A Life Well Lived: Reflections of My Mother

My mom passed away last week at 89 years old, and I was tasked with giving the eulogy at her funeral mass. Below is some of what  I spoke about, that my siblings and I wrote:

My family reflected on some of the many things we admired about my mom and I would like to share a few of them with you:

  •  Her Passion for Learning

My mom was an avid reader, she took many classes, attended lectures and enjoyed trips to different museums. She had a fabulous vocabulary and could literally spell ANY word in the dictionary.

  • Her Strong Faith

My mom had strong faith and a special devotion to Mary,; which carried her through the difficult times in her life.

  • Her Bravery

She grew up through the depression and lost her father at a very early age, and then her mother in her 20’s.  When our father passed away after battling an illness, she found a way to go on and continued to live a full life. 

Five years ago, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and she researched everything she could to learn about therapies to do for herself in order to remain strong – for as long as she was able.

During the last year when she could not see her family as much as she was used to, she remained positive and hopeful.

  • Family Came First

Family meant everything to my mom and she instilled in us the importance of traditions such as:  Sunday dinner together; which always meant roast beef, mashed potatoes and lots of gravy. Another Sunday tradition was to attend mass and then drive to the local bakery afterward for donuts; which we were all allowed to eat in the car on the way home. That was even before breakfast. Obviously, no one in our house was counting calories on Sundays. 

Later in her life, she would drop anything and everything to spend time with her beloved grandchildren.

  • Her Exuberance for Life 

My Mom loved to have fun;  with old friends and new!  She was a joiner. She fully participated and enjoyed many clubs, sports groups and other hobbies over the years.

All of these attributes we admired about my mom were no doubt the reason why she was always surrounded by so many friends, our aunts and uncles, and neighbors who had such a fulfilling life gathering socially to do things like – play golf, travel to see Notre Dame football games, dressing up to the 9’s on New Year’s Eve (full gowns, suits, hair done and all!),  just to walk around to the neighbors’ houses in our cul-de-sac for their version of a progressive dinner party. And, of course, her every Friday night date with my father at their favorite little dive restaurant with great seafood, which they jokingly referred to as “The Dump.” I remember them walking out the door with big smiles on their faces saying,  “We’re going to the DUMP!” They became regulars there, and in turn, friends with all of the staff. 

My parents were married for close to 50 years. I doubt very much when my mom went on a first date somewhere around 1953, she had any idea how long she was going to be married, nor the impact she was about to create with her marriage and children; who went on to create their own marriages and families, and continued with the next generations doing the same. And, I’m sure, many more to come. 

All of these family members who go out into the world every day and make a difference in so many other people’s lives with this simple, yet profound, way of thinking that we have all learned from her. All of that wisdom would not be passed down and spread all around if not for her.

We really don’t know, do we?, the effect we have on the world when we are just simply living our lives. 

I found this little poem which I thought was fitting: “The best measure of a  life well lived has less to do with the number of years we are here, or our accomplishments, but more to do with how other’s lives were lovingly touched by our presence.”

My mom passed away at home in a beautiful sun-filled room, surrounded by her four children, nine grandchildren, their spouses and significant others, three great grandchildren, and one little guy who is on the way. She even had two crazy dogs running around and Kenny Rogers, her favorite singer, playing on the radio.

If there really is a measure of such a thing, I would say without a doubt, that is a life well lived.

2021: Intentions Rather than Resolutions

Happy New Year…we made it to 2021! Instead of New Year’s resolutions on what to start and stop doing, here’s some ideas of good intentions to set on how to be, think and feel:

  • Look back at 2020 with gratitude for the hardships, heartbreak and tough times. If we choose to release negativity, those can be our greatest teachers which help us grow into better versions of ourselves
  • Look forward to the new year with unwavering faith, hope and a positive mindset for wonderful things to come
  • Be fully present in every moment with others, or even yourself, and not be distracted by the news, social media and your phone
  • Have a true appreciation for good health: body, mind and spirit
  • Enjoy the little comforts of home and quiet moments
  • Think of putting God first, above all else

Cheers to a new year of possibilities – embrace the journey!

Forgiveness, the Gift You Give Yourself

It is said that a grudge is the heaviest thing you can carry. If someone has hurt you in any way, forgiving them is the best way to move on with your life and let go of the anger towards them and the situation.

This is often easier said than done.

Forgiveness can be effortless if the person who did you wrong is truly remorseful and tells you so. But what if they aren’t sorry and don’t ever apologize? It would seem that they have no right to be forgiven and you have every right to your anger. The problem with that is they aren’t feeling your anger or any other negative emotion – you are. If you are holding on to anger, resentment, hurt or blame and running the story (or stories) over and over again in your mind, then you are the one being affected. The other person may have no idea how bad you feel, may even not care, or may just be incapable emotionally of recognizing their own bad behavior.

Negative feelings, especially anger, can destroy you from the inside out. Harboring them can keep you in the past and block you from truly being present; affecting your relationships, your health and your future. Hasn’t the person you’re not forgiving caused you enough pain? Allowing them to continue to cause you more is giving your power away and keeping you stuck, while most times, they have moved on happily living their life.

Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself, regardless of the other person. Letting go of the grudge lightens your burdens and leaves space for all the good things you deserve. Easier said than done, but definitely worth the effort.

 

Have a Little Faith in 2018

Was there a time in 2017 when you lost your way?

If you are like most people, the past year had some ups and downs. For some, much more downs.

When in the past year did you feel pain, a hardship or struggle you thought would not resolve? Was your back up against the wall and there was no where to turn? Maybe it was financial, relationship, family, health or something else taking a stressful toll which seemed overwhelming.

And yet – some how, some way,  it all turned out OK.

Did you have just a shred of faith it would get better? You may not have consciously been faithful or sure of the outcome, but you weathered the storm and, as if by some miracle, it turned around.

No doubt there will be more ups and downs to come. If you have difficult times in the next year, remembering how you made it through the last one will help keep a peaceful mind knowing this will all work out…maybe even for the better.

The Art of Letting Go

Letting go of someone we love can be one of the most difficult human experiences to endure in life. Most of us at some point, on some level are faced with the challenge.

This challenge can take you to a dark place, however when viewed with a bird’s eye perspective, the darkest places are necessary tunnels pushing you through to the other side where a  better version of yourself lives.

Physically ending the relationship where you are not “together” anymore and letting go are two very different things.  You can tell yourself you’re over it and appear to be moving on, but that doesn’t happen on an emotional level until you really WANT to let go and are willing to do the internal work it takes to do so. Sometimes it’s easier to just stay in that state of limbo than to barrel through the darkness of the tunnel. I’ve seen some people stay here for years.

Staying there can bring consequences to ourselves and other people through destructive behavior with things that numb your pain including starting relationships with someone else when you are not really available. It doesn’t mean you don’t generally care for the new person, but to quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.”

Whether indulging in a destructive behavior to numb the pain or trying to cover it over with affections of another, or both at the same time, before you’ve actually let go keeps the spiral of heartbreak alive and possibly drags other people’s hearts through it as well.

How do you learn to let go when you are still stuck in the emotional attachment?

For starters, you can look at the attachment itself vs. actual love.

With attachment you are usually idealizing the other person and/or the relationship you had with them. You are holding them on a pedestal with an unrealistic image and  also idealizing the relationship into a fantasy of how great it was, when it may not have been.  In real love you accept the person as they are, as we all are, with faults and imperfections and you are able to recognize these aspects and love them anyway. You also remember what wasn’t good about a past relationship and are able see those aspects without animosity, but instead with the knowledge you don’t want to experience those things in your next relationship. Moving forward, you are capable of a non-romantic kind of love and respect for the person and a sense of gratitude for the time you spent together.

If your attachment seems impossible to break, whatever you find yourself intensely attached to may not necessarily be only in the other person; rather something you feel is missing within yourself.

In order to be fully capable of loving someone else, you need to genuinely love all parts of yourself.  If you feel you are lacking something, you need to cultivate it within yourself instead of looking to fill the void with another.

Not all relationships are meant to last forever. As the spiritual text A Course Miracles says, “two people are brought together to bring out their wounds in each other.”  There are relationships in which wounds are healed and you stay together and there are relationships in which wounds are healed and you move apart. The key is being able to accept the difference.

Emotional pain and suffering are the greatest catalyst for change in our lives. There is no more vulnerable time to dive into the deepest places of your own psyche than when in the throes of heartbreak.  But the suffering is only necessary until it isn’t any more. Once you get to a certain point , you have the option to stay in agony or to move forward with peace.

Through pain the pain of losing someone else, you are able to learn so much about yourself. Your strengths, your weaknesses, your standards, your limits, your blind spots and most importantly how you can improve and become a better person. Or you can simply refuse that amazing opportunity for growth and stay in the pain.

You can to let go with grace or to hold on with attachment.  The choice is yours to make.

 

Turning Anger into Action

My anger over the latest mass shooting in Texas took me out at the knees. I wanted to yell at everyone; especially those in power saying it’s not a gun control issue, it’s a mental health issue because of political agendas based in greed.

However, I realized that it doesn’t really matter what we call the “issue.” We can call it mental health, guns, or both. The bottom line is little children, moms, dads, grandparents and innocent people are getting shot and killed  at alarming rates in this country while they are out living their lives by enjoying a concert, attending a church service or walking down a crowded street . I don’t think any of those people who lost their lives or the loved ones who are left in unimaginable grief care what we call the issue – the point is what the hell are we going to do about it?  If the people who have the power to do something about changing the laws to prevent mentally unstable people from buying machine guns won’t, then what can we do to make it stop?

This is not about taking away people’s right to own a gun. I know of responsible gun owners who are in agreement that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing answer. But if I’m screened more heavily trying to adopt a dog than I am trying to buy an AR-15 assault rifle, something needs to change and it needs to change now.

While my anger consumed me at the same time I thought – what can I do other than get angry and rant? Then I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that  small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

To transform my anger into action I joined Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America and committed to participate in my local chapter.  I researched the candidates and their stances on this issue and got out to vote.  I will participate in talking to my representatives any chance I get and will continue to look for more ways to use my voice.

I could easily keep ranting but advocacy does not happen only in public. It happens in your everyday life and we all have the power to turn our anger into action as citizens and change the world. Indeed – it really is the only thing that ever has.