My 91-year-old mother is not well and suffers from Alzheimer’s. She lives in Toronto and I live in Israel. Last year during one of my visits, she said something that I thought was so funny and so sad, all at the same time, something that conveys how much her disease has progressed. But it recently struck me that what she said eloquently captures her true essence – a woman who achieved greatness by her unconditional love.
My sister and I (her two only daughters) were sitting with her on the couch in her apartment. Her caregiver was also sitting with us. You need to picture the scene. My sister and I are very petite Caucasians, and my mother’s caregiver is a rather large, black woman. My mom looked up at my sister with tears in her eyes and said how sorry she was that she never married and never had children. My sister replied that indeed she had married a very wonderful man, that they had a magical marriage and two of her children were sitting on the couch with her.
My mom looked at the three of us and asked, “Which two are mine?”
It’s funny – and sad as well, but it’s also the truth. My mother lived her entire life loving people for who they were – she never gave a care to the outside packaging. And she adopted so many people as part of her family.
Her motto is: the way to keep your heart in shape is to love more. She practiced what she preached – she had a smile, a kind word and much more for everyone who came into her life. In the days when one would actually enter a bank to do daily banking, my mom knew the names of all the tellers she dealt with, plus their marital status and the ages of their children. She befriended a teller and ended up sending him to school so that he could become an investment broker.
It was impossible to enter a restaurant without her smiling at all the other patrons and, of course, talking to all the babies and toddlers in the place. Walking through the mall was such an ordeal – I always wanted to be in and out as quickly as possible. My mom saw it as an opportunity to make friends. She smiled at absolutely everyone she ever came in contact with and anyone who served her – gas, food, in a doctor's office or in a store, she always asked them their name and how their day was going. Even the most surly clerk would smile back at this woman who had love shining in her eyes.
When I was a little girl, my parents built the first outdoor swimming pool in the neighborhood. My mother went door-to-door and told each family that they were invited to use the pool whenever they wanted. She gave the pool to anyone; her private domain became public.
One day my sister came home from school, only to be told that she had to move out of her room for an unspecified amount of time. One of my father's employees, an elderly bachelor, was dying of cancer and my mom didn't want him to be alone. So he moved into our home for months while she cared for this man, who was basically a total stranger.
When I was growing up we had an Italian cleaning lady twice a week. When we went on family vacations, we often took her and her two children as well. “When will they ever get to experience anything like this!” my mother would say.
As my father's business grew, my mom's ability to help others grew, too. Just to name a few of her acts of kindness: she met a woman from Australia in a hospital. This woman's leg had been badly mangled in a motorcycle accident. The woman needed many things that her insurance didn't cover. My mother looked after all the costs, plus had the woman over to our house many times and even went to visit her in Australia a few years later.
We had a cottage an hour outside of Toronto which we used on the weekends and in the summer. Once when my mother was driving up the street, she saw a huge fire. She stopped her car and tried to enter the burning house to make sure it was empty. The fireman wouldn't let her enter, but she found the owners of the home and gave them the keys to our cottage where they and their kids lived for a year while their house was rebuilt.
When my brother Laurie, of blessed memory, was in the hospital for brain surgery, all the siblings and my parents slept in the ICU waiting room. A cleaner came to sweep the room in the middle of the night and she lay down on the chairs beside us. Since there were not enough blankets for everyone, my mother got up, took her blanket off and covered up this old woman with her own blanket.
These are just a few of literally thousands of examples of my mother's love of people. She didn't judge; she just looked in peoples eyes and saw goodness. We can all benefit to learn from her shining example of seeing the image of God inherent in every person.