My mom’s favorite refrain anytime any of her four kids were facing something we didn’t want to have to do was “Offer it up.”
It was Irish Catholic shorthand, her way of saying in three simple words that we should be thankful when we were roused from a warm bed to be an altar server at an early morning Mass, subbing for someone who unexpectedly couldn’t make it that day. We should appreciate that a teacher assigned us to be the new kid’s guide in school that year. We should be grateful that our boss found us reliable enough to call us in for an extra shift at the grocery store.
In other words, in all things, we should be grateful. We had a warm bed, steady part-time work, respect of our elders and so many more things we didn’t even think about. And so we needed to be reminded to live in gratitude.
It wasn’t just something Mom said, but something she lived.
Our mom was hard to beat when it came to finding the bright side of things and being the good she wanted to meet in the world. That was probably nowhere more obvious than in the things she did for her kids.
Often before she left for her job as a surgical nurse at our little regional hospital in the small town where I grew up, she would get up extra early, and make blueberry muffins that would still be warm by the time we’d shuffle out to the kitchen.
And she would leave each of her four kids (and sometimes even Dad) a note, a reminder of things that would help each one of us have a good day; a fold-able gesture that she was always with us, no matter where we were or what we were facing.
Sometimes the paper had the 15 cents one of us needed for milk money taped to it, and a simple “Love, Mom.” Sometimes it was instructions about when she was picking us up for a dentist appointment, or very specific encouragement about a test one of us was fretting over and an indomitable, “You’ll do great, honey!” No matter the message, our mom found a way to make sure that we knew we were never too far from her thoughts.
In our little town, winter beds down from at least November until well into March, and we came to expect those muffins and notes that greeted us on those dark, bitterly cold mornings. We took them, we took her, we took it all for granted.
So it was on just such a November morning when we all found ourselves huddling together around her freshly dug grave. Dead at 45 from a brain aneurysm, we all were having a hard time even functioning.
Our mom, the woman who, in sometimes the most maddening fashion found a way to make us see the good in things even when we were fighting not to, was gone.
What the hell did we have to be thankful for?
As of this writing, it’s been exactly 11,605 days since she died. I’m sure there’s plenty of psychiatrists and others who could say a lot about me keeping track of the days. But I can sum up my rationale pretty easily.
When you’re 19, and your mom dies, you carry it with you. Every day, every week, every month, and every year, you carry that shit with you.
It’s as much a part of me as my blue eyes, my chubby thighs and unruly hair and my insatiable need to make lists and check things off them.
At this point, I’ve forgotten so much about, or didn’t know her long enough to know, the little things that made Mom special. I can’t remember her voice or her laugh. I don’t know if she tried to get away with inkling to her partner when she played 500. I don’t know if I ever could have cajoled her to do a girls’ weekend in New York or Las Vegas or LA.
But I do know, that despite all the decades we’ve missed, she was right. My mother was right.
Be grateful in all things.
I know this because I’m pretty good about finding the good in things. Of course I have bad days, and I get tired and frustrated by willful ignorance, but on par I am my mother’s daughter and believe that possibility and opportunity are always inside us just waiting to come out.
I know this because I see my mother in my nieces and nephews. In their smiles, their commitment to family, even sometimes their tempers — it’s hard not to see my mom in some of that. Hard not to know she would beam every time one of them came into a room.
But mostly, I know this because of my siblings, and I smile just thinking of them.
We are the Four Musketeers and the four seasons. We are Earth, wind, fire, and water; north, south, east, and west; Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen and the Tinman, Lion, Scarecrow and Dorothy.
We have inside jokes, favorite stories, and a shorthand when we talk. Our poor spouses knew what they were getting into, and just had to agree to sign on for the ride. But still, it’s a lot to ask because we are, well, us.
We have now by this point, unfortunately, buried both our parents. We’ve divided up the family photos, and unwillingly sifted through a workbench full of tools and tried unsuccessfully to remember who gave Mom and Dad that one silver dish when they got married all those years ago. And then we wondered why it even mattered.
We’ve stood up for each other at weddings and at children’s baptisms and laughed long into early morning hours around a firepit.
There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t hear from my siblings in some capacity. Sometimes there’s a phone call with my youngest brother or sister as they are driving home from work. Sometimes it’s a photo of a newspaper cartoon that comes from my oldest brother.
But every morning, every single morning, there is a text message as we start the day.
The messages are always short, and almost always silly. “Greetings earthlings,” is a fan favorite. In truth the content of the messages matters nothing at all.
Each day, each one of us is reminded that we are all thinking about the others. That although our days get hectic with work and family and civic duties, the simple notes that we send to start our day are reminders that we have history and roots, and so much more.
They are reminders of the mom and dad who shared deep, abiding love.
And reminders of the siblings who share a name, a strong will, and a sideways sense of humor.
They are reminders that sorrow is temporary, and that joy always returns.
And that in all things, be grateful.
Offer it up.
Lisa Renze-Rhodes is a journalism coach, advocate and practitioner who believes a long walk with dogs is the answer to almost any question. Also Mother Teresa was right, just do good anyway. Connect with Lisa on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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