Many years ago, although sometimes it seems like yesterday, I experienced the most life altering moment of my life…the loss of my mother. Mom lost her fight with breast cancer, after battling it on and off again for eight years. Although, her death was not sudden and unexpected, it felt that way. The realization of this permanent loss became my unwanted reality… an impact I found myself quite unprepared for.
While Mom was battling her cancer, she rarely complained about the disease, or the negative effects that it threw at her life. On the contrary, she accepted this intruder and focused on the positive aspects of its unannounced visit. Rather than gripe about it, she focused on how it opened up her life to so many wonderful people that she would not have had the chance to meet, unless for her cancer. Now, this was a concept that I just couldn’t grasp, as I only saw the negative side of this awful disease. I watched as she went through surgeries, chemotherapy, and the loss of: her hair, her energy, and the sparkle in her eyes. How could she be so gracious and accepting to this disease that, in the end, would separate us for life?
While Mom was living with her cancer and carrying on with life, in her usual graceful manner, I was angry, scared, frustrated, and full of confusion. How could my mother, my best friend, someone who never hurt anyone, be put through such torture? I may never know the answer to this question, and as the years pass by I realize, that not knowing is okay. Of all the many lessons that my mother taught me, one is this: God has a plan for all of us, and we need to trust in His plan. Obviously, Mom believed in what she taught, as she trusted God’s plan, and therefore was able to accept and embrace what was given to her. She accepted her cancer and her treatment with dignity, and she embraced her life with grace.
During the last six months of her full-out fight against cancer, she spent a good amount of time in bed, due to being extremely fatigued. When I would visit my parent’s home, I would pull Mom’s rocking chair next to her bed, sit down, and there we would have some very enlightening conversations. Sometimes I would read to Mom, and other times we would just sit in silence, comfortably, as good friends can do, with all being understood.
I remember asking Mom if she had any advice about life that she would like to share with me…things that she might think would be of importance to me, as a wife, mother, and individual. She gave me some very solid advice, which to this day I hold dearly in my heart.
“Set a good example”, she said, softly.
She also encouraged me to continue to stand for what I believe in; to hold true to what I know is right in my heart. Hmm… you see, these are examples of how she lived her life; what she passed on to me; what I must pass on to my children.
During one of these conversations, Mom asked, “What is your best memory that you have of me?”
Well, I’m not sure that my answer was what she wanted to hear. Searching for just the right words, I hesitated with my reply, as I wanted to make my response really count. I didn’t recall a special trip, moment, or gift, although there had been many of each. While searching for my heartfelt reply, the answer seemed so obvious; why did this seem like a trick question?
I confidently answered, “That you were always there!”
Something about the look on her face, or the lack of excitement, made me think that she wanted more of a momentous memory, a grandiose mother/daughter moment. Always being there was the greatest gift that Mom could have ever given to me, as well as to my brother. In reality, isn’t a parent always being there the best memory a child can have of one’s parent? Doesn’t it equate to a series of ongoing momentous memories, as opposed to just one?
Mom was the kind of mom that most people would wish for as their own. She was very involved in our lives, whether being the Girl Scout cookie manager; the room parent at school, quietly cheering for you on the tennis court, or just a cool person to give you a hug and tell you that everything would be all right. Mom was that comfortable person that everyone liked and loved to be around. She made you feel good about yourself, as she always had the right words to say. You might have heard of the saying, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”, well, Mom lived her life by those words.
Besides always being there for her family, she made everything look so easy, as she handled everything with grace. Well, yes, she handled much with grace, but that’s not to say she didn’t have her lava bubbling under the surface. A great mom can give her children the sense that all is well, while at the same time she is suffering inside, and feeling alone. How does one go about handling the demands of everyday life and parenting, and make it look so effortless? Should one even worry about the effortless appearance?
This manner of effortless appearance would be the one topic that I would fail to ask her about. Her full-out fight against cancer came to an end; she peacefully went Home.
Years later, while visiting my father and step-mother, I was presented with a box of my mother’s notes, writings, articles that she found of interest, and one particular article that she had written for a writer’s workshop. If ever there was a treasure box to be found, it had just been handed over to me, and I felt like the luckiest person in the world. I had been given an inside look into my mother’s mind; a close-up look as to how she felt during a certain time in her life; a time in which I could see myself in her. It wasn’t until later that night, after arriving home, getting the children to bed, settling down with a cup of hot tea and the treasure box that I realized just how lucky I was about to become, or should I say, reassured from above.
Earlier that same day, I did not feel so lucky or reassured. As my husband, two daughters and I were leaving my father’s house, we stopped by the cemetery to place flowers on Mom’s grave. It is a hard time for my oldest daughter, as she was only one year old when her grandmother passed away. Having been so young at the time of her Grandma Maggie’s death, I believe Mom’s grave represents to her what she has lost and does not have, as opposed to what she had for only one year. My youngest daughter never knew my mother, as Mom died two years prior to her birth. She grieves the loss of the grandmother she never knew; the lady that never held her in her arms.
When we stand at the grave my daughters usually cry and grieve their loss, and that is a time in which I find myself unable to cry, no matter how heavy my heart feels. While consoling their tender hearts, I find myself doing exactly what Mom would have done for me. Being strong, being the rock to lean on, when someone else needs to fall apart ~ the mother becomes the anchor.
After my girls dried their eyes, my husband knew that I needed some time alone at Mom’s grave. My family went to sit in the car, leaving me to be alone, just my memories and me. While arranging the new flowers for her and cleaning off her grave marker, I began to cry an uncontrollable cry; one, which for no reason could be stopped. As salty tears streamed down my face, I prayed, or should I say begged for guidance through life. Not only was I asking God, but I was asking that He allow my mother to help me, as well. You see, I believe God can handle a great deal of requests, but there is a reason that He has created angels. He knows the answer before the question is even asked; His angel delivers!
Looking around to make sure no one was around to hear me, I asked, “Mom, how did you do it all those years, how did you raise two children, have a successful marriage, and make it all look so effortless?”
Having only been married for three years, and a child whom was only one year old when Mom died, I didn’t have the questions back then, which I have today. Continuing my plea for help, I began to feel better, or at least somewhat less anxious. Mom use to believe, tears are the safety valve of the heart, when too much pressure is laid upon it. Being sure that my hearty and much needed cry was responsible for my feeling of relief, I also knew in my heart, that as she always was, she was STILL there for me, in my time of need. Little did I know what I would find later that night…
Once we arrived home, settling down with a cup of hot tea and the treasure box was my much-anticipated goal for the evening. Anxiously rifling through the contents of the old cardboard box, I came across a very enlightening article. It was that one particular article written by my mother, that I had spotted earlier in the day. It was entitled: Maggie’s Mission. This material was about one of her children who was experiencing some extreme difficulties with school, and the other child, who was overcoming some serious health issues.
On the first page she stated, “The Christmas holidays came and all the festivities which I always enjoyed loomed as giant hurdles to overcome. How could I appear to be jovial when I was crying inside?”
Now, I remember this time in our family, but as one of the children, I never knew how deeply my mother was hurting. She even made hurting look easy, or was I oblivious to it due to my youth. Now as a mother, myself, I can empathize with her pain, as I could not do so in my earlier years.
In her article she wrote of a prayer that she had received in a Christmas card, during that difficult Holiday season, and it read as follows:
“I am the place where God shines through,
For He and I are one, not two.
I need not fret, nor fear, nor plan.
He wants me where and as I am.
And if I be relaxed and free,
He’ll carry out His plan thru me.”
~ Author unknown ~
This simple prayer reminded Mom of what she already knew, all along!
Mom’s article spoke to me through written words, but it’s as though I could hear her voice. She was letting me know that she worried and struggled for us, just as I worry and struggle for my children. Until having read this article, I never knew that Mom had her own worries regarding her parenting or credentials, as she carried it off so gracefully.
Her final paragraph brought tears to my eyes, wisdom to my mind, and peace to my heart, as she stated it as simple as this, “I used to worry about not having a list of credentials after my name, but now I’m convinced that being a mother with a mission is enough for God. ‘He wants me where and as I am…and…He’ll carry out His plan through me’”.
It’s obvious to me now that life’s not always easy, just because it appears effortless. We all have our own personal struggles, and all the extras or credentials that are often worried about are not as important as being the mother with a mission, and allowing God to work through us.
Earlier that same day, as I pleaded with God and Mom for guidance through this sometimes, struggle of a life, never did I have any thoughts of receiving such a treasured and obvious answer, so soon. Mom’s words jumped off the pages and into my heart, and now I look at life (married and parenting) in a different light.
This life is not so much a struggle, as it is a privileged journey, on a sometimes, bumpy road.
Although the cancer may have separated us, physically, this treasured guidance proves to me that nothing, not even death, can sever the bond between a mother and her daughter.
Thank you, Mom, for being there for me then, now, and always!