Saturday Cup of Joe: a tribute to my Mom

Saturday Cup of Joe #125

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Friends & Colleagues,

Week 125. As many of you know, my mom was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer a few months ago. I rushed home to see her over Labor Day and thankfully she was able to get strong and go home. Unfortunately, in the last week or two, she entered hospice and passed away on Sunday morning. I had the honor and privilege to be sitting with her, holding her hand, all weekend including Sunday morning.

As I write this, we’re getting ready for her graveside service this afternoon (Friday) and thinking about her memorial service tomorrow (Saturday). So, instead of my usual newsletter, here are lessons I learned from my Mom.

I suppose the threshold before anything else was to take her advice seriously. I waited too long to put this one together. In fact, when getting advice (especially unsolicited advice) I think we should all be wary. Even advice from our mothers. Unsolicited advice to a child is easy. That’s how we learn. As we get older unsolicited advice can come from a caring, safe place especially when delivered by friends and family. At the same time, in a personal or professional setting, unsolicited advice can also be loaded with assumptions and emotions. I listened to my mom’s advice because I really, really wanted to be a good son, which meant I was not actually listening to her advice. I was simply mimicking her advice.

Eventually, I tried to truly listen and understand her advice. She got some things wrong, as we all do, but she was right a lot. And regardless of being right, she was one of the most positive, encouraging and caring people I’ve ever seen. I am a lucky son.

1. Manners. My mom was disciplined with “please and thank you,” “I’m sorry and excuse me,” and “no elbows on the table.” It has returned the investment and then some in my life. I never understood how much discipline it takes especially to remind kids. I promise it’s worth it.

2. Include everyone. My mom would not tolerate exclusivity or bullying. She made me constantly aware of who was around, who was invited to participate and how everyone felt during an activity/sport/party. To this day, I have maintained a keen sense of perception (or tried to) so that I could understand how people feel in social situations. It’s important both as a social norm that respects everyone but also as a skill to help others on or off the playground.

3. Choose your friends wisely. It may seem at odds with inclusion, but it wasn’t. Mom drew a line between inclusion and who you trusted with your hopes & dreams.

4. Appearance matters. She said this not because of vanity (though I’m guilty of a touch of that I’m sure) but because of respect. Respect for time and place. Look like you belong. It was also about making big moments special. New sneakers for the first day of school. Dad’s tie for the big Spring concert. My mom loved buying me clothes and making sure we looked good.

5. Send a thank you note. Always. Even if it’s late. Send it.

6. Be well-rounded. Soccer. Tennis. Reading books. Cooking class. Golf lessons. Politics. Saxophone. Old movies. My mom spoke of being well-rounded like it was a scholarship to Harvard. It was not a goal as much as a lifestyle. I’ve tried to carry that on throughout my whole life and have been happier and more successful for it.

7. Drink your milk. Did it work? I am 6’3”.

8. Put ice on it. Always just put ice on it. For some people, it’s “walk it off,” but for my mom it was “put ice on it.” She was a physical therapist and we played a sport every season, sometimes two. There was a lot of opportunity for her to bring work home. First question was always — did you put ice on it?

9. Make meaningful memories happen. She was always actively making memories. With my parents, it was intentional. She found a way to make grocery shopping an adventure. It didn’t always work, because I’m sure my brother and complained a lot. But overall, she knew how to find fun and surprises in everyday life. If every day was an adventure, holidays were that much more special. Christmas presents piled high. Easter baskets with our favorite candy. Special snacks plus pork & sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. These things don’t just happen. Moms (and Dads) make them happen.

10. Always keep asking questions. Even when I was reprimanded at school for asking too many questions or pushing too hard with my questions, my Mom did not pressure me to conform or stop asking…she did make sure my approach was respectful (see #1). She always encouraged me to push my curiosity and drive for my best answer. Throughout my life, she was always challenging me with her own questions and getting me to ask more of my own. (Mom, I’ll never stop).

She’s a big reason that I’m who I am today. She’s still the voice in my head around many key decisions. I love you, Mom.

She wore this verse throughout her fight and it was a source of peace for her.

Psalm 91:4 — He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

Continued success and continue to say “please and thank you,”

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