My Mom – the strongest woman I’ve known. My “favorite” Mom, my unrelenting cheerleader, bearer of my stress, shoe consultant extraordinaire, enabler of my coffee addiction, my shoulder, my confidant, my bear --- my person. Mom was a firecracker. Fierce. Stubborn. Really Funny. Reliable. Loyal. Loud. She had a pure, immeasurable love for her family and her friends and a truly unwavering passion for life and adventure. Of course my mom was a gym teacher for (33 years) – and a pretty good one I hear – but that story has already been told. But a teacher she certainly was – my first and longest. So today I’ve decided to share with you the 4 greatest lessons I’ve learnt from mom.
Lesson Number One: "When you count your blessings – count your family twice"
Our family was the most important thing to Mom. Mom was a devoted daughter – sharing a relationship with her parents that certainly transcended generations. Mom was unequivocally the most constant positive light in my life. When I think back through my childhood I’m filled with an intense sense of gratitude for being blessed with parents who gave us an idyllic upbringing. Perhaps one of things my mom did best was truly nurture and encourage mine and Geoff’s imaginations. Each year Geoff and I were surprised with incredibly elaborate themed birthday parties - pirates, pandas, sailors, superheros, cowboys – mom was famous for hosting these events. At Christmas - a real live Santa Clause would come, sac of presents and all, to our family dinner. On every Christmas morning we would find reindeer hove prints perfectly etched on the deck but no footprints to be found. In true mom fashion she went above and beyond these traditional ways of fostering our imaginations. She once told Geoff that if he put salt on the tails of animals they would freeze and so he spent a significant amount of his childhood chasing wildlife around the ravine - magpies, deer, gophers – bag of table salt in hand! In fact, once he managed to sprinkle salt on a maimed magpie and when it was unable to fly away Geoff was absolutely convinced that mom was right! After that, he even tried to freeze a friend.
Mom believed in making us feel special. She infused holidays, vacations, birthdays, anniversaries and Sunday dinners with her own personal flare. As kids, each year on our birthdays we got to pick out one “sugary” cereal – so once a year I would gorge myself on fruit loops and bounce of the walls. Every Christmas Eve she would leave a bran spankin’ new pair of pajamas on my bed. Milestones were always celebrated. Heartbreaks were met with a cup of Early Grey tea and a sympathetic but practical ear. She was always the first recipient of any of my good news – and reliably she would mirror my enthusiasm but respond with “of course you did” OR “I knew you would” – her confidence in me never waivered. Even the year I won the National doubles final and ALL of the Mom’s bet against my partner and I (I still can’t believe you guys were placing bets) - mom placed her bet on US (she admitted later that guilt played a role in this). Simply put, mom was utterly thoughtful and one of the most giving individuals I have ever met.
Mom and dad prioritized family vacations – some of the most memorable include hiking the West Coast Trial, kayaking the Broken Group Islands, time with our Grandparents in Windermere at the cabin and Christmas in Maui. But mom also made a conscious effort to have alone time with both Geoff and I – memories we both treasure. Each summer she would take each of us on a backcountry-backpacking trip. In her absence these last few weeks I have spent a significant amount of time traipsing in the backcountry – to me, this is where I feel Moms presence the most - she truly loved the mountains.
In mom’s last days it became more difficult to carry on a conversation. She had troubles answering simple questions – she would get confused. But when we said, “I love you” she would immediately reciprocate with absolutely clarity. When nothing else made sense and all other meaningful conversation was lost – this remained. Thank you Mom for teaching us to love and to hold on tighter through the hard times. Thank you Mom (and Dad) for teaching us what wedding vows really mean and for teaching us how parents are supposed to love their children. For teaching us that there is nothing in this world that is more important than family.
Lesson Number Two: “Grow your friendships – because going for a pedicure with your man ain’t cool”
Mom was a woman who had friends, a lot of them, AND the real kind – from every decade and every nook and cranny of her life. She absolutely treasured these relationships and she worked hard to maintain them – and encouraged us to do the same. Mom had the “gift of gab” and loved a good piece of innocent gossip - but if ever accused of actually being a gossip she would say, “I’m just interested in people” – and this was SO true.
When mom first got sick I found myself asking myself “what’s the point?” Mom was a lifelong health advocate, a poster-child for active living – and when she got esophageal cancer I couldn’t help but feel like the karma driven universe had made some grand mistake. Over the course of mom’s illness the answer to my question gradually became clear. The measure of mom’s life was defined by the gestures of her friends. The letters, cards, emails - the cinnamon buns, soups, casseroles in our freezer - the t-shirts and hoodies with scribbled inspiration, the lovingly hand crafted photo album on our fireplace mantel, the pooh pillow on her bed, the dragon poster on the wall, the endless number of trinkets and toys – the HERD of white rabbit paraphernalia, the $126 000 raised for the ride to conquer cancer, the hundreds of emails that have filtered through her inbox and the 123 961 blog hits from as far away as Russia and South Africa. Among all the anger, pain and confusion - in my mind the purpose of mom’s life somehow made itself clear – the grand gestures represented the depth of her friendships – a lifetime of mutual support.
Mom taught us how to keep from taking our friends for granted and through this loss I’ve learned that these friendships are what walk us through times like these.
Lesson number 3: “Laughter is the best medicine … especially when it’s inappropriate”
I think we would all agree that Mom was spirited – mischievous - and famous for her big laugh. When life seemed utterly relentless Mom embraced humor as a crutch – through it all she laughed and enjoyed the anecdotes and the craziness and the mayhem. The first time we saw Mom after she came out of her esophagectomy surgery she opened her eyes, gazed around looking a bit confused, gave us a thumbs up and then in a muffled whisper asked for a glass of wine. The “muffled whisper” persisted – a complication from the surgery where mom’s vocal cords were injured and resulting in the loss of her voice. This was perhaps one of the most devastating blows – but mom laughed at the irony – joking that it was fates way of letting her friends get a word into their conversations.
My moms sense of humor throughout her fight with cancer was distinct – a choke-on-your-coffee type humor. I remember the day she brought home esophageal twists (dried pigs esophagus’s) from the pet store. She held them up to herself, like she was trying them on for size where her esophagus had once been before her surgery – giggling about how morbid it was. Every single time mom went for chemo or hydration we would have a chuckle about one of her favorite nurses – IVY – who couldn’t start an IV. Mom never had the heart to send Ivy away – so at the expense of her veins Ivy’s feelings were spared.
Cancer slowly strips so much away. But mom taught me to see the beauty in every day. She made a choice to live her life fully despite the twists and turns and speedbumps along the way. Mom adjusted her expectations, she set new goals, she shogged instead of jogged and she made a conscious choice to laugh – a lot – and today, that lesson is obvious.
Lesson Number Four: “Life’s too short – BUY the shoes”
Mom was a minor superstar when it came to her attitude. She taught us that life could be defined by whatever we choose it to be defined by. Cancer did not define my Mom’s life and although it’s hard to imagine right now, our lives will not be defined by loss but by joy.
When it came to mom’s attitude – she strongly believed in the following truths:
- You are in charge of your attitude
- Take control of the things you can and don’t worry about the things you can't
- Practice your P’s –positivity, perseverance and patience
- Look after your health! It's a gift we all need to give ourselves. Your fitness and health are going to save your life.
- Hey kids – winning isn’t everything…but it’s really really F%$ing important
Shortly after Mom’s first surgery we were in for a follow up appointment with her oncologist. Mom was very sick – she had developed a serious bout of pneumonia. After the appointment her oncologist asked to speak with me alone. I will never forget the conversation that unraveled – it went something like this: “Kelli – your mom is a farmer – farmers are tough by nature - a difficult breed – you never really know how they are feeling because everything is always “ok” – so you make sure you keep a close eye on her and tell me how she’s really doing." This same oncologist would later refer to my mom as his “miracle patient” – mom loved that – she wholeheartedly believed in miracles and she believed she would be one of them. THIS may not have been how she defined her miracle – but I believe the quality of life she attained after her surgeries, largely a result of the attitude she adopted towards living with cancer, allowed us to embark on several amazing family vacations: time with the family at the cabin, trips to Mexico, Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas -- that was our miracle.
Mom lived with intention. Through the loss of a few close friends, she had an awareness that tomorrow wasn’t promised to any of us. She learned not to put things off…well, not longer than 20 years. As a 6 year old, mom promised me she would take me to Disneyland. When I finally graduated from medical school off we went to fulfill my childhood dream. We woke up early to be the first ones at the gate, wore the mouse ears for the entirety of our trip, rode every single ride --- which was quite the feat considering her and I are two of the most motion sick puckers you know. I will never forget arriving to Disney Adventureland early in the morning – my eyes drawn to the enormous looming rollarcoaster I promptly told Mom we would be skipping that one. Distracted by our lattes we wandered through the park and found ourselves lined up under a canopy for our first ride of the day. It wasn’t until we were literally strapped in to the ride when I looked over at mom and saw the cheeky grin dance across her face – “Mom is THIS”…… Then ---- BLAST OFF 0-90km/hr in 4 seconds. I have never and since never screamed or laughed so hard and I’m still not sure I have forgiven her. I thought back to that moment a lot when Mom went through treatment – she embraced life through its ups and down - put her arms up in the arm, screamed a little, laughed a lot and enjoyed the ride!!!
My mom never complained. Truly. Rarely she would have what she’d call “a pity party” – which would last about 20 minutes – a few quiet tears, a few solid curses -- then she would declare it to be over and she would carry on. Mom approached her battle with cancer with ferocity and courage I had never seen before. Initially when she was diagnosed I felt so helpless – I struggled – I wondered if I could possibly be the daughter of this incredible woman. But watching her fight her fight - I learned from her – and that ferocity, courage, attitude – I now know she put that in us too – on purpose – her final lesson.
There are endless lessons – and mom has personally shared these with you through her blog. In the end, my mom died the same way she lived. She laughed and smiled and enjoyed everything she could get from this life – she fought, she struggled and she didn’t want to leave this world. What I’m going to miss about mom is her reactions, and how she never hesitated to tell you who she loved, who she disliked or what she thought (even if it was a quick judgment). Mom would tell you how she loved her family with more love than one person should be able to muster. My Mom's love for us never stopped. It was a constant. A foundation. A law. It is the pillar that has carried me everywhere and holds me up right now. The love that mom gave me is my strength and her intense wish for me to carry on with my own life is my courage and my HOPE to do just that.
I’d like to toast to my most amazing Mom – who truly loved life – and who would choose to live it all over again if given the chance – even if the outcome were the same!