Lessons I Learned from a Resilient Mother (That I Also Want My Kids to Learn)

I crawled into bed last night and closed my eyes. Right then I could smell her.

My eyes popped open.

I didn’t want it to go away. Her smell lingered in the air for a bit. Not long enough, of course, but during that time I could feel that she was actually there.

No one else in the world smelled like her, so soft and pure. It was the way she smelled at the end of the day when her perfume had worn off, and she was sitting on the couch in her pajamas eating a bowl of yogurt and blueberries (I would curl up next to her and ask her for a bite. She would laugh and shake her head, but she would always share). It was the way her pillow smelled when I would come home from college and insist on watching movies in her bed until we fell asleep, banishing my dad to another room. It was the way her clothes still smelled the day we cleaned out her things.

I’m at a weird point in my grief of losing her. She’s been gone for almost three years, which in the timeline of grief is nothing, but it’s still been long enough for me to adjust to her not being here. I don’t expect her to call me on my birthday anymore. I don’t pick up my phone and search for her number so that I can ask her a medical question. I just want to. Really, really badly. And that’s the part that still feels the same as the day she left this world for the next one.

The worst thing I can do when the grief wave starts to come back is to avoid it. Even though, I admit, that’s my very first response. I try to tell my grief to back off. “Please don’t wreck my world right now,” I’ll say out loud. But grief don’t give a shiiiiit, and that nasty devil will show it’s nasty head whether I’m ready for it or not.

So. Here I am, staring my grief in the face once again. I know I could get all depressed and scared and withdraw from all normal human activity for a few days, but what the hell? Today I’m feeling like trying something different. Maybe for today the “something different” will just be writing about some of the great things she taught me in the 30 years I got to spend with her. Because for those of you who have lost your nearest and dearest, you know how good it feels just to talk about them.

This will either feel good for my heart or it will ignite the spiral. We’ll see.

It was really hard to narrow down all of her little life lessons (I started with 53!), but I think I’ve picked out the best ones. Some of these things are almost her words exactly, and some things she may not have even known she was teaching me. Either way, they’re valuable, and I hope I can am (!) teaching these things to my own kids.

  1. Being tough doesn’t make you a bitch. And being a bitch doesn’t make you tough.
  2. Life is hard. Really hard. But if you can’t laugh about it, you’re gonna be in real trouble.
  3. You can do anything, but not if you don’t work for it.
  4. Figure out which problems you can solve and which ones you can’t. Then solve the ones you can, and let go of everything else.
  5. If a man ever tries to hurt you, grab him by the balls and pull.
  6. Don’t let the lack of money stand in the way of a good education.
  7. You can be kind to everyone without being a doormat. Make sure you know the difference.
  8. Wake up early. If you can get up before everyone else in the house, that’s even better.
  9. When life gets really tough, feel your emotions. All of them. Wallow, cry, get angry. But then pick yourself up and get goin’.
  10. Find what brings you joy and hold on to that for dear life.
  11. Believe in the things that are greater than you: God, love, passion, grit. These things will save your life.
  12. Life will disappoint you. You won’t accomplish everything you thought you would. You certainly won’t be happy every day. But if you can look at your life and be completely and humbly content, then you’ve done something right.
  13. Don’t put up with bullshit. Especially from a man.
  14. Love the people in your family no matter what. Even when it’s really hard.
  15. Get rid of clutter on a regular basis. It will weigh you down, otherwise.
  16. If someone has hurt you, stabbed you in the back, or put you down, that’s their problem. You hold your head high and move on.
  17. If you think life is about to break you, just wait until tomorrow. Everything feels different in the morning.
  18. There will come a time, as your mother, when I will have to let you go. This will be harder on me than it will be for you. But I will be with you always.

She was a warrior woman like I’ve never known, and her life was really hard (maybe I will tell more about that some day). I would be nothing of who I am if it wasn’t for her. Wasn’t she beautiful?


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