August 20, 2009

Honey Not Vinegar

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:00 am by lindaslongview

My mother unexpectedly passed away last week. Nothing prepares you for this…MomMVRBackyardCrop

Although she had been struggling with allergies and pancreatitis weakening her body with constant digestive upset, no one anticipated that additional congestion and lack of sleep from a bad cold would render her lifeless when she finally fell asleep reading a book while my father tended to ranch chores.

My parents’ lives were so entwined it is hard to imagine one without the other. I am grateful that they were able to celebrate their 50th anniversary this past June. Befitting their life journey, they prepared a photomontage capturing their life essence together: joy of young love, stunning scenery across enduring love, and amazing accomplishment as partners in life. As I watched the collection again and again this past week, it reinforced for me just how beautiful, accomplished, brilliant, and quietly adventurous my mother was.

My earliest memories of her were of her books and music. She loved to read and her breadth of knowledge was extensive as a result. She read to us when we were little, cultivating more avid readers. By her own admission, “…I did stretch the rules a bit – reading you the Chinese history that I was currently reading rather than a child’s book…” In addition, she practiced the piano and organ regularly. When I had fallen in love with the music from Man from La Mancha (Impossible Dream), she granted me private mini-concerts when she arrived home from work – she played the selected pieces on the piano for me. Whenever I hear that music, I still hear in my own head the way she played it on the piano.

She taught me the basics of life: be proficient (not extraordinary) domestically and master how to be selective in which tasks you actually commit to doing – work on high leverage projects. I learned to sew, cook, and be selective. It took me a while to realize how unique she really was. I remember when a new girl in the middle school needed a choir dress made, but her mother did not sew. She asked me if my mother could help, so I volunteered her. My mother explained that she didn’t really have the time, but if I would do most of the work, she would do the trickiest steps. Together we made the dress quickly and efficiently. When the other girl’s mother came by with a bouquet of flowers to give to my mother for the help, she was surprised that my mother was at work. The other girl’s mother was so surprised that it was at that moment that I realized how different (and special) my own mother truly was.

MomGraduatingBS_Math2My later memories were of her many professional accomplishments and what lessons that she taught me from her own experience. She was mathematically gifted, having received two degrees in Mathematics. She worked professionally as a computer programmer in the early years of programming (I remember her carrying home huge stacks of computer cards and sorting them on the kitchen table in the evenings!). Later, she received her MBA and worked professionally in Operations and Project Management. Although it seemed dicey to me at the time, I benefited from our shared University time. My last year of engineering school was her first MBA year. During that time, she wrote essays on the challenges of being a professional woman in a male-dominated workforce and shared them with me (I still have them). She quietly provided unsolicited advice, suggestions, and observations. One of the most important lessons that she taught me is that You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” As such, she taught me to cultivate positivity, kindness, respectfulness, and to always have a good strategy – think before you act.MomGraduatingMS_Math2

In some ways, it was hard having a Mom who was so accomplished and successful, but it definitely made it easier to believe that I could do it too. Even though we share many traits, we differed drastically in one domain: she was a musician and I am an athlete. This difference strengthened us because I admired her musical ability as much as she took pride in my athleticism. I never felt that I had to be accomplished in music and she accepted that athleticism was not her strength. Mom skied, canoed, fished, hiked, and tolerated the family adventures knowing that the stunning scenery of mountains, streams, lakes, and valleys visited were worth the effort, but many were often a challenge for her. I was always glad to be able to help her – take a little extra weight in my pack to lighten her load. It helped me to build the confidence that I too could someday be as accomplished as her, but with my own strengths. This experience helped me to truly value diversity and observe and channel the strengths of others.

MomKidsGrandTetonsCanoeingRedFishLake

In later years, I continued to admire her ability to be organized, to be thorough, and to take on new ventures (run a farm/ranch) without prior experience.

Finally, as I rifled through her files and her Quicken entries this past week on my Dad’s behalf, I realized just how lucky my Dad was to have had someone so amazing with which to share his life. It didn’t take a ton of effort to figure out the finances (which she took care of for their 50 years together) and get Dad moving forward without her. Her systems were clear, effective, and well documented. I only hope to leave a long view legacy like hers…

Your memory is a blessing to me. I love and miss you Mom, rest in peace.