5 Things I Learned From My Mother

linda luxemburgDuring my mother’s final illness, reaching event milestones was a way of marking success. She made it to Passover. To July 4th. And in July, I gave her a stretch goal – to take me to lunch on my birthday (today).

She didn’t make it to that one. In her honor though, and at the request of some family members, I’m sharing the remarks I gave at her funeral.

Remarks originally given September 16 2015:

When mom got her cancer diagnosis, I knew this day would come eventually, but when I sat down to write this, I didn’t know what to say. How do you sum up your mother’s life? Her warmth, her humor, her intelligence, and her care for the people around her – everyone in her life had their own experiences with those aspects of her. You don’t need me to tell you about those things.

Luckily for me I have a sister who is very smart. And she suggested I talk about the experience of being Linda’s daughter.

So I’d like to share today 5 key things I learned from my mother.

1) Travel Often

Our family was blessed to have a lot of happy memories over the years, and many of them (plus some family jokes and stories) came from our travels. Mom (and Dad) took us traveling starting when we were still in diapers. Special trips celebrated our life milestones, like graduations. A little later on, Mom loved to go visit my sister Carolyn during the years she was living in Italy.

Our last family trip was only a little more than a year ago; a cruise through Alaska’s Inland Passage that all of us enjoyed – meeting up at our special breakfast table each morning, splitting up into smaller groups for the day’s activities, then coming together again at the end of the day to share dinner and stories of the day.

Growing up in a multicultural, major tourist attraction like New York, you learn early that there’s a big world out there, but it was Mom’s adventurous spirit and wanderlust that inspired a lifetime habit of leaving the city and going into the wider world.

2) Always Look Forward

In my high school years, like many other kids, I got hooked on “Lord of the Rings” and fell into a habit of reading the book from beginning to end, then going back to the beginning and starting all over again. Over and over. Mom never understood it, asking “Why don’t you read something new?”.

Looking forward was an integral part of who Mom was. Whether it was her endless search for new recipes to try in the kitchen, new books to read with her club, new places around the world to visit, or new additions to the Passover haggadah – Mom was always looking forward. If it was new and interesting to her, Mom was down for it.

Even as her illness progressed, Mom continued to look forward. She didn’t want a pity party or for her life to become about her illness. In the past several months she had a new deck built on the house in Connecticut, got a new laptop, new iPhone, and new eyeglasses. Less than a day before her hospitalization in July, she was researching trips to Asia for next spring. And she and Dad went on a “Foyle’s War” watching spree this summer, getting through the entire series just days before she died.

That was Mom. She always had to look forward. It’s a profound lesson that helped her pack an amazing amount of experiences into her time here on earth, and one to learn from. (Although I honestly cannot regret rereading LOTR).

3) Always Take The High Road

Mom was an outgoing and hospitable woman, rarely argumentative. She loved having friends around her and entertaining. But in her life as in all lives, there were times when she encountered conflicts or differences of opinion. One thing she always told us, though, was no matter what the temptation, you had to take the high road when dealing with conflict. It was the right thing to do so you could live with yourself afterwards.

And she was absolutely right (as she so often was). We would live in a much less challenging world if more people followed her advice.

4) Go To The Bathroom Before You Leave

Mom was assiduous in making sure she didn’t leave things to chance. She ran the household, planned the trips, and for big events like our annual Passover dinner, planned out not just the dinner itself but the entire week of cooking and preparation before it, so that on the day of, everything flowed like clockwork.

A related piece of advice about being prepared that she gave me was: a woman should always be able to support herself. Even long after she retired from her real estate business, she kept up her license, just in case. Mom would never have described herself as a feminist, I think (although she did take me to see Gloria Steinem speak once), but the way she lived her life was in its own way very feminist. She and Dad had a very happy and solid marriage that was a true partnership. As one of our friends put it, he may have been the Captain of the sailboat, but she was always the Admiral. It taught me a lot about what a marriage should be, and one of my life goals has always been to have a marriage as good as my parents’ was.

And finally,

5) Laughter Is The Best Medicine

There was a time and a place for every emotion, but when she had a choice, she preferred to laugh. She preferred funny cards to ones with platitudes. She told me some years ago that she woke up every morning happy. And through that happiness, she had empathy and compassion for others, wanting them to also be happy. Whether through her work as a volunteer librarian at Goddard Riverside or with her friends, she was supportive and encouraging.

So to sum up:
Travel often.
Seek happiness.
Take the high road.
And always look forward.

Mom’s passing has ripped a huge hole in all of our hearts and those wounds will take a very long time before they heal. As I look ahead, though, I know that the things she taught me, and the gift of being her daughter, will make that journey to healing a little easier.

I am so grateful for every day I got to spend with her.
I love you Mom.