|My mother at 41 and her 13-pound boy.|
To say the last few weeks have been a thrilling roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. In the span of a month, my debut novel released, I moved, and my beloved 16-year-old dog Bella died. I sometimes wonder how we survive even one of these events without curling into a tangled ball of stress. But then I remember that for every lowdown low there is an incredible high. Our lives might feel out of control but it's possible to find balance even in the midst of complete chaos. You know how I know this? I learned it from my mom. This photo of her was taken shortly after the birth of her eighth child when she was 41. I realize he looks like a three-month-old baby but my brother David came into this world weighing a whopping 13 pounds. My mother quit babies after that one, but she didn't quit bringing forth life.
Writers often compare launching a new book to giving birth. In my just-released novel THIS I KNOW young Grace Carter inherits her mother's deep intuition. As Mother's Day approaches I've been thinking about what traits my mother gifted me through her genes and by her example; qualities that have made me better equipped to navigate this life.
1. Laughter cures pretty much everything.
|Laughing with Anna Unkovich|
Although she suffered from debilitating degenerative disk disease, it's my mother's laugh, not her pain that I remember most clearly. She often shared jokes, ruining the punch line because she couldn't get through it without cracking herself up. The only thing I loved better than making my mom proud was making her laugh so hard she once peed herself while cooking lunch for my sisters and me. Being pregnant with 13-pound baby might have contributed to the bladder release but I happily took credit. I've carried my mom's voluptuous laugh with me into my own parenthood and beyond. When a neighbor moved away a few years ago she shared that the thing she'd miss most about living next door to me was hearing laughter resonating from my home almost every day. She said hearing me laugh made her less lonely. I hope she laughed with me. Or even at me. Because there's nothing like the chortles and howls of a good belly laugh to make you forget for a moment everything you want to cry about. Laughter takes you out of yourself and sends back a love note.
2. Human touch heals the soul.
My mother was one of the most affectionate people I've ever known. Severe back pain often prevented her from lifting or bending to hug us so she'd pull us close to pet our heads or massage our ears. When she ended up in traction, she'd often invite me to crawl in beside her on the bed where she lay in traction where we could snuggle and hold hands. I used to think she did this for me but looking back I realize she hungered for the healing properties of touch as much as I did. She died a few years before I started my 25-year career in as a massage therapist. What I wouldn't give to have been able to offer her a healing massage when she was hurting. I'm so thankful for her tenderness, for teaching me the power within our reach not only to heal others, but to heal ourselves.
3. Your circumstances don't define you.
Just when her life seemed to peak, my mother was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer. The doctor gave her six months to live. Surrounded by all her children when the call came, she bawled into her hands for all of about fifteen minutes. By the end of the day she was calling the doctors liars; she hadn't come this far to accept their doom and gloom sentence. Over the next three years my mother LIVED her life. She endured chemo, radiation and platelet infusions. She researched and delved into alternative therapies, the most memorable being garlic. Everywhere garlic. She danced, she sang, she went to movies, she spent time with old friends and made new ones. Through it all she refused to give in. Of all the things my mother taught me I'm most grateful for learning what resilience looks like. Her strength has shadowed me through every hardship along a path littered with heartbreak and loss, including losing her.
4. It's okay to break the rules.
VaLoyce Edwards was a mother and preacher's wife but she was so much more than that. The only thing she loved more than singing was if you sang with her. She often performed in our churches and if I'm being honest. that was about the only time I paid attention. Her voice could make a Buckingham Palace guard cry. We didn't have much in the way of luxuries growing up in a home with seven children and two adults but we always had music. My mom listened to Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson records on our hi-fi. Dancing wasn't allowed in our Southern Baptist home but it didn't stop her from swaying. She'd close her eyes and become a like a willow branch, moving with an unseen wind. Later on in life, she gave herself permission to go listen to bands at various venues. I never had the pleasure of tagging along with her but I'm told that once she let loose she burned up the floor.
5. Never give up on your dreams.
I know this one sounds cliche but hear me out. In her late forties, my mother opted for a risky surgery, one that could have left her in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. The outcome of this decision changed her life. Freed from chronic back pain and the unfortunate side effects of pain medications, she enrolled in college and earned her degree in sociology. Immediately upon graduation she was hired by the university as a financial aid counselor, helping others to find ways to pursue their educational goals. Like my mother, I went back to school in my fifties. And also like her, I never gave up on my goal of writing books. I was 54 when LOST IN TRANSPLANTATION published and 59 when my debut novel THIS I KNOW released. I'll be 60 when my next book is out in June of 2019.
It's been almost three decades since my mother passed away, just shy of her 65th birthday. I know she would be so proud of me for writing a book but prouder still that I channeled her resilience, her laughter, her willingness to break the rules in writing this little story about a girl who longs to rescue her mother from the depths of darkness. Happy Mothers Day, Mom. I love you. This I Know.
What about you? What did you learn or inherit from your mom-person?
My debut novel THIS I KNOW released on April 24 and I'm thrilled with the overwhelming support and positive feedback from so many people. It's available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, Sam's Club or order from you Independent Bookstore. I'm headed to Michigan for a book tour May 12-20. If you happen to be within spitting distance, I hope you'll drop in and say hi.