Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 20, Issue No. 8c
January 16, 2022
By Dan Coughlin
I don’t really like the term “passed away.” I don’t think a person ever “passes away” because the person’s impact lives on in the people he or she influenced for the rest of their lives, and then continues on in the lives that those people impact. I prefer the term “went to his or her slice of heaven.” That implies that their soul lives on.
Today, January 15, 2022 at 4 AM my mom, Laura Coughlin, went on to her slice of heaven. She was 93 years old.
I want to share a few thoughts about Mom. Since I’m an extroverted extrovert this might take a while.
The Five Forces in Mom’s Life
When I reflect on my mom’s life, I can see that five forces drove her thoughts, words, and actions. They were, in no particular order, Family, Catholicism, Education, Ireland, and Standards. Here are a few of my thoughts on each of them.
Mom essentially dedicated her life to her family: her husband, six children, and eleven grandchildren. Mom did not work outside of the home. Sometimes people think that people who are stay-at-home parents don’t really work. Oh my gosh, they are totally wrong. In thinking about how hard my mom worked as a mom the numbers become absolutely mind-boggling.
Mom had her first child in November 1955 and her last child in April 1969. That means she had at least one child in her house from 1955 until 1987, and really until 1991 if you count summer breaks from college.
We rarely ever went out to dinner, and Mom cooked every breakfast and dinner. That means she made at least 35,000 meals in her lifetime, and that’s probably way too low. And oftentimes that was for 8 people.
In 1973 alone all 8 of us were in the house together every day. I’m guessing that was at least 3 loads of laundry every day. That would be over 1,000 loads of laundry just in that one year. So I’m going to guess that mom did more than 35,000 loads of laundry in her lifetime, and again that might be way, way too low.
And Mom drove us to endless sports and music practices. She listened to countless stories about teachers and friends. And she organized weed-pulling, bathroom tile cleaning with a toothbrush, and floor polishing activities for her kids to do on a regular basis. 😊
And after we all left home Mom was still very, very involved in the conversations of what we are all doing as adults, and she was very animated and excited with every grandchild. There are many, many stories that they can tell.
And Mom took care of my dad every day in 2008 and 2009 when he was suffering from Dementia with Lewy Bodies, which eventually took his life in March 2009. And really she took care of him long before that when he was dealing with the early effects of the disease. She was amazing for my dad. They were married for 54 years.
Mom and Dad were extraordinary exemplars of being Catholic. While Dad went to 6 AM mass every day before going to work, Mom was saying the Rosary every day. The very last thing we did the night before she died was we said several Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s by her bedside. As we said the Hail Mary, I kept looking at Mom’s face. Somehow I think Mom and Mary had a special connection. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen” Whenever I say that prayer from now on, I will think of you, Mom. Please pray for me now and at the hour of my death.
Mom was also very close to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. During particularly tough times, Mom would do Novenas. These are spiritual devotions of the recitation of a set form of prayer for nine consecutive days. If we were dealing with a really big challenge, Mom would say, “I will do a Novena for that.” And she did. Every time.
I think Mom’s favorite Catholic saint was St. Jude. St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. Whenever we lost something at our house, Mom would say, “Now let’s all say a prayer to St. Jude to help us find it.” Since my middle name is Jude, I often joked with Mom by saying, “Mom, when you named me Jude, did you think I was a lost cause or did you think I was going to help lost causes?” She always smiled, but never answered. Then we would both laugh.
Mom was serious about our education. Very serious. She and Dad never went to college, and so their major dream was that all six of us kids would get a college diploma. Perhaps the most mind-boggling thing she and Dad did on a very small income was to send all six of us kids to parochial grade schools, private high schools, and private universities. While we did get great financial aid, there still was a lot of tuition payments that had to be made over a 30-year period. I have no clue how they pulled that off, but I do know they sacrificed a mountain of material things in order to make it happen.
But even more than the money they invested in us, the real differentiating factor was the level of sustained focus Mom placed on us in doing our homework. In high school I regularly did four hours of homework a night. I would get home from soccer practice late, and Mom had a plate of dinner for me. I ate, took a shower, and went and did my homework until 11 PM or so. This was not unusual for any of the six of us kids to do that.
Mom, and Dad, believed that education was THE key factor to opening doors and getting opportunities. I don’t remember exactly what I learned in all of those classes, but the habit of focusing for hours at a time on a reading or writing or presentation assignment has stayed with me to this day. Thank you, Mom, for all of the encouragement on all of those late, late nights.
I think the single best advice Mom ever gave me was to take on challenges. She said to me many times, “Danny, go do it. You’ll learn something, and it will help you.” She said that to me many times over a 50-year period. She didn’t care about the result or how much money I was going to make. She wanted me to learn something because she knew that whatever I learned would eventually help me in some way. Wow, Mom, you were so, so right about that one. Thank you for encouraging me to be a life-long learner and teacher.
To say that Mom was proud of being Irish would be the understatement of the century. Probably 90% of all the gifts I gave Mom for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and her birthday over the last 45 years had something to do with being Irish. If I was only allowed two words to describe Mom, they would be, Irish Catholic. St. Patrick’s Day was like a national holiday in our house. We would wear green from head to toe.
In 1980 we moved to a different house. In the basement there was a space that perfectly encapsulated Mom. To the left of the washing machine and dryer, there was a painting of Jesus. About 12 feet from the washing machine was the desk that I did my homework on in high school, which Mom bought at a rummage sale for $25. I’m typing this tribute on that desk right now. And hanging on the wall in our basement were three large maps of Ireland. That’s how serious she was about Ireland.
Mom LOVED being Irish. Her parents both came over from Ireland to St. Louis when they were under 20 years old. Looking back on it now, I really think my own focus on being independent in my work comes from hearing Mom talk so much about how important it is for Ireland to remain independent. Growing up we heard daily about the wars going on in Ireland, and how Ireland would do anything to remain independent. Mom was very independent. No one ever controlled her. She said what she thought. Simple as that.
I know for sure that Mom and Dad, who went on to his slice of heaven in 2009, are talking about Ireland right now.
Mom never placed financial goals on any of us. She never talked about titles or industries or types of work that we had to do. However, she had very, very specific standards that she expected us to live up to.
“Danny, stand up straight and pull your shoulders back. Don’t slouch over.”
“Do your homework.”
“Don’t ever use foul language.”
“Do your best at whatever you’re doing.”
In our house growing up there were no dirty jokes told or foul language used. Mom kept a close handle on what we were allowed to watch. Mom had very specific standards, and she literally would tell me to straighten up all the way until the week she died. The last coherent sentences I heard Mom say to me were, “I love you” and “Be very careful.” Then she said something after “Be very careful” but I couldn’t understand it. I’ll always wonder what she wanted me to be very careful about.
Mom didn’t tell us kids what we wanted to hear. She told us what she felt we needed to hear. And she never held back in sharing her honest opinion with us.
For the past 25 years I’ve been an executive coach where I’ve worked with executives in Fortune 500 companies and business owners. I give them advice on a very wide range of topics. I never worked in a business until I started my own business. I didn’t even have a business card when I started. I just wanted to help people achieve whatever goals they wanted to achieve. I listened to their situations, and then we worked together to figure out a solution.
A question I often get asked is, “How in the world can you coach executives if you have no background in business?”
I usually tell them I was a teacher and a coach early in my career and I’ve read hundreds of books and that’s how I’m able to do it.
However, my secret answer is, “You never met my mom.”
Mom was the original executive coach. Her clients were her six kids. She never went to college, but she had more wisdom than all six of us combined. And she would give us her wisdom for free whether we asked for it or not.
For example, all of her life she wrote handwritten letters of encouragement and advice to all of us. I learned that from her. After every single executive coaching session for the last 25 years and I’ve had over 4500 of those, I’ve written a letter to the person offering my suggestions and advice. I learned that from you, Mom. I’m honest with my clients. I don’t tell them what they want to hear. I tell them what I think they need to hear. I learned that from you, Mom. I tell adults when I think they use too much foul language. I learned that from you, Mom.
One more thing that Mom taught me.
Mom taught me over and over to treat every single person the exact same way. She said to me over and over, “Danny, you are as good as anyone out there, but you are no better than anyone else. Don’t ever be intimidated by anybody, and don’t ever treat anybody as being less than you are.”
We are all children of God. Every human being deserves to be treated with the same degree of respect in a loving, kind, caring, dignified, and positively-affirming way. Every single human being deserves that from all of us.
I learned that from you, Mom!!
I love you soooooooo much, Mom. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you did for me.
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