WHAT I LEARNED FROM THE WORST MOMENT IN MY LIFE
My Mom died in November of 2018, right around the Thanksgiving holiday. She was only 75 years old. Her death wasn’t sudden, as she had been battling breast cancer for almost 5 years, but I wasn’t remotely prepared. I had been under the impression for most of the previous 5 years that we had “caught it early” and that she was “living with cancer”.
In late September of that year I learned that she was Stage IV likely had less than a year to live. I made the decision to leave Tennessee and head back up to Minnesota to spend the holidays with my family as I didn’t know how many more I would get. I was working for Nissan/Infiniti through an agency that specializes in creating training content for the automotive industry and they allowed me to work remotely for the last few months of the year. I left Tennessee on October 26. That same day my Mom went into hospice.
My plan was to stay with my Aunt in Minneapolis and make trips up to see my parents for a few days at a time. My parents are retired on a lake in northern Minnesota. With the news of my Mom going into hospice I made plans to visit for her birthday weekend on Nov 4. I remember both my Mom and Dad telling me that “hospice is different now” and “it doesn’t mean what it used to”. Looking back, I think they were in denial about her situation. I think telling us these things helped them cope with a very scary time.
My brother and I made the trip up to the lake together. He is just shy of 4 years younger than me and lives in Minnesota still. We got to spend time as a family, the four of us, celebrating my Mom’s birthday. He made scallops for dinner one night and he and my Mom played cribbage. Other than the oxygen and the pain pills she was taking, it could have been any other weekend at the lake.
I went up a few weeks later. Hess (my rescue dog) was my copilot this time. He loved my Mom and she wanted him in her lap whenever possible. My Mom and I worked on a project for the nieces and nephews. We also set aside some special gifts for my aunts and uncles. These would all be from my Mom for Christmas. I could tell she was more tired, but my brain wasn’t registering any real danger. Not yet at least.
My Mom and Dad were set to come down to Minneapolis for Thanksgiving. In the week or so since I had seen her my Mom sounded so much more tired on the phone. Sometimes she just couldn’t manage to talk. She was insistent on the trip though. They barely made it.
I’ll spare you the details of the next few days. When my Mom arrived, she was going downhill rapidly. Hospice arrived and within 4 days she was gone. I think she knew she was dying and wanted to be with all of us. Watching the person that has cared for you since you were born leave this earth is intensely painful and a gift at the same time. I haven’t been the same since and I wouldn’t want to take any of it back.
WHAT COMES AFTERWARDS?
My biggest priority following her death was my Dad. They had been married for just shy of 50 years. I made the decision to delay my trip back to California to take care of him for a while. I didn’t feel right leaving him. I went to stay with him for a few months up in northern Minnesota and didn’t end up leaving until almost March. This was time that he and I became really close and Hess was like the best little therapy dog for him. He has told me many times that he appreciates that I stayed.
Throughout all of this I was recovering from my own health issues. Learning to prioritize my own health, sleep, and mental wellbeing suddenly became even more important. As I finished my BA degree and looked forward toward my MA, I became more intentional about many things. I let go of a lot of relationships that had not been serving me. I became curious about why I had made certain choices in the past and tried to make better ones. I let go of past resentments that had been dragging me down. So much just no longer seemed important after what I had experienced.
I have just a few months left to finish up my MA. I am looking towards a PhD in the future but plan to take some much-needed time off first. I want to relax a bit, continue building my business, travel (when it is safe) and build a life. The last bit is something I have been really bad at over the last few decades. I know my Mom would be insanely proud of what I’ve done the last year and a half. She never let a phone call end without telling me she loved me and regularly told me how proud she was.
The biggest thing I’ve learned through all this is to appreciate what you have, while you have it. Tell people how much they mean to you. Don’t assume people know. Tell them. The other thing I learned is that even though it hurts like hell, it’s probably not going to kill you. Even if you wish it would. Find a way to turn that grief into something positive. Make them proud.