“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship.” That is a quote from Robert Anderson. That quote goes on to say: “which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some final resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds.” My mom, Philomena Cirillo, passed away on June 2, 2016. She was 94. Mom was exasperating, complicated. She drove her kids crazy with Catholic guilt. Everyone else thought she was just the funniest, nicest person. That is why I found myself talking with the hospice grief counselor a little over a month after losing mother.
I was there because I wanted to walk through the last month of her life – a sudden hospitalization, emergency surgery, a heart attack in her recovery, then to hospice. It all happened in a roughly two-week period. And I was trying to work through whether I would have changed anything, her care, my decisions, etc.
In hindsight I would not. But I what I came to find is that I was seeing the counselor because I thought mom was still over my shoulder, critiquing whether I was doing things the right way. The first trip I took after she passed I experienced guilt. She was still there with me. And she will always be there and we will always have a relationship – just as loving, complicated and messy as when she was alive. Here are some things I have come to learn in the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
Moms Are Brave and Resilient
Mom lost a daughter in 2014. Mom lived through the depression. World War. She lost her husband when she was in her late forties. She had breast cancer. She had two operations that most people in their 80s would never survive. She always bounced back. I think some of her sarcasm and humor masked the pain. And looking back, I probably did not appreciate or relate to the struggles she experienced. Let’s face it. This boomer had it easy in comparison. I most certainly would have wanted to talk to her more about what made her keep going.
So take the time to talk to your mom and really understand her upbringing and appreciate her struggles and sacrifices. Learn from them.
Moms Are Smarter Than We Give Them Credit For Being
Mom had a high school education but she was street smart. Coming from the school of hard knocks, she was tough. She could read people and often her instincts were spot on even if her verbal assessment of the person was off color! She could negotiate. And even though she was 4 foot, 10 inches, people were equally scared of her and equally respectful. Frankly, I’m soft in comparison. As my kids say, I live in “Anthony’s World.” There were things mom did I’ll never know about that helped our family survive in a single parent home in a lower middle class upbringing.
I can only speak from my experience and not every mom is the same. Realize that really good moms are doing things you can’t appreciate now to make your life better. And while you and I may have had a more advanced formal education, there are things we can learn from our parents that help round us out.
Mom’s Love in Their Own Way
Those of you who have someone in a senior residence of any type may be familiar with this. You walk into visit unannounced. You see mom. She doesn’t see you. She’s having the time of her life. But when she spots you, the sourpuss face appears. She is miserable and dying all of a sudden. That was mom. She gave me a hard time in front of others then would secretly confide to my wife that she only do it to irk him! She would not necessarily tell me what a great job I did when I sang at her senior residence but she was boasting about me to all of her friends.
As I stated at the beginning, mom was exasperating but what I came to know was, that even when she was giving me hell, she loved me to death. Mom’s have different ways of expressing love.
Moms Are with Us Forever
It’s coming up on one year since losing mother and in some ways, it is as if she never left. Because I will always have her frame of reference when I look at life. Whether it’s her sarcasm, her humor, her toughness – I view life out of her lens as well as my own. The persistence (and stubbornness) I manifest are directly from her. Emotions I express such as being openly grateful and loving, are traits I developed because I did not overtly see them in her. So her influence will always be there.
I’ve talked in the past about how one of my dear friends with early onset Alzheimer’s talks about living in the precious present. It means living in the moment. As you gather to celebrate Mother’s Day this year – be it in person, in spirit – or even virtually, over a video chat or phone call, enjoy the moment. Be fully present. Your relationships with everyone will deepen.