Mary’s Parting To-Do List

Mom lived by lists:

Grocery lists, tasks to do lists, items to buy lists, people to contact lists. Mom had a never-ending life-long list for herself. And when she became dependent on others for day-to-day project help, we had a bird’s eye view of her thought process, because she had a list for everyone around her, and I mean everyone. While working on her projects, she would pause and add details to the current lists. She had lists for her daughters, her grandchildren, her brothers, Lloyd and Tom, when they would come visit, and anyone else who entered the house. She was not limited to written lists. She would also share the jobs that needed to be completed verbally. She texted and even added tasks to a shareable list in the “Notes” app as well, so helpers would get the edit right away.

Lists were beneficial to her. They helped her to stay focused. They helped her to be more productive. And they helped her to spread out the assistance she needed among her loved ones. It must be noted that she never asked for help for some task she could do herself. As her cancer spread and the pain increased, the lists became longer and more detailed. We would do the normal greetings, and then she would say, “Let’s look at the list.” Or “Not right now, but when you get a minute, can you…?” 

So it is only fitting that today on behalf of mom, I have a list for you. No, I am not going to ask you to go to Walgreens to get prescriptions, toilet paper that is on sale, or chocolate although chocolate sounds really good right now. “Mom, what kind of chocolate do you want?” ”I don’t care. Get what you want, but remember I can’t do caramel.” 

Together with my sisters, we have created a short list of daily actions we think our mom would want to share with you and encourage you to focus on.

From Sara- 1. Live a life of integrity. This is how mom lived each day of her life and how she wanted all of us to live each moment. She held us to a higher standard than the status quo and expected us to meet those standards. She was well aware that everyone makes mistakes, but for us there were no excuses. Do what’s right.

From Tara- 2. Find your purpose, and let it be your guiding light. 

As our mom watched us grow into young adults, she wondered, “What hold will you have on life and what hold will life have on you?” Her primary goal while raising us was to teach us to think for ourselves and always speak the truth. She was tough on us to pursue and finish college degrees. She saw education as an insurance plan so that we would always be in the position to support ourselves and our children in the event of an unforeseen future situation. She never dictated which degree or career path. She saw us as bright and smart Little Women and expected us to discover on our own what we should do as we marched into the future. Mom was driven to fulfill a plethora of dreams throughout her life: being a mother, wife, teacher, and mayor. While working full-time and raising her two younger children, she earned two masters’ degrees. She pursued her passion as a Reading Specialist and beamed with joy when she spoke about her love of teaching reading to young students. About five years ago, after fulfilling her career goals, she dusted off her sewing machine to begin a new mission as a fervent sewer for the underserved. She had learned to sew when she was eleven and was a skilled sewer as she handmade all of her own, Tena’s, and Sara’s clothes for most of our childhood. In her last few months, whether she sewed or not, became the indicator of whether it was a good or bad day. It was a great day when she made progress on the latest sewing project, and she was excited to share the newest creations with whomever was in the house. Through sewing, she fulfilled her final mission on earth: to use her hands and her able body, to serve those in need. Mom unflinchingly lived her entire life as Buddha once said, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” Let us honor Mom’s legacy by following her guiding light and fulfilling our personal missions. And from her favorite soundtrack Hamilton, “I have a million things I need to do, but just you wait. Just you wait.”

From Alyssa- 3. Love the cards you are dealt, good or bad. Amor Fati is the love of fate.  Mom took whatever she was dealt and figured out how to not only accept it, or to embrace it, but to love it. After surviving the tornado that destroyed her town and left her with a concussion, open wounds, and embedded black sand, shards of glass and various debris into her body, she immediately came home, took a quick shower, and changed clothes.  Putting on her hat as mayor, she began the search and rescue mission.  But, as our dad had said, “But even this black storm had a warm glow.” For about three more years, she led the rebuilding of her community while having a full time teaching job, and raising four daughters. With the sudden unexpected loss of dad, she grieved deeply but then went on to rebuild deeper relationships with her daughters, grandchildren, others, and later her great grandchildren. Traveling, shopping, baking cookies, going to museums, trying new foods, eating dinners with family, going out to eat, and dieting are just a few of the ways she moved forward without our dad. When she was told she had breast cancer, she took this life-altering diagnosis and chose to embrace and once again, rebuild her life to accommodate it.  Prior to this diagnosis, she was riding twenty miles a day on her bike.  With treatment, biking eventually was no longer possible, but it did not deter her.  She learned to stay active in other ways such as practicing yoga.  This practice brought her peace, and she loved to see and feel how strong her body was.  Through Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center, she found a community who quickly became her family.  She found immense joy with them and loved banding together with the “Waterford Warriors” serving other cancer patients and their community.   While physically her challenges continued to pile on, she found sewing to be a refuge, busying her hands to remain purposeful and this allowed her yet another way to serve and give to others.  

As Marcus Aurelius said, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.”  And through a practice of amor fati, our mom’s life was a work of art.

From Tena 4. Be grateful. 1 Thessalonians 5:18- “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is something mom really developed as she faced the prognosis. With her positive attitude and determination, she turned a year into two really fulfilling years. She learned to be truly grateful for each loved one, each opportunity, each year, each season, each month, each week, each day, each hour, each minute, each breath.

She would personally say thank you after working together on a list. She would say, “Thank you for helping with the list today. I couldn’t do it without you.” And so I say to Sara, Tara, and Alyssa: “Thank you for helping with this list today. I couldn’t do it without you.” 

God ordained that Mary entered the world on November 15, 1947, and that she left the world on February 17, 2021, but her influence lives on in each of us as we work on this list. It is not a list we actually cross off and complete. It is a list we work on everyday.

On behalf of our mom, Mary, I say to you, “Let’s work on the list.”

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