As I approach my second Mother’s Day without my mom, I feel like I’m in a better position to reflect on some of the most important lessons she taught me. These include lessons about my family history, lessons about faith, and hard lessons about love. Not surprisingly, the ones I reflect on most often lately are the lessons related to what will matter most to my children when I’m gone.
Although I celebrated her memory last Mother’s Day, I was still coming to terms with the void of her physically being gone. I was more focused on the emotions that came with not having a card to choose, a gift to buy, or a special mother-daughter outing to plan, while still embracing my own blessing as my husband and two boys celebrated me.
I realize that her passing (as a spunky 69-year-old grandmother) has given me a new perspective on motherhood and on life. Before her melanoma diagnosis in 2013, it was as if she would live forever. Of course, I’ve always known that we’ll all pass away one day, but even as an adult with children of my own, I realize that I was almost living in a fantasy, like a reckless teenager who felt people were invincible. Her death has had an interesting way of reminding me of my own mortality and has made me ask myself, “If I left this world today, what would I be leaving my sons?” I’m not referring to material possessions, an inheritance or even a college fund. I’m talking about the things that can be felt with the heart that I cherish most now that my mom is no longer here.
1. My inner voice. One of my favorite quotes is, “How you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.” Sometimes it really is as if I can hear her sweet voice telling me “great job” or “time to slow down, Jaybird!” I was talking to a friend recently who also lost her mom a few months ago, and she said to me, “I just wish I could speak to her one last time.” I shared with her that it took me a while to get to this point, but while I would go to the ends of the Earth to have one more conversation with my mom, I realize that she left me with everything I need… by her consistent example throughout her life. So I’m thankful that during her three-year illness, there was nothing that went unsaid, and I’m thankful to have her voice recorded on several audio books she gifted to my boys, but I’m most thankful for the inner voice she gave me through her constant enthusiasm, encouragement and love that I draw upon daily as I raise my own children.
2. The value of family and keeping the memory of loved ones alive. During my childhood and until she passed away, my mom always talked affectionately about her mom (Momma Mae) and her grandmother (Momma Rose) — neither of whom I had the opportunity to meet. She would often share stories of long walks together or high expectations they set for her as a woman and a mother. It wasn’t until she passed away that I realized one of the true lessons that she not only taught me, but also my boys. She celebrated their lives by continually passing on the many lessons they taught her. And so although we miss my mom terribly, we keep her memory alive and proudly continue her legacy of love by speaking her name daily as we remind one another of her words of wisdom and share them with others.
3. Pictures. Before everything became digitized, I would always say that if my house was on fire, it wouldn’t be a designer handbag or piece of art I would grab first. It would be my photo albums from childhood that I would secure. Now more than ever, I cherish the many photos I have from when I was growing up and the tens of thousands I’ve already captured of moments with my children (thanks to the iPhone). But it’s not just the pictures themselves that makes them so valuable, it’s the special moments (and even the everyday moments) that were captured with my mom that somehow instead of invoking feelings of sadness about my loss, they create feelings of thanksgiving and nostalgia about what I was blessed to have experienced. So I will continue to not only take pictures, but also be in the pictures with my children, as I imagine one day when I’m gone, they will be one of the things that my sons also cherish most.
4. Handwritten notes and letters. Some say that letter writing is a lost art. With the evolution of email and texting capabilities, it’s hard to argue the observation. I do have a handful of text messages I’ve saved from conversations with my mom over the years. Like the time when she replied to a picture I sent her saying, “You look like a model!” My reply, “Mom, you’re just saying that because I’m your daughter (smile)!” Even still, I’m glad she never lost the true art, because her sweet notes, cards and letters are something that I hold dear as a reminder of her immense love for me. As a Mother’s Day gift to my children, I’ve committed to taking more time to write to them and surprising them with brief encouraging notes (reminding them to never give up, to be courageous and adventurous, that they’re worthy of anything they’re willing to work hard for, and that I’m proud of them). I’ve already witnessed their eyes light up with joy when they’ve received them in the past, but I have a feeling that the little paper nuggets will mean even more in another 20 years, as they do for me.
5. Faith. On one hand, faith can be difficult to teach or gift to our children, because it can’t be seen. It’s something that one must believe and accept for themselves. Whether she realized it or not, my mom had a brilliant way of developing my faith, by allowing me to observe her resilience throughout her life’s failures with a positive attitude, just as she did through her successes. This is by far the most valuable thing she left me, and is something I hope to leave for my boys. Her faith allowed her to have unwavering hope in the face of a terminal illness while conquering fear when it seemed nothing more could be done to treat her. In the end, because of her faith, she wasn’t afraid. As I held her hand, I knew she was at peace… which gives me peace and is what matters most on Mother’s Day and every day.