2020: the year of mourning. The world continues to mourn loved ones, loss of normalcy, and more. As a griever prior to the coronavirus pandemic, reflecting on what I learned from my mom in the months before losing her gives me the strength to be hopeful in this incredibly difficult period in our lives.
On Jan. 25, my life changed forever. Well, it really began changing last August, but on Jan. 25, the change became permanent. Following that unfortunately memorable day was a multitude of emotions and an adjustment back to reality, but not for long.
In August 2019, I was a 23-year-old who just moved back in with her parents. I started a new job in New York City and I was thrilled to be home, reuniting with friends and family. I was looking forward to this new chapter in my life. Everything was normal.
In late August, I was in Chicago for my new online graduate program’s opening ceremony. I arrived at JFK around 10 p.m. and my dad picked me up at the airport. I was happy to be home for a few days before leaving for another trip. Halfway through the ride home, he dropped the news that at the time I did not know would be life-changing: “mommy is in the hospital.”
I wasn’t given a reason to be severely concerned—yet. We went to visit her and she was in good spirits; I thought nothing of it. When she was discharged the next day, I left early from work and when I got home, my mom shared heart-shattering news. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
She accepted her new normal with incredible strength and positivity and went about her life adjusting it to include her doctor appointments, chemotherapy sessions, and more time to rest. Her illness was a shock for me initially, but as time evolved and I saw how strong my mom was, I became as comfortable as I could with this new reality.
We laughed hard, we cried harder and we loved the hardest. As I reflect on the past few months, I realize the great life lessons I learned. A lesson to never take anything for granted. A lesson to never regret a single thing in your life. A lesson to truly live each moment to its fullest. Most importantly, I learned what strength is.
Strength is resiliency. Strength is working hard for something you want and pushing yourself harder when you fail the first, second, and even the third time. Strength is being able to say no when you’re too tired, not interested, or simply don’t want something. Strength is standing up for yourself time in and time out.
My mom encapsulated strength her entire life, but especially during her last five months. She pushed herself to fight for her life until the last breath she took. And beyond that, she pushed me to be strong with her. I am lucky to have her as my role model to motivate me to be resilient and I am happy to share her irrepressible fortitude with the world.
I needed this strength to get through her incredibly difficult passing. I need this strength to get through the pandemic while also mourning my immense loss. As the world begins to reopen slowly, I continue to need this strength to feel my mother’s absence again in the real world.
Her strength is what the world needs now. Accept the new reality and reflect on what your late loved ones would say to help you make it through our collective normal. Strength comes from within but let’s bring it to the forefront and remain steadfastly strong together.