Teacher Not Preacher

Parent/Teacher Not Preacher

Three years ago on the summer solstice, I honored one of my mother’s dying wishes and planted her ashes beneath a flowering bush.  My mom died in October of 2014 and while I still miss her terribly, I find the ache isn’t as visceral, more like a dull throb I’ve gotten used to over time.

My mom grew up in South Philadelphia where everyone took public transportation so she never learned to drive.  When my parents married and moved to New Jersey she held firm, walking everywhere, that is, until I was 16 and she returned to work.  Now she needed a license and it had been 20-odd years since she’d been in the workforce  — two tough things to handle, especially at once.  Most people would have thought it too late or hard or scary to get their license at 43.  So did she, but what did that matter?  She wanted to help pay for her kids to go to college so she needed to go back to work, and if she needed to work, she needed to drive.  My favorite mom driving story:  we’re in the Sears parking lot about to get out of the car.  My sister and I are yelling at each other as we often did.  My mom is trying to ignore it as she often did, but it’s making her nervous as hell. We all get out of the car and start to head inside when we realize the car is still running, locked, with the keys inside.  As a new driver, my mom was mortified, but my sister and I thought it was hilarious.  We laughed about it while waiting for my dad to come with the spare keys to unlock the car and for years after that.


My mother epitomized dichotomies.  She was 110 pounds of unshakeable character and strong opinions which she often kept to herself.  She’d do anything for her kids and when my first marriage failed and I was about to have a baby, she moved in with me and helped me hold it all together (my dad had died years before).  She was an uber-mom before that was even in vogue.  She could also freeze you with a look, and as a kid, I learned to avoid that look by doing what she asked of me.  She wasn’t one to laugh easily, at least not until much later in life, but she appreciated simple pleasures and never took anything for granted.  While I turned out more like my Dad with his easy affability and spirit of compromise, I inherited my mom’s tenacity and strength, traits I’ve had to rely on many times over the years.  


When she 50, my mom was diagnosed with scleroderma, and it was her will that kept her going two decades longer than any doctor thought possible.  Even while her skin hardened, her opinions softened, and I watched her morph over time into a more flexible and open person in spite of, and maybe because of the scleroderma.  Rather than pity her lot, she embraced the challenge and doggedly pursued alternative therapy treatments, keeping whatever worked, discarding the rest.  I’m convinced this exercise gave her years more life then if she’d taken the prednisone the doctors were recommending from the outset.  Instead she chose acupuncture, NAET, shiatsu, massage, vitamin B therapy, aroma therapy, hypnosis, reflexology, and anything else that sounded promising.  Sometimes, I’d be the guinea pig, trying out a particular modality first as I did with acupuncture to see if she could handle it.  The experience changed the way I think about Eastern versus Western healing modalities forever. 

My mom’s scleroderma never stopped her from continuing her active role as my first teacher and still the best one I’ve ever had.  Here’s a few things she taught me, not necessarily in order.  It’s a list I rely on even more as I age and counsel my own kids:

  • say please;
  • and thank you;
  • always give your best;
  • use your words (not your fists, because “we are a non-hitting family”);
  • say what you mean and mean what you say;
  • if you don’t have anything to say, silence is a good thing – there’s already too much noise in the world;
  • take care of your sister;
  • respect your elders even when they’re wrong;
  • if you pay attention, you’ll always learn something;
  • family first.

It’s hard to say what I miss most about my mom.  Her companionship?  A given.  The fact that my kids will continue to grow, but she won’t be there to celebrate their victories and hold their hearts through their disappointments?  A tough one, especially since our youngest, her baby, graduates from high school next month.  Or that I no longer have her wisdom to draw on?  Selfishly, it just may be the last one.  Luckily, I took notes.

In Kabbalah, there are a series of three symbols representing the concept of “parent/teacher, not preacher,” meaning, a parents job is to teach their children the tools to get through life, but not dictate the kind of life they should live — leading by example.  My Roman Catholic mother totally embodied this concept, probably bucking the Church as she did; she gave us our religion, but never insisted we follow it.  Rather, she gave us choice in life, the ultimate freedom, by putting the clay in our hands and letting us to mold our worlds.  It was my supreme honor to be her child and I thank her every day for all her examples of strength and kindness and for her endless sacrifices.  


Miss you, Mom, oh so very much.  Happy Mother’s Day.

pjlazos 5.13.18

About Pam Lazos

writer, blogger, environmentally hopeful
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58 Responses to Teacher Not Preacher

  1. Sophia Ismaa says:

    I think this is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve ever read on WordPress. She sounds like she was a strong and gentle mother and a wonderful and exemplary human being and teacher. I am so sorry for your loss, even though your mother has gone, it seems you’ve kept her spirit and in that way, you’ll always have her forever.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. hilarymb says:

    Hi PJ – sorry I meant to come by earlier … but life is not easy here – not said on the blog … but it’s the way of the world. I too miss my Ma – but you’ve expressed so much here … and I’ve kept the post as a reminder for times ahead … thanks so much – just lovely. My Ma we took her ashes to Cornwall – her spiritual home and spread them in the Churchyard under the fuschia bushes overlooking St Michael’s Mount in Penzance Bay – which she always loved … thanks so much – this is wonderful – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Quirky Girl says:

    What a beautiful tribute. Your mother sounded like an incredible woman. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  4. delphini510 says:

    You have written such a lovely tribute and story about your mother. She comes through, strong
    and loving with a will that will carry through. A woman we could all love.
    I understand your loss and the pain that lingers, it will be replaced with the beautiful memories,
    although a longing will crop up often. Beautiful with the flowering bush.
    I did the same for my mother, one of her favourite.
    ~ miriam

    Liked by 1 person

    • pjlazos says:

      Aw, Miriam, thank you. 🙏 So often the important things in life give way to the trivial. It felt good to honor something that has so much meaning for me. Thanks for connecting. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  5. 4963andypop says:

    “my memories echo nearly every word” is what i meant to write. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 4963andypop says:

    Beautiful. I too lost my mom recently and memories nearly every word you write. How lucky we are to have had great moms!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Susan Scott says:

    Pam, I do not know how your post passed me by. But I am glad to now read it. Maybe a touch of synchronicity as my sister was here at my home for supper last night. She and her husband had flown in from Cape Town yesterday. We used a little of the time we had to talk about our mother, long gone but still alive in many ways. Your beautiful photographs are a tribute to her. We’re fortunate indeed in strong mother figures and will no doubt pass those qualities to our own children. I also feel sad that my mom never got to see her grandchildren growing up …

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Gosh, that was so beautiful, Pam. How wonderful that you had such a special Mom 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  9. My dad died in February 2014. I still feel this loss…well, you know I do. Your words knot my throat and fill my eyes. A beautiful tribute, Friend. xxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • pjlazos says:

      I wish I could offer hope of it getting easier, Jean, but the truth is that at every one of your kids’ life milestones you will mourn your parent’s absence. I still get random bouts of grief — they only last a few minutes — but my mom’s been dead three years and my dad’s been dead for 24 years! 😩So you just live with it, I guess, and turn to the pen when you need to. 🤓 They live on through the stories! ❤️
      Hope you had a happy Mother’s Day. 🌹

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A beautiful post; both words and photography

    Liked by 4 people

    • pjlazos says:

      Thank you so much!🙏

      Liked by 1 person

    • John casadia says:

      Pam, I have such fond memories of your parents. I’d often stop by to “chat” with them. I was always welcome. Loved seeing your mom in chruch. Loved just shooting the breeze with your dad. At swim meets he’d asked me who was a garentee win for us then get some sucker on the other team to bet him, often securing odds as well. He never lost a bet. I never got a cent of his winning. My favorite story is when Stacey cried cause you got a medal for swimming and she didn’t. He packed her in the car and drove her to Bridgeton Trophy. Told her to a medal, any medal, and he’d buy it. He added the medal wouldn’t be worth anything since she didn’t earn it. They got back in the car and drove home, without and medal. That was your Dad. I miss him and your mom. You and Stacey were blessed to have them as parents. . Johnj

      Liked by 6 people

  11. A beautiful tribute to your mother. I have not heard of that condition before and will have to look it up to understand it.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. A powerful and eloquent tribute to your mother, P.J. ❤

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Ally Bean says:

    Your blog post is an inspiring glimpse into a great teacher, who just happened to be your mother. I have never heard the teacher/preacher dichotomy before, but it is apt. I hope that the bush planted in tribute to your mother blooms forever.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Ken Dowell says:

    A lovely tribute. Kind of inspiring to read. We’d all do well to follow your mother’s list.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. KDKH says:

    You were very lucky; what a wonderful legacy she left.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. lindasschaub says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mom PJ. I felt sad as I read it as there were some similarities – my mom was strong willed and a fighter. She was hit by a car at age 11, in 1937, and spent the next four years in the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, and would undergo over 40 orthopedic operations over the course of her lifetime to repair the damage of a careless childish action of running out between two parked cars and being hit by one of them. The car’s headlamps tore her stockings and broke three ribs, but she had an underlying ear infection at the time, which three months later caused osteomyelitis to set in.

    I lost my mom in 2010 and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and what she meant to me. We were very close and there will always be a void in my life with her gone, especially as I have no family – she was all the family I had. My mom was cremated and her ashes were scatted in Canada, our homeland, even though we moved to the States in 1966, she was still very much a Canadian.

    It is difficult when the ads and stores are all about Mother’s Day … since I am not a mother, it is a day that cannot get over quickly enough for me.

    Thank goodness for photographs and memories – good memories, to carry us through.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. Beautifully said, PJ. I’m sure that this essay would have meant a lot to your mother.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. hilarymb says:

    Hi PJ – what a truly wonderful post … a delight to read – and one we could all read over and regularly over through our lives – so full of wisdom and good thoughts … amazing – I loved it … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 4 people

  19. Such a beautiful post Pam. Happy Mother’s Day to you xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Liked by 2 people

  20. elisabethm says:

    Lovely post ❤️ A fitting tribute to your mother!

    Liked by 4 people

  21. carolynmcb says:

    What a great tribute to your mother, and wonderful life lessons, too. *hugs*

    Liked by 3 people

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