Today is my amazing mother's 88th birthday. She is one of the strongest, most resilient people I know. Her training ground was being the 7th of 9 siblings born during the depression to a man who sold used furniture out of his garage and his homemaker wife. Here are some of life's little gems she passed down to me and my 5 siblings.
1) Laughter is the Best Medicine
My favorite sound on earth is the sound of my mother laughing. It's like medicine that heals me instantly. I have heard it for 55 years and yet each time it feels like a brand new reminder to release the seriousness of any situation and feel fully into life's pleasures. Call her voicemail sometime and you too will be transported by the message she recorded through her laughter.
2) Roll with the Changes
As an Irish Catholic woman with 6 boundary challenging kids, Mom was confronted with her share of issues to wrestle with. Not obstructed by the Church's dogmatic policies or society's edicts, she forged her own path by following what made sense to her, not blindly adhering to someone else's rules.
With each child, she softened her views even more so as to be more in line with the situation than the doctrine. She intuitively knew that people's happiness and well-being was far more important than any rule or regulation.
And while I personally benefited from this humanistic approach when I came out to my parents 20 years ago, she still exhibits this progressive mindset to this day as she talks openly, and from a place of respect and compassion, about topics from transgender issues to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.
3) Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously
Life is too long to be taken seriously. Mom is always game to try something new and fun, be it a party hat, halloween costume or changing her hair to have a mohawk like her grandson, there is not much she considers off limits (except playing RockBand drums again - she will never repeat that!).
What better way to fuel her "laughter is the best medicine" philosophy than to laugh at herself!
4) Be Your Own "Comeback Kid" or How to Become a "Tough Old Broad" Without Really Trying
Mom fell and broke her neck this past September. She was in a neck brace 24/7 for 12 weeks and followed that with 8 weeks of physical therapy. The previous September she fell and broke two ribs and was hospitalized for 2 weeks. Up until 7 years ago, she was the wife of almost 63 years to a wonderful man who lived with Alzheimer's for 12 years, 20 years ago she woke up with sudden blindness in her left eye and 52 to 67 years ago she birthed six kids - this woman is a survivor for sure!
With each additional obstacle, you wonder how she will recover and each time she rebounds and returns stronger and more resilient than she was before.
There is a spiritual expression "big projects for big people" meaning that tough challenges only present themselves to people who have the capacity to see them through. If this is true, and I believe it is, than Mom is certainly one of the life's biggest people!
5) Family is the Most Important Thing
It is Mom's greatest joy to be together with family, immediate and extended, and those dear friends she calls family.
I vividly and fondly remember when Whalens or Croyles kin would visit us when we were growing up. Whether sitting around the dining room table for hours after dinner, chatting in the kitchen over meal prep or playing cards in our living room - it was the beautiful sound of laughter and connection filling our house that I loved.
She is now the last of her 9 Whalen siblings and when her nieces or nephews call or send holiday cards or updates, she is thrilled to hear their news. "Family is the most important thing" is one of her most often used phrases. It gives her great pleasure to know that the next generation is staying in touch and getting together even when she is not present. I am happy and proud to say that my siblings and cousins not only continue to carry this out, but are keeping it alive for future generations.
Happy Birthday to my most incredible Mom! I love you and so do SO many others!