And in The End; 25 Lessons at the End of a Life

23 Nov

mom_peterismsLast week would have been my mother’s 70th birthday, had she not died 6 years ago.  I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, mostly about all of the wisdom she passed on to me in indirect ways.  My mother was a teacher, not only professionally but also in her daily interactions with people.  Often misunderstood and even sometimes bothersome to others, she could easily ramble intellectually about a line from a song or a passage in a book and how it was so important to remember to live a better life.  During one of our last conversations, my mother quoted her favorite Beatles song, The End, saying, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  This is how she taught.  I look back on my life with my mother and know now she was teaching me how to live a passionate life even until the very end.  I believe she wanted me to live a life composed of magic and dreams fulfilled.  Having adhered to the following rules she bestowed upon me, my life has never fallen short of her dreams for me.  My only hope is that she’s up there somewhere watching.

25 Rules for An Amazing, Magical, Sometimes Painful, But Always Meaningful and Passionate Life!

*These are actual things my mother either told me or wrote me in notes or in her journal!

1. Dance and often.  She danced every day.  In her car.  In her kitchen.  In the living room.  She didn’t care if she looked stupid. My mother loved music almost more than life and she loved the power she felt when she was dancing.  “I feel alive!” She would say, laughing and dancing around the house.

2. Admit when you are wrong.  My mother taught me early in my life the power of ownership over your actions.  Many, many times throughout my life, she ended arguments quickly with me by owning her part and apologizing.  “Life is simply too short”, she’d say.

3. Hug…always. My mom was a huge hugger.  I can still feel her hugging me.  Every time I would see her, the first thing she would do is hug me.  “Hugs leave impressions on the soul”, she was fond of saying.

4. Keep a journal.  My mother kept journals from the time she was 18 until the time of her death.  On a few of them she has written EVIDENCE.  Although I’d like to think this is her form of humor, I know that to her, it is quite serious.  “A journal is a reminder you were here.”  She told me many times.  Incidentally, she always told me to never write down anything I didn’t want someone else to read, a wonderful lesson I learned after she read one of my journals.  Back at ya Mom!

5. Don’t focus on negativity.  One of the most profound lessons I ever learned was when I shared with my mother problems that were occurring in my relationship at the time.  “Weeds grow fast in a garden and before you know it, the weeds have taken over the beautiful garden.”  She was right.  She also never allowed negativity into her home.  She loathed it.

6. Celebrate holidays and birthdays fully! My mother loved birthdays and holidays…every single one of them.  She loved Valentines Day and Fourth of July, Christmas and Thanksgiving.  Her favorite holiday was Easter.  She loved getting dressed up, going to church and seeing all of the kids.  She loved the spiritual meaning behind Easter.  She was like this with every holiday and she always made a huge deal out of birthdays.  “You never know when it will be your last”.  On her 64th birthday, I took my mother out of town to a casino.  She was very upset she didn’t get a birthday cake.  “The first time in 64 years.”  She said.  I assured her she would have many more in her life.  That was the year that she died.  Always make them a cake!

7. Be willing to laugh at yourself.  Although my mother was a very serious person, she was also very willing to laugh at herself.  “Never take yourself too seriously.  In the end, it just doesn’t matter. Plus laughter is good for your soul”  She was usually the one to laugh at herself…and the one laughing at the end.

8. Read constantly.  “Books are our friends”, my mom taught me from a very young age.  When I was a little kid, my mom would take me to the library and let me check out as many books as I wanted.  She never chastised me for taking out 30 books, she’d just ask me little questions about the different books and what attracted me to them.  She taught me the art of falling in love with books.  To this day, I love libraries and bookstores, especially old books stores.  She taught me to smell the pages of books, write my name in my books and inscribe books as gifts to others.  “Some books become pieces of our souls”.

9. Be a member of something.  My mother loved sororities.  She was President of Cutie Pie in high school.  She was a Pi Phi at Indiana University.  She was also a member of Singing Hoosiers.  Later in her life, her membership in her church and in Alcoholics Anonymous were extremely important to her.  “Be part of something greater than yourself.  It may feel cheesy and pointless at the time, but you’ll meet lifelong friends and contribute to a greater good.”  Her funeral was composed of many people, but a strong representation of Pi Phis and members of AA filled the crowd.  She would have been very proud.

10. Question Authority.  Probably one of the greatest reasons she made such a cool mother to a teenager was that she believe in questioning authority and making your own rules.  Let me make this very clear, she was a rule follower and upright citizen, but she challenged political and corporate wrongdoings.  “Screw change, be the moral code you’d like to see in the world.” 

11. Have a signature dish.  My mom was not a great cook.  She was an even worse baker.  When making cookies she was known for saying, “I like the burned ones”, of which there were many.  I’m not sure she even liked to cook, but for every party or holiday she always brought the same thing.  Deviled eggs.  She was infamous for her deviled eggs.  I’ve tried to remake them but they taste like crap.  “Peter, you can’t really mess up deviled eggs.”  She’d say, never leaving me her recipe.  “Just always have a signature dish then you know what you’re always going to bring and people will expect it. It makes it easy.”

12. Make your home speak of who you are.  My mother hated phonies and she could spot one a mile away by walking in their home.  She’d look around and then turn to me smirking if she didn’t feel the decorations or house met the soul of the person.  She was not fond of garish or elaborate decorations, unless it spoke to the homeowner.  My mother’s homes were filled with wood floors, oriental rugs, plants, books, tons of artwork and lots and lots of color.  When she turned 60 she told me she wanted to get white wood floors, a white leather couch and lots of sunlight.  “I’m only going to wear black from now on too.”  She told me, wanting to feel like a New York socialite.  She wore lots of black, cashmere v-neck sweaters and pedal-pushers, but never refurnished her home.  One thing was certain; when you were in her home, you knew you were in her presence.

13.  Always write thank you notes.  She would be embarrassed that I even needed to write an explanation for this one.  “Just do it, don’t question it.  And be detailed. People like knowing how much you liked something specific.”  She’s probably right, but I still don’t write thank you notes.  She’d be so disappointed.

14. Have a signature scent.  Much like a signature dish, my mother believed in having a signature scent.  Her signature scent was Michael Kors for Women.  “It’s sexy and mysterious.  When I walk into a room people know it and that’s how I like it.”  Actually, she was a lot more demure than that, but she liked to think she lived in some 40’s mystery movie.

15. Make favorites lists.  My mom made lists of all of her favorite things.  Favorite books.  Favorite quotes.  Favorite songs.  Favorite restaurants.  Favorite memories.  Favorite Bible verses.  Favorite past holidays.  Favorite movies.  Just about anything you can imagine is in a list somewhere in one of my mom’s journals.  I think it’s wonderful and has made it interesting to revisit some of her favorite things.  “Fill life with those things you like the most.  It will remind you of the wonder of it all.”

16. Keep a safety kit in the trunk of your car.  Every time I would see the Duraflame firestarter log, gloves, blanket and cans of soup in the trunk of my mother’s car, I would die laughing.  “You never know when you’re going to be trapped in the mountains with a flat tire and have to set up camp for the night.” My mother never drove further than a ten mile radius in Indiana so there was no threat of a mountain rescue.  But, she had exit plans and safety kits for anything in her life that could happen.  Although it might seem like she lived scared or unsure of outcomes, I often saw her use her “exits” as ways to keep her safe.  When she was ready to go, she was ready to go.  What I realized was she always thought out possible outcomes and therefore minimized risks.

17. Be extremely knowledgeable on one unique yet specific topic.  My mom was a storyteller and one of her favorite stories to tell was about the Japanese Art of Tea and a powerful love story that she told while she poured the tea.  My mother had studied Oriental literature and in her later years, specifically the art of tea.  She loved to talk to other people about her eccentric interests and would listen intently as other shared their interests with her.  Her living room often hosted late night discussions, with the fireplace blazing, cigarettes burning and coffee and chatter filling the room.

18. Be honest but be kind.  “It’s the one lesson I’ll work on until the end.” She would say and laugh.  My mom believed in being brutally honest while retaining kindness.  It was a perfect balance between the two that she sought out in her relationships with people.  It’s probably the one genetic trait I wish I hadn’t received because I often don’t know how to pick my battles.  “If you have to decide, go with kindness over honesty.” 

19. Accept undereducated people but not ignorance.  My mother was extremely defensive of those less educated than others or simply those who just had less in life, but she was unwilling to accept ignorance.  “Some of the greatest people I have ever met couldn’t read or write and didn’t have a dime to their name.  On the other hand, some of the biggest assholes I’ve met were the wealthiest men I’ve ever known.”  Because my mom had such a strong opinion about ignorance, I asked her to define ignorance.  She smiled and laughed.  “Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong and saying something you know absolutely nothing about.  There are some things you should just stay out of because it doesn’t really concern you.” 

20. Remain innocent and filled with childish awe.  I think my mom got just as excited on Christmas as the little kids around her.  She loved a good snow day and wanted to eat tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and go sledding and make hot chocolate.  She loved glitter nail polish and got really excited by anything new.  “Always see the world as a child.”  This is probably one of the strongest lessons I’ve learned, and the one which has kept me from being jaded about the world.

21.  When giving gifts, give to their soul.  My mom always gave the most amazing gifts.  She’d call me and tell me how she was at The Body Shop searching for a certain lotion scent because she heard my aunt mention she saw it written in an article in Oprah.  Or, she would hear me mention a show I saw about ship wrecks in Lake Michigan and I would receive a book about shipwrecks, but not just any book, a book of maps, pictures and stories from old captains.  She loved to make and give homemade gifts and poems and she loved to give gifts when it wasn’t even a holiday.  Up to her death when I was 36, every year I received gifts from “Santa”, an Easter basket and a huge Valentines card and box of candy.  She gave the most exquisite gifts and often, they cost nothing.

22. Have a magical smile and an infectious laugh.  To this day, I can see her smile and hear her laugh.  Her laugh was so strong, it would make me laugh and before long we were both laughing so hard we were crying.  “Laughter is good for your soul.” 

23. Write your own obituary and epitaph.  “Who knows you better than yourself?”  My mother actually did write her own obituary and epitaph, I just didn’t find it in time.  I think I did a pretty good job anyway.

24. Always own a record player.  My mother was obsessed with music.  I learned all of my best music from my mother.  The Beatles.  The Grateful Dead.  Judy Collins.  Janis Joplin.  Bob Dylan.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  Joan Baez.  The Mamas and the Papas.  Led Zeppelin.  Later in life, she fell in love with Janet Jackson, reggae music and Shirley Manson from the band Garbage…but her favorites were always played on her record player.  “You can only hear music best when it’s scratchy and etching it’s way across vinyl.”  Her most prized possession was the complete Concert for Bangladesh.  It’s mine now and I love throwing it own and dancing around my house.

25.  Always say I love you.  You never know when it’s going to be the last time.  We often say this and we think death is implied, but I’ve often had people exit my life after a fight, misunderstanding, move or many other reasons.  I look back on those relationships with fondness, but I never got that movie-goodbye moment, like at the end of The Way We Were.  I got it with my mom.  Of all of the things in my life I am the most grateful , it is for that last conversation before she went into a coma when we spoke of life, love and the mysteries in between.  She had told me she loved me a million times in many different ways, using different nicknames, sometimes touching my face and sometimes holding my hand, but she always said it.  And when she could no longer say it, I knew.  Because of all of the wonderful things she had passed on to me, I just knew.

And I still know. 

For now,



2 Responses to “And in The End; 25 Lessons at the End of a Life”

  1. smilecalm November 23, 2013 at 4:43 am #

    beautifully reflects a mother’s love continuing on

  2. Peggy November 23, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Peter, this is a beautiful and loving tribute to your mom. I remember how much she drove you crazy, but also how much you loved her. I know how proud she was of you–you are a wonderful son!!

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