I, of course, was going to cancel it, not knowing exactly how things would play out. We were told months not years. She was getting weaker, but up until just a few days ago was chatting and laughing and googling things and lip-synching to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and worrying if everyone was getting enough soup. That’s how fast this has gone. So, she looks at me and it’s the most animated I’ve seen her, but she says “I will be really mad at you if you don’t go. You can’t sit around waiting for me to die. It could be 6 weeks or 6 months.” When it would have been easy and very understandable to clamp down and hold me close, she put joy before sadness and my needs before hers. She released me to the world. Quite literally. Her last gift to me was the ultimate lesson of mothering and her last gift to Marc was the ultimate lesson of mothering even though they were the opposite things.

I leave you with this.

On the drive back from Utah where she was treated at Huntsman Cancer Institute to her home in northern Michigan, we ended up in the hospital for 3 days in Iowa City. It was a shift in the fight and things were becoming a bit more real. I wrapped her in blankets and we went back into the lobby to wait. “Lori,” she said with this gravity of the moment. It was a sunny, hope-springs-eternal Midwestern day. She adjusted her glasses and pulled out a legal sheet from the tiniest purse she had the strength to carry. “I have something I need to give you.” Bracing myself, I took the paper, knowing it would be a sentiment I would likely treasure forever. I opened it and read:

  • 2 bottles of chardonnay
  • 2 bottles of red
  • good cheese (the unexpected kind)
  • good bread
  • chicken salad with the cranberries
  • peanut butter pretzels (salted)
  • chocolate croissants

I looked up from the paper, relieved but also confused. She pulled the blanket closer, her voice raspy. She cleared her throat, “you thought I was out of it, but on the way into the ER, I saw a Trader Joe’s by the highway. People are coming to the house, so we’d better be ready for a party.”

And so it came to be my last love letter/life lesson from my mom is a grocery list. And you know what? I feel great about it. It’s actionable intelligence. Grab those things and you’re ready to celebrate.


So here’s to the lady who set the table a week in advance of a dinner party and kept adding to it in anticipation for fun and fellowship. I know I’ll be fussing and setting the hell out of a Mother’s Day table in her honor.

Whoever and however you’re celebrating, I hope you fuss, too.

My 5 is for my mom.

Today, My 5 is for my mom, on the occasion of our first Mothers Day without her. #5forthefight #My5isFor

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