what my mother taught me

April 13th, 2020

It was an attribute of her deep faith and her final, modest confusion that my mother believed she was dying on Easter, and it was, for her. But for the rest of us it was in the dark night after Maundy Thursday, the day commemorating the Last Supper when, in facing certain death, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them. Months before this day my mom had taken quiet confidence in me, telling me what she wanted for her funeral, what she wanted for her body, and asking me to write her obituary. Permission was thus tacitly granted to each other to proceed as we must. At her funeral I rose to say these words. They were not the first thing I had ever written, but they were the first thing I had ever written for myself, to be spoken in my own voice. This is the kind of thing that a mother can teach you. I have remembered it always, and especially on this day every year.

I wanted to share a few things with you about my mother. I’m sure you already know them. They are what bring you here today.

Nonetheless, over the last few months, she said some things that I wanted to pass along. She has probably been saying them to me all my life, but I suspect I heard them, finally, for the first time.

Just last weekend she looked at me, clear-eyed and steady, and told me what I’ve come to recognize as her final instructions.

“Be yourself,” she said. “And take good care of your family.”

Now you know that my mother could never, for one minute, be anything but herself. Honest, unselfish, unpretentious, lighthearted, optimistic and, in a way, so ordinary. So ordinary that she was, in fact, extraordinary. It drew people to her, to her comfort and ease. So open and accepting. So authentic. And so happy!

She kept all the cards and notes you all sent over the course of her illness. Hundreds and hundreds, perhaps even a thousand. She kept every one and everyday, more came. She was so uplifted, and in a way, mystified at the magnitude.

I told her that they showed how much she was loved. “Yes,” she said, and she shook her head in disbelief. “And just for being me.”

“Take good care of your family,” she reminded me. She reminds us all. For my mother, family was not just family. You were all in it. And her family grew in number every day. It began with her mother and dad, sisters and brothers, to whom she was, quite simply, devoted. There were cousins, so many cousins, it seemed, to fill the whole state of Texas. There were the nieces and nephews, and grand-nieces and nephews, each one special in her heart. The schoolmates and colleagues and lifelong friends. And then, of course, there were the children. Thousands of children in dozens of classrooms over 30 years’ time.

Education was her life’s work, but more than that, it was her life. She had seen for herself that, no matter where you begin, or what the conditions, if you take what you’re given and do your best, you can do anything. Her heart expanded with every single child’s achievement, and of course, her heart broke with every one of their disappointments.

At the end of her career, as an elementary school principal, she would wait for hours with the little ones, already so poor and sometimes forgotten, when no one came to pick them up from school. She waited. And soon, she retired.

Finally, there was our family, the ones at home. Perhaps this was my mom’s last mission. We were all so far along in our lives, so far apart and busy. And we have all come to see – my sisters and I – Mom’s illness as a remarkable blessing. We came together, so close, in respect, love and appreciation for one another. Mom gave us the opportunity, and we took up the task. You can speak of my mother’s strength and courage, and I will tell you that, here at the end, my father matched her mile for mile. And we are so grateful.

Finally, I want to tell you something Mom said several months ago, when we began in earnest to prepare for today and imagine how it would go. She said, “I know it sounds egotistical, but I don’t know how you all can live without me.”

I told her quickly then, and I know it to be true, that I would never have to live without her.

I ask you today, in your everyday kindnesses, in your bright hopes, your easy laughter, your generosity and your own good hearts, to help me keep my promise to her. Be yourself, and take good care of your family, and we will keep her with us forever.

My eulogy to my mother, who died on April 13, 2001, delivered at her service on April 17, 2001.


  1. Beautiful. Your mother was a wise woman. Much love to you today. ?

    Comment by Shawne — April 13, 2017 @ 5:50 am

  2. You are a lucky daughter. I love you. And thank you for spreading her message. It keeps rippling out in infinite waves, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Kirsten — April 13, 2017 @ 6:12 am

  3. Sending love and gratitude, Maezen.

    Comment by Jane — April 13, 2017 @ 7:44 am

  4. So beautiful.My mother said something similar to me in a rare moment of clarity near the end of her life.I send you so much love.

    Comment by Marcea — April 13, 2017 @ 8:30 am

  5. A beautiful eulogy. I would be so proud if my daughters spoke so beautifully of me at my funeral. Honour thy mother.

    Comment by Marilee Pittman — April 13, 2017 @ 12:26 pm

  6. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt words… sending you love on this special day.

    Comment by Demetra Gressley — April 13, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

  7. This sounds so much like my grandma. Everyone fit under her wing as a matter of course. She put groceries on other peoples doorsteps when they needed them and planted flowers in their yard without asking. She took care of everyone she met because she cared deeply about them. I honor all of the women who teach me how to care for others and myself.
    Love to u Karen,

    Comment by Mia — April 13, 2017 @ 8:47 pm

  8. I feel this deep in my heart. These are beautiful words and paint such a loving picture of both your mother and also of you. All those beautiful things you say about her, I see them in you, another way she is with you every day. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Comment by Katie Murphy — April 14, 2017 @ 6:02 am

  9. Thank you for sharing your mother with us. I’ve read this tribute to your mom a few times, over time, and every time it brings tears to my eyes. Her advice to you is pretty much the only advice any of us need. And I’m always grateful for the reminder.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — April 14, 2017 @ 6:28 am

  10. Thank you. Very much.

    Comment by Bobby Byrd — April 14, 2017 @ 8:06 am

  11. No. You are not living without her. She shines through you in your authenticity and how you give of yourself to us, your students. Thank you.

    Comment by Allison — April 14, 2017 @ 10:07 am

  12. Getting to this post late, but wow, what a blessing to be raised by such a woman. And your tribute to her is, in turn, a gift and a lesson for all of us. XOClare

    Comment by Clare — April 22, 2017 @ 6:13 pm

  13. Beautiful.
    “And we have all come to see – my sisters and I – Mom’s illness as a remarkable blessing. We came together, so close, in respect, love and appreciation for one another.”
    Yes my sister and I have shared that experience as well. In the last months of my mother’s life it was as if all three of us were acting from our deepest connection to each other. We did not need words. My mother was a teacher as well.
    I hope everybody who is reading this is is able to find moments of peace in all the turmoil that is going on at the moment.

    Comment by Simone — April 13, 2020 @ 9:25 am

  14. Crying, again. I will never forget. I love you!

    Comment by Tricia Heinrich — April 13, 2020 @ 10:20 am

  15. Sis!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 13, 2020 @ 10:35 am

  16. I lost my mother on February 25, 2020. My mom took quiet confidence in me too. I was her person, by her side through her illness. It was a beautiful journey to witness. She is still showing up in the most unexpected places. It is a gift to have had this kind of love. Her devotion to family will pass down through me to future generations.

    Comment by Susan Winans Minichello — April 14, 2020 @ 3:53 am

  17. Around the world so many mothers and fathers, and others, have left us with no one to share such words about them, and are doing so right now. I read the Obituaries, now called here “Life Tributes,” every day. I used to say looking at each face, “God bless you,” but now I don’t. It feels better just to say goodbye and thank them for the light they brought to their worlds, their families, and to me, helping to show us through the sometimes darkness of life, but also brightening our paths still. I had a mother like yours, too, widowed by a father like yours also.

    Comment by Larry Yoda — April 15, 2020 @ 6:05 am

  18. Yoda speaks;grasshopper listens.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 15, 2020 @ 6:12 am

  19. I’m reading this on Mother’s Day, and I know it is not a coincidence. A few hours ago in the kitchen, as I was finally cleaning up from our long lunch, I was struck that I had not thought much today about my own mother, who left this world almost 3 years ago. I spent the afternoon with my grown sons (25 and 30)—and how grateful I felt to be with them. My mom always let us know how much she loved our visits home. “I’d like to lock you in here so you’d never leave,” she’d say, and I always took it as an expression of affection. Only now do I understand there was a measure of loneliness there, too, a longing for a life of cozy togetherness that she didn’t often have the time or energy to enjoy when we were young. Like your mother, mine was also a teacher, a nurturer of souls. And so… at the end of this delightfully long and sunny day in New England, I took a few moments to reflect on my mother’s life —and, in reading your moving words of tribute, on yours. No, we never have to live life without them. Thank you for this beautiful reminder.

    Comment by Mary Nerbonne — May 10, 2020 @ 10:52 pm

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