BY DAN HALL
3 things my mom taught me
My mother slipped into eternity just over three years ago. I deeply loved her, but I wasn’t necessarily close to her. I was always “daddy’s boy.” If my dad was around, I wanted to be where he was. He traveled two out of every four weeks while I was growing up. So my mom was stuck alone with me quite a bit!
When I was about 9 or 10, my dad was heading out the door to catch another plane when he knelt in front of me, looked me square in the eye and said, “Now while I’m gone, I’m trusting you to be the man of the house.” The story goes that I took that quite literally because mom finally called him long-distance, back when that was a BIG deal, to tell him to please tell me to quit telling her what to do. Apparently, I had taken my “man of the house” mandate a bit too seriously.
My mother was a no-nonsense, sanguine, “always have time for people” person. She taught us the right way to clean the kitchen (scrub the wall behind the stove, lift the eyes on the stove and wipe out any food that had fallen in there, Comet the sink, burp the Tupperware); the right way to vacuum a room (move all the furniture away from the wall, get behind all the cushions in the couches and chairs and don’t forget the vents); and how to wash, dry, fold, hang and iron our clothes —because she was not the maid! I am so grateful I learned those disciplines, as is my wife!
But there were three other things my mother taught me:
She taught me to laugh
Mom had a great sense of humor. She would always laugh at our jokes. She always loved a great story and would listen intently to ours and laugh appropriately. And she never tried to upstage us with a better story. But the thing I appreciate the most is how easily she laughed at herself. She was a deeply spiritual woman who read her Bible consistently, prayed fervently (especially for family) and served others. But she never took herself so seriously as not to laugh at torn hose or spilled food.
She taught me to love
I’ve always said the greatest gift parents give to their children is to love each other. I always knew Mom loved me, even when I didn’t appreciate it or even want it. But where she slew my heart the most was her absolute adoration of my father, even though his constant traveling and work left her as a single parent with four kids at least half her life. I remember how she greeted him every time he walked through the door. I remember how she spoke about him when he was away that made me admire him more.
She taught me to how to live
Mom wrestled with lots of physical challenges. There were seasons of incessant pain and fighting just to get up in the morning. Somehow, she greeted each day as an opportunity to live fully. If she ever complained, I don’t remember it. I never remember her talking about what we didn’t have, what we couldn’t afford or what she needed in order to be happy. She was so content because life was her reward.
Mom began a slow descent into dementia that lasted 14 years, the last five to six being the most critical. Watching my father love her through that season was like a real-life “The Notebook.” Neighbors would bring her home. She would get up at 3 a.m. on a Thursday to get ready for church and fuss at Dad about why he wasn’t getting ready also. And yet, if you walked into the room, she was going to welcome you, hug you and ask how you were doing. She wouldn’t remember your answer, but she still valued you.
There are some people that make funerals really easy. Their lives give you the stories to tell that bring joy, laughter and value. I’m so grateful my mother gave me that. Here’s to hoping I can give my kids the same thing.
Dan Hall is an executive and strategic coach to leaders and executive teams. He also works with organizations on team building, conflict resolution and communication skills. He and his wife, Hazel, have six children and four grandchildren. You can reach him at Dan@OnCourseSolutions.com.