A couple of years ago I attended an author’s discussion and book signing; it was a high tea held in a lovely garden. The author began by asking her attendees to write down one word that described their mother. My word was compassion. Like Katie Hafner, in her book Mother Daughter Me, my relationship with my mother had gone through some difficult times. As a child, Mom was tender and attentive, but as a teen, our relationship was contentious; I certainly wouldn’t have described her as compassionate.
It wasn’t until I matured and began to understand how our separate selves affected our relationship, would I begin to describe my mother as a compassionate person. While our familial synergy was practical, it was at times dysfunctional. As my own life evolved however, I began to realize the strength of my mother’s virtue. I watched her work valiantly as a nurse, and volunteer many hours mentoring troubled youth. I was awed by how my mother opened her heart to young gang members. Following Ellie’s passing in 1992, a benefit was held in her honor by the Youth at Risk organization. I was amazed at all of the young people who spoke and credited my mother with their transformation.
My own foray in to the non-profit world was cathartic. I had been Mom’s caregiver until her death from colon cancer. Working at the American Cancer Society to advocate for research, education and healing for those enduring the disease and suffering from its ravages, was both humbling and rewarding. I was honoring Mom’s compassionate spirit while serving the greater good.
I continued my work in communications, advocating for women, men and families who had become homeless due to domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, addiction, and/or economic factors. I helped them heal by sharing their stories, or by teaching them how to tell their own stories through poetry and testament. For me it has always been about connecting and validating. Every single person needs to know that they are worthy of life. Which brings me to my next journey.
I spent a year, from June of 2014 to May of 2015 writing a memoir for my master’s degree. During the course of the eleven chapters, I reflected about the daily upbringing of my then 16-year-old daughter, and how my own adolescence affected my parenting. One of the books I read that inspired my writing was Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Dr. Brené Brown’s work was transformative and put me on a path toward living whole-heartedly.
During the course of my work, two events occurred that fueled me in to action; the passing of Robin Williams by suicide, and an Oscar acceptance speech by Graham Moore that went viral; the Imitation Game screenwriter reflected on his younger self and the triumph of overcoming a difficult adolescence. It was the affect of this passing and revelation that moved me toward a new direction; a commercial aired for the National Suicide Prevention hotline and I was driven to change course.
I am so very grateful that I was given 31 years with my mother and for the many blessings I have in my life now. I honor my Mom and hope to channel her compassion to those in despair in my next journey as a Crisis Counselor. And with that, I leave you with Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”