Life Lessons From Mama – A Tribute to My Mom on Mother’s Day 2016

Mama - Going Gentle Into That Good Night - Mother's Day 2016This is my fourth Mother’s Day without my mom. Although the immediate excruciating pain of losing her has subsided into a dull constant ache and longing punctuated by sudden and unexpected moments of intense grief, often triggered by a memory or something externally that I associate with Mama, I still miss her terribly.

But time and space has allowed me to grow into a deeper understanding, a greater respect, and a more complete love of this incredible woman that I was blessed to have as my mama.

Mama wasn’t perfect – none of us are – but she had excellent character, great wisdom, a wonderful sense of humor, and undeterred grit and determination to be the best person she could be until the day she died.

Mama lived a life that was a good role model for her children, her grandchildren, and anyone else who had the good fortune to cross paths with her during her life.

While Mama was a good writer in her own right, she was a really great oral storyteller, following in the time-honored footsteps of her Appalachian ancestors. It was as much through her storytelling over the years of my time with her as through her example that I learned the lessons of life that she left as part of her legacy to me.

Today, in honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share with you some of the life lessons Mama taught me.

There are two ways to deal with adversity: you can give up or you can keep going.
If anyone knew about adversity, it was my mama. Her life started with huge losses, overwhelming odds against her, and an uphill battle that would never turn into a smooth ride on Easy Street.
But Mama wasn’t a quitter. She kept forging ahead, putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what she faced, even when it may have looked like, to everyone else, that she was either going backwards or not moving at all. They could not see and could never know the great internal effort she expended all her life to, at times, just remain on the planet and hold her own.
That priceless gift of Mama’s example of perseverance and endurance, for me personally, has been one that has sustained me and does sustain me every day.
Cry when you need to, but laugh when you can.
I watched Mama shed many anguished tears over the years. It never failed to move me and I often cried with her, wishing that I could remove the pain she suffered behind those tears.
But I also saw Mama laugh heartily and often, her natural playful and gently mischievous sense of humor coming to the forefront in delightful and unexpected ways.
The road of life should be paved with forgiveness.
Mama taught me that the human race can be cruel, unpredictable, and vindictive.
We sometimes are this way intentionally and other times we are this way unintentionally. People will hurt you. People will condemn and criticize you. People will lie about you. People will abandon you. People will talk about you behind your back. People will try to destroy you. People will assume things about you that are patently false.
But Mama also taught me that, while you can’t control what people do to you and say about you, you do have complete control over how you respond. And although it may sometimes take days, weeks, months, or even many years, the end result of that response must be forgiveness.
Be nice to everyone you meet.
Mama never met a stranger. She smiled at and talked with everyone who ever intersected with her life.
I remember bringing her up to visit me when I was living in New York City. As we got ready to go on our tour of the Big Apple, I gave Mama some words of caution: don’t leave my side, don’t talk to strangers, and don’t act like a tourist.
And, of course, Mama being Mama ignored the middle caution I gave her, starting with eagerly chatting up the cabbie who got us to Times Square and talking to everybody else – including the conversing-with-invisible-people man sitting on a bench behind us in Battery Park while we were waiting for our tour bus to pick us up – we were with during the day.
Fortunately, and perhaps because Mama was so engaging and sweet, no one ran from us or threatened us because Mama approached them and wanted to talk. Instead, even the most hardcore New Yorkers we encountered stopped, smiled and talked with my mama, while I stood there uncomfortable and fidgeting.
And although along the way in her life there were people that she chose, for various reasons, not to spend a lot of time with or be around much, she was still nice and kind to them whenever she was with them.
Serve and help others whenever and however you are able.
Mama, like Daddy, went into medicine because she wanted to help other people. For both my parents, helping and serving other people, always in the background and never in a “being seen and being heard” way, was an integral part of who they were. Even in the two weeks before Mama’s death, one thing she said to me was “I just want to be helping other people.”
Mama is still helping other people through this blog. She’d be happy to know that. And I am carrying on that legacy the only way I know how and am able to, trying to help and serve through this blog and others since writing is one of only two natural gifts that God has endowed me with.
Never lose your awe and wonder of nature.
Mama always believed that her love affair with nature was the result of her Cherokee heritage. No doubt that was a contributing factor, but I suspect that her awe and wonder of her Creator was an even greater factor.
One of the stories Mama told me that highlights this lesson was how, as a young woman, she missed a class at East Tennessee State University because there was a beautiful sunset beginning to unfold right in front of her and she wanted to watch it to its glorious end.
Mama 2007Mama always took the time to stop and appreciate flowers, trees, oceans and mountains. And she passed on that love and appreciation to me, although I was slower to develop it as fully as she had it all her life, for which I’m incredibly thankful.

All the lessons Mama taught me stay with me. These are just a sampling of the ones that have been on my mind as Mother’s Day 2016 has been approaching. Perhaps I’ll share some more of Mama’s lessons next year.

Until then, Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. I love you and I miss you, but I look forward to seeing you soon.

2 thoughts on “Life Lessons From Mama – A Tribute to My Mom on Mother’s Day 2016

  1. A wonderful tribute to your Mother. I can tell how much you miss your Mother, how much you love her, and what a fantastic example she was in your life. This is a great post my friend.

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