It seems rather inadequate that out of the whole year, the appreciation showed to our mothers is often left to a single commercialized holiday. A brunch, flowers, maybe homemade breakfast and for some people only a phone call - and then that’s it. Check mark, obligation met. Someone gave you life and nurtured you at such a personal sacrifice and it’s just so easy to take that for granted and not take a moment to realize what that must have been like for them.
I don’t know what dreams or aspirations my mother had growing up, but she was wholeheartedly invested in raising a family. If there ever was a vision God had for a mother, she matched it perfectly. Imagine having 5 children without any guaranteed career stability, all while relocating your life across the globe in the hopes that you would find a better life. Also taking a gamble that all of the struggles would we be worth it in the long run. I can’t imagine what that was like (for either of our parents). When my siblings and I were young, our mother would wake before all of us at 5am, cook breakfast, dress us for school, then go to work (sometimes on public transit), work a full day, only to come home and cook for 7 people again. Feed, clean and then … get up and do it all over again. Tirelessly. For years. To think even today, there are days I sometime cannot do that for myself. What an amazing mother.
About 4 months ago, shortly after New Year’s, my mother was feeling a little sick. After a few days she became feverish. Terrified by possibility of a COVID infection from the holidays, I took her into the emergency room. I didn’t think for a second that she would never come home again. Several years ago, she had been diagnosed with a blood condition. The doctors assured her it was under control and I thought it was being managed. She did have discomfort at times, but it didn’t really hamper her quality of life. She lived comfortably on her own, travelled and for the most part was happily figuring out her retirement in the absence of her husband, my dad, who had died 6 years prior. Somehow that condition had, without any clear warning, escalated into a rare form of leukemia. In the time it took to complete the precise diagnosis and arrange a suitable treatment, her body had become too weak. She had been a fighter all her life, but the universe didn’t even give her a chance to fight this challenge. There just wasn’t any way she could endure the intense regimen of chemotherapy. It will probably be one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire life to make that decision. But all I can think it that reducing her immense suffering was the final act of love we could have showed her. I’ll tell myself that but I honestly feel terrible that was all anyone could do for her.
It’s taken me some time to come to terms with the shock of what happened in January. Truthfully I have not completely processed it and I know I still have a journey ahead of me to grieve and adjust to life without her. I had made a decision about 8 years ago when my father was battling cancer, to help my parents downsize and support them living on their own. Less than a year after they moved into a condo, my dad would be gone. And in the subsequent years I became the principal support for my mother. From helping with maintenance, her car, finances or just listening to her talk about her week, her simple joys or regular frustrations. There were times I wished I was doing something else, but then I thought I can make this sacrifice. It was only on the weekends. I’d take her to church, have a meal with her or just sip some wine and reminisce. I personally don’t believe that we should do things for our loved ones in “fairness” or because we “owe” them. We do things out of love. I happen to be the person there to help and whatever burden it was for me, I made the choice to be with her and never for a minute will I ever regret that. I feel it was the right thing to do to help her financially, emotionally or in whatever way love is shown. I know she was appreciative. I do. She told me and showed me. Taking up the task of the past 8 years for my parents and mostly my mom will probably be one of the best decisions of my entire life.
And what now? Since her death I have been somewhat of a recluse: disconnected from the world, void of social media, all news source and in some case out of touch with many people. However I have been making strides in the past few weeks to figure out my new life. The reality of the decisions of the past few years was that my mother’s wellbeing was an anchor for me. And I say that without any disdain. My choices of living, employment and other non-trivial matters were all influence by commitment to support her. (Though arguably I should have taken a more balanced approach and better prioritized my needs over time.) Now that she’s no longer around, the shift is forceful and rather drastic. I have been feeling untethered and somewhat uncomfortable thinking about just me for a moment. There’s an amazing freedom I’ve been granted, and as much as it may seem like it on the surface, this was in no way at the expense of my mother’s life. I keep reminding myself that. I also have to tell myself that it’s not being selfish for wanting to put myself first in my life and doing things that I want. I guess maybe when you’ve been thinking about the care of someone else for so long, it’s easy to forget to partake in some self-care. I’m working on it and will continue to work on it.
Since her departure, I’ve been handling estate matters, sifting through her belongings and even made the tough decision to sell my condo and move into her former residence. All these changes are a bit tough to deal with currently, but I’ve been making tiny steps of progress and really hope that by mid-summer I will be “settled” (whatever that looks like). I’m not completely committed to staying where I am, keeping my job/career or even if Michigan will be my final “home” location. However I do plan to give myself a little time to think things through and work through the grieving process. I don’t know what the future holds.
If by chance you heard my eulogy for her (you might find it online somewhere), I took a moment to say that we shouldn’t look at how unlucky her death was, but rather how lucky we are for her life and that we shared it with her. I can only say I’m lucky that she was my mother. She had faults, like any human, but she did her best. Whatever may come after our physical life, I truly hope she is rewarded. I have been doing my best to think about lucky I still am. How grateful I am for my life, my career, my wellbeing and most of all for the people in my life. My family and my friends have been so supportive and listened to me and helped me through the craziness of the past few months. Thank you all so much. Seriously I can’t express enough gratitude.
And though I wrote about my mother and this was about her, everything I say about appreciation and sacrifice isn’t restricted to mothers or even parents for that matter. There are so many people in your life who care for you and love you and you need to take a moment to remember that. To be thankful for them. To appreciate them. Don’t wait for a holiday or birthday to tell someone how you feel. There is no wrong time to show someone love. Nothing in our lives is certain and every moment we share with another person should be seen as a gift. And amidst thinking of all the other people in your life, don’t forget a very important one: you. You matter and your wants and needs are valid.
I will forever miss my mother and my life has been irreparably altered, but it would be wrong to not continue to seek happiness and joy and share it with others. And most of all it would be truly wrong to not try and enjoy the fruits of all the past sacrifices made that brought me to this day.
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