5 Lessons My Mom Taught Me During Her Too-Short Lifetime

All I had to do was step into the wisdom she had been sharing

Things I learned from my mother

My mom birthed me twice. The first time, it was a balmy evening in 1978, just as the equatorial sun was setting on a port town in Kenya. The second time, almost 31 years later, was in the palliative ward on a frigid, end-of-Canadian-winter afternoon; with her last breath, she delivered me into a new world.

I felt as ill-equipped the second time as I’m sure I did the first.

Since my mom passed away I have had 2 more children, moved cities, switched careers. And grown up. I think back to the child I was when my mom left. Yes, I was a mother but only 20 months in. I didn’t think I knew ‘how to do it’ - how to be a mom, how to live without a 24/7 lifeline, without the 3 calls a day, without the assurance that someone cared more about me than she did herself. I was spinning in a new universe without gravity.

I could never have imagined my life now. I could never have guessed that I would be the anchor of my own family, or that I could serve biryani to loved ones gathered round my table, or that anybody would ever look to me for anything. I could never have guessed that I would see so much of my mom in me. And yet, looking back, I see how she left that door wide open for me. All I had to do was step into the wisdom she had been sharing with me throughout our time together, the gems that would finally make sense to me years after she left.

These are just 5 gifts she gave me that have helped shape me as a woman and mother:

Do the thing you love. And do it often.

My mom loved to dance. Some of my best memories of her include her dancing in the kitchen or in the car. She danced at weddings, and New Year’s parties, and even took some bhangra lessons when I was in college. Her ear-to-ear smile would light up her face when she was moving, and I’m lucky I got to see that joy in her eyes.

But one day, near the end of her life when she was really sick, her body crippled and confined with disease, she stared ahead as I sat beside her. Fingering her blue fleece Canucks blanket she said, “All those times we had family and friends over, and we just sat around and talked. We should have danced.”

I guess you don’t know, until you can’t do it anymore, how much you would wish you spent more time doing what lit you up. It’s true we can’t spend every moment of our day dancing, or doing the thing we love, but could we spend more time? Can we dare to be the one to say, “Hey guys, so glad you could come for dinner. Now I’m going to throw on some music so we can all dance!”? Can we dare to let more people in on that thing that makes us feel…alive?

I think the question is, do we dare not to?

Make connections.

My mom was always telling me to talk to people about the things that interested me. If someone traveled abroad to work in a remote village, she’d tell me, “Listen to what they have to say. Ask them how they did it.” She encouraged me to make connections with people older than me who’d been there and done that, to meet with them, to glean information that might help me in whatever it was I happened to have my attention on. I followed her advice, and collected a whole slew of mentors who got me from high school through grad school and into my first career as a speech therapist. But after she passed away, I switched careers to enter the enticing but humongous field of freelance writing. And what did I have to do? Make connections. Find mentors. I can literally still hear my mom’s voice saying, “Talk to people. Ask them questions.” Without her instilling that in me in my youth and pushing me out of my introverted shell, I might never ask for help or guidance now.

Feed people.

Nobody left my mother’s home hungry. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was why my now-husband wanted to hang out at my home as often as he did when we were friends. On as many occasions as possible, she would host a dinner and invite extended family and friends.

But she didn’t just feed people she knew. She also donated to the local food bank regularly until the end stage of her life. Even when really sick, she would ask my dad to drive her and some non-perishable food items to the food bank. She didn’t like to see people go hungry and thought it was a great crime to not share what she had.

Whatever it is you feel strongly about, go ahead and do something about it. If you think people should have food, do something about it. If you think people should have access to clean water, do something about it. If you think women should have equal rights as men, do something about it. Whatever you can. As long as there is air in your lungs, there is an opportunity to do something.

Tell yourself, I am SOMEbody.

I cannot tell you how many times my mom sat at the edge of my bed during my teen years as I wallowed about something or the other. At the end of every well-intentioned ‘pep talk’ she would shake her right fist in the air and say, “Just tell yourself, I am SOMEbody!” If you’ve ever been a teenager before you can imagine my raised eyebrows and the visible-only-to-me eye roll that followed that line. But I get it now, and when I need to give myself a boost of confidence, I hear her words echo in my head. I am SOMEbody. Somebody who can do the things I never imagined I could. Somebody who counts. Somebody with unique needs and dreams. Her words are like my personal Fight Song.

There are days we all feel insignificant. Maybe our voice feels like a whisper or we’re struggling to feel good at anything. I know my mom had days like that too. I think it’s ok to let yourself feel what you’re feeling but if you come away with anything from what I’m sharing here, let it be these three words: I am SOMEbody.

Don’t ask for akni when you can ask for biryani.

This will make a little more sense when I explain what akni and biryani are. Akni is a spiced rice, meat and potatoes dish, like a pilaf, that is delicious, but also kind of like an everyday meal. Biryani is something you make on more festive occasions; it’s rich and flavourful and it can be a bit of a process to make.

My mom would always remind me not to ask for akni when I could ask for biryani, and she wasn’t talking about dinner suggestions. She was referring to the things I set my heart on, the things I worked for and the prayers I sent out to the Universe. Don’t settle. If I could ask for anything and get it, why ask for something mediocre when a more desirable option was in my reach? This is the type of advice that comes in handy for anything from relationships to self-care to business.

Above everything else, the gift my mom gave me that helps me build a life I love is the reminder that I am mortal. That this is all one big opportunity to do the things I love, connect with others, be of service, and live up to my amazing potential without settling.

I don’t intend to waste the gift. I hope you join me in that.

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Taslim is a freelance writer and editor based in Surrey, B.C. She shares her passion for social justice, arts & culture, and travel on her blog www.taslimjaffer.com. Taslim is also a writing instructor who loves to show others how to get their personal stories down on paper, and use writing as a healing tool. A mom of 3, you will often find her at home, simultaneously navigating the land of pre-teenhood, Kindergarten transitions and remembering to check in with her middle child.