My mommy died last week at the age of 91. Technically she was my mother-in-law, but in my mind and my heart, she had been my mommy for 33 years.

Hilda crop 120314My real mom died when I was 36, so my wife’s mother (Hilda) had been my mommy for almost as long as my real mom.

The term “mommy” came naturally to me. That’s how I felt about her. My wife Shelly thought the term was a bit childish and didn’t like to hear me say it. But Hilda loved it so I kept using it.

I didn’t have growing-up experiences with her as
Shelly did

There is a bond you form with your mom from birth—when nursing and then the hundreds of moments in the course of every day as you grow through the toddler and adolescent stages. And of course there are the thousands of interactions we have with our moms throughout school and thereafter. Those interactions are unlike any we have with anyone else in our lives, even our dads.

I obviously didn’t have those experiences like Shelly and her brother, Jerry, did. But what I did have was a relationship for over 33 years with a woman who loved me unconditionally. In her eyes, I could do no wrong. In her eyes, I was the smartest, best looking, most wonderful guy there was. In her words, she loved me (and most other people) “like a fire.”

She was never too old to try to improve her life. My mommy was one of the first people to eliminate beliefs using the Lefkoe Belief Process almost 30 years ago and she took and then re-took the Lefkoe Freedom Course. She wouldn’t stop telling me how she had stopped giving meaning to what her husband (of 71 years) said to her. (He passed away three months before her.)

She was up for anything and age never slowed her down. Even into her 80s she was the most energetic person on a dance floor.

The one quality everyone spoke of at her memorial service was that she was unique. She was still telling dirty jokes at 91. She said what was on her mind and was never concerned about political correctness.

She wanted me in her family

I first met her in an est training she was taking as a participant and in which I was assisting, about 35 years ago. (est, which ultimately became The Forum, was a transformational training.) There was something about me she liked, because immediately after the training she told her unmarried daughter Shelly: “I have just met the man for you.” Shelly asked: “Who is it? What’s his name?”

Hilda replied: “His name is Morty Lefkoe and I met him in the est training.” Shelly had also been assisting at est at the time and knew who I was. She said to her mom with a scowl: “Not a chance. I know him. Not my type.”

But after my mommy-to-be told me about Shelly, I asked her out several times over the next couple of months. Shelly refused on each occasion. And then I got lucky: I was working in public relations at the time and representing the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Union (the New York City police union). Shelly needed something from the police for a project she was working on and a mutual friend suggested she ask me to help. So when she called me and asked me if I could provide an introduction, I agreed to do so on the condition that she go out with me. I really liked her and was not above blackmail to get a date with Shelly.

The rest is history. Six months later we were married. I tell this story because Hilda wanted me to join her family long before I actually married her daughter.

They didn’t bury my mommy

I could go on and on with stories of how wonderful this woman was. But here’s the point: As I looked at her in the casket and saw her lifeless body lying there, I had this deep experience (I want to emphasize, this was not merely a thought) that not only wasn’t that “body” my mommy, but that “body” had never been my mommy.

My mommy had always been my experience of her—how I felt about. Yes, with her death I would no longer have new experiences, but I already had 34 years worth of incredible experiences that I could recall whenever I wanted to.

And if my mommy was, for me, my experience of her, then I was really losing very little with her passing, because her death had no effect on my experience of her. I had heard people say things like that before, but as I stood looking at her, it became real on a very deep and profound level that they would not be burying my mommy. She had always lived in my experience and always would. She was never her “body” for me, so not having it around was not such a tragedy for me. It is easier for me to focus on what I have and will always have rather than on what I don’t have.

When I tell people that it is possible to stop giving meaning to events, thereby preventing negative emotions and emotional suffering, the most common question is: Do you mean that if a loved one died you’d feel nothing? Because I hadn’t had a really close loved one die since I had developed that skill, I could only answer theoretically: If you don’t give the death a meaning, you will not suffer. But I really didn’t know how I would feel.

Grieving is not necessarily suffering

There are many definitions for grief. If grief means mental suffering or mental anguish, then I have not grieved. If grief means sadness, especially over losing a loved one, then I have had moments of grief, especially when I saw my wife and two children grieving. I got choked up and tears came to my eyes a few times. But for the most of the days preceding and following her funeral I kept thinking of how much I loved my mommy and how much she loved me, and I recalled random experiences during our 34 year relationship.

I’m not saying you should not grieve when you lose a loved one. There is no “right” or “wrong” in situations like that. If you experience grief, then experience it fully and express it. You should do what feels right for you.

I just wanted to tell you how I responded when I lost my mommy, in case my experience is useful to you.


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Copyright © 2014 Morty Lefkoe