“I can’t do it without you.”
This was the sentence replaying in my mind since the day my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The sheer terror at the thought of living in a world where my mother did not. Finally, after eight years of her battling this disease, I sobbed these words to her the day she decided to stop treatment when her cancer was deemed terminal. Somehow, by the grace of God, what should have been a situation in which I should have fallen apart at every turn, I remained stoic, calm, and put together in her presence. I felt like I had to be the one to remain strong and not let her see me break down or it would make everything she was already going through that much harder. But that day, which turned out to be three weeks to the day before she passed, I finally spoke the words in front of her that I needed her to know. That there was no way, in my mind, I was ever going to be able to do all that life would throw at me without her here with me. Her response? “Yes you can.”
May is a hard month for me. Not only is it the month of the anniversary of her passing, which is coming up on three years, but it is also Mother’s Day. And as it turns out, per usual, she was right…I can do it without her. I have been doing it without her. I can hear her saying, “What’s the alternative?” So, let me tell you about the things I have done without my mother for the past three years.
First and foremost, I have survived a global pandemic! I’m sure most of you can say that right along with me! There have been too many times to count when I have asked myself and others, “What would my mom say about all of this?” I followed in my mother’s footsteps and am a teacher, just as she was for 30+ years before retiring. So, not only on the home front have I been living through Covid along with the rest of the world, but I’ve also lived through it as an educator. When I reflect on the past two years, I’m amazed by how much I have adjusted and gone with the flow without having my mom around to bounce my thoughts off of when it comes to teaching and surviving through this unprecedented time.
Something else I did all by myself was make the decision with my husband to put our beloved sixteen-year-old dog to sleep this past year. If you had told me I would be making that decision on my own and wouldn’t have my mom to consult with, I would have never believed it. But I did. And I got through it. Was it sad? Absolutely. Did we cry and mourn our pet? Yes. Do I know that somewhere my mom was looking out and I knew she would tell me I was making the right choice? Also yes.
I got through our first broken bone! My son decided it was a good idea to jump off from the top of our playset in the backyard, rather than slide down the slide. The result was a fractured wrist. I sat with my husband at the orthopaedic’s office while they casted my son thinking how calm and collected I was and how, while I yearned to be able to call and talk to my mother about it, I was not running away screaming and instead was dealing with it.
I am doing this whole mother thing. I may not be doing my best every single day, but my kids are happy, healthy, and well-rounded. They are polite and have great personalities. They try their best at everything and both are great students. They love each other and they love me and their father. They are kind, caring, and compassionate. I know I am doing something right, despite being unsure about whether I am doing the right thing every chance I get to overthink things!
My point in sharing this is that I have been able to do not only the big things, but the small things too.
My fear about getting through this life without my mother wasn’t just about her not being around for the really big events, but also for the everyday, small events, like “How long do I cook the brisket for again? My son has a fever, do you think it is high enough to take him to the doctor? I changed my hair color, what do you think? We have to wear a mask every day at school now, can you believe it?” Not a day goes by where a question or a thought pops up that I don’t think about telling her or asking her about it. Despite what I feared, I am figuring it out on my own. I am doing it, just as she said I could.
The most important thing I am proud of doing without my mom by my side is getting up every day and living my life. My sister and I asked my mom during her last weeks how we were going to do it, how we were going to get through this life without her — without her guidance, without her reassurance, without the words or love that only a mother can give. She told us we have so much life left to live, that we were going to put one foot in front of the other, and that the sun was still going to shine every day. The family I have made with my husband and children is what centers me and reminds me of her words and their meaning.