09/27/20

Forever Friends: Leaving a Legacy of Learning and Love

Friends Sylvia Patzlaff (left), Chris Clarke Epstein (middle) and me bed-dancing (instigated by Chris) at my first NSA Convention, 1987

One of my forever friends, mentor, colleague, instigator of all things creative and empowering, Chris Clarke-Epstein passed away on Friday from metastatic breast cancer. Whew. You think you can handle it and you should hold it together because that’s what she would do and want for you, and yet my walks are plodding and my heart hurts—for her, her family, for all of us who knew her and those who never will.

I know I’m writing a memoir here in this post and Chris would edit me for brevity but some moments, some lives, give and teach you so much, you ask for a one-time papal dispensation on word count.

Last Wish

I also know so many, many people are feeling as deeply as I am. Her leadership, reach, and impact on members of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and her local Wausau community are legendary. Our shared friends on Facebook number 319 and many have written such beautiful tributes and memories to Chris and I have loved reading all of them. If you didn’t know her, I hope you have a Chris in your life, and if you don’t, make it a priority to find one. And vote. Early if you can. One of Chris’s last wishes.

Along with the feelings of sadness, I’m equally grateful for all the life I was lucky to share with her and her family over the years, especially during the early growth of my speaking career and our leadership in NSA that gave me a life I never could have dreamed up on my own.

Big Sisters, Best Advice, Hardest Truths

Chris and I met at our local Wisconsin chapter back in the 1980’s. Wow, we were young and so excited to share our motivational messages and learn the speaking business. Similar to many of you, along the way Chris and I became close friends. She was the big sister I had always hoped for. She always had the best advice and sometimes the hardest truths, spoken with care and always with the intent to help me be a better me.

Chris celebrated me, encouraged me, made me laugh (including dancing on hotel room beds when we were conference roommates), lighten up, and step up, and cheered me on as we moved through NSA Chapter Leadership and into National leadership. She’s the one who whispered in my ear at a Wisconsin chapter meeting for board nominations, “Put your hand up. You’re ready. You can do this.” Two chapter presidencies followed.

“Yes, your decision is difficult for many reasons. So try this on: What is it that you most want and need? Decide for that and decide on a reasonable time to re-evaluate, let’s say, six months. And in between then, live that decision with your whole heart, no wavering or looking back, only forward until that future day arrives. Only then, evaluate and ask yourself, “Am I better off now than I was back then?” Likely you’ll be better off, but if not, you go back to the other choice or make a new one.”

Chris’s values, her belief in herself, and in me gave me the confidence to follow my heart and move to San Diego. Twenty-eight years later, it’s turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

A few months after moving to San Diego, 1992.
There is nothing like Big Talk on the beach with a best friend!

“Of course we’re here. Where else would we want to be but here!”
-Chris Clarke Epstein

My Mother, My Friend

After my mom died and while I was writing my book, “My Mother, My Friend,” Chris shared her stories and her mom JunieB with me. When the book came out, my first stop on the book tour was hometown Milwaukee at a Barnes & Noble where the most intimidating audience of family, high school and college teachers, and friends who had never seen me speak were coming. Chris and June drove four hours from Wausau and surprised me just before I was ready to go on with the biggest hugs and “You can do this.”

Chris, her mom JunieB, and me at my book signing, 2001

Happy Moments, Memories and Photos

As the years went on and our paths went in different directions, we didn’t connect as often but every phone call was as if no time had passed. Two summers ago I took her writing class and as always, her insights and edits made everything better. When her mom passed last January, Chris wrote on Facebook that she went through photos to remember her mom from her favorite memories and suggested that we not only do the same but that we remember to take the photos in those happy moments. I’m so glad I did. Over the past few days as I’ve been going through my photos, thinking about Chris, her fierce love, messages of lifelong learning, showing up, and embracing change, the words from an old Flavia card kept wandering into my mind. I finally looked it up. For those of you who knew Chris, I think you’ll agree that she was all of this and more…

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to a new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom. Some people make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. They stay in our lives for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.”

– Flavia
Mentors matter. These three women leaders (top/Leslie Charles, center/Chris Clarke-Epstein, right/Marilynn Semonick) mentored me through my speaking career.

Who is a Chris in your life? Do they know? I encourage you to write them an email or handwrite and send a letter, or better if you can, go visit them. Tell them what you’ve learned from them while you still have time. Chris would love that.

PS. And remember to vote. And vote early.

05/13/12

Mom, You’re the Real Hero in the Family. Happy Mother’s Day.

“Life is short, life is precious. Don’t wait, do it now.”
~ Mom

My mother showed me in words and actions that the greatest gifts we give each other are our presence and appreciation. Here’s a story from my book, My Mother, My Friend to help keep that in mind and celebrate Mother’s Day.

Mom, You’re the Real Hero In The Family

Last Photo with Mom

The phone rang at 2:40 a.m. I heard Jeanne’s voice, “Mary? Mom’s free now. She just took her last breath.”

“I’ll be right there,” I said.

The ten-minute ride to the house was filled with thoughts of regret, guilt and sadness. I was exhausted and had left the house at ten o’clock, kissing my mother good-bye and saying, “I love you.” I thought I felt her squeeze my hand ever so lightly.

Why didn’t I stay? I was glad that Eileen and Jeanne were there with her but I wanted to be there too when she left her body. I’ve always felt strongly about not wanting to die alone and wanting someone I love to be holding my hand when I die. I wanted that experience with her and yet, I never asked her what she wanted.

The house was lit up when I got there. Mom was still warm, but beginning to cool. Her skin was this odd shade of cream with a glow that still shines in my mind’s eye. I couldn’t take my eyes off her and wondered if her spirit was hovering about. Continue reading

09/11/11

When Lives Change in an Instant

On this 10th anniversary of 911, I was reminded of a letter written by the mother of a young woman who died on Flight 93 , which inspired me so much I wrote about it in my book Living with Enthusiasm. I’m reprinting here in the hope that it moves you as much as it did me.

Our Lives Can Change in an Instant

Acting from our values not only fuels our enthusiasm for day-to-day living, it also allows us to get through difficult times. Our lives can change in an instant, but how quickly we forget until a crisis hits. Knowing and acting from our values can see us through. I received an e-mail from a colleague in the days following September 11 that really brings this point home.

Hello friends:

A friend of mine who lives in San Diego was a victim to the tragedy in NY last week Tuesday. Her 20-year-old daughter was aboard flight 93 that crashed in PA. Below please find her words to the community. She has agreed to have the message spread to the world. Please pass this along so that her daughter Deora can be remembered. Thank you. Continue reading

05/9/09

15 Questions to Ask Your Mom on Mother’s Day
and the Nicest Thing You Can Say to Her


There is no such thing as a boring Mother; only boring questions.

Get better at asking more meaningful questions and you’ll find an entirely new person in your mother or anyone else you’ve labeled uninteresting.

When you ask your Mom deeper questions, you show her that you value her as a person in her own right. If she’s not accustomed to you being interested in her, she may be surprised, so I’ve listed a few easier questions to start with.

If she asks why you’re suddenly so interested, say something like, “I realize I’ve been so focused on my own life that I haven’t really taken the time to get to know you like I would a good friend. You’re important to me.” Bring the Kleenex and take the time to listen. You’ll be surprised at what you learn. (You can download the questions at the end of this post.)

  • What is one of your happiest memories?
  • What’s your favorite place in nature? Your favorite flower?
  • What’s one of the most meaningful gifts you’ve received?
  • What’s one of the most loving things someone has done for you?
  • What’s one of the most loving things you’ve ever done for someone?
  • What music, poetry, art, books, or movies have most inspired you and why?
  • What’s one of the best places you’ve ever traveled?
  • What’s one place you’d still like to visit and why?
  • What’s your favorite prayer?
  • If you had only 6 months left to live, what would you want to be sure to experience?
  • What are you most grateful for? Why? Count your blessings. Name 10.
  • What’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever done for yourself?
  • What’s the best compliment anyone has ever paid you?
  • What do you value most in yourself? What do you value most in me?
  • What contribution in your life are you most proud of?

The Nicest Thing You Can Say To Your Mother:

Mom, I love you because you…

Of all the comments I received from mothers I interviewed, the one request that came up over and over again was how much Moms want to hear “I love you.” When you can add specific reasons, memories, and details to your “I love you,” it strengthens your message and helps anchor good feelings in both of you.

If you really want to take Mother’s Day over the top, record your Mom’s answers and put them in a homemade printed book for you with pictures of the two of you. Give this book to her for her next birthday or just to perk up your next visit. Happy Mother’s Day.

If you like these questions, there are hundreds more in My Mother, My Friend, which focus on the 10 most important things to talk about with your mother:

  • Health
  • Aging
  • Money
  • End of Life
  • Self-image and Beauty
  • Resolving Conflict
  • Family Secrets
  • Intimacy and Men
  • Spirituality
  • Appreciation

Treat your Mother and Yourself to the Gift of Loving Memories.

Mother’s Day Special Package (any day is a good day to thank your mother)
* 2 soft-cover copies of My Mother, My Friend by Mary Marcdante (reg. $12/each)
* 1 mp3 digital download of a 60 minute live presentation by Mary on My Mother, My Friend (reg. $15)
* Plus a free bonus interview (mp3 download) with Mary on “Honoring Our Mothers.” (reg. $15)
Reg. $54 – save $19!
Only $35


My Mother, My Friend audio mp3 digital download

* 1 mp3 digital download of a 60 minute live presentation by Mary on “My Mother, My Friend”
Reg. $15.00
Only $9.95 (Enter coupon code md10)


Download a printable copy of 15 Questions to Ask Your Mother on Mother’s Day.

03/26/09

Four Critical Health Questions to Ask Your Mother

With Mother’s Day coming up on May 14, I just finished a podcast for a healthcare client on “Honoring Our Mothers.” The focus of the conversation is based on my book, My Mother, My Friend: The 10 Most Important Things to Talk About With Your Mother, and why it’s so important to honor your mother by talking to her about her health and yours.

A woman in one of my stress management seminars summed it up best:

“I never thought about my health until it was taken away. It wasn’t until I had a heart attack that I realized I had so much control over my own health. I started fighting like hell to live and found a new woman inside me – strong, brave, and determined to get well. When you lose your health, you lose everything. When you have your health you can do anything.”

In interviews with over 400 mothers and daughters and talking to thousands of women in my stress management and positive communication seminars, as well as dealing with the crisis of my mother’s diagnosis and death from ovarian cancer and my dance with cervical cancer (I’m a grateful, healthy 12 year survivor – get your HPV Test), I discovered there are four reasons why it’s so important for you to have the health conversation with your Mom, especially if she’s over 65 or currently has health problems:

  1. Unnecessary suffering and untimely death of Mom because no one knew there was a problem. Often in my interviews, I heard from a mother, “I don’t want to be a burden to my children.” Better a burden than laying in a coma or dead for 2 days because adult children were out of touch or appeared too busy Mom didn’t want to bother them.
  2. Prevention vs. Crisis Triage. Having a health conversation can often prevent the crisis and the additional negative stress that impacts not just Mom but you, your health, your family, work, and finances.
  3. Caregiving. Most adult children are not prepared to be caregivers to their Mom (or Dad) in the case of sudden illness or accident, yet it happens more than you think. Discussing health concerns and options before you need to isn’t always easy, but it is always wise.
  4. Access. For your sake. Women whose mothers died before they talked about health no longer had access to their medical history, which influences screenings and lifestyle choices.

To get you started, here are four critical health questions to ask your Mom:

  • What medications are you on and what are the dosages? Ask her to explain what the medications are for so that you both understand. If she can’t tell you, it’s time to help her be a better partner with her doctor and you. Someone besides her and her doctor need to know in the event of an emergency.
  • Who is your doctor and what is their phone number?
  • When was your last doctor’s appointment and when is your next one? (Annual checkup at a minimum. You too!)
  • May I go with you to your next appointment? Make the time. It could save both of your lives.

If you’d like access to twenty more critical health questions, as well as over 200 other questions on other important topics, and how to make these conversations easy, painless, and informative, you can get a copy of My Mother, My Friend at:

My Mother My Friend ebook

My Mother, My Friend soft cover copy

As my Mom Grace said, “Life is short, life is precious. Don’t wait. Do it now.”

Mary

PS. If you’d like a book label personally signed by me to you or to include as a gift, email me at mary (at) marymarcdante.com with your name and address and who to sign the book to and I’ll snail mail it to you.