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What I Learned From Writing My Mother's Obituary

mom when she was younger This past month my mother died of complications of diabetes and multiple sclerosis. I felt privileged to write her obituary. It really opened my eyes about my own life illness and struggles. 

I laid out the story of a magnificent life well lived. I am glad for the opportunity to refine my choices going forward against the backdrop of a successful, full life. I learned from my mom about strength, will and clarity. I will continue to learn from her example.

Mom was visible on purpose. She intended to have a positive impact on as many lives as she could. She helped and touched many people and won many awards. Hundreds of people came to her services. No one mentioned her illness or disability. About 50 people said to me, “Your mother was such a good friend to me. She was just amazing.”  

Aside from all the contributions that really helped her community, on a personal level she overcame illness and daily pain. I asked her why she pushed so hard to help others. She would say, “God gave us talents to use them!”  The next thing you knew she would have a plan in place to help.  

Writing her obituary also made me realize how sometimes it is the little things we remember that spark the love. Mom was funny, quirky and determined to live fully with enjoyment.

Here are a few of examples:

Mom loved music and taught us to love it.

She sang in the choir each week at church, for the love of God and sound. She had us constantly singing in the car. It was a very practical way to develop our voices and keep us from fighting. She played piano by ear. Mom didn’t read music, but could listen to a song a few times and play a very credible rendition, complete with chords.

Mom studied math in college and loved arithmetic and algebra.

She price compared and looked for value. She played number games like cribbage to keep her mind sharp. She could scale a recipe in her head. She often cooked and fed lots of people. She ran regular lunch programs for seniors. Lasagna for 75 people… no problem. She would also calculate the cost per person down to the penny.

She was frugal and made us feel cared for when money was tight.

She bought us smoke-damaged underwear at this place called the Bargain Center. She would haggle the price down to the lowest so we could each get extra pairs. Then she would take it all home and wash and wrap it with big bows for us for Christmas. 

Mom would shop at the Hostess Outlet on the day products went from discounted “red line”  to clearance “black line” so we could have special items in our lunches. Mom made our clothes so we could have nice things that fit us. Those were the days when it was much cheaper to make then buy clothing.

mom and the author

Mom was whimsical and loved to have fun.

Mom would buy all seven of us a mystery Christmas present each year. We would each get a question about it in turn. The real present was the game she made of figuring out what those crazy things were.

Mom was and is so loving.  

The first time I travelled overseas was for a special summer program at the University of Kiel in West Germany. My first time away from home was a big deal. Mom decided I need more supplies on the way to the airport. We stopped on the way to pick up a few things. She stuffed the lining of my jacket with twi jars of peanut butter, several sleeves of Ritz crackers, plastic silverware and three rolls of toilet paper. In today’s oh-so-careful world, I would probably have been detained by security. But in 1980 I waddled onto the plane. Then and now I absolutely know I am loved.

We all need to value our unique qualities and celebrate them. What are our talents and quirks? How can you grow in your own life, so when someone lovingly writes your obituary, it reflects a fabulous, full life that is uniquely you?

Follow this journey on Dare to Self Care.

Do you have a story about your experience with disability or disease? Maybe a moment that made a big impact on you? Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.