Since I was a teenager, one of my greatest fears was losing my mother. I could not imagine living without her. I loved my mother. She called me her “handbag” when I was small because she took me everywhere with her.
As I grew up I was my mother’s confidante. I was the one she complained to about my father. As I got older she became my rock. She was the person who got on an airplane with me and took me from our warm island of Jamaica to the cold cornfields of the University of Illinois. She was the person I called when I was homesick and wanted to give up. She was my cheering section.
A few years ago when my mother was diagnosed with a very rare cancer, it never crossed my mind that she would die. Even though the mortality rate was grim. Even though the statistics gave her 18 months. Even though it was such a rare cancer that the best doctors in the country weighed in on her case because it was probably the only time in their career they would see this type of cancer.
Early one rainy morning, a few hours before Hurricane Jeanne came onshore in South Florida, my mother asked me to take her to the hospital. She was in so much pain. There I found out she was dying. Five days later, she was gone.
My first month without my mother was hard. I sat on my cold kitchen floor crying hot tears, desperately wanting her to come back. I cursed God. I stopped praying. The pain was so great I didn’t think I could function but something was happening to me. It’s only now, four years later, that I can see the process.
My mother’s cancer diagnosis and the ensuing months of taking her to doctors’ appointments and chemo and radiation forced me to reprioritize my life. My struggle to help her pay the medical bills made me empathetic to those with no insurance. My losing her despite all my prayers made me understanding of those who lost their faith. Not having her support made me compassionate of the lonely.
My days of pain depleted me of so much emotional energy that I could no longer obsess about what people thought of me, or my beliefs or how I lived my life. It required too much energy.
In essence, my mother’s death freed me from my self-righteousness, my fears, and my unrealistic expectations of life, of others, of myself. The pain freed me to truly live my life. It miraculously deepened my faith and made me a better person.
I believe I found freedom through the pain. I believe that my mother gave life to me twice. The first time was the day I was born. The second time was the day she died.
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