I try to keep this blog fun and positive. After all, retirement is a wonderful opportunity that we are so fortunate to live out. However, the reality is that life has difficulties and challenges along the way, whether you are retired or not. This past year has been a hard one for me and my family. My mom passed away exactly one year ago last Sunday. While her health was declining over the previous two years, she still enjoyed life and lived independently with my dad. She passed away abruptly at the age of 89. Because of her lasting influence, I want to dedicate this blog post to her.
I am one of six siblings. While we took it for granted at the time, I now realize what an idyllic childhood we had. Not a lot of money in the younger years, but plenty of love and security to go around. As an adult I now realize that this type of childhood is not always the norm. Many people grow up in tumultuous homes, at best. We were blessed. This means that any issues or idiosyncrasies I have as an adult are on me.
When I would ask my mom what her favorite years were in her long life, she would always say it was the years raising her family. As was typical for that era, she was a stay-at-home mom. When my dad started his own business, she did the record keeping for it, but she always seemed to be available and have time for us. A well balanced dinner, with homemade dessert, was always on the table at 5:30 p.m. sharp. You did not miss dinner unless you had a pretty darn good reason. Now I realize what stability that provided. Dinner together as a family was one of her many gifts she gave us.
I learned so much about parenting and creating a loving and welcoming home from my mom. She did not have any easy home life growing up and she was determined to provide better for her own children.
Some of the things I learned about parenting from my mom.
Commitment. My dad and mom were married 72 years when she passed away. You can’t be married 72 years, build your own business together, raise six kids and not have challenges to your relationship. As a kid, if you had asked me if my parents ever argued, I would have said no. They kept their disagreements behind closed doors. This gave us kids security and the ability to live without fear that our lives would be upended at any given moment. Of course, as an adult I realize that no relationship is without disagreements. But they were both committed for the long haul. They lived out their wedding vows and it has been a great example to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Unconditional love. My mom would hold her kids accountable but her love was fierce and strong no matter what mistakes you made in life. And if you had a disagreement with someone, you could guarantee that she would be on your side. I have heard it said that no one loves you as unconditionally as your mother. Mom was able to overlook our faults and sing our praises, even for our most meager accomplishments. It gave us strength and confidence to try out new challenges; knowing we always had an emotional safety net to fall back on.
Family traditions. Traditions ground and bind a family together. Family was so important to mom and she established numerous family traditions that continue on with her kids and grandkids. There is something very solid and comforting to be able to say, “in our family, we always do…” Our extended family continue most of the traditions that mom started. These include:
- 4th of July. Many years ago my grandpa gave my mom and dad some property by a small lake just down the hill from their own place. Dad built a house there and he and mom raised their six kids in it. By today’s standards, it was a small house with only one bathroom. But I think that taught us a lot about sharing and how to give and take. At that time, all of the “cool” kids lived in town and not out in the country. However, the lake was a perfect spot to celebrate the 4th of July with a BBQ and fireworks by the water. Our extended family and friends still gather there every 4th of July.
- Christmas Eve. As kids we always celebrated Christmas morning in the traditional way. But as we grew up, married and had our own kids, it became too difficult to coordinate schedules on Christmas day. Mom to the rescue! Instead, she started a tradition of getting everyone together on Christmas Eve. It has evolved over the years to include a visit from Santa, a cut-throat gift exchange, singing carols off key, someone reading the Christmas story and way too much food. The evening is capped off by having my mom’s traditional Tom & Jerry’s. We now carry this tradition on at my sister’s house with over 35 people there this past Christmas.
- Easter. Years ago mom initiated the annual Easter brunch and egg hunt at their house. I think the adults have as much fun hiding the eggs in unique places as the kids have finding them. She would give out big chocolate bunnies to the grandkids afterwards. We continue this tradition now at my house and in the summer we always find an egg or two that someone missed.
- Birthdays. It was important to my mom that each of her children feel special and loved, particularly on their birthday. This was a bit of a challenge with four of us having birthdays in December. My mom still let each of us pick our birthday dinner and a homemade cake of our choice. (The only thing that was the same was that each cake had the traditional carrousel decoration on top.) She even did this for my two brothers who had back-to-back birthdays. No shortcuts for mom. She made sure each of us had our own special day.
- Shopping trips. When I was little, my dad took my brothers on several backpacking trips in the summer. Mom decided this was a good time to take her two daughters on their own backpacking trip…to go shopping. We would go out for lunch, which was a rare treat. Then she would let my sister and I pick out something to buy. We both distinctly remember being thrilled to choose a sweater off the sale table at The Crescent. But more importantly, we shared lots of laughter and had our mom’s undivided attention and love. We continued some version of these special shopping trips up until the year my mom passed away.
Hearth and home. Mom created a warm and welcoming home that was a safe haven from the harsh world. Every meal was cooked from scratch. She made bread every week and once in a while she made cinnamon rolls with it. It was always an argument among us kids to determine who got the coveted gooey center cinnamon roll. By example, she taught us the impact that a clean, organized and pleasant home environment has on those that live within its walls. She would emphasize that it is OK if you can’t afford nice things for your home, but there is no excuse for it not being clean. Mom loved to decorate but it was often the little things that made our house a home, like the fragrant pink and white water lilies she floated in a glass bowl to decorate the dinner table.
Pray for your children…. a lot. Mom had a strong faith. She shared it willingly with others through teaching bible studies and offering prayers and encouragement for those going through rough times. She made sure each of her kids, in-laws and grandkids had their own bible, or two…or three. We would all laugh with her over the number of bibles she gave away. However, I am confident that we all benefited from her prayers and I believe that she continues to bend God’s ear on behalf of her family.
None of us knows the impact that our life will have on others. Like a pebble tossed in the pond, our actions and decisions have a ripple effect. The choices, hard work and commitment that my mom and dad lived out in their lives has made all the difference to those of us that were fortunate enough to call them our parents. Their legacy will continue to impact generations to come. We miss you mom. If you are fortunate enough to still have your mom here, be sure to give her a call or hug today.