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A Mother's Final Gifts: Courage and Chutzpah



I buried my mother a week ago. I knew this day would come yet it was way too soon.

Last August, she was diagnosed with leukemia, and the worst kind.

GG, as she was called, had two goals, and was uncharacteristically direct with her doctor the day she was diagnosed: “I have a grandchild coming (my second daughter), and a wedding to attend (her grandson’s), and you’re going to help me get there,” she said, leaning her head close in to his and pointing at him.  My Mom abhorred pointing.

I thought to myself, “That’s what I call determination.”

I would come to find out how determined my Mom could be.

I always thought I was a courageous person.  Some day I hope to have half the courage she had.  The Yiddish word is chutzpah, which is defined as gall, brazen nerve, incredible guts.  That fits Mom well.

How might the workplace be with a little more chutzpah?  With more courageous conversations? I firmly believe there’s more courage inside each of us than we might even think, and how powerful it would be to tap some of that – for our benefit and the benefit of others:

  • To ensure senior leaders hear the truth, even when the news is bad
  • To take the high road when a co-worker acts in a passive-aggressive way
  • To be more direct in our feedback with others, because the people around us need feedback to be better
  • To do what’s right, even when it means ending a relationship or losing business

These are the actions that speak to the essence of who someone is.  And many of us have these defining moments regularly.

The choice is ours. The easy path or the one that requires a little chutzpah?

In the words of my 2½-year-old, “I promise to remember GG.” 

Me, too.  There’s much to remember, and then there are the parts of her that are in me forever.  These last lessons were some of the most powerful and important.  And that’s the greatest gift of all.

What courageous conversation do you need to have?

--David Grossman


David, this is a beautiful tribute to your mother. I am so sorry for your loss. Certainly we can all use a bit more chutzpah in the workplace.
Posted @ Thursday, October 25, 2012 10:36 AM by Nancy Lewander
Thanks for sharing this personal reflection, David, and many sympathies from me and my family for the loss of your mother. I have a very similar story, in that my mother showed me her mettle as she stared down and rejected dialysis treatment in favor of living a freer but shorter life. I stood at her graveside and realized she had left me the largest legacy she could: a commitment to live fully and boldly and to waste no time. Thanks again for reminding us what matters.
Posted @ Thursday, October 25, 2012 10:46 AM by Bruce Campbell
I'm sorry for your loss. You, and what you do, is proof of what a great person and teacher she was.
Posted @ Thursday, October 25, 2012 11:04 AM by Tom Smith
It must have been difficult writing the article. I am sorry to hear of your loss.  
Determination. Chutzpah. I would also call what your mother said as unstoppable love for you and her family. Now we will all remember GG.
Posted @ Thursday, October 25, 2012 2:33 PM by Frank Lio
Hi, David. How wonderful to have such a life-affirming legacy from your mother. Mine happens to be suffering from lukemia, too, and a host of other things. She grew up in Italy during WWII and talk about tough as nails - along with a level of integrity and humility that I could only hope to emulate. If you want to probe more into the issue of courage in the workplace, you might want to check out a woman by the name of Cindy Solomon. Her main gig is on helping organizations create a culture of courage. I saw her speak at a conference about 1 1/2 years ago, and she blew me away - not easy to do, as you know. Here's her web address http://www.cindysolomon.com/speaking/creating-a-culture-of-courage. If you contact her, tell her hi for me. My best, Les
Posted @ Thursday, October 25, 2012 4:50 PM by Les Landes
Powerfully beautiful, your Mom and your thoughts. I'm so sorry for your loss, David. 
Posted @ Friday, October 26, 2012 7:25 AM by Tony D'Angelo
A wonderful tribute David.
Posted @ Friday, October 26, 2012 11:22 AM by Nancy Erlien
My sympathies, David. I eulogized my mom this past March with the lessons of life she shared through her actions every day. Thanks for honoring her with your words and enduring love.
Posted @ Sunday, October 28, 2012 9:31 PM by Shawn Kahle
Sincere condolences, David. Thank you for the (and her) reminder to have important courageous conversations!
Posted @ Tuesday, October 30, 2012 7:55 AM by Nancy Schubert
David: Very nice piece. Your mom was an incredible lady and I always enjoyed her company. She embodied positive energy and character and leaves a legacy of spirit, including chutzpah, for generations to come!  
Posted @ Tuesday, October 30, 2012 8:52 AM by Elie Zarem
David, yasher koach to you on this blog entry. I wish we could have held off sharing powerful final lessons from our respective mothers. Now they're probably k'velling together over all the grandchildren!! Your mother always had smiles, warmth, and love to share. She will be missed dearly. You honour her well.
Posted @ Tuesday, October 30, 2012 9:07 AM by Avie Zarem
David, I agree that your reflections on your mother are powerful. Better still is that fact that her life and her communication led your to an important message that if heeded will leave the world a better place. 
I'd just been thinking along the lines of your post. My thought was that most problems we live with (often passively) are communication problems. You're list challenges us to communicate actively to diminish or even wipe out many of the problems we are dealing with. Each item in your list is on target. The wise among us will heed your words. 
In this, your mother will be honored; our environments will run more smoothly. 
Again, most problems--even arguments--are the result of poor or even lazy communication.
Posted @ Tuesday, October 30, 2012 10:21 AM by Reva
I know the difference in "you're" and "your." Somehow these errors show up best when published. ;-(
Posted @ Tuesday, October 30, 2012 10:23 AM by Reva
Thank you for sharing your tribute David - and sincere condolences for your profound loss. I lost my own wonderful mother last year, but take great comfort in using the lessons she taught me in life and in work every day. One of her favourite expressions was: "Tell it how it is." If only more people did.
Posted @ Sunday, November 04, 2012 4:56 PM by Victoria
Beautiful photo. Beautiful words.
Posted @ Friday, November 09, 2012 11:02 AM by Chris Jensen
David, I send my my condolences for the loss of your mother. AND my congratulations on a new family member! Here's to courageous conversations. You had a wonderful mentor in your life.
Posted @ Wednesday, November 14, 2012 11:09 AM by Stephen Starr
David, a beautiful story about the cycle of life. I hope your daughters inherit your mom's chutzpah. Thank you for sharing and reminding us what's important at home and at work. -Allison
Posted @ Wednesday, November 14, 2012 11:30 AM by Allison Bunin
David--thinking of you on the birth of Noa and on the loss of your Mother. We all need to remember to embrace the fragility of life--both in its beginning and end and honor those we love by living fully with passion and grace...and a lot of chutzpah! Thank you for sharing this tribute and important life lessons. Hugs to you!
Posted @ Wednesday, November 14, 2012 11:37 AM by Amy Ritter Cowen
Taking the bitter life lessons and making them sweet, that's character. Your mother taught you well. You're teaching your children well. That's a beautiful legacy.
Posted @ Wednesday, November 14, 2012 12:36 PM by Lore McManus Solo
You shared this story at the IABC conference in Ottawa, and I was very touched. It's a great lesson. It actually hit close to home. I accompanied my dad in his fight against cancer six years ago, and I was so impressed by his courage, even in the last few days. Thank you for sharing your story!
Posted @ Wednesday, November 14, 2012 1:09 PM by Lucie Frigon
A beautiful tribute to your beloved mother. Thank you so very much for sharing and reminding us about the truly important matters in life.
Posted @ Thursday, November 15, 2012 11:48 AM by Lisa Acheson Luther
David, I am so sorry for this tremendous loss in your life. But how fortunate you are to have had a mom who was strong, courageous and a bold communicator through it all. And what a blessing that she got to know your beautiful girls! Here's wishing your family peace and strength through this difficult time -- and please know that many thoughts and prayers are with you. 
Posted @ Thursday, November 15, 2012 2:09 PM by Maureen Jenkins
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