This blog is the first of a two-part series in which I explore the lessons from two very important people in my life: My Mom and My Grandpa. Both of these amazing people passed away in the last few years. Naturally, as I move through the grief process, a lot of my time has been contemplating their lives and what I learned from their time on this planet.
My Mom and my Grandpa were the biggest influences in my life. Without being explicit about it, they had many life lessons to pass on – not necessarily through telling but absolutely through their actions, how they carried themselves in this world. All I had to do was pay attention, I mean really pay attention. But to pay attention is one thing – it’s what I choose to do with the lessons given me.
My Mom died two years ago. I’ve often referred to our collective “Mama’s” as Mama Bears and on the eve of Mom passing, in a town that does not typically see a lot of bears on the streets, my sister and I watched a beautiful, big black bear saunter down the road past our house. Flash forward to this very moment, I kid-you-not, as I am writing this blog, I look outside and see a Mama Bear with three new cubs walking near my backyard. I think I’m meant to write this story.
The Mama Bear of the actual bear family is a teacher, a protector, a provider. Her job is critical in those early days. The little cubs, like little humans are the most vulnerable in the early days of life. But then the Mama Bear teaches life skills, encourages a wider range for her cubs and eventually nudges the adolescents out on their own. But unlike a bear family once out on their own may never see their siblings or mama again, whereas us humans tend to stay connected with our families and if willing, continue to learn and seek counsel from our wise family members.
My Mom did not have an easy life. She battled (and I mean went to war with) mental health issues almost her entire life. It was often a bumpy road for all of us. And yet, she had amazing, and joyful times in her life. She raised a family, she furthered her education, she built a community of supportive people around her. And I don’t think I told her, really shared with her, the lessons she taught me along the way. So here, right now, with my hand over my heart, I share three things I learned from my Mom about life:
Dust Off and Keep Going: As I mentioned, her life was incredibly difficult a great deal of the time. Mental health issues as a teenager, diagnosed with seriously intense bipolar in adulthood, two divorces, raising four kids, a few years living in poverty, and returning to school in her late 30’s, and if that was not enough, a few other serious illnesses along the way – one of which eventually took her from us. There were definitely times when Mom got knocked to the ground – to the point we were not sure she’d come out the other side. And then she’d have to do fist-a-cuff battle to get back on her feet. Time and time again, she’d be down, and she’d claw back up, dust herself off and keep on going. The immense strength and determination to do this is, well, quite frankly, superhuman. She did this one minute at a time, one day at a time, one step at a time. This was probably the biggest lesson she taught me – to just keep going, to keep trying. Get up when you get knocked down. Dust yourself off. And get on with it. She was a fighter and definitely fighting above her weight category.
It Takes A Community: At one low point in her life, my Mom did not have a lot of friends or community around her. We talked a lot about how lonely and alone she felt and how important community and friendships were to our health and well-being. So of course, being the fighter she is, she decided to do something about this, one beautiful connection at a time. She took up golf and met two gals that became incredible friends. She started attending church and I can’t even begin to list the number of people that surrounded Mom with love here. She reconnected with a dear friend with whom she had a falling out with (an unfortunate misunderstanding) 20 years previous – this friend being someone Mom spoke every single night after they reconciled. She slowly, but surely built the loving and caring friendships around her – a community of people that made my Mom feel loved, like she belonged, that she mattered. I believe her community breathed life into her, without even knowing it, held her up. This has reinforced in me how critically important the people around me are to my own well-being. Each and every person I connect with, each person I help and that helps me, each person I get to laugh and play with are part of my community. Wow.
Advice-sometimes, Listen-always: Despite my Mom having challenging times, she always wanted to know how I was doing, what I was up to. It would have been easy to protect my Mom from my silly, small problems when she was struggling, but then I would have been robbing her of her earned right to be my Mom. So, every week and sometimes several times a week we’d chat about life stuff. She had a gift to just sit and listen to me. Occasionally she’d offer advice but more often she’d just listen and say to me “Honey, you’ll find the right solution, you’ll figure this out”. I tend to be an advice giver (heaven knows I gave her a ton of advice through the years), so this lesson has been an on-going gift to me in helping my coaching, in my relationships, in my work and life in general. I try to slow down, shut out my own noisy brain and do my best to listen first. It is an incredible gift when someone gives us their undivided time and attention. I want to keep this feeling front of mind when I am listening and connecting with others. I want to channel my Mom and her gift she gave to everyone – to be right there with them, holding space, listening deeply.
Before I close this off, I wanted to say thank-you for taking the time to read a bit longer blog and also one that is a bit more personal in nature. I do not profess to be perfect at the lessons my Mom taught me – not even close – but I try each day to channel her strength and gifts she gave me. It’s a journey. One day at a time. One step at a time.
“You wake up every morning to fight the same demons that left you so tired the night before and that, my love, is bravery.” ~ Unknown