by Janet M. Shlaes, Ph.D.
Today’s post is dedicated to my mother, Ethel Anna Goldman, who lived a loving and fully engaged life until the end of her 96 years on this planet. Her wisdom, grace and positive nature will be remembered by her family and many friends.
Losing a parent is a very powerful experience, one that we all go through at some point in life. It’s both a time of grieving and a time where “unfinished business” resurfaces in order to be completed. My dear mother died at the end of last summer at the age of ninety-six; she was fully engaged in the world right up until the last few days of her life. Although her time in this world was quickly running out, she continued to take her mom role very seriously; her final gift to her children – my brother, sister and me - was intentionally sharing the wisdom accumulated over the course of her life. I will always be grateful that she chose to do that.
The mother/daughter relationship is a woman’s most intimate, complicated and challenging one. In order to cultivate our full potential as a woman, we need to learn how to be simultaneously separate and connected. This essential and challenging developmental life task, until sorted out, consumes a lot of our psychic energy; it also impacts all of our intimate relationships and manner of engaging in the world. Depending on where we are in the emotional separation process, having someone compare us to our mother is either the ultimate compliment or insult. For me, being told that I am similar to my mother is the ultimate compliment.
I remember and treasure many things about my mom. Although her body showed many signs of aging, slowing down and simply wearing out, her mind and spirit remained fully alive, focused, engaged and loving. I especially appreciated her curiosity, independent nature and sense of adventure. Mom grew up in a time when women were not encouraged or supported to achieve higher levels of education or professional accomplishment. Her focus, once she married and had a family, was on contributing to the growth and development of her husband, children and family.
Mom held many community leadership roles and throughout her life was the go-to person whenever anyone had a problem. She always knew exactly what to say or do to save the day. In spite of her physical limitations toward the end of her life, mom was always ready to get on a plane with my sister to travel to a relative or grandchild’s wedding, graduation, life-cycle event or adventure. She was a full participant in every aspect of her life right up until the end; she continues to be my exemplar and inspiration for love, engagement and life-long learning. Mom always asked big questions to further her knowledge and understanding of the world around her. I greatly enjoyed our frequent conversations around relationships and the meaning of life and value my inherited love of learning, sense of adventure and optimistic nature from her.