My mom passed away this week after a 9 year battle with cancer. I'm feeling grateful for having her as my mom all these years, for the kind of mother, grandmother and person she was. I also feel profoundly grateful for the hospice staff who helped us and the unsung hero, my dad, who was her caregiver and made it possible for her to stay at home as she wished.
Over the past 9 years, I've had lunch and some kind of outing with mom pretty much every Friday. We didn't let cancer get in our way much. We went out for lunch and an adventure, even if we needed to pack a walker or a wheelchair. We talked about so many things: her growing up years in Kansas on a wheat farm in the Great Depression with her 7 brothers and sisters, losing her dad when she was still young, about her life as a wife, a mother, and especially her constant joy with being a grandmother to my daughters.
Since I have known for years that her cancer was a terminal type of blood tumor cancer, I've had a great deal of time to reflect on all the wonderful life lessons she taught me. Here are some of the best lessons she taught me with her life:
1. Invest in people. If you invest in children, maybe you can be close to them all your life as they grow up. When I called many of mom's friends this week, I was moved by how close so many different people felt to her.
2. Being a grandparent is what you make it. Join their world, slow down and be hands-on. I will never forget finding mom and my girls deep into a pasta making adventure in her kitchen and letting each child shape, cook and eat their own creation.
3. Speak up. Don't go unexpressed. Mom was not afraid to tell you how she felt. She was open and direct.
4. Always have a trip planned or something to look forward to. She loved working in the travel industry for many years and loved helping people make wonderful plans and enjoy having a trip on the horizon. Even in her last few weeks she was excited about helping us make plans for an 80th birthday brunch she was looking forward to. In her heyday, mom and I took my girls traveling on girl's trips to New York City one year, and Washington, D.C. another. Mom and Dad traveled extensively together on co-adventures they loved.
5. Make life fun. Growing up, we had a smile drawer by the front door which was actually empty but you could use your imagination to grab one on your way in or out. We had a backwards party as kids where we ate dessert first and did everything backwards. Mom made international dinner nights when my sister and I were kids. She got us involved in making art projects like drawing and making marzipan.
6. Start with what you're going to wear. Anytime any family member had an important event upcoming- a graduation, dance, job interview, wedding or a big presentation, she would help by suggesting what would be good to wear or take you shopping to help you find the perfect thing.
7. Work hard and believe and you can make things happen. Mom loved a project and working towards a goal. She helped me set up my first office and get settled when we moved. She loved to have us help her rearrange the furniture as kids.
8. The importance of home. Mom made home a priority, and took delight in making it warm and inviting. She loved to entertain family and friends.
9. Stay positive and never surrender your hope. During her 9 years of battling terminal cancer, she focused on what she could still do. In the last few weeks, she joked about what would happen if she flunked hospice.
10. Make life a wonderful adventure. Mom was silly, fun and full of life. When my girls were little, she dressed up for Halloween to surprise them and served color-themed breakfasts on antique glass dishes, like a blue breakfast with blueberries or a red one with raspberries.
11. Keep learning and growing. Mom was interested in personal growth before it was even fashionable. She took classes and read extensively about relationships and spirituality. She and dad introduced me to the enneagram by taking some classes with them in Santa Monica many years ago. She loved to learn and understand herself, others and the world better. I'm sure she influenced my becoming a therapist.
My mom, Phyllis Nelson, leaves a legacy in many hearts. She was brave, kind, determined and creative. I will always remember mom with a strong, warm feeling in my heart, and I think lots of other people feel the same way.