The gifts my mother gave me

As you may have noticed, I have not posted in quite a while. The reason for my absence is that I lost my mother last month. As I write this on Mother’s Day and reflect upon the life of this amazing woman, I wanted to share with you what a profound impact she had on the person I am today. She made me who I am, giving to me an imperative to fight for what is right,  the example of being an equal life partner with my father in both their marriage and in their work together and even her love and respect for the role of food as nourishment and pleasure. She also blessed me  with unbridled optimism and a sense of empowerment that I have only recently come to appreciate is not the norm for many women.

My mother was a Holocaust survivor yet growing up I knew nothing about this. My mother grew up in a somewhat affluent family in Lvov, a large city in Poland. She lost her parents and all of her sisters but one during the war and she spent the latter years of the war working on a farm as slave labor. After the war, she spent years in a displaced persons camp, something I did not know until my daughters were teenagers.

I was born here in Canada a mere nine months after my parents arrived in Halifax with two young children and had made their way to Toronto to start a new life.

My parents did not tell me at the tragedies of the Holocaust but instead looked forward to a new life with optimism. Here they were in a new country not knowing the language or  having any family support. But my mother, determined to become a Canadian, enrolled both herself and my father in school to learn English despite their already steep load. Despite what they had gone through, they  instilled in me  the importance of tolerance for all. There was no room in their lives for bitterness.

My mother, through example, taught me to follow my dreams. But she also stressed that to do so involved hard work, something she was never afraid of. She taught me to believe in myself and to never give up.

When I look back through my professional career, I am indeed proud of many of my accomplishments. As a dietitian, it’s been my quest in life to give Canadians the tools they need to eat healthfully and it’s something I’ve worked from the most personal level in my one-on-one patient counselling  to the highest regulatory levels in both Canada and the U.S.

It was my mother who taught me about strong women. A few years ago, my two daughters and  I were talking about how we never give up on various things and how we pursue things when we feel that they are wrong. We realized that it was my mother who was behind what we do.

My daughter, Alyssa, recounted this story at my mother’s funeral. When my daughters were young,  my parents would babysit for them when I was at work – I both and they were very lucky indeed. At my parents’ home, Alyssa, at around 7 years of age,  had been slowly making her way through a box of  a sugar cereal, a food  I did not allow in our house. She could not wait until she got to the bottom of the box as there was to be a poster inside, one of a series of seven.

But much to Alyssa’s disappointment, when she finally finished the cereal, there was no poster. When she   complained to my mother, my mother said that rather than complaining, she should do something about it. So with my mother’s help, Alyssa wrote a letter to the cereal company telling them how disappointed she was. They ended up sending her the whole series.

Needless to say, that whole exercise had a major impact on how my daughters pursued matters as they grew up.

Food played a central role in our house  as my parents were in the food business. While my mother worked full time alongside my father, home cooked meals were an everyday event. There were no cookbooks evident when my mother cooked and baked as she just knew what everything should feel and taste like.  While food waste is now a hot issue, it was also one in my home back then. Leftovers went into the soup while  food scraps were composted in our backyard and then used to fertilize the fruit trees, vegetable garden and berry bushes. I remember my father eating a delicious tomato in a restaurant and seeing him put the seeds into a napkin so he could grow that variety the next year.  And grow it he did.

Although this is the first Mother’s Day without my mother, her legacy and inspiration will be with me and my daughters and theirs forever.

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Categories: Holidays

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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8 Comments on “The gifts my mother gave me”

  1. Barb
    May 15, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    Condolences to you. All the best as you travel this new road.

    • May 15, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

      Thank you, Barb! I do know that she is with me as I travel this new road in everything she taught me!

  2. Roslyn
    May 15, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    A beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing your mother’s story. Sincere condolences.

  3. May 15, 2017 at 1:13 pm #

    Thank you, Roslyn! She was an amazing woman who deserved even more!

  4. Vicky
    May 15, 2017 at 1:35 pm #

    ‘So sorry, Rosie, I remember the first Mother’s Day when I had no mother or mother-in- law to pick out a card for. I was sad, still am. Thank God for the wonderful example our mothers were for us and their grandchildren. ‘Very fortunate.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. May 15, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

    Thank you, Vicky! Yes, I think the first Mother’s Day may be the hardest and I do know that the sadness will last. But you’re right about being fortunate. I can see the examples of my mother’s legacy with my own eyes as I look at my daughters and granddaughters.

  6. May 15, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

    My sincere condolences to you, Rosie, on the death of your mother. This weekend was my fifth motherless Mother’s Day since my own mum’s death in 2012. After she died, I re-read the chapter called “When Your Mother Dies”, in Rona Maynard’s wonderful book, “My Mother’s Daughter”, in which she said, in part:

    “Baby showers herald the transition to motherhood. Roses, greeting cards and invitations to lunch celebrate mothers every May. Yet, despite our culture’s motherhood mystique, no rituals mark the psychological journey we daughters begin when our mothers die.

    “The loss of either parent cuts deep, but mothers shape most women’s lives like no one else. What your mother served for dinner (or didn’t), whom she married (or divorced), the work she chose (or had forced upon her) – things like these tell a daughter what it means to be a woman.

    “Whether you model your choices on hers or cringe at the very thought, whether she nurtured or neglected the girl you really were (as opposed to the one she thought you would be), your mother was your North Star.”

    I recommend that book to any woman going through the first year after a mother’s death. Thank you for sharing your own perspective on such a significant rite of passage.
    regards,
    C.

    • May 15, 2017 at 7:43 pm #

      Carolyn, I have read your comments three times and each time I have cried. Thank you- I will read this and thank you for sharing your thoughts. Motherless on Mother’s Day – says it all.

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