We want to offer women whose mothers have passed an opportunity to celebrate their mom’s legacies with the MDF community. We applaud MDF follower Karen for this first tribute to her mother Elaine, who passed away of pancreatic cancer in 2014 at age 86. During the interview, Karen spoke about her mom with candor (no sugar-coating here), and she described a relationship that was challenging yet filled with unconditional love.
How would you describe your mother?
My mother was warm, sociable, dramatic, talkative, effusive and charismatic. You could feel her in a room because she loved to be the center of attention. She had a lot to say and was very expressive; with emotive facial expressions when she spoke.
She was very active – she raised three children on her own (my parents were divorced), worked full-time and was an active community volunteer. I remember her with a phone plugged into her ear because she was always on the phone with women from the many non-profit organizations she led.
Please describe your relationship with your mother.
She was playful and child-like – responsible when it came to major decisions, but needed to split her time among many tasks on a day-to-day basis. In a lot of ways, my mother treated me like a peer. She relied on me to help manage the household: Because she worked, I started dinner before she came home and cleaned the dishes. My two brothers were waited on.
When I was 21 and went to graduate school, my mother would call me asking how to handle some of life’s many decisions. I learned at a young age to think logically and give her advice.
My mother was very loving and affectionate; she could suffocate you with kisses and hugs. She used to say, ”If you hurt, I hurt worse” so I stopped telling her when things were bothering me. Plus, she never really gave me advice – she’d tell me to go talk to my older brother.
When I got married and had two children, my mother was very happy for me and proud of me. Our relationship was easier when I was an adult, but still not simple. She was highly anxious, so when she came to help with preparing for a holiday, she would sometimes add to my stress.
How were you most similar/different?
She was disciplined about exercise and healthy living and I’ve become more self-disciplined about that later in life. She was fun-loving and playful – she laughed easily – I have to work hard to find my fun.
I’m anxious like she was, but I don’t show it as much. We both sought closure on things, but I am more decisive; she would revisit things. We both could be judgmental toward people. She was critical of me as I can be now of my own daughter.
I always felt loved by my mother – I never questioned that – and she taught me to be unconditionally loving to my kids.
What did you enjoy doing with your mother?
My mother could never be without her partner of many years, so we did very little alone together as adults. I guess the only time we were alone was when we talked on the phone, which was frequently. She was an excellent conversationalist.
What lessons did you learn from your mother?
I learned family values, that there was a never-ending bond with family members and we are always there for each other. I’ve passed that onto my kids.
My mother had friends who were in many ways closer than sisters. So, she taught me that “having each other’s back” doesn’t have to be about blood; it’s who you choose to have in your life. She taught me about being committed to people.
What memories do you hold dear?
No one loves you like your mom, so I remember feeling unconditional love and safety. I remember birthdays, holidays, significant life events because we always shared them, and I absolutely hold those memories dear.
I will always remember my mother’s last month before she died. She moved into our house and while her mind was sharp until her very last day, she became much quieter. So we were at peace with each other. We both knew our time together was limited and we were able to sit comfortably in silence for long periods.
I know she felt loved during that period, that she loved being in our house and being with my husband and our kids. It was an opportunity to make sure she felt the same love that she gave to me. We had each other’s backs – there was never a question that we would be there for each other.
At what times do you think about your mother the most?
I think of her every day when I drive to work because that’s when I used to speak with her on the phone. She was committed to talking every day, so we had our 30 second daily check-in every morning.
Any final thoughts about your mother?
She was a really good person who made the most of the hand she was dealt in life. She overcame a lot of challenges and she did the best she could at finding joy and keeping the family together.