Over the past year, I have shared over 25 posts with you all and for whatever reason, you have stuck with me! When I started this blog, my greatest hope was that people would be able to relate to my family’s experience with cancer and grief, and to keep my mother’s spirit alive. Maybe it would help someone get through a hard day. I never could have predicted how much writing and sharing these stories would help me heal as well. At times, I have worried about sharing too much or being perceived as someone who feels her experiences are superior or more worthy than others’. But that has also been part of the challenge: finding the confidence to share my voice and staying true to who I know I am, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
In honor of Me and my Moleskine’s first birthday, I want to share a list of lessons from my mom that I’ve been compiling over the past year. She taught me a lot in eighteen years but these are the lessons that needed more time to ripen and mature in my mind, the ones that have taken nearly four years for me to fully comprehend. I never stop learning from her example. Although her death has changed the dimensions of our relationship, it has not broken the bond that ties us together. My relationship with my mother continues to evolve each day as I gain a better understanding of what it means to be a woman and how to make my way in this world.
1) Appreciate your body and what it can do for you: One of the cruelest aspects of watching someone struggle with a terminal illness is watching their body fail them over and over again. As a result, I have learned to never take my body for granted and to take advantage of this period of life when I can run, skip, jump, swim, and dance as freely as I want. This has changed my body image and the way I perceive exercise. It is a BLESSING to be able to go on this run today, to have my legs carry me as far as they can, to breathe and sweat hard. It is a physical and mental challenge to see what I am capable of. One day, you will not be able to do all these things.
2) Value your voice and take the time to find it: This lesson has been the major theme of my life this year and my mom’s encouragement to speak up and find what makes me happy has been a constant reminder that it is okay to have different dreams than your peers. Some people are lucky enough to find their calling early but the rest of us need time to wonder and wander before we find ours. Writing about my experiences and discovering new countries and cultures have helped me figure out what my priorities are in life and what I want to accomplish.
3) Don’t live for the weekends: This is something my mom used to repeat over and over to me in high school at a time when I really hated school (who doesn’t loath junior year?). Although I think I did take this message to heart back then, there are certainly times when we slip into counting the days until something instead of appreciating where we are in the moment. But there is so much life that unfolds between the weekends and if you’re just holding on for the weekend, you’re missing out on so much living! Whenever I am having a particularly stressful week, her voice always pops into my head reminding me of this.
4) Kindness is a life skill: People will hurt you in this life, be it intentional or accidental. But time and time again, I have learned that the only way to move forward is to treat them with the kind of humanity that we all deserve. When you hold on to the anger or the pain, you are the one losing out. The power of a kind gesture has also been particularly evident while I travel to countries where I sometimes barely speak the language. Whether it’s a smile, holding the door open for someone, offering a helping hand to your host, or assisting other lost travelers, sometimes being kind is the only way you can connect with people on the road. Be kind for the sake of being kind and don’t expect anything in return.
5) Never underestimate how important your friends are: There was a time when my mom was my greatest confidant, the person who understood me better than I understood myself, and who I sought out for all emotional support and advice. As a result, learning how to take care of my own emotional needs as well as how to reach out to others for help was one of the greatest challenges after losing her. But I think my mom knew this would be the case, as one of the last pieces of advice she was able to give me was to lean on my friends and that there were so many people who would be there to love and take care of me if I just let them. Still, it took me a while to heed her advice, preferring to stand alone to fight my own battles. Until this year. This year I have learned that there are friends who will literally tuck you into bed after a breakup, go out of their way to support you in all your endeavors, won’t judge you when you make decisions they already know are not the right ones, let you crash on their couch, and make the effort to be a part of your life when you move half way across the world. Never have I appreciated my friends’ love and support more than I do now. If you don’t have these kinds of friends, they are out there. You just haven’t found them yet.
6) There won’t always be an explanation for why something happens; accept it and move forward: This one is courtesy of my brother but holds true for me as well. My mom knew better than anyone else that sometimes life doesn’t provide you with a reason for why something happens. She actively cultivated this balance of being at peace with the life she had and making the most of each day, in spite of living with a terminal illness. You can drive yourself crazy questioning and searching for the answers but it won’t always change the outcome or bring you closure. Find meaning in your experience but do not dwell on the things that can’t be changed. This is a life-long process.
7) Fight like hell to make the world a better, happier place: You may not be able to change life’s course for you or your family but you can make a difference for other people facing whatever challenges or injustices in the world that anger you. My mom was a microbiologist who knew that the research she and her colleagues were working on would never come to fruition in time to save her life. But she believed in science and dedicated her time to producing research that would hopefully impact future generations. When it came to discussing her cancer with her children, she found this incredible strength to put her discouraging prognosis into perspective in order to encourage us to not be bitter and to empower us to use our experience to help others, even if it seems like what you have to offer is too small to make a difference.
8) Love never dies: This lesson is the most important. It has seen me through a lot of hard days and I would never be where I am today without knowing it. Its premise is simple: I believe in her love. I believe that it can carry me through anything and that I will always be connected to her because of it. I believe that it will continue to grow and nurture me as she did for so many years. Death has not change her love’s strength.
9) Don’t pop your zits. Just don’t do it.
So here’s to a year of blogging and growing up along the way! As always, thanks for reading ❤