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Honoring the Women Who Came Before Me

My mother and her best friend, Theresa, left yesterday after having enjoyed a “Queen for a Day” mini vacation here at our home. I turned the library into a spa and arranged for a therapist to give Theresa her first massage ever, and Mom her first one in a long, long time. I covered the table with soft, flannel sheets warmed by a toasty heating pad, and sprinkled lavender and geranium essential oils on their eye pillows.  I turned down the lights, put on spa music, and smiled at the idea of them being spoiled for the afternoon.  After all, both Theresa and my mother have spent their whole lives giving to others at the expense of themselves.

Both women were married young and stayed home while their husbands worked. They centered their time and energy around raising children and creating and sustaining a safe and stable home. The idea of giving them back a small taste of the nurturing they gave so freely for decades felt good.  As I grow older, I think a lot about the contrast between my mother’s life and my own.  I’ve had the freedom to explore and experiment and to build my own company.  I’ve been blessed to write books and to travel the world.  The way I see it, my mother paid a steep price to give me the life I live today. She sacrificed her needs, put her desires aside, and never had the luxury of even thinking about building a career or business of her own.

Later that night, the three of us enjoyed a lobster dinner, too much wine, and so many laughs my stomach hurt.  When we got home, I warmed the homemade apple pie Theresa made for dessert and I’m still kicking myself for casually asking if the crust was store-bought. In Theresa’s world, store-bought crust doesn’t exist.

The next morning we lounged around and talked about how a woman’s life today is very different from the way it was when Mom and Theresa were younger. Both women, now in their eighties, shared stories about preserving food in an icebox, the importance of ironing cloth diapers after hanging them out to dry in the cold air, and what it was like to use a wringer washing machine. If you’re too young to remember, check out this machine from the fifties:

We’ve come a long way baby…

We enjoyed two wonderful days together, and as Mom and Theresa were leaving, I closed the front door and said a silent prayer, asking God to guide them home safely. Watching Mom carefully get into the back seat of the car, tears welled up in my eyes as I remembered an exchange we shared about getting older and the limited time we have left together. My first response was to tell her we have plenty of time— a typical default reaction intended to keep the conversation on safe ground— but Mom wouldn’t have it. “Cheryl,” she said with a hint of steel in her voice, “we don’t know how long we have, and I want to tell the truth about that.”

A truth we all do our best to ignore.

What I didn’t tell my mother is that I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately now that I’m at midlife. I think about it as I watch her slowly walk down the steps toward the car, hands fixed on the railing. I think about it when she calls to sing happy birthday and then sings another version from her two cats, meowing at the top of her lungs. I think about it with every thank-you card I receive from her in the mail, its passages underlined multiple times to emphasize the message. And I think about it when she tells me stories about her life, because I know that someday these stories will slip through the cracks of time, and I’ll miss them for the rest of my days.

Today I bow to my mother, the woman who came before me.  I bow to her courage and strength, to the wisdom she’s gleaned from years of making the care of others her biggest priority, and to all the accomplishments she can’t see… because she’s too busy still being a mom.

Cheryl Richardson is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including her latest, Waking Up in Winter: In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife. She was the first president of the International Coach Federation.

This essay was featured in the March 17th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.




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