Almost one year ago (11 months, 2 days) I sent the hardest email of my life on the heels of my mom, Maria Whelan’s sudden passing.
When she died the morning of June 10th, my world was shattered and I can report in the days, weeks and months since, I’ve worked hard and exhaustively in piecing myself back together.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and like other “first” holidays since losing my mom, I am bracing myself. But this one feels harder and more daunting that the others, because of course, it’s a day I would have otherwise spent celebrating her and how she shaped me and my sisters to be the women we are today. As this holiday approaches, I realized what I wanted most was to preserve her memory and legacy and sending this note is one way I came up with to do that.
Everyone’s grief journey is unique and there’s no right way. On my own journey, I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned to lean into the sadness. I’ve learned how to continue living my life keeping my mom at the forefront and I work every day to make her proud. I have pushed through the tears to tell stories about her, often laughing and crying at once. I have harnessed how she lived and worked and made major career decisions through the filter: “what would Maria do”? And it’s made me better.
I have also learned to lean on the support of others and I cannot imagine where I’d be today had it not been for the support of my colleagues, friends and Spool clients and partners. My gratitude cannot be adequately conveyed through an email, but it’s a start. Thank you to all who played a role in this.
When she died and as I worked (and still work) to process it, I promised myself to be intentional and to keep learning from her. Those who knew her, who worked with her, who learned from her and loved her are better for how their lives crossed with hers. And even though she is gone, I keep her spirit and the force-of-nature she was alive as best I can. So that in mind, I want to share some of her with you because even in her passing, we can keep learning and she can still make all of us better.
My mom created community wherever she was and saw in every person someone worthy of respect, a good joke and a great story.
She worked tirelessly to expand opportunity and happiness for as many people as possible.
Her professional life was important to her and she never apologized for her ambitions or her achievements (let alone her opinions).
She suffered no fools and was intimidated by no one.
My mom looked at everyone with the same eyes and expected those with privilege and power to care about those who have neither.
She was fierce, she was righteous, she was smart and she was funny and, she did it with gusto, hard work, partnerships and charm.
She made friends everywhere she went, she kept up with people and told them they mattered, made them laugh and gave them big, wonderful hugs.
She always paid forward her own professional success by meeting with anyone looking for advice or direction. Inevitably she encouraged everyone around her to be bold and go for it and you knew that she would support you along the way.
Her capacity for love was endless.
Her love of gossip, deep.
Her interests, quirky and specific.
Her spirit and laugh filled every room she entered.
She brought people together and demanded we all do better, especially in building a world where children are important and where they matter.
If you were to ask my mom about her greatest achievements, she would list me and my sisters, Ellen and Maeve. She raised us to be proud, to be kind, to be strong, to work hard and to laugh loud and often. She never placed on us any expectations or restrictions for who we should be so long as we were true to ourselves. She loved with great affection and delight and would often say she was most proud of her close friendship with each of us, and we shared that right back.
I hope however you spend this Sunday, celebrate the women and mothers we know, we love, we miss, we honor and we hope to be one day.
xCatherine Merritt, CEO at Spool