A death in the family

My mom, as a teenager. She always loved to sing and dance!

This blog has always examined the intersection of marketing, technology, and humanity. But I’ve also paused now and then to share extraordinary experiences and events in my life. I’m a teacher. So there are lots of teachable moments that come from my life experience. Today is one of those days.

Last week I had a once-in-a-lifetime event. My mother Mary Ann Scnalon Schaefer passed away, at the age of 84.

What does this have to do with marketing? Nothing, other than I don’t feel like doing any of that business thinking in this moment. I am writing out my thoughts to process feelings. Today I’ll lean into the humanity part a little more. After 3,000 blog posts here on {grow}, my mom deserves at least one of them.

Her story

I gave the eulogy at my mom’s funeral. I told stories about how she loved to be on the stage. From the time she was a young girl until her late 70s, she was singing and dancing in some type of community theater show. But no matter what role she performed in the world — wife, daughter, sister, or mother to six children — she put everything she had into it.

She never complained, never seemed to need “me time.” She just kept plowing forward with boundless energy. Although she was married to my dad, in many respects she was a single parent with the responsibility to feed us, clean us, get us to our school events, and keep us out of trouble. I have no idea how she did such a good job amidst that chaos!

Mom did not live a luxurious life but I think it was a contented one. That’s not a bad goal, is it?

In a world of constant social media jealousy over the best body, foodie experience, vacation, etc., mom took pleasure in playing cards with friends, crafts, a nice sandwich, a good book, and occasionally feeding quarters into a slot machine. Simple things.

Is anybody happy with simple things any more?

Over the past year, mom faded away with liver and kidney failure. A week before she died, she was still shuffling her skeletal body around, cleaning the house and folding laundry. When I offered to do this for her, she said, “I have to keep moving. I have to get better.” She was the ultimate caregiver, and she was tough.


There was nothing to be done to extend my mom’s life in a comfortable way. Over the past few months, we watched her fade away. She lost 40 pounds in four months. The disease won, and she was too weak for operations or other treatments. We had to let her go.


There seemed to be so many dropped balls when it came to her treatment. So much confusion between doctors. Miscommunications. I have a lot of questions about why certain treatments weren’t started earlier. Most of the decisions about my mom’s treatment had to be made by a sister who lived nearby. Thank goodness she was able to navigate through the confusion.

But why did it have to be so confusing?

One lesson is that we all have to be on top of our own health. Don’t just listen to one doctor.


We knew my mom had a few months to live, so I had backup plans for my keynote speaking and work schedule. Still, we had no warning her death would come so quickly.

At the end, my mom had a normal day and even played cards for a little while with friends. She talked on the phone with family members and made dinner for my dad.

Within 24 hours, she slumped in her favorite chair, unresponsive. She was rushed to the hospital for the last time.

I was scheduled to fly to Romania to deliver a keynote address. I canceled all plans and rushed to my mom’s home in West Virginia. I offered a back-up speaker to the event organizers and gratefully, they were very kind and understanding about my situation. This was the first professional speaking or consulting assignment I had missed in my life.

When I entered the hospital room, my sister warned me that the sight would be difficult. The hospital administered a morphine drip to ease her into death. Was any part of her still there? My sister said a tear ran down my mother’s face when she was in the hospital bed. We talked to her, prayed over her, played her favorite songs by Josh Groban.

It was painful to see the final stages of death. I will never get that picture out of my head. I hope she knew I was there.


Throughout this process, I had comfort knowing that my mom knew the Lord, loved her church, and would be with God in heaven. She’s probably singing and dancing once again. On an intellectual level, I know I need to embrace death as part of everyone’s life journey.

And yet, nothing can prepare you to lose the person who has been with you since your first moment of life. It is disorienting to navigate around this permanent hole in my life. I’m writing this weird post because it is the ONLY thing I can write at the moment. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Of course when death announced itself, it prompted introspection about my own life and mortality. I counted back from my mom’s age … how many years left for me?  And I was reminded that looking through the lens of death makes my life today more precious and beautiful.

I was reminded of this quote from psychologist Abraham Maslow. He had a heart attack and narrowly missed death:

The confrontation with death — and the reprieve from it — makes everything look so precious, so sacred, so beautiful that I feel more strongly than ever the impulse to love it, to embrace it, and to let myself be overwhelmed by it. . . . I wonder if we could love passionately, if ecstasy would be possible at all, if we knew we’d never die.

Since 2009, I’ve written more than 3,000 blog posts for you, my dear readers. I suppose this one was for me and my mom. Thanks for obliging me. I’ll get back to business soon.

Mark Schaefer marketing predctionsMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.



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