My mother died recently, only ten months after my father passed away. The depth of my grief seemed overwhelming. Taking the time to mourn is important. With my dad, I did not spend enough time in reflection. With my mother’s loss, it has been different. My relationship with each of my parents was quite different. Dad was a warm and affectionate Irishman. Mom was a product of her experience and much more reserved. She was born in 1925 and shaped by the Depression and the Second World War. The following are some of the lessons she taught me:
- Be Kind to Yourself – Her formative years as a child and adolescent took place during an unkind period. In addition, during that period the important people in her life treated her unkindly. Perhaps, as a consequence of this experience, she never learned to be kind to herself. It was very difficult to do something nice for my mother or take her to a nice place. Every week for the last few years my brother would drive mom to the bank and then take her out for brunch. When we went to the bank to close out her account the teller asked me if I was the son who drove her to the bank. I told her it was my brother. She said: “Your mom really enjoyed going out to brunch with your brother.” These small acts of kindness meant a great deal to my mother. Yet, she had real difficulty acknowledging her appreciation. It was as if she did not believe that she deserved to be treated well. My mother’s inability to be kind to herself and understand that the lack of kindness she experienced was not about her, resulted in anger and disappointment. The cost of not being kind to yourself is that it is difficult to be kind to others.
- Be Kind to Others – For my mother, her way of being kind was to do things for others. Kindness takes many forms. When my daughter was 19, we went away for the weekend. Shauna threw a party. A number of her girlfriends stayed over to help her clean the house. When they woke up, the group decided to go out for breakfast before undertaking the clean up. My mother lived nearby and came down to see how the kids were doing. She had a key to our house and let herself in while Shauna and her friends were out. When they came back, the clean up was well underway. All of the empty bottles covered the kitchen counter. My mother’s only comment was: “It looks like you had a good time last night.” Our three children remember the many things she did that were small acts of kindness.
- Be Responsible – Mom had a strong sense of responsibility. My parents separated when I was 18. As a single parent and for the rest of her life, a single woman, she took her responsibilities very seriously. It was important to her that her two sons complete their education. She valued her independence and wanted to be financially secure in her old age. Consequently, she saved as much as she could. Debt was anathema to her. She paid every bill as soon as she received it.
- Live Your Life Fully – The most important lesson came from what she did not do. Mom did not live her life fully. She never learned to enjoy the moment. I do not know the sound of her laughter. Once, when I was in therapy, my mother came to one of my therapy sessions. For someone of her generation, that was a very courageous act. The therapist wanted insight into my childhood. He asked her to describe the happiest moment she had with me as a child. She sat there silently, unable to think of a single time. Neither could I. Ultimately, it is the experiences we have and share with others that are most memorable. The quality of our relationships determines what is meaningful in our lives.