In honor of my mother as we celebrate Mother’s Day.
Throughout my adult life I had always prided myself on the charitable works I did or the causes I supported financially. It wasn’t until my mother came to live with me that I began to understand the true meaning of service and serving others. Two weeks after my father died from stomach cancer, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. After 50 years of marriage which she had gone into, straight from living at home, this was not the time to experiment on seeing if she could live alone.
Coming so soon on the grief we went through as we watched my father die, the realization that her time might be limited caused me to review my life, the paths I had taken and the things that I thought were important to me.
Spirituality had always been important to me and more than ever, I began to draw on that storehouse of strength, endurance and faith.
I took a leave of absence from my job and dedicated myself to seeing that she was taken care of, wanted for nothing and that her medical rituals and requirements were taken care of effectively and efficiently.
That year I spent with her as she recovered from surgery and subsequent treatments taught me so many lessons that I would not have otherwise learned. A year and a half after her initial diagnosis her health began to fail again. I juggled work, a business and being a single parent to two very active teenage daughters. The quandary of her being ‘too rich’ to qualify for government services yet ‘too poor’ to afford round the clock help, lead me to the task of working during the day, while she had a caregiver, and taking care of her at night, with the help of my daughters. She had been in a nursing home but the thought of leaving her there was too much for us all to bear and so we brought her home.
The two years that I cared for her until her death, were some of the worst yet some of the best times I had ever experienced. My service to her taught me several lessons that have made me a better person. I learned:
1. Closeness. As I carried out my mission from day to day, it brought to mind, William Shakespeare’s characterization of the ‘Seven Stages of Man.’ I realized she was in that seventh stage, that ‘second childishness’ that he wrote about. Yet we were never more close than we were during those times as we faced life together. The hurriedness of my professional and personal life slowed down to match the cadence of her life and we were drawn together in love, laughter, memories, spiritual awakening and self-discovery.
2. Love. I really learned to love her, not as my mother or a person in need of assistance, but as another human being separate and apart from me. She was a gift from God that I could pour my love into and it came right back in unexpected ways. Her smile. Her laughter. Her appreciation. Her faith. The love in her eyes when she looked at me or her granddaughters. Three generation of women brought together to share a life of love and abundant joy, even in the midst of pain.
3. Family. Mom’s presence in our home gave an immeasurable gift to my daughters. I marveled at the closeness that developed between the three of them as they often held their heads close together in laughter at something they all thought was funny. In the past they would have had to travel almost a thousand miles to visit the grandparents once a year or even less. Her being with us gave them that sense of connection and an opportunity to learn who she really was. More than anything, she also learned the essence of who they were. They learned of the power and strength of the family unit and that they would carry on the legacy of her and those who had come before her.
4. Resilience. This experience taught me so much about who I was, my stamina, my ability to give selflessly and the strength that was so much a part of me, yet I hadn’t known existed. It made me know that I was strong enough to face whatever life brought to my doorstep and that I could handle it with grace, patience and with a heart filled with gratitude.
5. Faith. More than anything else, my faith in God was rekindles. I had begun to take my faith, beliefs and spirituality for granted. Yet in the midst of Mom’s illness, the faith that had lain dormant, welled up within me and gave me the power and strength to persevere. It was a constant reminder of my connection to Spirit, The Universe and Divine Love. My strengthened faith gave me the ability to appreciate all that I am and all that she was.
I also learned the greatest lesson of all. I understood that when I took my eyes off my challenges and extended my heart unselfishly to another, that it is through that experience that I learn the true meaning of love, family, faith, selflessness and serving others.
What memories come to mind as you celebrate Mother’s Day? Let me know what Mother’s Day mean to you.