Most people around me know by now that my mother passed away recently. But what they may not know is something intensely important to me: how she lived.
My mother was a fiercely independent woman. She was keenly intelligent, an avid reader, outspoken, and opinionated. She could be stubborn as hell, hard-headed, frustrating, but also ardently, undyingly loyal. Tough and strict, she was also deeply sensitive and cared very much about her family and friends–more so, even, than she usually let on.
At one point in my childhood, my mother weighed probably over 300 pounds. I remember her battling her weight, struggling with her self esteem, and starting and restarting multiple weight loss attempts that ultimately stalled. But one day, when she finally decided enough was enough, she joined a gym, bought some sneakers, made up her mind, and never looked back.
She lost the excess weight, bought new clothes, and enjoyed being active, until arthritis slowed her down over her last few years. Well into her 80s, my mother went to the gym daily, danced in Zumba class, and had several good friends from her fitness groups.
My mom mailed me a card once with a newspaper clipping inside, featuring her, celebrating a milestone number of workouts at her gym. She was so proud of that! I called her to congratulate her. I still have the card and the article. It meant a lot to me to see her relentlessly face that once undefeatable hurdle in her life, climb it, and triumph over it.
This past month has been a blur. I have been traveling over 900 miles, back and forth from my home to my mom’s hospital, working in between (usually with a laptop balanced on my knees in an airport), touching base to fall into my husband’s comforting arms before heading back out the door. I have held my mom’s hand, sat for hours beside her hospital bed, talked endlessly even when I wasn’t sure she could hear me, and just watched her, taking in every curve of her face, the feel of her hand, the sound of her breathing, because some part of me already knew she would be taken from me soon. I was right.
I went back to work this week, and I started a new position. I was promoted to a position I had interviewed for before my mom was rushed to the hospital. I got the offer letter while I was sitting at her bedside, and I almost declined it. How the hell am I supposed to learn a brand new role, with significantly more responsibility, with so many people depending on me, when a huge part of my world has collapsed?
But something made me hesitantly accept the offer. I gently held my mom’s hand and told her all about the new position. I had called her after my interview, weeks before that felt like another lifetime, and she had been so excited for me. I couldn’t say no and disappoint her. Or me. So I told her I am going to kick butt. I meant it.
My mother would never want me wallowing in self-pity, moping, hurting myself with my futile attempts to stifle the pain of losing her. It hurts like hell. No denying that. But if I am going to truly honor her memory, I need to live like her life really meant something to me.
I can’t focus on the hospital, the funeral, the way it ended, because the way she lived is where the fire is. My mother taught me to be strong, to use my head, to speak up, to take battles head-on, and to take shit from no one…including myself. How could I do anything else now?