Minnie’s Axioms: My Mother as Role Model for Living Well

Light streamed in the tall-paned windows that opened to a vista of woodlands. The small New England church was filled with my mother’s friends, gathered to celebrate her remarkable life. They knew her from the many roles she played in civic and church affairs during her 91 years living in the same small town.

My sister and I approached the lectern, acknowledging the many caring faces as we smiled and began our eulogy. Taking turns, and pausing for the knowing laughter that permeated the small sunny space, we read Minnie’s Axioms for Life.

  1. Put something aside for a rainy day, but as soon as the sun shines, go to Greece.
  2. Never say no to an adventure. (At the age of 89, not a good swimmer and afraid to get her head underwater, she jumped off a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands.)
  3. Never stop learning.
  4. Work. (A friend described her as “the last old time Yankee in her work ethic”. At the age of 86 she helped him to dig a rock out of her garden that the Rototiller had been banging over for the last 25 years.)
  5. Never say no to an invitation, unless you’re in Greece, or China, or India, or Morocco, or Egypt, or Australia, or Ireland, or on a cruise through the Panama Canal, or in Los Angeles during the earthquake.
  6. Never complain.
  7. Always give everybody another chance.
  8. You can be anything you want.
  9. When life gives you clams, make clam chowder — and invite the neighbors over to share it with you.
  10. Never buy anything you don’t need. But if it’s on sale and you have coupons, buy 2 in the large economy size.
  11. Waste not, want not. Never throw anything away. (She was a recycler long before it was fashionable.)
  12. Never say no to dancing.
  13. There’s nothing like male companionship.
  14. Never say no to spending time with family.
  15. Never say no to spending time with others. How many of you have stopped in for a visit and heard her say “As long as you’re here, why not stay for dinner?” She could feed 20 with no advance preparation.
  16. Love the land. (She loved to garden.  Growing up on the farm, she always preferred to be outdoors working with her father, rather than doing housework.)
  17. Nobody’s going to remember you for having a clean house.

We ended our eulogy by recounting that whenever her friends talked with her, they would ask “Where’s your next trip?” We assured the congregation that she knew where her next trip would take her and she was at peace.

The exercise of drafting Minnie’s Axioms for Life made clear for me in a coherent way how she and her philosophy of life had been my role model for living well. Reflecting on her death I realized she was also a powerful role model for dying well.

Faced with lung cancer at the age of 90 she survived the surgery and rehabilitation in good spirits. But after being home for a short time she experienced difficulty breathing and was readmitted to the hospital. The next day, as my husband and I were visiting, she let her doctor know that if anyone needed her organs she was ready to go. Dr. Abraham laughed and told her she wasn’t ready to give up her organs yet! “I just want you to know that I am at peace and I’m ready to go,” she told him. “I understand, Minnie,” he knowingly smiled.

When she took a turn for the worse, her words became our guiding beacon. Less than eight hours after being transferred to a hospice facility, Mom died. Our tears had been shed when it had become clear she would die, that she would leave our lives forever. There were no tears now as she got her wish for a peaceful death on her terms.

I am often reminded that I am my mother’s daughter, especially when my 9-year old granddaughters tell their friends, teachers and anyone else who will listen that I am their “adventurous grandmother.” But Mother’s Day is a special occasion to reflect on Minnie’s Axioms, appraise how I am living my life, and stand in awe of my daughter and six granddaughters who will carry on her legacy.

Susan Ducharme Hoben is the author of the memoir Dying Well: Our Journey of Love and Loss. For more information, visit and connect with her on Facebook, SusanDucharmeHobenAuthor.


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