The four-year anniversary of losing my mom brought expected tears. There were also smiles and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all she instilled in me.
She didn’t have the easiest life. Her mom was always sick and eventually went blind from Type 2 Diabetes. She dropped out of school in the 10th grade to care for her. When her three siblings all married and moved away, she continued to care for her mother until she met my dad in her mid-twenties and moved my grandmother to a nursing home. The birth of both her children were difficult; she endured 36 hours of labor with my brother, and lost nearly 30 pounds while pregnant with me due to asthma, which she suffered from for the rest of her life.
Although she was not a risk-taker and often saw the negative aspects of a situation first, I could not have had a better role model than my mom.
Here are three reasons why.
1. She Taught Me Determination
Mom was left-handed when she started school and at that time, left-handed children were judged as being wrong and different. She was forced to switch to writing with her right hand, which she says caused her to stutter for years to come. It was something that always made her self-conscious and affected her self-esteem. Yet, if someone threatened one of her children, “Mama Bear” came to life and any personal fears she had disappeared. My older brother also started school left-handed and when the school system tried to switch him over as they had done to her, Mom was in the principal’s office giving him a piece of her mind.
While communicating verbally was challenging at times, she easily expressed herself with art. I have memories of many oil paintings she created and a few hang in my home today. Although she never felt confident about her talent, she was good. But more than anything, her determination to live for eight years following a major heart attack, coupled with diabetes, kidney issues, congestive heart failure and MRSA contracted in the hospital reminds me how possible it is to fight through adversity.
There is always a path to the goal and a way to make something happen. Mom taught me that.
2. She Taught Me To Help Others
From a very young age, I remember my mom reaching out to others in need, often volunteering behind the scenes. She invited every stray to holiday celebrations — people who had nowhere else to go — and called the local colleges and Navy base to invite students and service men or women who had no family or friends to be with. She would even send my dad to pick them up. Mom didn’t know how to cook for just four, the size of our family. She excelled at cooking for 30, so we <em>always</em> had lots of leftovers!
My mom was kind to everyone. She never expressed racial or religious prejudice to me. She was a peacemaker through and through, and even when family members would not speak to each other, they always had a good relationship with her. She loved to gift friends with her crafts and cooking, showing me that it isn’t always about buying gifts, but sharing your heart.
3. She Taught Me To Love
I never doubted for one minute my mom loved me. She literally told me every day. As a child, I never left the room or went to bed without a hug and a kiss. And she always asked me, “Do you know how much I love you?” It was important to her that I knew that. On the day she died, it was one of the last things she said to me.
My parents walked through grocery stores still holding hands after 50-plus years of marriage. Although she had many medical issues that contributed to her death, I know seeing my father with Alzheimer’s broke her heart. I still have three voicemails on my phone I can’t delete because I am afraid to lose her voice, but in every one, she asks how my father is. (He had just been moved to the Alzheimer’s section of the Assisted Living Facility they lived at). The day before she died, I took her to see him. I could see how painful it was for her and for the first time, she asked to leave. She couldn’t bear it any more.
The lessons my mom instilled in me have gotten me over some tough hurdles in my life, including caring for her during her illness as well as dad’s. He passed away three months after her. I am grateful for those lessons. I have channeled my inner Mama Bear to protect my “cub” when need be. I love having big dinner parties and inviting people who have never met each other, to connect and become friends. I volunteer and try to smile at everyone I meet. I am grateful that I grew up seeing the good in people and I have a great capacity for love. I am one of those moms who is guilty of saying the same things my mom said. Happily guilty in this case. My grown son absolutely knows he is loved. I make sure to ask him often!
Originally published on The Huffington Post