34 -ly Words to Live and Die By
Wisdom To Go from My Mom
My mom made this list of 34 words, “Adverbs for the Verb ‘To Go’” around September 1, 2012. She gave it to me the morning that I was getting ready to drive to Seattle from her and Dad’s home in Palisade, Colorado, moving for my new job with the Center for Courage & Renewal.
I had just returned from Boston, having gone with my sister to deliver my son, Wil, to his first year of college. I had cried pretty much every day of August about the end of an era, the impending empty nest after letting go of my only child as he went off to school. The summer my sister graduated from college, in 1986, I went to Boston for a magazine internship. Mom had waited until Jenene and I both left before having surgery that would confirm she had stage four ovarian cancer which had already metastasized to her abdominal aorta. She was told she had six months to live, but she never told us. She insisted we go on living our lives. She lived fully for 34 more years. When I counted up the years and the list of words today, I noticed 34 each.
The -ly words Mom gave me felt like her way of creating a magical blessing to protect me on my way into a new life far away. Like Demeter releasing Persephone into the Underworld, she gave me these adverbs to guide my heart’s actions on “how” to live that new life. I happened to find her list of words again last May, serendipitously, four days after she entered hospice care at home. I went looking for them again on November 9, intentionally, when her breathing indicated she was actively dying. What prompted me was seeing an excerpt from a new David Whyte poem posted on Facebook in a group about the heroine’s journey. That poem is called, “You Know When It’s Time to Go” from his newest book, Still Possible.
Even in the midst
never be ready
you have never
the comforting illusion
that you never had
a single speck
your silent reluctance away,
lifted your ear
to the morning
out the door,
down the road
round the corner
and on your way.
As I sit with her handwritten list today, I look for clues to her rare brain disease (Posterior Cortical Atrophy), as if the few misspellings foreshadowed her loss of ability to write. Instead I see her thought process as a mom and grandma preparing her own empty nest as one daughter and her only grandson go to opposite coasts, leaving her landlocked in between. I see her thoughts go from “Nearby” to “Near-ly” and knowing it’s now “About” needing L-Y’s.
Nearby, if you can't be, what's…
Nearly as good?
Immediately, as in today.
Lazily, the way to approach a morning of journal writing.
Humbly, the way to approach knowing you don’t know what’s best, not always or at least not yet.
Fervently, the way to love and trust.
Purposely, the way to find your own way.
Languidly, the way to soak up the sun and the beauty around you, as you go merrily down the stream.
Energetically, her first misspelled word, or perhaps poetic license, a reminder of all that we’ve learned about energy medicine and good juju.
Bravely, as with all good adventures.
Confidently, the way Maria von Trapp would go, as in fake it ‘til you make it, singing strongly all the way.
Swimmingly, going with the flow like one of Mom’s favorites, Esther Williams, in a Hollywood aqua-extravaganza with synchronized swimmers wearing smiles and floral swim caps.
Courageously, the way I’d be learning to go in my new job writing the book I didn’t even know yet would be coming.
Curiously, the way to learn humbly.
Happily, the way all mothers wish for their kid(s) to live fully.
Openly, the way to keep your heart broken but light-filled.
Gustily, as in going with gusto and as the wind blows, as with Mary Poppins’ approach and departure.
Funnily, the way to not take yourself or life too seriously.
Quietly, the way to listen and observe, often called gracefully.
Imaginatively, her second misspelling, cleanly corrected with one slant-mark of her pen. If you can imagine that it’s okay to make mistakes, you must live with imagination as top of your list, second column. It may have been the fifth word she wrote down, not the twentieth.
Gratefully, as in always invoke gratitude daily.
Rhythmically (I can never spell rhythm without thinking hard), as in honor the seasons, the beat of your drum. And find music you’re willing to dance to, if only in the privacy of your own living room.
Secretly, as in dancing like no one is watching or judging, know what to keep secret like a prayer (thanks, Terry Tempest Williams for that idea).
Consciously, the way to stay aware and awake with integrity.
Lovingly, always, the word where in turquoise ink she signed off, “jo MoMa”, meaning my mama.
Carefully, the way to take good care of True Self and others lovingly, like how she painted “Mind Your Head” so as you step down to the cellar you don’t bump your noggin again.
Joyously, also a mother’s big wish for finding your true bliss to follow.
Breezily, carefree when you can, staying aware of what the winds bring when they change their direction.
Easily (aw, my rhyming mama), suggesting you lighten your load with the ease of a breeze.
Alternately, the way to recognize the choices you have to change direction as needed. You can always choose a new way.
Freely, as in choice and Free Will that acknowledge consequences.
Restfully, as in remember to rest fully because moms know how we like to work hard.
Flawlessly, the way to believe your flaws make you imperfectly perfect, so don’t go seeking perfection.
Playfully, the final word and challenge to keep this approach in your heart at all times. Be playful whether you’re stacking stones, seeking seashells, or seeking solace in play. The best word you could receive from a kindergarten-goddess-wise-woman mother.
I’ve never sat with her words to this depth to glean her full meaning, having only glanced it over, soaking them into my subconscious. Back in 2012, I was probably too excited to get under way on my road trip to my new life, or afraid of too many tears that might stop me from going at all.
A long time ago I read writing advice by Stephen King in which he proclaimed words ending in -ly were superfluously useless. I became an overly fanatic editor, aiming to avoid using all -ly words to attain the cleanest, clearest sentences possible. Sometimes I can go overboard with beliefs that leave no room to wiggle.
Finding Mom’s list of adverbs for the verb “to go” reminds me to reclaim -ly words, like reclaiming your values for how you want to go through life.
I recently found a lot of ly’s in my Magnetic Poetry pile. Soon after, I realized my name ends in LY, as if to remember I must live my own life “the Shelly way.”
From May to November, Mom showed us how to live fully while dying. I see now how she embraced all her adverbs intentionally, habitually. Since surviving cancer at age 43, she lived the next 34 years, seven weeks, two days, and 164 minutes most joyfully, lovingly, even playfully. She lived gracefully, died peacefully, and resides beautifully in my heart, where I am eternally gratefully glad she was/is my mom.
#REFLECT: What -ly words do you want to live by, live with or live into? Maybe start keeping a handwritten list, thoughtfully, creatively, artfully, daily.