My Mom Taught Me About Life as She was Fighting for her Own
Author’s Note: I meant to post this earlier today, in a timely way as a Mother’s Day post. But the fact is, my mom’s spirit, wisdom, and purpose shine through in every single day and every crisis we deal with here in the Moody house. It seems right that this post would reflect on an amazing woman, regardless of the holiday it is or isn’t.
As a teenager I was faced with the first of many moments in my life which defined me and molded me into the wife, the mother, the woman, I am today. I was thirteen and my parents were newly divorced. My mother had remarried and life was … hard.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and, just like that, my life was about more than schoolgirl crushes or friendship uncertainties. It was about life and death, literally. And, by the time she passed away, 3 years later, life was about right and wrong.
My mom had Breast Cancer, but I? I had her, and I had her fears and her insecurities and her pain.
I also had the normal teenage angst that went along with just being me. And somehow, I had all these emotions, and uncertainties, as I began to look at the world through my mom’s eyes.
Empathic to the point of painfulness, I was, at that time, aware of the scrutiny, the embarrassment, the pain she faced as she dealt with people more scared than herself, people who would ridicule her, stare at her, and make her fight with cancer more emotionally painful as a result.
I think the deep impact this period had on my character, my ability to see deeper into the folds of a reality many ignore … I think this more than many other things in my relatively well-lived life helped shape me into the person I am today: a person who is caring, unique, empathetic, dedicated, and sometimes a bit broken inside.
Through the Pain, My Mom’s Lessons still Shine Through
I’ve experienced trials since then, but I don’t think any have had a greater impact on me than those few short years when I learned about life and death and the idea of right and wrong.
It was wrong that my mother had cancer.
It was wrong that she died.
But it was right that my life should make some sort of difference, as a result of the things she taught me.
- Sometimes the hard-fought battle is more important than losing the war.
- Knowing the people, the relationships, that make up who we are, is more important than the daily battle of being a teenager.
- There was something to look forward to beyond death, a higher purpose for a short-lived life.
- Memories take on the semblance of snapshots, not movies, in my mind as time marches on
- Caring is never wrong, or out of style.
- Having a greater impact, a progeny, or a purpose that lives beyond your own days in this world, is something worth living for, even when the living is painful.
- Giving up is never an option.
- Sometimes … people are cruel in their ignorance, in their flippancy.
- Remembering my mother meant remembering the bad times as well as the good.
- People die, and life still goes on.
That last one, not the first part of the sentence, but the idea that life goes on … came into focus the day she died. I remember getting home and desperately needing to be out of the house, where every glance saw something she touched, or made, or cared about, or even discarded.
I was fifteen, and my mom was gone, and the only thing I wanted to do was get away.
I went for a bike ride. Seemingly mundane occurrence.
I learned something, as my legs pushed and my asthma flared, as I took in the sunny day that my mother left behind. The sun was out, and birds were singing. I remember the birds; I remember hating that the birds sounded just as pretty as always. It seemed as if they should be quiet in grief, like me.
I rode on, passing folks out in their yards, a couple guys mowing, some kids out playing baseball, maybe. They waved and I waved back without thinking. Their lives went on, but it felt like mine was stilled – a slow-motion effect of an inescapable day.
By the time I rode into the tiny blink-and-you-missed-it town we lived down the road from, I was about ready to turn around and stay away from the people I could see around the store, walking down the street, planting flowers, living their lives. I felt betrayed. Why should they live their life when I couldn’t live my own?
Then, I saw some friends I rarely spoke to and I stopped when they called out to me. I don’t remember the conversation that blurred on the edges of my understanding as I sat there on their doorstep, but I remember thinking that it wasn’t right. How could I interrupt their life with my pain? And yet, eventually, I did. I felt like the rest of the world faded away at the moment I said something, woodenly, about my mother dying that morning.
I remember they looked at me in shock, and, suddenly, their lives were shifting, encompassing my own pain and grief in a way I didn’t know I needed. Their reaction was, perhaps, normal. But I remember feeling like it was different, unique, because of me. My friends included sisters close to my own age and their mother, who had joined in the conversation and stayed at my announcement.
I remember looking into the mother’s eyes and thinking to myself that I wouldn’t be able to look into my own mother’s eyes again. Something of the emotion probably showed on my face, and in her gaze, for one moment, I remember recognizing the pain of another mother considering life without her own children. I saw beyond my own grief, and into the thought that this mother had empathy, and understanding of sorts, with my own dead mother.
I remember meeting her eyes and seeing that she, in some small way, understood the world I was a part of then. It was a world at the same time separate, yet intimately woven throughout the rest of the world. My life was grief and loss and hurt, while beyond my small bubble the rest of the world went on. A mother wouldn’t see five children grow to adulthood, while the rest of the world went on.
That was one of those defining moments, when I shook off the empathy, sympathy, and well-meaning sorrow, and once again ran away. Seeing their emotional response – they had known my mother, after all – was more than my battered defenses could take, so I rode away. My grief was still there, I still couldn’t understand how the rest of the world could go on, but as I rode away from that small house, on that sunny street, I remembered that the rest of the world would go on, and somehow, eventually I would too.
Even in Death, Especially in Death, my Mom Taught me about Life
My mother taught me that, too. The world doesn’t stop so that you can deal. It doesn’t stop so that you can rant and scream and cry and break. It goes on. And you either make your mark on that world or you don’t, but nothing can take away the impact of a life well-lived.
My mother was not a conscious social advocate. But she believed strongly in things, and she passed that on to me as well. She taught me all of the above, and she, in quiet moments and unspoken actions, also taught me …
- Family was important. It wasn’t about blood, it was about love.
- People deserved to be treated with respect: whether they were living with Cancer, whether they were gay, whether they were just an ignorant person staring on the street at the woman who had a scarf on her head.
- Faith was imperative. Having faith in God and in His plan for our lives meant letting go, sometimes, of the life we wanted, and living the life we had.
- Courage is found in the small everyday moments of life. In the heat of battle, showing courage is expected, but in the quiet moments of life, when no one else can see you, you show far great strength of character to be courageous, regardless of consequences or audience.
- Life is hard, but it is still worth living.
My mom taught me all that and so much more. Living through her treatment for cancer and eventually, her death, had an undeniable impact on who I am today, and on my social consciousness.
The strength I learned through necessity has been put to the test as a mother, when one after another of my children were diagnosed with a myriad constellation of conditions. The dedication and fortitude she taught me and that I learned in the hard days following her death has served me well as we’ve dealt with crisis’ which were both life-threatening, and courage-forming.
Life, my mother taught me, is a hard-fought race to make an impact in the world you’re a part of, in whatever way given you to do so. God has blessed me with much, and I believe, entrusted much to me so that I can make the kind of impact my mother would be proud of. I only wish she were here to see it.