Michael J. Fox on Staying Positive After the Recent Loss of His Mother: ‘She’d Never Add Up the Losses’

The star opens up about losing his 92-year-old mom Phyllis in September.

Over his three decades battling Parkinson’s disease, Michael J. Fox has notoriously harnessed the power of positivity. It’s an instinct that he can trace back to his mother Phyllis, who died in September at the age of 92.

“My mother lived a long, wonderful life. There was not a more revered woman,” Fox, 61, shares in this week’s PEOPLE cover story for the Kindness issue. “She was a sweet person. You knew you’d get a fair hearing. And she loved to laugh—she laughed like crazy.”

When he revealed his Parkinson’s diagnosis to his mother following his diagnosis in 1991 at age 29, Phyllis was worried.

“I started the foundation and was still doing TV and movies and raising a family,” says Fox, who married actress Tracy Pollan in 1988. Their son Sam, now 33, was born in 1989, and the couple expanded their brood with twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler — now 27 — in 1995, followed by their youngest, 21-year-old Esmé, in 2001. “She asked me how I did it all, and I said, ‘I just go forward.’ I’m not interested in taking inventory or ruing the thing not happening. My mother was like that too. She’d never add up the losses. She’d look at the gains.”

Fox traces lessons of resilience back to childhood with his mother and his father, William, who died in 1990. As military kids (William served 25 years in the Canadian forces), Fox and his four siblings looked out for one another — and Phyllis was the glue that kept the family together.

“Army wives are masters of adaptation,” he says. “They just know how to approach a new situation, get the house together, get the schools set up, get a job on the side — because military salary is nothing. As kids, we didn’t get it. Now I get it.”

The star, who has helped raise more than $1.5 billion for Parkinson’s research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation, admits his armor of optimism took hits over the last year, which dealt a cascade of painful injuries including a broken hand, shoulder, right arm and elbow.

But today he’s in high spirits, “rocking and rolling” as his recovery is finally coming full circle. “Just now, I’m coming through where the last of my injuries are healing up; my arm is feeling good,” he says. “Life is interesting. It deals you these things.”

And in tougher moments, Fox taps into a maxim he crafted while healing from a risky spinal-cord surgery he underwent in 2018 to remove a tumor on his spine.

“If I can find gratitude in whatever I do and whatever situation I’m in, if I can find one little thing to be grateful for, then it reverses the whole situation and allows for the possibility of grace, of something fantastic happening,” says the star. “I’m just at that place of being in that again, so it’s really nice.”