I have recently started blogging for the great organization MomsRising.org. They have asked us bloggers to write something this week on 'What I Learned From My Mom' in honor of Mother's Day. What a daunting task this is! I'm fortunate in that I have a lot to say on this topic but it is bittersweet because my mother died in 2002. Can it really be twelve years without her? I think of her everyday, miss her everyday and hear her voice coming out of me when I talk to my children. I think of how she would get a real thrill out of being the subject of this article and how she would probably start singing that song she used to sing "There Will Never Be Another Like Your Mother". Come to think of it I'm not sure that is a real song; it may be some other song that she altered for her own purposes. She was funny that way and in so many ways. For example she thought a funny way to wake up a teenager who was more interested in sleeping than going food shopping was by blaring her Willie Nelson cd and dancing into my room singing loudly along. What a nightmare at the time but so amusing to reflect on now.
This was part of what I learned from her. The importance of laughing and being playful with people in your life. We always had music in our lives-Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong and Frank Sinatra were some that my mom would sing and dance to with us in the kitchen. She wasn't afraid to be silly and we laughed hard and often. This playfulness was even more prominent when she became a grandmother. My mother knew the lyrics of every children's song out there and she would sing these with gestures and sound effects that would make Barney the dinosaur pale in comparison.
The biggest thing I learned from my mother is that relationships are messy; that if you want to have deep meaningful connections with other people expect bumps in the road. To be real with people means being willing to take risks. There is the risk of rejection, the risk that maybe other people would rather be pleasant than authentic. My mom had friends who got divorced and she was so mystified at how they had been sitting on their deck holding hands one day and were splitting up the next. This was never how my mom rolled. My mother was Italian and she would say this was why she was passionate and expressive. She felt things deeply. This could sometimes lead her to feel very disappointed in other people. She was never a casual person. If she was your friend you knew it. She was always there for me and was my biggest cheerleader and my biggest source of comfort. If she was mad or disappointed you would know that too. I would get so upset when she was unhappy with me but she would say "That is over now. I'm Italian--I express my feelings and then it's done." This was a good lesson for me in that displays of anger and frustration were parts of relationships not the end of relationships. I see many people in my practice who do anything to avoid expressing anger. But the truth is the rewards are great in relationships where you have people who really know you--good, bad, and ugly--and they still love you. Disappointment and anger are normal human emotions and are part of the messiness that comes with being authentic and having authentic relationships with others.
I learned passion, enthusiasm, commitment and engagement from my mother. She would never be content with the conversation ending at 'Fine', she wanted to dig deep, get to know you and what you were feeling about things. We loved to analyze ourselves and everyone we knew or read about. Great early training for the therapist I was to become.
I also learned some hard lessons from my mother. One was that you don't know how long life will be so don't take it for granted. My mom learned this having lost her mother at 56 and she would say, 'I don't know if I will be here for retirement'; unfortunately she didn't as she died at 59. I hope she didn't have regrets, though I'm sure she would have liked to have gone to Italy and when I go there before retirement age I will toast her with a big glass of red wine.
I learned that I want to talk about my death and what I want before it is upon me. I learned that being with someone when they are dying is the most profound experience. Helping my mom die at home was terrifying, absurd, and one of my greatest accomplishments. I learned that I am stronger than I knew; that I could get though her death and the grief and carry on to bring the things I learned from her to my children. And even though they were 5 and 2 when she died I hope that when they see these qualities in me they will know the true essence of my mother in a way that no story or picture could ever capture.