On 2 December, my mother, the same mother that told me not to panic when we lost heating in January, scorched her fingers while helping me create incredibly fussy party invitations for a four-year-old, painted my risers on a random Friday, and travelled over the big, blue ocean just because I needed my mommy, died. I was in the air when it happened, flying back home to NJ after receiving the phone call from my dad the afternoon before saying that, after an already hard few days, her blood pressure was down and her heart rate was up.
I've cried a lot, especially in the days before. I've thought about her, the life I had with her -- the good and the bad. (Mostly good.) These are just a few things I learned from and loved about my mother:
‘Kill them with kindness’ was something she actually said to me the day before I was going into the 8th grade. I was going to a new school because of a district shuffle and I thought those kids were just the worst people on earth. She told me to smile, be kind and open to making friends with the worst people on earth. You never know, I'll either have new pals or I'll come out smelling of roses because I didn't sink to their level. She felt that way when dealing with most people -- she was nice to every service person, handyman and waitress she came across. There was never a reason to be rude unless you threatened her kid. If that happened, you better hope the earth swallows you. She had a smart, sharp tongue and really liked me most of the time.
That leads me to my next point: never ever say something snotty about someone to their face and, if you must say it, do it in the privacy of your own home. Don't be a gossip. Gossips are people who don't have enough in their lives to fill their time. However, if you must gossip (and sometimes you must -- fact of life), do it with only your best of friends — those are the people who want to keep your secrets, who find satisfaction in keeping your secrets. Those are the people who show up for you on the day you have to say goodbye to your mother. (They were there with me on Saturday, and for that I'm forever grateful.)
Mom fully believed earrings should always be worn when leaving the house. Understated hoops were her favourite. They dress up any ensemble and make people think you're completely put together while still wearing yoga pants. I feel under-dressed without something in my ears.
If people aren’t starving, children aren’t being held hostage and no one is dying, then it’s OK if your furniture isn’t delivered by Christmas. Everyone just calm down and have a drink of water.
Drink lots of water. It fills you up, keeps you hydrated, clears your skin and it gives you a reason to go to the bathroom to check your lipstick without looking vain.
Shoes are evil. Being barefoot was her state of being once she got home from work and now, as an adult, I see her point. She carried herself with grace and it was hard not to respect her while she tap-tap-tapped across the wood floors of our home, getting ready for the day, but shoes meant she was working. Shoes should come off at the door. Hers did. Mine do, too.
Choose a spouse who you think is smarter than you. When you outsmart them, you feel great. When they outsmart you, you’re not surprised. I’m not saying either of us is less intelligent than the partner we chose (we were smart enough to choose them, you know?) but I do think we both succeeded in picking the right person who makes us feel good about ourselves and proud of them at the same time.
Pictures, mirrors and artwork should be hung on the wall at eye level. Please, people, stop hanging them any higher. She hated it. If she could pick one piece of advice to leave on this earth, this would be it.
My opinion matters. When I was in high school a teacher I was in disagreement with said to me, "You're rather opinionated, just like your mother." Instead of insulted, we both took this as a matter of pride. He was right. And, more often than not, so are we.
Lastly, and, for me, most importantly, she was brave. I know this sounds trite at a time like this, but my mom demonstrated incredible bravery my whole life, not just this last year when things got rough. When leaving a job she disliked, to started her own business, to letting me move to another country, to treating cancer like it was the common cold and doing so until the very end. My mother taught me the importance of a brave face and, through example, the amazing things a person can do if they refuse to give in. We’re six years and eight months after her first diagnosis and I don’t think she would have ever gotten this far without her unwavering and unbreakable bravery.
My mom taught me all that and so much more. She is the voice in my head guiding me when it comes to paint colours, to child rearing, to my most important life choices. She loved her grandchild more than I have ever seen anyone love another human being and he is better for it. She loved me and dad and tried to teach us the best way of living even when we refused to listen. She was incredibly happy I found Gareth, someone she could pass that baton to. Dad is a lost cause, but there is still hope for me. Maybe.
I miss you. I love you. I'll remember you and everything you taught me always.