April 20th marked the 7th anniversary of my mother’s passing at the age of 40. Nine days before her 41st birthday and a month before I turned 21. Today would be her birthday again, and she would be turning 48. Next week she would have celebrated Mothers’ Day as both a mother of one and a grandmother of two wonderful little boys.
It can be easy to look back on all the stupid things we fought over, the arguments that we had, the stances we each took and the decisions we each made that drove us apart. I can also look back on some wonderful memories and things we experienced together that built up the positive image of her I have in my mind. The sacrifices she made to give me the best she could.
But none of that really matters at this point.
What matters is the impact she had while she was here. The attitudes, thought-processes, drive, determination, steadfastness, that she exemplified that resounds in my memory whenever I think of what I learned from her.
Was she a perfect mom? No. Was she a terrible mom? No. I can easily look back and find moments and situations where she was one or the other at the time. Looking back, I can also recognize that she was doing the best she knew how to do, and that as I went through phases of growing up, I was a different challenge from year to year, month to month, week to week, or even day to day. And she was constantly trying to keep up, all the while maintaining living situation and providing for our little family.
Most of the time, our family was me and her – as far as we were concerned. Because I was an only child, and she wasn’t very good at marriage – 5 tries and nothing stuck beyond the three-year expiration date. We adapted to new homes and new people living in them and new patterns of living relatively frequently as I was growing up. The stabilizing factor in my life was my grandparents and their relationship – but that’s a subject of another story at another time.
Some of the things I think I learned most from my mom that have helped guide the way I think and approach things in my life are:
- If you’re serious about accomplishing something, push through until you get it done – even if the process sucks. I can remember her deciding she finally wanted to pull our family out of the financial dumps – and the only way she knew how to do that was to get a nursing degree. I recall her being so nervous for a make-or-break exam that we would have to pull over on the side of the road so that she could throw up. But she got it done – and we were proud, may grandparents and I. And our quality of life did improve.
- Family comes first. Personally, I benchmark God above family, but that is the ONLY thing on the list that goes above family. I learned from her that education can happen all around you and will happen for the rest of your life- so don’t be afraid to play hooky with your kid(s) once in a while and just have a day with them doing fun things or going fun places unexpectedly and unplanned. When someone in your family is being accused of something or anything else where there are people poised against them, you ALWAYS stand with family – you can figure out the details later and handle it. But you get their back – whatever that means at the time. I could write whole stories about parent-teacher conferences and administrators and such that learned the hard way that my mom was NOT going to just accept whatever they had to say before hearing my side of the situation (I feel like I should note that I was not a trouble-maker – but sometimes stuff happens).
- I learned how NOT to do marriage. Believe it or not, as bad as she was at being married, I learned a lot about what NOT to do – and have applied it (and continue to do so). I learned a lot of what TO DO from my grandparents. It just goes to show that God can work even the most difficult situations and heartbreaking moments out for your benefit if you let Him and don’t just wallow in your circumstances.
- Be honest. I learned this one from my mom as well as my grandfather (her dad). He actually had a reputation in our town (as he was the mayor) of being one of the most honest and sincere people you could ever meet. My mom, even when it was hard, was honest with me about what was going on regardless of the situation. Sometimes it might have been more than I could handle, but she knew that I knew something was up and figured it best not to leave me in the dark, wondering. I’m sure there is plenty that I didn’t know or was not aware of, but there was also a lot that I was involved with. After all, it was just me and her.
Reflecting on my mother today, there are a few things I miss – things that were and also things that would have been:
- I miss her matter-of-fact-ness in discussion, but with a light tone that let you know she cared about the response.
- I miss that even if she disagreed with what I might have been doing, she always believed in me – and would remind me of that occasionally.
- I miss the completely unexpected response she would have to situations and discussions. Sometimes my wife and I joke about how my mom would have responded to things.
- I miss that at one point my wife was my mother’s favorite person, maybe even above me. It would be wonderful to have that relationship still in existence.
- She got to see me get married, but she didn’t get to see me be a husband for nine years, a father for almost three years, and how wonderful my family is.
- I miss that she didn’t get to meet her grandchildren – one of them even named after her father. She always joked about not wanting to be a grandmother because that would make her officially “old” and about not liking kids. But I can only imagine the transformation after holding her baby grandsons and looking into their eyes. After all, they look just like me when I was that age.
- Many more wonderful family memories that will never be. ..
But we make our own memories and we continue on. This is a moment of reflection – but there is a whole life to be lived and kids to be raised and a family to be loved and people to lead and encourage and so many great things out there that she helped prepare me for one way or another. These wings will soar (she would get it).
Happy Anniversary, Happy Birthday, and Happy Mothers’ Day – Mom.