Growing up, I never understood why my mom, Linda, preferred the lazy river.
On any given water park trip, you could always find me in the tidal wave pool, body surfing and loving every second of it. After I tired out, I faced the task of tracking my mom down in that lazy loop. I waited—always in the same strategic spot—for her face to appear. When it did, I smiled, took a leap into the river and we floated on together.
It’s memories like this one that bring me immense joy now, nearly 15 years after she passed on—floated on without me down the river.
The bond between a mother and her child is innately intimate. One could say it’s a result of nine months of nurturing and connecting. But it’s so much more than that. After all, your mother doesn’t just physically give birth to you, she helps you give birth to yourself; there’s a deeper connection—magic, even—that transcends the womb. And it all begins with a look.
It’s the same look my mom gave me throughout my childhood, and even my teens. It says, “You are beautiful” and “I want to give you the world” simultaneously. It’s a look of absolute commitment and dedication. It’s a look of unconditional love.
On this Mother’s Day, more than ever, I’m reflecting on that unconditional love—and how much I hold dear those looks and those adventures in the water park. It’s the simple things in life we take for granted. It’s the mundane moments that we never expect to miss the most. It’s the echoes of love through space and time that remind me of just how much my mom treasured me.
As I grow older, my impressions of the past become more like paintings than photographs. The details of the times I shared with my mom grow fuzzier with each passing year. The sensory information evaporates until only one essential element remains. And that essential element is love. While my mom is no longer here in physical form, the love we shared lingers on me like an invisible protective layer—wings of a guardian angel shielding me from hurt and heartbreak.
These days, my soul craves simpler pleasures like a tasty meal, laughs with loved ones and warm weekend afternoons basked in sunlight. Truth is, I’m starting to appreciate the lazy river lifestyle more and more. And I’m starting to appreciate all the things my mom taught me, too.
Wherever she is, I’m sure she already knows.
My mom always said I have a way with words. If love is the only thing we leave behind, then I guess in some beautiful and poetic way, they’re really her words; she lives on through every every expression—through every emotion I put forth into syllables and sentences.
And through every smile I smile, too.
I’ll see you one day, mom, when we’re reunited in the lazy river of the afterlife. Thank you for helping me give birth to myself. I love you. Always.
6 Life Lessons I Learned From My Mom
1. Be unapologetically you.
My mom was goofy and edgy and quirky and fun. And she lived life on her own terms. I’ve heard epic stories of how she danced on top of bars. I’ve heard rousing renditions of Elvis and Janis Joplin as she sang at the top of her lungs. I’ve heard her candor firsthand as she told others how she felt—no matter how blunt it may have been.
Linda absolutely did not care what anyone thought of her. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. She let her spirit shine as bright as she could while she was alive. We should all take a page from Linda’s book and live a life that’s honest and authentically ours.
Don’t conform. Don’t try to be anyone other than who you really are. Don’t dim your light just to appease others. Your only purpose in life is to be more fully you in the here and now. All you have to do is drop the pretense and be.
So, do you dare?
2. Take care of yourself.
My mom was an alcoholic and a chain smoker. As I grew up, her health continued to break down. Until eventually, when I was 18 and she was 48, her body couldn’t handle anymore. And she withered away—slowly, and then all at once.
Sometimes, the greatest lessons we learn in life are from the mistakes of others. And this is no exception. My mom’s self-destructive habits had life-altering implications—and, ultimately, life-ending consequences. For this and many other reasons, I’ve never smoked and am extremely careful with my relationship with alcohol, food and more.
You only get one body. And it’s your temple. So, take care of your mind. Take care of your heart. Take care of your health.
3. Express love with every chance you get.
Even though my father raised me as a single parent and my mom lived over 1,000 miles away for most of my life, she never missed an opportunity to convey just how much she loved me.
I recently rediscovered one of the hundreds of cards she sent me in the mail over the years. This one was from the fall of 2004. “I’m very proud of you, honey,” she wrote. “You’re such a good person. I’m very proud to be your mom. You only have seven months to go before graduation and I will be there if I have to save up money now. I would not miss it for the world. Be good, honey. I always think about you—always. Three months until your 18th birthday! Hugs and kisses. Love, Mom.”
My mom absolutely adored me. And she made sure I knew it. She was really special in that way. I guess on some level she understood she wasn’t going to be around forever. And so she left me with thousands of little reminders that reassure me even to this day.
The love she gave away so freely to me and others is what inspires me to write. It’s what inspires me to motivate you. It’s what inspires me to wear my heart on my sleeve. Her gift to me has become my gift to the world. I guess that’s the true power of love: It multiplies.
Thanks, mom, for showing me that love is the gift that keeps on giving. May it continue to ripple out long after I’m gone. And may it never, ever stop.
4. Be fiercely loyal to those you love.
My mom, Linda, was as fierce as they come. I’m talkin’ full-on Mama Bear status. No one so much as gave me an off glance or said a disparaging word against me without her swooping in to protect me. She would’ve done anything to stave off danger—real or perceived—and keep me from harm’s way. I admire that so much about her, even now.
She was unfailingly, unequivocally, undeniably loyal—most of all to me. And that steadfast reliability is something that I pride myself on, too.
Relationships are why we exist. Keep showing up for those that matter to you. Be the rock they rely on during the hard times. Be the cheerleader they can’t live without during the good times. Be the presence they need during the uncertain times.
Loyal love is special. And rare. So, live it and breathe it and be it. That’s what makes life worthwhile.
5. Don’t take anyone—or anything—for granted.
If there’s one thing I learned from the death of my mother, it’s that life is precious and short—and should be cherished with every ounce of energy we have. It’s an unfortunate reality that we just don’t have a lot of time on this planet. We are but a blip on the radar in the history of the Universe. And, while we came from dust and we are destined to return to it, it’s what we do with the time we spend in between that matters.
Love is our legacy. Bestowing our blessings upon others is our birthright. Freedom is our fate.
The opposite of taking things for granted is being grateful for them. And that’s why gratitude is our holy grail.
6. Slow down and appreciate life.
My mom was a simple soul. She had an appreciation for an easy, laid-back lifestyle. And the older I get, the more I understand why.
A life lived simply is a life rich in reverence. Life is, by nature, meant to be uncomplicated. Otherwise, it would not exist in the first place. There’s a divine order to things that we understand below the veil of our lives because it is the very energy that sustains us. And that energy is love.
But we never fully grasp its significance if we don’t slow down long enough to feel it. Let this be your reminder: Love is all there is. You cannot run away from this truth no matter how hard you try.
And that’s why a life lived simply is sacred. A life lived simply is solid. A life lived simply is significant. All you have to do is honor and appreciate this fact.
With every fiber of your being.
What are some of the ways your mom has inspired you? Tell me in the comments—or Tweet me @crackliffe.