My mother passed away this month after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer. Here are some of the lessons that I’ve gleaned from her life after sharing her life journey of 83 years as her eldest daughter.

My Mom was the consummate good daughter. After marrying, she lived next door or nearby her parents throughout their lives. She handled all of their business affairs since English was her mother tongue, but not theirs. Growing up, we dutifully went to Grandma’s house every Sunday at 12 noon sharp to have a delicious lunch, and discuss the topics of the day. I learned about politics, relatives, family history and daily happenings. My Mom could never break the pattern of Sunday lunch despite whatever else she wanted to do, as she knew that preparing this meal gave my Grandma an organizing purpose for each week after Grandpa died.

When I was seven, my parents planned a family car trip from Cleveland to California, hitting all the tourist sites across the country, culminating in a visit to Disneyland. We stopped at Notre Dame, my first visit to a college campus, and the university that I ultimately attended. At that time Disney movies & TV shows were big – like Pollyanna & the Wonderful World of Disney – and Hayley Mills was one of my favorites. One day I told my Mom that I wanted to be a movie star when I grew up. She said “Beverly, why don’t you write to Walt Disney for advice? You can let him know we’ll be visiting Disneyland, and you can ask him for a personal meeting when we’re there.” That’s exactly what I did – the first time that I wrote an important letter like this. I waited and waited for his response, each night dreaming of my future fame as the next child star. Alas, after two months, right before we began our long vacation, a letter with the Disney-land logo was in my mailbox. With bated breath I tore it open, only to get a lousy form letter tell-ing me to start my career in my local community theater. He didn’t even mention the chance for a personal meeting with him – imagine that!! I was crushed. It was a great lesson in the power of possibility and not being afraid of reaching out to people of status to ask for help in achieving my dreams.

GIVE 110%
This sounds like a typical lesson, right? Mom embodied this advice in the most surprising ways…like chicken AND roast beef for dinner, or fashion shows for her junior high sewing class students to model their creations…or calling the mfr. when she had a product question rather than reading product info…or watching 3 episodes of Blue Bloods per day… or having Santa make a personal house visit (while we were still up of course) on Christmas Eve…or at the very end of her life, writing a letter to her oncologist questioning the treatment she was receiving from him because she had just learned of a new treatment.

Now this is a challenging lesson as my Mom typically left a trail of destruction whenever she felt people needed to hear from her. This began back in the day when people paid their department store bills in person and she’d argue with the innocent employee about a charge, to a policeman stopping her for speeding right before Thanksgiving, to my Catholic school elementary principal which got me kicked out in fourth grade. Speaking of the policeman, he actually called my Mom back, apologized, and asked her to tear up her ticket! It wasn’t always negative stuff either. Mom convinced one of her young caregivers whose husband had just left her and her young sons to take him to court to get her due. She actually did it…while my sister took care of my mother so she could go.

It was the day after my Dad died. I walked into the house to find her resting on the sofa. She sat up tearfully and said, “Beverly, do you think he knew I loved him?” This question after 49 years of marriage! It just broke my heart – thinking both about the desperate nature of her query to the possible situations that my Dad would have had to experience to generate this question in her. From that day forward, I swore to let the important people in my life know how much I valued the gift of their life in mine.

My hope in sharing these lessons is to share the gift of empowerment and inspiration my Mother gave to me so that you can make a difference in your own life and the lives of others.