Tag Archives: Mom

What I did on my summer vacation

The cycle continues this week with the autumnal equinox marking the end of the summer season. My summer plans started out fairly consistent with previous summers – teaching summer school, hitting selected Chicago street festivals, a trip or 2, and hanging out with friends. I headed west to Reno for some family time and a couple of weddings. What I did on my summer vacation turn out much different than anticipated, it lasted 54 days in total.

Wedding plans were right on schedule. Those ‘save the date’ cards actually work. I even went to a bonus wedding for a high school friend. I celebrated a few birthdays out west as well, mine included. There was a great reunion with some friends that included a going away party for their daughter as she moved to Portland, OR. And, the unexpected…I attended two funerals while I was home. The first was for my aunt’s sister. Finally, the biggest event of my whole summer was the funeral for my mom.

Yeah, how is that for a speed bump? This was moving along so smoothly too. When last we met I told a couple of stories about being with my mom over the summer. However, the fog from her Alzheimer’s disease turned from her state of confusion and a stunted life trajectory to mine. But, I don’t want to go there, at the moment. I want to wander through a few things I realized about my mom, my family, and me over the summer. It has been a month since we were surrounding her with love and support as she made her final transition. I have to believe she is in a better “frame of mind” now than she had been in for the last few years of her life, and definitely her last month.

Let’s start with gratitude. Speed bump number two, or yet another 90-degree turn on this little journey I am leading you through. It gives me extreme peace to know that she is not struggling anymore. Her final words to me were “Good night, Rich.” This didn’t occur on the night she died, but it was this summer. Nevertheless, she told me good night AND she said my name. Metaphorically I look at this interaction as her goodbye and a verbal hug acknowledging our relationship. The more heartbreaking of our visits was just after that good night during some alone time between us. I was talking; she was nonverbal for the last month. THEN… she looked at me with a smile in her eyes, she was smiling, her energy was just like so many of the great times we had throughout my life – we were together and we were smiling. That 3-seconds was fleeting. She started to cry. It wasn’t just tears, it was a sad upset crying. It was an “I think I am leaving,” crying. Thankfully that turned quickly to blank again and then I was the one crying. When I think of her death, those 6-seconds help to remind me she is not hurting. Back to gratitude – I spent most of the summer with her and working on her behalf. I got to be there to do my part to help my dad and brothers as the family administrator guy. I got to spend time with mom. I had 3 amazing (all things are relative) moments with my mom. I miss her so damn much. I am not sure how or when this “fog” I am in will lift…but they tell me it gets easier.

There are many great stories I could share. These help us remember what the treasure my Mom is…I guess I should say was now, but I think I’ll keep the present tense for now. In my world she is a treasure. One I will treasure in real time forever. Over the summer I had many conversations with people about her. I started to keep a list of what was said. In a quick, quasi qualitative research approach I noticed themes – kindest, sweetest, nicest, a lovely lady, a special bond between us, warm, talented, classical grandma, loving, laughing, patient, special lady, the word favorite is often attributed to her… Someone told me that she was a gentle giant, the person that never really jumped to the lead role (although she could do it, and she did lead) she was always the one you could count on to be there and provide support. Her Karma bank was always overflowing with simplicity, love and a smile. There are a couple of books, Quiet and Quiet Influence, about the leadership qualities of the introvert. My mom was in her own class. She was an extroverted Introvert or the introverted Extrovert; loved to be with people and part of the action. She was on the quiet side. In Emergenetics© terms (I never tested her, damn!) she had to be a second third Expressive and a first third Assertive. I am sure she was a third third flexible, holy decisions batman. Her leadership style was that of an influencer with a quiet determination.

In my earlier research on leadership one of the themes we found was – Legacy/Lasting Difference. The interviewed leaders said this legacy piece was something that one didn’t set out to do, but it was nice when you are remembered for something. When I stood at the funeral to give the eulogy I looked at the church. It was packed, people were standing in the back, and they were in the entryway. Through tears I said my mom was such an understated woman that she would be surprised that so many turned out to honor and celebrate her life and legacy. It was overwhelming and comforting. A recent daily encouragement from my Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhist practice said this: “Ultimately, people only die as they have lived.” To die happily is therefore extremely difficult. And since death is the final settlement of accounts for one’s life, it is when our true self comes to the fore…” (Daisaku Ikeda). A packed house honoring her true self seemed appropriate. She was the gentle, quiet leader that was there to provide giant support for others. A legacy of love, support, and care among those she touched in her 70 short (too short) years.

Ability: “Talents, skills, Power or capacity to do.” We all have the ability to lead from the front, the middle, or behind. We all have the ability to leave a legacy and to make a difference for someone/everyone. I knew my mom was an amazing woman that made great (quiet) contributions for the good. What I did on my summer vacation was be there for her, with her, and to see life and purpose through her. Even in her final days and hours she taught me the power of connections and community. Hmmmmm…when the student is ready the teacher arrives. Thanks mom!


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Linchpins & Lemonade

It has been an interesting summer for me. I have been “out west” visiting family for some weddings and my annual summer trip. All of that was great, everything happened as planned. Part of the trip was to see and spend time with my parents. I had prepared myself for my mom’s declining state that has been the case for a number of years – she has Alzheimer’s. I knew she was declining. I had been told by my dad and other family members to prepare for what I would encounter. I haven’t been home since Christmas. When I first arrived she didn’t even look up. I could tell she didn’t know, couldn’t know, or didn’t have the ability to “see” me or to let me know that she “knew” me. In my guarded analytical, intellectual way of being, I took that in stride. People have to ask her if she knows me, or ask her my name. That actually irritates me. No, I think it hurts. It is how I protect myself. I don’t want to acknowledge that loss of recognition. Nobody wants to be forgotten. But, somehow I think that act of, “do you know who this is?” helps the questioner. It helps to normalize the situation. And, we don’t know what to say so we default to the “how are you doing” or, the situational equivalent. Maybe the question is just embedded with HOPE she will blurt out your name. She did not.

I have had some moments with her during this trip. One night she looked at me and said, “Hey, it’s you!” She went on to say, “You’re here.” Then the funny, “Do you have a job?” I responded somewhat shocked and a little taken aback. We all laughed. My mom even laughed. It was a real laugh. It was a laugh from the depth of who she is. It was from her core. It was HER.

My aunt said, “There she is! That’s her!”
And then…she was off again with foggy eyes to some far away world locked deep in the confines of her deteriorating brain.
My aunt and I just smiled…and cried, and she said to me, “Remember this forever. There she was, just for you.”

Two nights later, I was putting her to bed again. She was quiet but quasi-alert. I looked at her and had a short talk with her telling her that it was OK for her to make the transition and move on to see everyone who was waiting for her.

I said, “There are so many that you haven’t been with for so long. It is really ok with us if you are ready to make that trip and move on. We will always remember you and love you. We will take care of dad. But, there are hugs to be had, a pot of tea waiting for you, and I am sure the Garden Club Alumna Association is ready for their next new/old member.”

I stood up and said, “Good night, Mom.” She looked at me with the clearest smiling eyes and plainly said, “Good night Rich.” I dropped to her beside. I hugged her. I wept. I pulled back to look at her and she said quizzically, “Do you have a problem?” I replied, “No, no problem. I am just happy.”

She is still with us. Holding on for something, I think it has to be her decision to leave. The other day my dad, my cousin and I were chatting with the hospital chaplain. He was asking about all of us and how we were coping. Then my cousin started to speak. She reflected that mom has always been the person in our family to make things happen, have a party, host holidays, umpteen weddings, graduations, and mini reunions. She is the one that has been the “go to” in the family (on all sides) for years. She was the person everyone would call when we needed to access the family hard drive for an address, a memory, and questions. I had thought this was the case and all this was true, but was I just biased because she is my mom?

It was nice to hear my cousin say this. She continued to reflect that it is hard for all of us to understand what will be a new way of being in our family. My cousin said, “When our roles change, it throws people off for a little bit. I don’t think we are really ready for that.”

There’s a little gadget that keeps the wheels from falling off the axle, it is called a linchpin. Marketing wizard and writer Seth Godin wrote a book, Linchpins. His definition of a linchpin is someone who is indispensible, someone vital to the organization. That’s my mom. I have been cleaning things at my parents house to stay busy and help my dad with that unbearable task. Finding treasures, and lots of what the hell did she keep that for?, I have been trying to understand life without our linchpin. It has been scary, sad, and a little lonely. But in all honesty, life goes on. It has to. It’s how the world works. Linchpins wear out and they go on to other places and become the omnipresent teacher and guide. They were here for a reason and they prepare us for this point in our lives. The linchpin becomes indispensible in a realm of our psychic force that whispers in our ear when we need it the most. These linchpins are that “gut feeling” and the invisible force that we just know “would want that.” And sometimes that slap of reality that we know would not want/like that.

In leadership roles, we have linchpins and we are linchpins. We learned to assume such a role passed down from someone before us. We have the ability to take those lessons and transform our linchpin energy into something of value for others. It’s important that we slow down on occasion to notice the lesson, feel the energy, and soak in the moment. We can take those opportunities to learn and grow from our sage teachers as they share with us out of love and care. They are just preparing us for the time they can’t be here any longer to do it for us. As leaders we have the ability to do the same.

We have to take those lemons add some sugar and make lemonade. Things get tough. Struggles happen. They make us strong and resilient. Take hold of those times that seem a little sour, that sting a bit on the open wound. Learn the lesson. Grab the gifts when they are offered. Like my aunt said, “Remember this forever. That was her.” Mom served me a little cup of lemonade…a couple of ‘em. And as usual – everything tastes better when mom makes it.

“The miracle is this: the more we share, the more we have.” –Leonard Nimoy

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