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May 10, 2019

Lessons that Stick on Mother’s Day.

There are no shortage of tears considering what humans are doing to each other and to this planet.

But in these early May days, what brings me to audible breathtaking crying, in public no less, is the sight of an elderly woman. It’s not that I am sad about the inevitable end of life in these particular moments.
No, seeing an elderly woman being carried by her slow and careful gait, guided by her wandering wondrous eyes like a child, taking in the beauty of nature’s early, late spring morning, and her 5’6” frame that has been the indestructible container for all the lives she has loved, I think of my mom.

And I miss her with a deep and irretrievable ache.

When I see an elderly woman, I think of a young child. I think of me as a young girl. I think of the arc of a human life. Starting out in the world and the lessons trying to be imprinted onto us through rules, lectures, observations, more rules, more lectures, and then eventually we embark on our own experiences and mistakes, which we repeat well into middle and later life.

With age and sage that comes from self-awareness and hard work, we eventually learn the lessons so well that they stick, and then maybe we can enjoy life a little bit more. Before her death, I think my mom was almost on sticking some of her life’s biggest lessons. Her focus and determination were often pulled back by the stronger currents of her life’s cemented history; old sabotaging narratives, unhealthy behavior patterns, insecurities, and the darkness of shame. But like an earnest pupil in September she persisted in her lessons.

Maybe it’s because she knew she was dying. Maybe it’s because she was not afraid to finally let go. Maybe it’s because it was her last gift to those she loved, and to herself.

I feel her resoluteness to these more retractable lessons came from sticking one of her life’s most important lessons: to live a life of service to others.

My mother was a registered nurse and eventually became an educator. This career path alone would have fulfilled her life of service quotient. And while I am proud of my mother’s chosen profession, I am talking about a service she did not choose but was painfully and horrendously handed to her. My mom was 70 years old and retired when her daughter was brutally murdered by her ex-husband. For the next 10 years she raised her grandsons and went back to work to secure a financial future for them. And it was through her greatest act of service that she taught me some of life’s important lessons.

Believe in something.
My mom was a devout Catholic and despite the death of her daughter and debilitating illness of ALS, she consistently lived by her faith. It grounded her and helped her understand that life is larger than we are, than this moment, than ourselves and our suffering. For many of us, it is not a religion, but we know we more fulfilled when we believe in something beyond ourselves and our daily lives. Something that inspires us and buoys us from the storms that will keep coming yet keeping our intentions from unwavering. For the past 14 years, for me, it has been my early morning yoga practice and meditation.

Show Up.
My mom put her family first, but I did not see this crystallize until she became a new mother again at age 70. She let go of whatever expected “retirement” she had worked out for herself – vacations, sleeping in, painting, no more carpooling, and without any hesitation she showed up and claimed her grandchildren, from day one.
Being the youngest in my family, I was prone to letting others do, relying on someone else to get sh*t done. My mom’s final act of service taught me to show up. Most of my “adulting” growth happened in the years following my sister’s murder as I attempted to model my mom’s responsibility and devotion to her family. No doubt I do not have it at all figured out, but I learned that showing up is about 98% of it. Even if we do not know what comes next, and it is not according to our grand life plan, we need to just show up for our lives.

Dirty martinis with extra olive juice.
In no way am I saying my mom was a saint; which makes her all-the-more beautifully human. She drank, smoked, liked to laugh and party and stay up late talking. She was able to balance being a mother with being Collette. I was an anxious young mother and auntie and consumed by the perceived all-encompassing duties of motherhood. And while living together during the early years of raising our boys she taught me to step away from the children, to stop hovering. We had a daily “happy hour” in our living room where we sat and (maybe) drank martinis and reconnected. Decompressed. Adulted. My mom continued to cultivate and enjoy her own life, separate from the boys. And that is what amazes me most about my mom:

My sister’s murder could have leveled her forever. Instead, she claimed those boys and created a new life for them. She taught me that there is life after death, that from profound grief and devastation, we can create love and safety for our families.

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