Grief strikes at unexpected times. I strongly felt the loss of my mother when I recently perused the many rows of greeting cards at Walgreens. For the first time, I won’t be buying a Mother’s Day or birthday card for Kathy Schwanz, my mother. She died peacefully on Dec. 17, 2023, at 98.

This year, I’ll honor her by reflecting on some of the lessons she taught me and how they’ve influenced my personal and professional life.

Lifelong Learning

Our family has always valued education. My maternal grandparents moved to Ames, Iowa, so all three of their children could attend and graduate from Iowa State. My two brothers, sister, and I earned college degrees with my parents’ support.

As a freelance writer specializing in Architecture/Engineering/Construction, I’m continuing to learn new skills to provide better value for my clients. I became a case study specialist and now publish A/E/C Connect. It’s a LinkedIn newsletter that addresses client-focused case studies and storytelling topics. Like many, I’m also learning about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its potential impacts on content creation.

A Family of Writers

I come from a family of writers. My parents met at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, where they earned journalism degrees. In his career, my father worked in publishing, and my mother handled the business side of an agricultural magazine they owned. My siblings and other relatives also have careers in communication.

My interest in writing started early. I remember one of my first stories written in early elementary school. It went something like this:

I lost my mittens. I looked everywhere for them.

I came home and told my mother. We looked around and finally found them in the hood of my coat.

We laughed and laughed.

I’m amazed that I remember the basic details of the story. But it impacted me because it impressed my teacher, and I liked the story. I realized I enjoyed writing it. My interest in writing continued through college, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Then, in 2013, I earned a master’s degree in journalism.

Connecting Through Performance

My mother participated in community theater when I was growing up. I still remember her practicing lines on the telephone with a fellow actor. “She sounds different,” I thought to myself. One time, I even saw her perform on stage. I was impressed.

I participated in forensics from 7th grade through my senior year in high school. My mom was often my coach. “Enunciate,” she would say. She also encouraged me to use hand gestures and look at the audience.

When I worked at a multidisciplinary firm, I coached professionals as they prepared for client interviews. My forensics training helped with that process. Now, I’ve been giving video and online presentations regarding the value of case studies and how to incorporate AI in writing.

On the personal front, I’ve participated in Vacation Bible School skits. This year, I’m Sydney Shores, an undersea treasure hunter. In previous years, I was an astronaut and railroad engineer. My mom enjoyed learning about my dramatic experiences. I told her, “I’m just following in your footsteps.”

My parents also enjoyed dancing. They joined other friends for dinner parties and dance lessons. Sometimes, they attended community dances with live bands. With their support, I took ballet as a child. I’ve been in women’s dance groups for more than 20 years.

On May 11, 2024, I’m performing with the Golden Dancers of Billings, Montana. We’re competing in a Big Sky Senior Services fundraiser called “Dancing with the Big Sky Stars.” Throughout the year, we perform for senior citizens in the Billings area. It’s a lot of fun.

Thanks, Mom

I treasure the time I spent with my mother in her final years. Before moving to Billings in 2021, I often joined her for lunch in Madison, Wisconsin, and then did her grocery shopping. As a former journalist, Mom was great at asking questions. She always wanted to know what was going on in my life and my children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

“People always like to talk about themselves,” she would say. Isn’t that the truth! I started learning that lesson when I was very young. Maybe that’s why I also worked as a reporter, weekly newspaper editor, and publisher for many years before joining a professional services firm.

I know Mother’s Day is going to be bittersweet. And then, on May 20, 2024, I’ll be joining my siblings and other relatives for my mother’s memorial service in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She’ll be buried next to my dad on what would have been her 99th birthday.

Thanks, Mom, for everything. I will always miss you, but I know you’re supporting me in all that I do.

A/E/C Connect

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