Mom would’ve been 87 this Wednesday, March 25th. Of course, I didn’t always think she was right about everything, but it turns out a few things she taught me have stuck.

I’ve felt so grateful these past few weeks that she died in March 2019 and not March 2020. Last March, I could still sit at her bedside, sing to her and stroke her hair. This March, I’ve seen pictures on the news of other daughters sitting outside of their parents’ nursing homes trying to show their love through the windows. It is heartbreaking.

The past year has softened me. The exhaustion and worry of being her caregiver is gone. My car doesn’t automatically head to the Alzheimer’s care facility where she lived for the last months of her life anymore.

Instead, my mind wanders to the things about my mom that made me smile or even laugh out loud. As I walked the waterfront today with Rocky and our pup, Wilma, I tried to think of the top 5 most important things she taught me about life that could help all of us during our global stay-cation.

  1. Get outside! Mom taught us to get outside and enjoy nature every day. She often said, “housework can wait.” I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was that she wasn’t pushing us to clean house every day like other mothers might have done. Of course that had its down side too. When Rocky came to my apartment for the first time 34 years ago to “make me dinner,” he felt the need to scrub my toilet and clean my bathroom before he could begin making his mouth-watering pasta Alfredo. I probably should have been embarrassed by my lack of domesticity but instead I made a mental note that he had the potential to be a dream husband: one who could not only clean but cook! ( I was right!)
  2. Be of service. Mom’s mantra almost till the day she died was, “How can I help you?” Even after she was well into her battle with Alzheimer’s, she would still ask the question. In the years before she died, she didn’t always remember that she’d asked and by the time I thought of something she might be able to help me with, she’d moved on to the next thought. When she was younger and experiencing depression following her divorce from my stepfather, she volunteered on the Suicide Hotline. I worried about that unusual choice but she said it helped her put her own troubles into perspective when she could help someone else. She even went back to school and to become a social worker when she was 54, fulfilling a lifelong dream to help others.
  3. Figure it out on your own. Mom was the original Do-It-Yourself-er. When I was eleven, my sister, brother and I all came down with chicken pox at the same time. Mom, who was a single mother at the time, had to quarantine at home for two weeks to take care of us. Rather than park herself on the couch and watch endless TV with us, she checked out a book on upholstery from the library, bought some fabric and re-upholstered our Ugly Betty second hand couch. Her motivation could have been in part to keep us from turning into slugs during that time but her effort paid off. As we started to feel better, she put us to work helping her. By the time we all went back to school and work, we had a beautiful blue and white floral patterned couch. I’ve thought of her a number of times this past week as I try to learn how to teach yoga via Zoom after 30 years of teaching to an in-person audience. Thanks to your example, I’ve got this Mom!
  4. Look for the rainbows. Mom’s life wasn’t easy, and she often had bouts of anxiety and depression, but she was always the first person to point out a rainbow, a beautiful sunset or a cute puppy. As a yoga teacher, I knew the benefits and importance of staying present but often found myself distracted by the kids, work or chores when Mom was living with us. It took Mom to bring my attention to something right outside of our window. Her reminder would help me pause and appreciate a moment of beauty which would then help me slow down and breathe, shifting me out of my stressed-out state.
  5. Brownies are always appropriate. Mom had a reputation for making the best brownies. She would make a batch to share no matter where she was going. Her secret was to use a brownie mix but to slightly under-bake them so that they came out tasting fudgy and gooey and deliciously home-made. In her 60s she became an avid hiker, camper and kayaker. She even kept her poke boat, a small kayak, behind her apartment couch so that it was always ready to go. Her friends counted on her to bring the brownies to every adventure. They confessed to me years after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that she occasionally arrived on a camping trip without her sleeping bag or even a tent. They never worried about her though because she always remembered the brownies. Making brownies for friends is a sweet tradition that my boys learned from Grandma Mary and have continued with equal success.

Happy birthday Mom! I feel you nudging me to remember your best advice. I won’t be re-upholstering our couch during this quarantine though!