Single Steps Strategies Blog

Get Up. Get Dressed Up. Get Going: A Lesson From My Mother

Mary Grace MusuneggiBy Mary Grace Musuneggi
Executive Director

I miss my mother. She was an amazing woman who died too soon, too slowly, from the effects of emphysema. Even though she’s been gone for many years, I still feel the need to rush to a phone and call her whenever something wonderful happens in my life. I recognize that I can’t do that, but I also know that, somehow, she already knows.

She was strong and brave and single-minded. She was giving and caring and loving, and although she didn’t have much in terms of money or material possessions, she was known by her friends and family for her generosity. She believed in justice and fair play. She was formidable force of one. She was well-read and valued education. Through her lifetime, she was a stay-at-home mom, a receptionist, a telephone operator, a business owner, an educator, a nurse, and a managing director. She ran for political office, and she was a college student at the age of 75.

She taught her children and grandchildren the power of a good work ethic, strong faith, and moral values. She taught us manners, organizational skills, discipline, and respect for ourselves, for our elders, and for others. She made sure we knew the meaning of phrases like, “A day’s work for a day’s pay”, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”, and “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

She used her knowledge and skills to overcome the many roadblocks she faced in her own life. She was a single parent of two small children while being the sole wage earner in a household where she was also taking care of two elderly parents. She did what she knew she needed to do, and she made it all look easy.

But she was also stubborn, determined, opinionated, close-minded, temperamental, a control freak, and she could make your blood run cold with a single stare. There were times when she was unforgiving and could find it easy to give you the silent treatment for weeks at a time, saying that others would need her before she would need them. We found it easy to overlook these negative characteristics because they, in some ways, added to the personality of the woman she was.

In her last years, my mother was on oxygen and breathing treatments daily. For most people, that would have kept them at home and from really living. For my mother, it was an inconvenience, but it never kept her down.

For each of my son, Christopher’s, college years, we would pack up his truck, follow him to his dorm, help him unpack and set up him room. My mother was always part of this adventure. In his senior year, his room was on the third floor of a building with no elevator. Upon arriving at the college, Christopher explained to my mother that he did not expect that she would be able to come up to his room that year. But no matter what his expectations were, her desire was to see and help set up this room, just as she had done every year before. She knew she would never have the opportunity to do this again.

So for over the span of a half hour, she walked up the stairs. One step at a time. Slowly. Pausing between every step. Until she reached his room. Christopher has many great memories of his grandmother, but this is one of his favorites. It meant so much to him that he meant so much to her.

Even after being placed on oxygen, she still didn’t just sit around. She made the choice to get up, to get dressed up, and to get going. She read, she meditated, she did household chores, until it became impossible for her to do them anymore.

She taught us that we always have choices in life. We can choose to sit it out or we can choose to dance. Our choice should always be to dance. Or in my mother’s world, to climb the stairs.