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The Ultimate Lesson from My Ultimate Role Model

Ask any parent what they want most for their children, and you’ll likely hear a response along the lines of this: For them to be happy. Watch the ways they parent, however, and something different might come to mind, something like … For them to be successful. Or, For them to win in life.

There’s nothing wrong with those things. I want my children to be happy and successful and to win in life. But chasing those things ends poorly if the pursuit is missing the most important ingredient: Love. And that’s why I could stand at the front of St. Germaine Church in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and confidently say that the greatest gift my mother gave me and my sisters was love. It’s the greatest gift Sue and I could give our children, and the greatest gift any of us to give to those around us.

It was at St. Germaine Church that my parents introduced me and my sisters to our Creator, the embodiment of true love, and it was at St. Germaine Church that I delivered my mom’s eulogy last month. She was 85 when she passed away, and she lived a remarkable life that influenced many people, beginning with her children – me, Julianne, and Mary Jane. We are no more perfect than our mother, but she gave us the gift of love, and I believe that was the essential ingredient for each of us in experiencing success in life.

Success is a word that means different things to different people. It can look like excellence in sports, music, academics, or other areas of interest. It can look like a great job, a nice home, and a healthy bank account. It can look like adulation from the world around you. But I’m talking about a deeper success, one that produces joy in life regardless of the outcomes and the circumstances. And that type of success is rooted in the love we learned from our mother.

My mom, Josie to her friends, was a unique combination of rock-tough grit and self-deprecating humility. She modeled work ethic and self-sacrifice by doing her best with a positive attitude while working blue-collar jobs like picking vitamins on an assembly line or cleaning office buildings, all to help our family make ends meet. And she pushed her children to excellence, insisting that we put in the time and energy to do our best, whether it was with school work, social activities, or, in my case, practicing the trumpet and playing baseball.

But it was her love that had the greatest impact on us. I believe my mom and dad brought out the best in each other because they loved each other and demonstrated that love in the way they spoke to each other, treated each other, forgave each other, and encouraged each other. My sisters and I were the beneficiaries, because we got to witness that love in action. They made love the core ingredient of their parenting, and whatever success we’ve experienced in life is due in large part to that gift that our parents gave us.  

Thank you, Mom, for loving me the way you did. Just know I will do my best to honor you by passing it on to others.

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  1. Tim Bahr

    What a moving tribute. Sorry for your family’s recent loss but it sounds like the sadness is overshadowed by loving memories of a life well lived.

    Reply to Tim Bahr

  2. Steve Laposa

    Thanks for sharing Walt. I would have loved to sample your mom’s pierogies as I grew up with immigrants from Slavic countries.

    Reply to Steve Laposa

    1. Walt Rakowich

      Thank you, Steve, for giving it a read. And man, they were great!

      Reply to Walt Rakowich

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