Columnist: My mom taught me love, compassion & respect

Mom and IHere’s how strong my mother is: She quit smoking the day her mother died. Mom took her last puff not long after our family’s matriarch took her last breath and never picked up a cigarette again.

But this just scratches the surface. My mom, without hesitation or bitterness, helped provide care for her aunt – the woman who had gone out of her way to be cruel and abusive to her growing up – on her deathbed. Mom went to the hospital to help clean, comfort, and even feed the woman who did things like deny her food daily for weeks. When I asked her why she did this, Mom simply said it was the right thing to do. I don’t know if I could ever be so compassionate to someone who lacked compassion toward me, and I still don’t know how my mom managed to do so.

Here’s how courageous my mother is: She had my baby sister three years after experiencing the death of her month-old child. It wasn’t the easiest of births, she said. In the delivery room, she said she was so scared of what could happen she involuntarily pulled in instead of pushing, but in time she was able to give birth to a very healthy, very strong baby girl.

Mom went on to raise that baby girl and me as a single mother after the collapse of her marriage to our father. Sometimes, she did so while on public assistance because she couldn’t find work, and the child support she got from our dad didn’t cover all the bills. Sometimes, she did so while working nights on an assembly line because it was the only work available. Or she worked crummy jobs with crummy pay because it was the only work available. Sometimes, my sister and I would come home from school and find her asleep in a chair or across her bed still in her work clothes because she was too exhausted to get the rest she needed.

Here’s how wise my mother is: She never hid the truth from us. She used the reality of our situation as teaching lessons about how to carry oneself with dignity no matter the circumstances. How to work to stay self sustaining. How sometimes everyone needs help. How not to misuse that help when it’s received. How to give back when one’s circumstances improved. If my sister and I had a question about any topic, no matter how awkward, uncomfortable, or hard to answer, she looked us straight in the eye and told us what we needed to know.

If she didn’t know the answer, she’d say so because, as she taught us so many times, there is no shame in not knowing something. The shame, she’d say, is in not wanting to know. Then she’d do all she could to help us find the information we needed. She never tried to gloss over our family’s shortcomings, or faults, or problems. She never overindulged us or spoiled us in an effort to keep up with the Joneses. She didn’t tolerate intolerance in us, or anyone for that matter. Mom treated everyone like she wanted us to be treated – with love, compassion, and respect.

I don’t think I tell my mom how much I love her. I don’t think I tell her enough how much I admire her strength, courage, and wisdom. It’s easier to simply laugh with her at our endless private jokes, hold her hand when she needs a little support, rub her shoulder when she looks tense, guide her to her favorite chair when she looks tired. These gestures just barely scratch the surface of all the love and gratitude I feel.

So I’m asking any and everyone who reads this column for help. My mom turned 69 this weekend.

Please join me in wishing my mom, Ms. Loretta Morris, the strongest, most courageous, and wise woman I’ve ever known, a very happy birthday. She’ll be forever touched, and I will be forever grateful.

Tracey Morris

Tracey Morris is the author of, “You Said You Wanted to See Me Naked: An Autobiographical Poem Cycle.” Her work has recently been published by Rust Belt Chic Press, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Springfed Arts Writing Contest.