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Webster’s Dictionary defines matriarch as “a woman who is head and ruler of her family and descendants; an elderly woman who dominates her family or associates; an old woman of great dignity.”

Growing up in a single-parent family with my mother working six days a week to support us, there was never very much time left in the day for communication about life in general. I was very content with my opinions, and as a teenager I was sure I had all the answers.

As the years passed and I found myself a young married woman with three children, I noticed that my calls to my mother increased. The conversation flowed easily, and we were able to connect in a way that I never knew possible. Her calm and reassuring manner was like salve to my soul as we talked about everything from toilet training to teenagers.

Where had all this wisdom come from?

She was my best cheerleader, encouraging me and always reminding me that the years will pass quickly and to relax and enjoy the time with my young family. She always said, “If you look forward 20 years, it seems like a long time; if you look back 20 years, it’s gone in the blink of an eye.”

As my children grew and began their own families, I noticed that my mother always stayed current in their lives and made many special moments to spend time with them. She was determined to be available for her 12 grandchildren. I watched and paid close attention as I saw them seek out “mi mi” for advice.

As life progresses quickly, too soon, my mother was facing her elderly years. I remember worrying about how frightening life would be without her and all her wisdom. As I spent time with her in her final days, I remember studying her beautiful face, trying to memorize every line, and especially her twinkling Irish eyes. My mother was leaving me. How would I ever be able to assume the role of “matriarch”?

She has been gone 14 years, and I still miss her every day, but I receive many phone calls from my family to talk about their day, and to get my opinion on subjects still familiar to me from my talks with my mother.

On a recent day, with my young grandchild in my lap, asking many questions about flowers, nature, religion and love, I heard a tiny voice say, “Grandma, how did you learn all these things?” I smiled to myself as I thought “lessons learned,” the torch has been passed.