Near daily they came to see her.
I admired as they sat and visited, never missing a week, spreading out their schedules so that her days were never fully alone.
About the time their visits ended, mine began, which meant I often heard their most peculiar goodbyes.
This 92-year-old woman who was consistently fashioned in lavender blouses and slacks was a resident in a skilled nursing facility in which I worked as an occupational therapist.
We were on opposite ends of life, mine just beginning and hers with thick, deep chapters. Beyond her wrinkles was wisdom. Behind her eyes, there was depth and an ageless soul.
One day she told me something that changed the way I loved myself, and it eventually became a guide for how my children would learn to love themselves, too.
Valuable Parenting Lesson
At the end of my shift, and during one of our last visits, I wheeled her into her room and my eye moved past her to a framed picture.
She followed my gaze and smiled. “This is a picture of me, much younger of course. Wasn’t I a beauty? It’s interesting when you become older. People look at you and forget that you were once young. They forget that there is a full life here - an accumulation of every age. The foolish ones remain blind and the wise ones listen.”
And that’s what I did. I listened.
I listened as she shared about running away from a hostile home at the mere age of fifteen.
I listened as she told me her love story, how she met the man of her dreams, and about their marriage.
I listened as she told me about her transition to motherhood and her vow to do things differently than were done to her.
She said, “When you were treated as I was treated as a child, you forget that you are worthy. You forget that you matter. When I became a mother, all that I knew was that my baby mattered and that I would spend every day telling her so. And I did.”
Suddenly, it all made sense. As each of her current-day visits came to a close, she and her family always exchanged the same familiar words. “I love you and I love me too.”
Even her great and great-great-grandchildren.
They all said it to one another.
“I love you and I love me too,” she explained, “was something that I started without much thought. I would soothe my baby’s cries while rocking in our chair and say it. In the morning. Before bed. As she learned to crawl. To walk. As she grew … until she was grown. It just became our thing. And, as you can see, each generation has passed it on.”
She shared that when she was little, she just wanted to know that someone loved her. Motherhood was her bridge. “Funny thing. While I started this little saying for my children, I benefited just as much. Piece by piece I came back to myself. It was like my body finally accepted the words one day, you know?”
Internalizing The Lesson
While Deloris is no longer with us, her words have never left me.
Fast forward several years and I too have rocked my baby in our chair and nuzzled him close to whisper, “I love you and I love me too.”
My son is now five and fluidly offers, “I love you and I love me too, mama.”
I never realized how one conversation could affect me so deeply. Deloris’ words have not only touched her lineage, they’ve touched mine.
Far too often, we become conditioned to self-abandon who we are. We fear we aren’t enough. It feels scary to set boundaries and take up space and shine our light. But each time I connected with my son in this way, I connected with myself too. It was like a remodel to my self-worth and self-image.
What a remarkable thing to model for our children. That loving ourselves and another is not mutually exclusive. That we can turn the verb inward. We can love someone and love ourselves. Both parties of the relationship are valuable.
Loving isn’t just something we do. It is who we are. And this one little phrase has not only changed the child within me, but it has set a foundation for my sons.
Thank you, Deloris.
I am so glad that I listened.