My mom died a week ago today in the early morning hours. Her funeral was this past Thursday. We were each offered the opportunity to say a few words; most of us opted to submit something in writing. I briefly entertained the idea of reading this myself, but after I couldn’t make it through the first practice run, I let someone else do it.
The three of us-me, my brother, and my sister- all owe a huge debt to our mom for ‘raising us right’. And even though we didn’t always follow her teaching, in the end I think we turned out all right. So what follows was my tribute to my Mom.
“My mom is my hero. I don’t know if I ever got around to telling her that. I remember she used to get upset when I’d tell people my grandfather was my greatest mentor. In a way, he was a large influence on my life. But Mom was my hero. She taught me my greatest lessons.
- She taught me responsibility. When my Dad left her with three small children, she went to work. She never complained much, worked hard, had to ride the bus to and from work before she learned to drive. She provided a home for us, and with the help of my grandparents held us together as a family. She even had an amazing job for many years-working with the doctor that took care of the Detroit Tigers and Pistons. She was hired because she was willing to do anything, down to cleaning the toilets. What I learned was that no job was too menial to not do it right.
- She taught me sacrifice. She never made much more than $10,000 a year for most of our younger years. But we never lacked for school clothes, letter jackets, Christmas presents, or much of anything else. We didn’t have many extras but we had what we needed. And it came at the expense of her wearing the same broken-down uniform shoes for years. We never knew exactly what she gave up for us; that wasn’t important. She wanted to make sure we were taken care of.
- She taught me respect and graciousness. After my Dad left, she never said anything against him. Even when we got older, the only negative thing she would say against him was he was unable to handle responsibility, almost in a sad tone of regret. I struggled with hurt and anger over what he’d done but because of that, I was able to work through my own feelings and grant forgiveness for what he’d done.
- She taught me how to parent. Mom didn’t miss many of our activities when we were in school. She sat through downpours of rain to watch our football games, struggled with staying in the gym during our wrestling matches, and always managed to come to whatever concert, school play or other performance we were involved in. She was our biggest fan, and she always let us know how proud she was of us. And later, when there were marriages and births, she was there to support and cheer us on again. She loved her family, and her love grew with the size of the family.
- She taught me to be a man. Mom understood how life worked and knew we’d have to be strong to face it. So there wasn’t much coddling to her nurturing. Medical advice consisted of: “don’t worry, it’s a long way from your heart”. When we came looking for sympathy, the answer was: “it’s in the dictionary”, usually accompanied by a more specific location of an impolite nature. In spite of it, she was the most caring, compassionate person I knew if you were really hurt. But she wasn’t about to make it easy for us otherwise. Transgressions were often met with swift punishment that was meant to leave an impression. She knew what we needed to know and she was going to do the best she could to make sure we understood it.
Mom was in her glory at holidays and special occasions. If it involved large quantities of food, so much the better. She would never cook ‘just enough’; there had to be sufficient amounts to feed a small brigade. Grocery shopping was a team event, which involved several carts, with each team member receiving a portion of the grocery list. She loved holidays, because they brought the family together. Sadly, as she got older and could no longer manage them she lost most of her interest in any of it.
Her greatest fear was always of being alone. She always had family close by or in-house, and in her last years came to live with Rita and me. When we could no longer provide safe care for her and had to consider placement at a nursing facility, she viewed it as a death sentence. Then came COVID, and her worst fears seem to come true when we were no longer allowed to visit. Once again God intervened by giving her a loving, absolute gem of a roommate to look after her and cheer her up. We were finally able to see her at the end. She couldn’t respond well but she let us know that she knew we were there and that she loved us. Her one desire was always to ‘come home’. Well, Mom, you finally got your wish.”