Love In Action

Two weeks ago, I took my mom, Sally Ann Mehl, to a birthday party at my cousin’s house. We ate eggplant parm and ice cream cake. My mom was as happy as she looks in this photo. One week later, we discovered she has an incurable form of liver cancer and we’re told she has only three weeks to live at most. As a coach, I tend to stockpile all those self-help books you walk past in the bookstore. Because I know them so well – “Top 10 Tips to Achieve Happiness” or “Tools for Enlightenment” – it got me thinking about the kind of book my mom might have written. My mom never attempted to write an autobiography, a novel or a screenplay. She hasn’t appeared on television, traveled to Africa or won the Nobel Peace Price. In fact, she rarely ever won the raffle during the local church fundraising night. But she did take the prize in one category: caregiver. And she knew it. My mom took great pride in saying to anyone who would listen, “I have 5 kids.” Or more specifically, “I’ve got 5 great kids.” If my dad got the badge of honor for being the provider, my mother carries the torch for being the nurturer and the peacemaker. My mother absolutely adores being a mom. Growing up, when she didn’t know the answers to her kids’ many questions, she’d buy Tell Me Why reference texts and encyclopedias to help us stretch our minds beyond her own understanding. She made flash cards when we were struggling with the multiplication tables. She could whip up a mean Taylor ham and egg sandwich. My mom preserved our first grade book reports and school papers in a file cabinet in her bedroom. Mrs. Mehl had a special knack for sewing and making meatball sandwiches for the students at OLBS. Our Halloween costumes were always the most fabulous, and completely homemade. My mom relished in being good. And she was. She told stories of the spending summers at the bungalow near Tomsriver and how much she adored outings with her girlfriends. She liked to listen to Anne Murray, Bing Crosby and Susan Boyle. But most of all, she felt blessed when she had time with her grandchildren and loved ones. So back to her book. Well, I visualize the cover adorned with a photo of her family and inside, the chapters would be outlined according to her top 10 strategies for a fulfilling life: 1. At night, batten down the hatches- that includes locking all doors, closing all windows and drawing the blinds.

2. Never throw out an old pair of pants; they may still be good for “kicking around the house.”

3. When cleaning, always pick up the chair or table or dresser or refrigerator to do it properly.

4. Don’t ever take your eyes off little ones.

5. At night, kneel down and count your blessings.

6. Take it easy.

7. Write thank you notes.

8. Read to your children.

9. Take care of your elders.

10. Watch after one another. If it had a title, her book would be called “Love in Action.” These last few days when my mother has been in the hospital bed, we’ve spent the day together talking and holding hands. I feel privileged to have the chance to be with her now. While emotionally draining, the experience of walking with someone on the last leg of this journey is a privilege. There is an exquisite beauty in it that transcends the personal pain. When I ask my mom what she thinks will happen when she dies, she says, ” I don’t think I’ll feel a thing, just as I didn’t feel anything while being born. A simple, quiet passing through.” Yesterday we shared a banana. And I realize now I may never feel the same way about bananas again. We laughed. We cried. She told me her stories, the same ones she has told me a thousand times over (she also has Alzheimer’s). She gave me kisses and winks. I thanked her for loving me. This morning she was anointed with a blessing by her favorite priest, Fr. McNulty. My mom’s faith in God makes her ready and accepting of this next phase. I don’t believe a marvelous spirit like hers can ever be extinguished.

My mom often recited a line from one of her favorite Dean Martin songs, “You’re nobody till somebody loves you.”

Well, mom – boy… are you are somebody.