“Who is the significant one here?”
My brother Mark posed this question after he shared his thoughtful response to my question, how did our mother make you feel significant? I am intensely aware that my inspiration for founding Significance Matters and writing blogs on the topic of treating yourself and others with significance was my mother, Fern Rae McCormick Corrigan. My eight siblings and I are all very thankful that we have a mother that made each of her children feel uniquely seen and loved. Mother’s Day is a fitting time for my siblings and me to reflect on and capture the things our mother did to make us feel this way.
Friends of my siblings and I have often commented on, or even puzzled over, the fact that our family of nine siblings is so close and tight. This closeness may be surprising given our births are spread over a 15 year period. We not only have the loyalty that is typical of many families, but additionally we seek out and relish one another’s company. There are few people in the world we would rather spend time with than one another. Our mother’s special brand of loving magic wove us together with her intentional threads of creating special experiences like camping in our old blue converted school bus, tornado parties in the basement which served to distract us from the fearsome winds and falling trees around our house, and birthday parties tailored around each child’s favorite dishes. Maybe the fact that our mother believed and treated each of us as if we were special and lovable caused us to see one another that way too.
In my corporate work examining organizational culture, I read that culture is to humans as water is to fish. A fish is so “in” the water, that the water cannot be seen. Culture is much the same way. The environments that we live and work in are filled with so many unconscious assumptions and experiences, it is very hard to describe them. So it was, for my siblings and I as we sought to describe how our mother made each of us individually feel significant and how and why we are such a close knit tribe. Trying to describe what, and how my mother accomplished this, elicited the following comments from my brothers and sisters:
“I don’t feel like I even scratched the surface of how mom made me feel and what I feel for her.”
“I am not very reflective, so it is hard to pull out specific incidents.”
“It’s so hard because there are so many things.”
“It’s hard to come up with one single moment or story of how mom made me feel significant. It’s a lifetime of her making me feel important, treasured and loved.”
A difficult question was made even more so because our Mom’s acts of faith, love and caring were and are so pervasive it was like trying to pick out a water molecule in the ocean. The time spent in reflection by no means does justice to the many everyday words, gestures and actions our mother demonstrated throughout our lives, but it did yield rich veins of insight as to our mother’s alchemy of love. Themes ranged from gifts she gave, things she made, physical and emotional safety she provided in times of trouble, ways she valued our help and contributions, and examples of how her wisdom and care is extended to our children.
Here are a sampling of the stories and examples that illustrate these themes.
My brother Mark, the oldest of my three brothers remembers how mom, wanting to spend time with all of us in our waking hours, would wait until we went to bed to do the laundry. The sewer in our older home was constantly clogged and backing up. Mark said, “Mom would wake me up so apologetically to ask for my help so that she could finish the laundry. She was always so thankful when we got things flowing again.” Mark gave a second example. “When the old porch came down, Mom and I had to dig a trench, fighting side by side, to prepare for the new porch. She thanked me the whole time. She would then have to leave me for a time to prepare supper for everyone. She made me feel important, like I was the only one who could help with these challenging projects. I felt significant, though Mom is the one who should have.”
My sister Denise would say it was sometimes hard being the middle child in such a large family. Our mother, empathizing about how Denise must have felt being in the middle between the older and younger kids, somehow found money in her tight budget to buy Denise a stuffed-toy monkey. Denise recalled this memory because she saw it for the act of love it was. Our mom knew that Denise loved monkeys and orangutans and wanted to single her out for a special gift. Denise said, “Mom wanted me to know that I was loved.”
I had a similar experience of receiving a surprise gift. My eight-grade graduation was coming up and most of my friends were getting new dresses for the ceremony. Given I knew my parents did not have the money to buy me a new dress, I felt self-conscious knowing I would be one of the few kids attending the graduation with nothing special to wear. Just before I was to get ready for the event, my mom told me to come into the dining room. To my great surprise, there in the dining room was a hanger hooked on the curtain rod with beautiful white A-line dress. It had a row of white daisies with a pink center running down the middle of the dress. I could not imagine where such a beautiful dress came from, one which included my favorite flowers at the time and had touches of my favorite color, pink. I learned that Mom had spent her nights sewing this dress just for me. Even at the time, I knew my mother had sacrificed her time and energy by staying up into the wee hours to make the surprise dress for me. To this day I have a a strip of daisies from that dress as a keepsake saved in the space in my drawer I reserve for precious things.
My sister Dolora recalled a recent conversation with my mom where she told her she was a little obsessed with keeping her teeth clean and white. Dolora said she knew how much Mom and Dad had sacrificed financially to get her braces. Mom confided in Dolora that, because she was a very shy child at that time and had an extreme overbite she knew this would affect her confidence, so she was determined to find a way to get Dolora braces.
My sister Jeanne is no longer in this world to share her stories of Mom but I will lend her my voice and share some of the things I saw and heard her say about our Mom. Jeanne once told me that Mom is a person who takes great joy in experiencing positive things with her and is always there in difficult times. Jeanne said that as she vigilantly watched for the first rhubarb to sprout up in the spring, relishing covering the first stalk with salt and eating it, Mom delighted in Jeanne’s delight to the extent that is was even greater than her own. On the dark side, when Jeanne experienced the painful breakup of her marriage, she said that she felt that she was in a dark tunnel and the only thing that saved her from sinking into the darkness was the image of Mom reaching her hand out to her from the other side with all of her siblings, hands clasped, right behind our mother.
My brother Loren said, “The thing I remember most about mother and my childhood is security. No matter how bad or scared I felt, I knew once I got home, I would be safe and accepted no matter what. I still feel that way today every time I walk through her door.”
Security and support ran through several other stories as well. My sister Deborah said, “When I found out I was pregnant I was so afraid to tell mom. When I did, I told her I was scared and asked, “what am I going to do?” Mom said matter of factly, “You are going to have a baby and we will figure it out together. That meant the world to me knowing we were in this together. Mom has been my rock my whole life and I don’t know what I would do with out her.”
My sister Denise shared a story of giving birth to her oldest daughter in a situation where the father was not interested in a future. Denise recounted how Mom let her move back home so she could help Denise with what turned out to be a colicky baby. Denise said, “I would never have made it without mom, she was a blessing and still is.”
The youngest in our family, my sister Alane said “Mom and I have always had an incredibly close relationship, she is the first person I call when I am happy, when I am sad, when I have accomplished a milestone in my career, when I want to share something about the boys, and the list goes on and on.” She went on to say, “Mom has taught me to appreciate everything in life, no matter how big or small, especially nature, family and our time together. She graced upon me the gift of gratitude, positivity, and confidence. I am a better person because of her love and influence.” Alane shared that the greatest compliment she ever received in her life was when someone posed a question to our family, asking who was the most like Fern. There was a quick and unanimous answer from our family, saying it is Alane. Alane said that though she felt unworthy of such an incredible compliment, it was one of the proudest moments of her life.
Alane described our mothers’ traits in exactly the way we all experience her. She said, “Mom is the most selfless and compassionate person I know. She has molded a family closer and stronger than any family I have ever witnessed.”
Every person’s story included comments and examples of our mother’s unconditional love. We grew up knowing we were loved for who we are and not what we do or accomplish in this world.
My brother Brian’s story illustrates the power of legacy in growing up and being nurtured with such a love. He said when one of his sons was experiencing some troubles in his family, he drew upon something our Mom implanted in each and every one of us. Brian told his son that out of all the people in his life, the ones that would always be there for him no matter what, more so than his friends or co-workers, is family. He said, “I know that is true in our family because of Mom and her unconditional love for all of us.”
Through all our stories there is a common theme of our mother really seeing each child’s unique traits, fears, potential, and needs and responding to them in a way that was unique for each of the nine of us.
So, in answer to the rhetorical question posed by my brother Mark about who is the significant one here, the stories of my siblings and I clearly answer that question. The deeply loved and significant person in all of our lives is our mother: Fern Corrigan.
A CALL TO ACTION
- Giving someone specific feedback, illustrated by examples, can have a powerful emotional impact on another person. Think of a time when someone gave you specific feedback letting you know that you and or something you did made a difference to them. How did it make you feel?
- Invest time to think about, write about, or have dialogue with someone about the impact your Mother has had on your life.
- Singer/Songwriter, Tim Lesmeister, just finished a third song for my site titled “You Matter”. One of the lyrics of this song is, “You matter in and of yourself.” Consider what traits you treasure about your Mother or a loved one that are simply who she is – “in and of herself”.
- Write down the insights from your reflections on the things you love about your mother or a loved one and consider creating a tribute.
- Determine what medium you would like to use to give tribute to your loved one (e.g. your words simply spoken, a song, blog, letter, card, drawing or painting, an essay or story).
- Decide on the timing, place, and setting to have maximum impact on your mother or a person you love.
- Deliver a loving tribute.