I watched Mom stand, rest her hands on the top ridge of the wood pew in front of her, exhale, and move toward the front of the church where I stood. My words of remembrance for my father had just filled the air, and now Mom would speak. The sun pierced the stained glass windows, shining into the hushed crowd, which spilled into the balcony, aisleways, and crevices behind pillars. Grandpa, Mom’s dad, pressed a tissue to his eyes.
Mom moved with purpose. Red eyes singed by grief resisted an onslaught of tears. She would cry them later, in private. We hugged. A storm lurched inside me, a faucet dripped from my eyes. Mom ascended three slight steps until she stood behind the lectern ready to speak.
With her head high and voice steady as to betray the inner misery only those who’ve lost a spouse can understand, Mom read two passages from her books of daily inspiration, both from four days earlier—November 20—the day Dad had died.
The first came from the book of James: How do you know what is going to happen tomorrow. For the length of your lives is as uncertain as the morning fog.
The second from Ralph Waldo Emerson: The greatest gift is a portion of yourself.
Each day is nothing if not a series of choices—big and small, simple and difficult. Every morning I ask myself a series of questions: What type of person will I be today? Will I be someone who teaches? Will I give of myself to help others? I fall short (often) in my mission because life is too hard. Still, my answer never wavers, and my intentions are always the same. Yes, I will be that person, I say, and the reason is due to Mom’s example.
Mom exemplifies kindness, patience, and selflessness. She is a servant who acts in the service of others. And does so not for reward or recognition, but because the authenticity of her spirit demands no other path. Mom is that rare person who is wholly genuine in how she cares for others—day in, day out—in every patient question and every extra minute spent listening. Small acts magnified by thousands of changed lives.
I see school papers spread across our kitchen table, some decorated with stickers and others splashed with red ink. Mom is awake, working, before the sun has lifted its head from its pillow and not in bed until long after the Moon has spent its goodnight wishes. This is the example of Mom as a teacher, and thirty years of students are lucky to have had their essays on photosynthesis graded by someone who will never stop challenging—and encouraging—them to dream bigger and care deeper.
There is the example of Mom as a patient listener. Students visit our house long after they’ve left Mom’s 5th grade class. They want to stay connected and close to the woman who will listen to them without limitation. Friends and family need her ear, too. Protected, guarded souls lay bare—exposed, yet comfortable as they seek counsel. When empathy always trumps judgment, every conversation is a chance to make a difference.
In 4th grade, I was in my basement playing video games on my Sega Genesis. Mom pounded down the stairs toward me, a fast and furious tornado whipping destruction from every blonde curl atop her head. My report card—and the C- I had received in reading—hung like a sickle waiting to slice at her side as she stood above where I sat on the floor. She backhanded the control from my hand, picked up the console, and smashed the Sega into the ground.
“This is the reason your grades stink,” she pointed at the Sega’s battered corpse. “Get your act together!”
This moment kickstarted my appreciation for how words and stories can transform our hearts. It also reminds me that for anyone who believed that Dad, with his football hero past, ruled our house is mistaken. Mom set the example for toughness.
I see Mom today as a grandmother, asking questions of and conversing with her granddaughter. Their interactions are blessed with laughter, smiles, and love. I watch these exchanges and I remember the mother who immersed herself in Erin’s life and mine. I remember Mom always helping with homework, probing us with questions, listening as we talked, and holding our hands as we cried. She’s with me in our driveway rebounding my missed jump shots, and she’s there on the track for every childhood sprint workout. Always positive; always caring; always present.
Mom made the best nachos, mixed the best Kool-Aid, and offered the best conversation for my friends and me. There exists a group of kids who grew up in Fremont, Ohio, near Birchard and Park or just off Buckland Avenue, who will always associate the Lytle home with Mom’s inviting spirit.
In This is Water, David Foster Wallace says: The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
If the greatest gift we can give is a portion of ourselves, than I know of no greater example of sacrifice than Mom.
On this Father’s Day, as I reflect on the time I spent with my father, I find myself feeling grateful for Mom. Mom inspires me each day that she faces with courage, strength, and the willingness to rebuild from her heartbreak. She has inspired me with a lifetime of compassion, consideration, selflessness, and caring.
Thank you, Mom. I love you.