Life Lessons From My Mother
Life is a Circle
Mother was dying. Life is a circle and sometimes we end up back where we started. I often thought of this when bathing her. Mother was suffering from inflammatory breast cancer and the family was caring for her at home. She thanked us as if we were giving her a great gift. It was a strange exchange. Once upon a time she had cared for our basic needs much the same way.
Before falling sleep on most Saturday nights, I would listen to the hiss of her oxygen and try to get comfortable on the couch beside her. It was in these hours, I had time to think about the gifts she gave me - the things she taught me. Not things like how to tie my shoe or make my bed, but deeper lessons about life and people.
Three of these lessons stood out as most relevant to me as we helped her through her final passage. They are simply too good not to share.
Lesson 1 - Don't cry over split milk
This may sound like a trite and tried saying, but there is wisdom here that goes beyond the cost of a half-gallon. Let me explain. I was raised in a family of 10 children. The priority when you are raising 10 children is to keep them healthy and fed hoping they reach a respectable adulthood in a well-adjusted and happy manner. Certainly something like new linoleum is a rarity, so when brand new shiny linoleum was laid in the front hallway of our big home, it must have been something my parents had scrimped and saved to do.
I was a teen and one Saturday morning in an attempt to move my weekly chores along, I set our vacuum cleaner to the "floors" setting and began to run it over the linoleum. Somewhere along the line I got distracted and left the machine only to come back and find that it had brushed a scratch in the brand new flooring. I knew I had no choice, as you do in situations, but to be truthful and to be truthful fast. My mother stood looking at the ruined spot on the linoleum and barely said a word. I could see discouragement on her face when suddenly with my father's help, she hoisted a small bookcase a foot or two sideways and since the damage was near the wall, covered it up. My mom (and dad) never scolded me. They simply walked away that day asking me not to use the vacuum on the linoleum and I NEVER heard about it again. For years, if you would push that bookcase aside, you could easily see a spot where the surface was scratched. It stood as a silent reminder to me that ... we don't cry over spilt milk (accidents, material things).
Why? Because people and their feelings are more important than things.
Lesson 2: This too shall pass
When I was raising small children and often pulling my hair out my mother reminded me that, "this too shall pass." It was something her mother (who raised eight children) told her. My mother lovingly passed this advice on to me saying each stage in our lives is important and must be passed through. It's how we choose to pass through and what attitude we have as we pass through that's important. I am now a grandma to a wonderful little boy and I remind my daughter on particular days when our little man is cranky and fitful that these stages are temporal. This too shall pass.
Why? Because things seldom stay the way they are forever and most of the time stages and crisis are temporary.
Lesson 3: There is great power in unconditional love
One day in my adult life, probably one of my most difficult ever, I went to my mother to share some news of a great disappointment. I was worried how she would react. Would she be disappointed in me too? In short, I was afraid I would lose her love. As I shared with my mother that day in her kitchen, she lovingly wrapped her arms around me and let me cry on her shoulder. A faithful Catholic, she quoted scripture, "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" My mother showed me that day one of the greatest things a human being can ever show another human being. She showed me redemption in the flesh. Saying very few words, my mother demonstrated to me something that people in prayer closets and confessionals around the world beg for - unconditional love. This day stands out as one of the single most poignant days of my life.
Why? A mother's love is unconditional -she teaches us how to love ourselves.
Life is a circle
So my mother taught me not to cry over spilt milk, that this too shall pass and that there is a redeeming quality in unconditional love. And as I walked with my mother through the final stage of her life, I found that in those last months and days I had been given a great gift. The gift of just a little more time to learn just a few more things from a woman who taught me some of the greatest life lessons.