People with big souls, on some deep mystical level, know when their work here is done and when they are about to return their souls to their Maker.
About one week before my mother, of blessed memory, suddenly contracted a rare but fatal illness, she called me. "What are the exact words a person is supposed to say before they die?"
We spoke at length, laughed together, and in her brilliant and seamless manner, she then began to review with me some of the life tools that she felt I would need to successfully combat the vicissitudes in life and actualize greatness.
Here are the five tools for living my mother taught me.
Life Lesson #1: "Life is tough, but you're tougher."
My mom was a renowned psychologist, whose counsel was sought by many great people all over the world. She subscribed to the premise of Dr. Victor Frankel (as outlined in "Man's Search for Meaning") whose life thesis can best be summed up in the mantra, "If there is a 'Why,' there will always be a 'How.'"
As long as one knows that there is a purpose to being in this world and that every life challenge is custom designed, then one can find in oneself the inner fortitude to bear the unbearable.
As my mom would say, "Tough times don't last, tough people do!"
Life Lesson #2: "When the going gets tough, the tough get growing."
When the curve balls arrive in life, my mom explained that psychologically we embrace one of three responses: Fight, Flight or Freeze.
The only option that is proactive and ensures growth is to Fight. Learn from the turtle, my mom would say, it only makes progress when it sticks out its neck.
Life Lesson #3: "Count your blessings."
The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have. One of the most important life lessons my mom imparted is that "life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain."
Life Lesson #4: "We are sent to this world to achieve greatness, not merely to survive."
My mom would always remind us that the Almighty gives each and every precious Jewish soul a unique gift and mission.
Don't get to the end of your life, my mom would say, and find that you lived just the length of it; live the width as well. Dig deep, discover what that unique talent is and then go out and 'knock it out the park.'
Life Lesson #5: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation."
My mom directed us to work on becoming a person of sterling character. As she explained, "Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."
She had a beautiful Yiddish saying, loosely translated to mean, "Leave gentle fingerprints on the soul of another for the angels to read."
Following my mom's passing, as I sat through the painful mourning period of Shivah where multitudes of people shared stories of how my mom touched them or 'saved their life' in one form or another, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I had lived in the midst of a spiritual giant, a spiritual giant that I had the merit to call "mom."
I pray that I will have the insight and strength to perpetuate my mom's huge legacy. She certainly gave me all the tools, now the baton is in my hands...