30 Lessons About Living From A Wise Woman

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It’s Sunday, and usually Sunday is my day to spend with my mother. I take her swimming at the pool or lake and then back to my house for lunch in my kitchen, a visit with her grandchildren and a few ball-throws with my dog, Lucy. It’s been a tradition for the past three years, since my mom moved out here to Seattle from her home in New Jersey after living alone for 35 years.

Today, I am writing about my mom instead in being with her in person. Yesterday, she passed away peacefully at our local hospice center, ten days after suffering a massive stroke. Within a few days of her stroke, she had lost the ability to talk, open her eyes much, or move her limbs or her body. She had not eaten or drunk anything since being admitted to the hospital. She was diagnosed a little over a year ago with congestive heart failure, and she had a number of other ailments common to 81-year-olds (arthritis, memory loss). With three hospitalizations in 18 months, we had all seen this coming for a while.

Maria at the LakeMy mom had been very clear over the years with me and my sister that she was horrified by the idea of having to live in a nursing home, unable to walk. Certainly the idea of being unable to eat by herself, move much at all, unable to communicate with others, was the stuff of my mother’s nightmares. She was a woman who swam laps in the gym pool four days before her stroke. She had been a long time supporter of the group Compassion and Choices, and was thrilled when our state passed the Death With Dignity act in 2008, just before she moved out here. So her passing relatively quickly was both a sorrow and a relief.

Death With Dignity

I know, TMI. But here’s the thing: we talk so little about death in our society. I celebrate my mother’s life today, but I also celebrate that she died the way she wanted to: her two daughters at her side, disconnected from beeping machines, unsupported by unnecessary and futile Western medical efforts to prolong her increasingly difficult life. She died with dignity and love all around her, including the amazing hospice staff. We all should be so lucky – and such good planners as my mother was.

In part because of my mother’s recent poor health, I was motivated this year to contributephoto (31) to TEDMED speaker Michael Hebb‘s campaign “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death,” which you can read more about in this blog post by Chase Jarvis (Seattle media maven, internationally reknowned photographer and co-founder of CreativeLIVE). I passionately share Michael and Chase’s sentiment that how we die is an issue we must all think about, and we need to talk more about it, not less. We fear and shun death, but I am here to testify that it can be an uplifting, positive, and indeed, a transforming experience. I became closer to my sister than ever before through this ordeal.

As we strive to take responsibility for our lives, and live the best we can, I believe we must also take responsibility for our deaths. We are all dying. We just don’t know when it will happen. If we plan and make our wishes known, I am here to attest that it is possible to die in a way that is filled with love and peace and, above all, with dignity.

Living Your Dream

What does this blog post have to to with music, and with marketing? Everything. You see, I learned to live my life and pursue my own dreams from my mother. My mother was a frustrated writer and a self-taught photographer. In many ways, I am living my dream to fulfill my own artistic ambitions both in spite of… and because of her. She retired young, vowing to write her novel at last, now that she was done with the corporate grind and raising children – yet she never finished her novel. I vowed I would not follow her example. So I retired young and made two CDs and an EP. Now I am also a writer of sorts: a blogger.

photo (30)Although she never finished her novel, my mother was a woman of many achievements. She was a child of Nazi Germany, only a girl of 12 when the war ended. She grew up in both great deprivation and hopeful times. She came to the US (Camp Orkila on Orcas Island, as a matter of fact) at 18 in 1950, sponsored by a Marshall Plan program to woo young German labor leaders away from Nazi-ism and rebuild the German economic and political systems. She hitchiked around the world in the 1950s with her first husband, taught at a community college for a year, and almost completed a PhD on women’s sexuality at the New School for Social Research in New York. She could read seven languages. She wrote for Time Magazine, from which she was fired for being pregnant with my sister. She worked for the New York Times Information Bank, The Journal of Alcohol Studies, and Warner Lambert (later Pfizer) as a translator, abstracter, and technical writer.

My mother also raised me and my sister as a single parent. She was the sole wage earner for most of her life, and she put both of us through Ivy League universities. She had six grandchildren, of whom she was extremely proud.

My mother represents the best of what an immigrant to the United States could accomplish: a resourceful woman, a thinker, a do-er and an idealist.

My Mother’s Secrets To Happiness And Long Life

I write the word “happiness” with some irony, as my mother was not a happy person in photo (25)some ways, so much as a driven one. She could be narcissistic and was prone to depression. But she lived a long and very productive life. And there is no question she was a hedonist and taught me to enjoy food and the other small pleasures of living. I think a lot of what she taught my sister and I was very wise and far-sighted.

I am going to share just some of her many aphorisms in the hopes you will be inspired by my mother in both life and death. That is the best way I know how to continue to spread her legacy.

  1. Cook your tomatoes lightly in a little olive oil, it releases the lycopene.
  2. You don’t need to buy rubber bands, they come with everything. You just need a drawer to put them in.
  3. Rubbing a child’s tummy helps a tummy-ache go away. So does doing bicyle kicks lying on the floor on your back.
  4. Treasure your lifelong friends, they will matter when you are old.
  5. Think happy thoughts before bedtime.
  6. A beer a day helps you breastfeed (this courtesy of my sister – I can’t say I followed this advice).
  7. Lightly steam vegetables in half an inch of water instead of boiling them, and don’t over-cook.
  8. Always eat a protein, starch and vegetable at every meal, and eat your salad after, not before.
  9. Everything in moderation, even moderation.
  10. Try to avoid debt. Pay it off as soon as possible. Borrow from relatives if you must borrow.
  11. Always stir (cake batter, boiling peas) in one direction.
  12. Sing to your children, even if you can’t carry a tune.
  13. Chocolate is good, especially dark chocolate.
  14. Go somewhere sunny for one week every winter.
  15. Let your hair be itself.
  16. Always go to bed at the same time, you will stay healthy.
  17. Learn new things. Read a lot.
  18. Don’t eat candy, eat whole fruit.
  19. You don’t need a college degree to be smart, but it impresses other people.
  20. Learn how to say “thank-you” and “where is the bathroom” in the local language.
  21. Travel as light as possible. Always carry-on.
  22. Alternate nostril deep breathing reduces anxiety.
  23. Feed your kids a plate of raw vegetables before dinner when they are hungry and they will always eat them.
  24. Support avant garde arts – off-Broadway, street performers, painters and other visual artists – anyone who expresses creative thought in an original and provocative way.
  25. Eat berries whenever you see them growing by the side of the path.
  26. All you need for a good basic pasta sauce is onions, olive oil, and some fresh chopped tomatoes.
  27. Eat whole grains, and the occasional cream-filled dessert.
  28. Any job is better than no job.
  29. Always have lots of extra reading material on hand.
  30. Pile on the blankets and sweat it out. It will kill the virus.

And my absolute favorite:

This too, shall pass.

If you want to know more about my parents, you can watch this short movie I made for my teaching class.

 

If you knew Maria, or even if you didn’t, please leave your thoughts, responses, memories of her, or memories of your own loved ones here. I know my mom touched many people’s lives, people I never even met. She was my mother, but she was so much more.

 

 

 

 

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16 comments

  1. Solveig, I hate leaving such a message on your web site, as it seems like I ‘know’ you, when in reality, I suppose I really don’t. I’m so sorry that you’ve lost your beloved mother.
    That said, I feel the need to state that it’s wonderful she was able to pass away on her on terms, as it seems she lived life that way.
    Thank you for sharing some of her philosophies. Not only does it give those of us who interact with you on that awkward social media/social/professional/but not really….basis insight as to why you’re as amazing as you are, it allows to get to know a bit about and pay respects to your mother. She sounds amazing. *hugs*

    1. Christine – Thank you for your sweet comments. I am glad you feel like we “know” each other! I know when we finally meet IRL we’ll have a lot ot talk about, and feel like old friends already. It’s part of the good magic of social media. I am taking all the hugs, virtual and real, that come my way these days, so thank you!

  2. My dear sweet Solveig….I loved reading about you and the wonderful Mom you loved so much. I too have walked in your shoes with my father’s death and now, my sweet 93 year old Mother is now living with Jim and I…..God bless our Mom’s. I didn’t have the honor of meeting her, but I know her because I know you. Bless you and your family and thank you for sharing you dear Mama….blessings, Dianne

    1. Thank you, Dianne. You are a saint in my book, I learn from your example of selflessness. I wish you and Jim and your Mom the best.

  3. Magnificent, Solveig – absolutely magnificent! I still cannot wrap my brain around the fact that your vibrant, full-of-life mother is no longer with us on earth. She was a free spirit who lived, and ultimately died, on her own terms. A great inspiration to many of us women. You were blessed, indeed, to have her for your mother. We’ll continue to cherish the memories of her – and you and your sister as her much-adored daughters. I send prayers for your comfort during this time of unspeakable loss.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I remember you and your family with fondness, especially that giant turtle in your driveway :) I so appreciate your prayers and best wishes, thank you. The same to you and your children and grandchildren.

  4. Hi Solveig. So sorry about your loss. I was very moved to read this about your Mom. She was such a great woman and such a great neighbor growing up. Although it’s been decades since I’ve seen her, she always had such a way about her – comfortable in her own skin, always smiling, and just downright cool. I am sure she is looking down on you and Sylvia with immense pride. And her 6 grandchildren have a wonderful legacy to inspire them and pass on to future generations.
    So cheers to “Mrs. Whittle” – Westcrest Trail alumnus and obviously an incredible Mom.
    Warm regards-
    Mike

    1. Thank you for your memories, Mike. Maria would chuckle at being called “downright cool.” I guess she made an impression! Fond regards to you and your family.

  5. Solveig Such a beautiful way to write about your Mom and celebrate her life with everyone. Thanks so much for sharing. I have many memories of spending time with you and her during our childhood.(Even when I told my parents I was running away, and ended up at your house. Remember?), Was also lucky to be able to see her for many years after at the lake,swimming her laps, when I would visit my Mom.She would always tell me how you were doing as well.She was a very bright and strong woman, and loved talking with her. Even though its been many years since we grew up in Fayson Lakes, it seems like yesterday sometimes.I often talk to people about you and how smart you are and talented. Miss you my friend and will miss your Mom dearly! Many hugs sent to You, Silvia and your family!xoxo

    1. My friend – you are so kind. My mom likewise updated me on you whenever she had seen you at the lake or out and about. It does seem almost like yesterday, when we were all a lot younger (!) Now we have our own teenagers. Crazy how time goes by. Hugs back to you and Dean and your mom and the rest of your family.

  6. Solveig, I am awed and grateful for your generosity of heart in sharing your mom’s pictures and wisdom, her timeless stories, and her warm heart. No doubt you’ve gotten these traits from her. I felt as though I knew her on some level, perhaps from the Sunday postings of pictures of your time spent with her. I’ll miss those so much. I’m so sorry that I didn’t get a chance to spend time with her. I’m sure we would have found much in common to discuss. She seemed like such a remarkable woman, and I’m sure she was thrilled and proud to have such amazing women as you and Sylvia as daughters. Sending love and hugs across the miles, dear Solveig.

  7. I would like to express my sympathy and deep, heartfelt remorse, having just learned of your mother’s passing. We had a relationship in the mid-80’s in NJ, when she was living in Kinnelon and I was living outside of Princeton. It didn’t work out, but I always regretted I didn’t try harder, and consider the loss to be one of my life’s major mistakes. I know from conversations with her that — even then — she wanted a quiet passing with her family by her side, if possible. What really shocked me, however, is that I’ve been living in Seattle for the past 20 years, had no idea she was out here, and would have genuinely liked to see her again. She spoke often of you and your sister in nothing but glowing and proud terms. I know it sounds corny, but she taught me a lot of things that are still with me, and I always appreciated that.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Kurt. I know Maria would have enjoyed making contact with you again, it is unfortunate that wasn’t in the cards. Take care, Solveig

  8. Love your story im sorry for your lost.
    You are a very strong wise woman i will try to aply the same to my own life thanks God bless you and your sister.im 48 years old my husband is 62 our mom is 87 with alzheimer’s we have 3 kids they dont live with us righ now they are 2 boys 23 and 11 and my girl 15 year old me and my husband take care of mom to give her love and caring .we love life together

    1. Thank you, Grace. I wish you all the best in caring for your family. I’m glad you found some useful things for your own journey in my post. Don’t forget to take good care of yourself, too!

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