If I were hanged on the highest hill, Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine! I know whose love would follow me still, Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine! If I were drowned in the deepest sea, Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine! I know whose tears would come down to me, Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine! If I were damned of body and soul, I know whose prayers would make me whole, Mother o' mine, O mother o' mine!Given the violent potential fates of this poor soul, I suspect these lines are aimed more at men than women. Whatever the case, they always make me think of my mom. I knew without a doubt that no matter what happened, her “love would follow me still.” She was my mom, yes, but while she lived she was also a best friend.
As Mother’s Day approached this spring, for no discernible reason my thoughts drifted to women and their mothers, specifically to daughters who were now themselves mothers. I knew what gifts my mom had bestowed on me, but what treasures, I wondered, had mothers passed along to their daughters, maternal gems of example and advice that they in turn would endeavor to hand on to their own children?
I had no idea.
So I decided to find out.
Compassion and CourageKatharine Miller of Pennsylvania is a 30-something wife and mother of seven. On the eve of her college graduation, her mother suffered a brain aneurysm. She died five days later.
A tender look crept into Miller's eyes as she revisited her memories. “I guess Mom’s first gift was kindness,” she said. “She was a stellar example of how to treat people, to be smiling and gracious and engaging. When I was young and going off to camp, she told me to make it a point to find the loneliest person in the room and talk to that person.”
FaithAnnie, a wife and mother of four children who also lives in Pennsylvania, is a native of Benin in West Africa, and traveled around Africa as a girl because of her father's work as a diplomat. We spoke by phone, and I could hear the affection for her mother in her gentle voice.
She said: “Many Africans have the support of relatives—aunts and uncles and cousins—but because we were away so much, my mom was often on her own. She and my father were educated—my mother had done graduate studies in French literature—and the world we lived in worshipped money and power, but my mom got us through that with the gift of her religious faith. She was tireless in her defense of that faith, seeing that we went to adoration and confession. But it was more than the sacraments. She lived her faith so that you could see it was real.”
ServiceThe youngest mom I spoke with was in her late 20s, Donna Lagle of North Carolina, wife of a firefighter and mother of two young sons. A former schoolteacher, she’s now a full-time mom who also works from home as a sales rep.
Home LifeAnne of Western North Carolina is a wife, a mother of four, and a grandmother who also worked as a veterinarian. Her mom is 103 years old, suffers from dementia, and lives in an assisted living home 45 minutes away, where Anne visits her at least once a week.
“She set the tone in our household, and not in a dictatorial way at all,” Anne said. “I didn’t recognize the beauty of it until I was older. It was a calm household with sensible boundaries, and there was a good healthy support system. She was loyal to her children, and she would stand up for us if she needed to. She was kind and never raised her voice. In hindsight, I really valued all of that so much. There’s an art to maintaining a calm, connected household. I think I tried for that as a parent.”
SacrificeRebecca McMahon of Virginia, wife and mother of three with another on the way, praised her mother as selfless. “I have very few memories of her buying anything for herself,” she said, adding with a laugh, “When she was 52 and my sister was getting married, a group of us went to get a manicure. ‘I’m not sure how to behave,’ her mother told us as we entered the shop. ‘I’ve never had anyone do my nails.’”
McMahon valued her mother’s example as a homemaker. “Here’s a woman who homeschooled six kids, cooked and baked so much that the house was always filled with wonderful smells, and who kept her home immaculate. I’ve tried to do the same.”
Lessons LearnedOn this special day, we can bring our mothers flowers and fancy cards, treat them to lunch, and even buy them extravagant gifts. All of these gestures express our love for them and for what they did. But after speaking with these women, I believe the greatest gifts we can offer our mothers are words of gratitude from the heart and passing along their lessons to our children.
And for those whose mothers are gone, I encourage you to tell stories of them to the younger set, your children and grandchildren. Share their love and wisdom with the next generation.
Those children need you. We all need you.