Every year as Mother’s Day approaches so does an impending dread. The celebration of the woman who gave you life becomes bittersweet when you can no longer sit across from her sipping coffee and telling her about your day, or when you can’t pick up the phone to ask her what to do about your toddler’s nagging cough.
My mom has been gone for seven years, and with each passing year, I’m more aware of her sacrificial love for me. Her legacy is not a gift I received when she passed away; rather, it was a gift she handed me, piece by piece, in every lesson she taught me.
This year, I will be celebrating her life by remembering and reflecting on those lessons.
1. Be a good listener.
I was 26 when mom passed away, well out of my self-centered teenage years, but pretty convinced I had already learned everything I needed to know about life. Despite my naiveté in those matters, mom sat quietly and allowed me to rant and rave about everything going on in my life: career decisions, relationship issues, frustrations with the heavy-handedness of life. She rarely offered unsolicited advice, but would just nod attentively and ask me additional questions as I processed everything out loud, eventually coming to my own conclusions. What I wouldn’t give to rewind time and ask about her experiences–how she became who she represented to me, this fiercely strong woman of faith and grit. But the longer I sit with the memories of our conversations, the more apparent the answer is . . . she listened. That simple act allows us to learn compassion without judgment, to hear another person’s story without wondering how it affects ours. It enables people to come to their own conclusions without interjecting our own biased opinions or limited experiences, and it provides an appropriate space between their issues and ours that allows us to view individual experiences with a proper perspective.
2. Plant flowers.
My mom had quite the green thumb, one I’m still a bit envious of as I struggle to keep my geraniums alive from year to year. She would come home from church, peel off her pantyhose, and go barefoot into the backyard to dig around for a bit. Gardening isn’t just about planting; it involves slowing down long enough to prune and water and weed. Mom always told me it was therapeutic to get your hands in the dirt and dig around. It connects us to the earth and gives us time to think about the process of growth. Nothing worth anything grows without time and effort. “Dirt therapy,” she explained “is way cheaper than counseling.” Along with this came the lesson of “Never trust someone who senselessly cuts down tress,” but I’ll save that one for another time.
3. Value and nurture old friendships.
Friendships were different for my mom because she was a pastor’s wife, and she worked tirelessly to ensure that no one felt excluded. I wanted her to be the kind of woman that met with her girlfriends every Saturday morning for a round of Bunko or spent a week every summer drinking Bloody Mary’s on the porch of a friend’s lake house. I wanted her to have a tribe of women that helped shoulder her burdens, giggling and crying and raging their way through difficult seasons. But her loyalty looked a bit different. She maintained friendships from every season of her life. With care packages and birthday cards and standing long distance phone dates long before the age of unlimited nights and weekends, she made sure the women who mattered to her knew they mattered, and the friendships she built were strong, sturdy, and withstood the test of time.
4. Write handwritten notes.
I can’t give mom full credit for this one; her mother (my Mimi) was a legend in the handwritten note department, but mom carried on its importance. Whether it was a birthday or a job interview or a painful break up, mom was always sending me cards or writing on napkins or even passing notes along the pew at church to make sure I knew just how much she cared. Technological innovation has done so much in terms of spanning the time zones and opening up global communication. Social networks eliminate the need for printing out pictures and shipping them to your great aunt in Iowa. One push of a button lets you tell your niece in Japan that you’re thinking of her, but never underestimate the distance a handwritten note travels to truly tell someone how important she is.
5. Don’t go back to things (or people) that cause you pain.
I’ve always felt there was a pencil fine line between holding a grudge and having no boundaries. I remember having a conversation with my mom regarding an ex-boyfriend who she was encouraging me to forgive. I explained that I couldn’t forgive him because I needed to stay angry in order to keep me from going back. Her response was simple and thought out: You forgive by allowing that season of your life to be something you’re thankful that you experienced and something you’re thankful you’ll never have to live through again. Learn from it and move on.
6. Never clean the floors before you host a party.
Every woman in my family loves a full house. We love filling the bellies of people we love and turning the music up loud and watching the kids run circles around the dining room table, praying they don’t knock over the cake. We love entertaining and all it entails, but mom always encouraged me not to get too caught up in the preparation. People should feel comfortable enough in your home that they don’t panic if they spill their punch. Therefore, never clean the floors before you host a party. No one is looking at where they walk. Put that time into setting the proper atmosphere that allows everyone to feel fun and at ease, and scrub those things when they leave.
7. It takes time and patience to fry the perfect egg.
It takes time and patience to do anything perfectly.
8. Don’t shave until you have to.
When I was in sixth grade, I desperately wanted to shave my legs. Several of my other friends had already done it, and they were starting to point out the soft blonde hair on my knobby knees that blew in the wind at recess. Mom tried so hard to dissuade me, explaining that once I started shaving my legs I would have to do it for the rest of my life. We discussed it tirelessly until finally one Saturday, I took matters into my own hands and shaved my legs bare. Within three or four days I regretted it terribly. This many years later I realize she wasn’t trying to spare me the irritation of shaving, she was trying to protect my childhood for as long as she could. We hurry through those pre-teen years wanting so desperately to date or drive or wear mascara . . . only to get to the other side of adulthood and wish that we could be carelessly climbing on a jungle gym again. This lesson wasn’t about unwanted hair; it was about unwanted responsibility, savoring the simple pleasures for as long as you can.
9. Cereal isn’t just for breakfast.
Just like cake isn’t just for birthdays or popcorn isn’t just for movies. When I was in high school, I would often babysit during the evenings or go out with my friends from youth group on the weekend. When I wandered into the house at 10:30 or 11, everyone else would be in bed, but mom would be waiting up with two empty bowls on the counter. “Lucky Charms or Raisin Bran?” she’d ask, and then she’d pour us each a bowl of cereal. It became our thing, discussing our days over a bedtime snack with no thought about calories or how it would go straight to our hips. It was me and my mom crunching loudly in an otherwise quiet house. She wasn’t just feeding me cereal; she was feeding me time, providing a place for us to talk uninterrupted about anything–a tradition I hope to carve out for each of my children individually as we walk through the years of their lives.
10. Protect those you love.
Fiercely, constantly, and without apology, my mom was a loyal soldier that defended the people she loved. I never heard her speak against her family or friends. It’s easy to get caught up in the frustrations of marriage or get offended when friendships go awry, but mom knew the weight of her words and never used them to diminish the character or integrity of someone for which she cared deeply.
As I miss my mom this Mother’s Day, I’ll see her love in the reflection of my children as they hand me the scribbled, poorly-cut cards they fashioned at preschool. I’ll see her smile when I refuse to clean my floors despite the company that will join us that afternoon. I’ll honor her by planting another flower that may or may not survive the Texas heat. Her presence is an atmosphere; memories of her set the theme. It’s all celebration just the same.