A terrified 17-year-old received news that would change her life. She was going to have me nine months later. She married my dad on May 1, 1976, and seven months later, a bouncing baby me came into the world. As an 18-year-old mother, I know she was scared. How was she going to possibly impart wisdom to a child when she was just a child herself? Our relationship was unique, to be sure. As an old soul, I think I taught her as much about life as she taught me. We grew up together, in a way. I learned so much from her. Her mistakes and failures, and her successes and celebrations became a sort of textbook for what would become my adult life. Here are a few of her key lessons.
Laugh: It will get you through the toughest times.
Anyone that spent time with my mom knew one thing about her: She loved to laugh, and she practiced often. Somehow, some way, the funniest things seemed to happen to her, and she would tell stories that would leave her audience bent over in laughter.
The eternal prankster, she filled iron skillets under our stove with dryer lint that had been shaped perfectly to look like a mouse, then would have my uncle retrieve that skillet and would watch him scream like a schoolgirl. She told my brother when he was 4 years old that he had to have his nipples tweaked off when he turned 6 so that he wouldn’t grow boobs like women do. On his 6th birthday, he asked if mom had made his appointment yet. Our 5-year-old next door neighbor was fooled into thinking that if she buried one of her Barbie® Dolls and watered it with colored water, it would grow a brand new Barbie® on a tree, wearing a dress the color of the water you watered it with. We made sure she wasn’t disappointed on Easter morning when she went to check for her tree.
Even in times of sorrow, she reminded us of the import of living life by Psalm 30, that “joy comes in the morning.” Sitting next to my grandmother as she lived her last few days, instead of mourning her while she was with us, we recalled memories, and my mother again became that storyteller that left us all in stitches. I can still hear my grandmother laughing along with us. Thank you, mom, for teaching me to laugh.
Speak the life you want to live
I know that many people scoff at the televangelists that preach “prosperity gospel,” but there’s a definite truth behind it. All of the great theologies have different ways to say essentially the same thing: What you speak, you get. Off the top of my head, the Bible points to this in the books of Mark, Hebrews, and Romans. The Dhammapada states in verses one and two that “All we are is a result of what we have thought.” Taoism, according to We Wu Wisdom, states that “[The Universe] simply waits for us to move towards, tune in, connect, and align our energy, vibration, or Qi, and for us open up and receive, through our authentic thoughts, intentions, and actions.” I could keep going, but you get the point. Many theologies point to this theory that thoughts and words literally become our reality. This premise became an important turning point in my family’s life.
Our family is a very musical one. My mom’s eldest sister played piano from her youth until she eventually passed from breast cancer. In her home, her husband designed and built her a music room. It housed an elevated stage of sorts that held her baby grand piano, an electronic keyboard, an upright piano, and at one point, a harp. On the other side of that stage sat a sitting room for an audience. That room was filled on many occasions.
Without fail, every time we’d gather, my aunt would take requests from family and friends. The first request would come from my mom, and it would inevitably be some version of this statement: “Hey, Doris! Play ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow.’ You’ve got to practice it since you’re going to be playing it at my funeral.” She thought she was being funny, but she was serious. She didn’t think she could handle the anguish of losing her sisters.
My mom was 13 years younger than her middle sister, and 21 years younger than her oldest sister. Any rational person would assume that sisters that much older would be the first to go. Alas, what my mom didn’t understand was that every single time she’d talk about dying earlier than her sisters, she was setting her future in motion. At the age of 49, she received a diagnosis that would turn our lives upside down: pancreatic cancer.
As she was undergoing her treatment, her words turned negative. Instead of speaking hope and healing into her life, she was again planning her imminent death. In these moments, I realized what needed to be done in my own life. I would quickly correct my mom, but it was like life had taught her to expect the worst. My shift was sharp. I began to speak life and abundance into my own life. She passed seven months after her pancreatic cancer diagnosis at the age of 50. Her eldest sister played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at her funeral.
In the past couple of years, I’ve taken this premise to a new level. I meditate regularly to make myself fully conscious of my thoughts and words. Thank you, mom, for teaching me to mind my words.
You have the power to live life your way
When mom was diagnosed, they didn’t give her many options. Pancreatic cancer at stage IV often yields a prognosis of three to six months. They could attack with chemo, but it wasn’t going to do much (if anything). Upon her diagnosis and prognosis, my planner instinct leapt to action. I stayed up for 48 hours looking for hope online. I found a promising program in NYC that treated the cancer through enzyme therapy — literally by changing her diet drastically. We’d have to pay for it by ourselves, though, since insurance didn’t cover it. After raising over $30,000 for her treatment, she began. We immediately started seeing results, but thanks to her fear of taking pills (pharmacophobia), she couldn’t continue the program, and her cancer continued to grow.
After opting to try Cancer Treatment Centers of America for a couple of months, she received the final word: “There’s nothing more we can do for you.” It was an amazing facility filled with only the best staff and well-rounded care. After hearing this news, I asked my mom if she would do it again. Was it worth the fight?
For me, for her family, we all knew she did all she could to fight this heinous disease. For her, though, she could have chosen to live those last seven months of her life instead of fighting through it. We’ve heard people fling clichés around, like “tomorrow is never promised.” Well, this is an example of a cliché in action. It’s a wake up call that none of us have one more second promised to us. I don’t look at this morbidly, but with hope and with vision.
The biggest lesson I learned from my mom was just to find the beauty in life. Do what you love! I run my own company, one of the things she dreamt of doing for most of her life. Family was everything to her, and she wanted to be there for them whenever it was needed. Employment to a normal employer prevents that in most cases. I now live that dream. After longing for a life in the sun and near the ocean, I moved to Florida two years ago. I just moved my dad to Florida to be closer to us, and to live his retirement years in the sunshine.
I have copious amounts of travel in my future because I find beauty in other cultures and languages. I’ve given myself the freedom to explore my own faith and spirituality, because that’s at the center of who I am. If I’m not living in truth, what kind of life is that?
This Mother’s Day and every Mother’s Day, I think of her. I remember that she would be scathingly mad if we didn’t get her a card. I remember being gathered around a table full of family, celebrating all of our mothers. And I remember our laughter, so much laughter it could reach the heavens — and I’m sure every time we gather, she hears us doing exactly what she taught us to.
If your moms are still around, celebrate them well. If your mom has passed, honor her and remember her well. As for me and my mom: Happy Mother’s Day, momma! Thank you for life, love, laughter, and the many lessons you taught me.
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