I can’t tell you the exact date and time. It was the end of June or early part of July 2001. I don’t even remember where I was, but I do remember clearly, the feeling I had on that day – urgency. It was the day I decided to let fear take a back seat in my life and embraced the life and love around me. It was one of the most important days of my life. Of course I’ve had amazing, breath-taking days. Days that made an indelible mark on my life, and I continue to carry those snapshots in my mind – the days my children were born; the day I graduated from college, and the day I sat on the floor of my very first home. But this day was different. This summer day was pivotal – it was the day I made a conscious choice to change my attitude and my outlook on life. I had no idea how magnanimous the effect would be on those around me.
I received a “Save the Date” card in the mail from a non-profit organization that my mom and I were both affiliated with. It was a Celebration of Hope fundraiser for cancer survivors, and I instantly felt this rush of emotion. Immediately I thought about planning a celebration of hope for Mommy! Though Mom never complained, I could tell the treatments had been giving her a tough time lately. It had been six months since her diagnosis and we finally heard the words from her doctor that was music to our ears. It was in remission! For the first time, the cancerous cells had begun to shrink and although they had not disappeared, the news brought a glowing smile to Mom’s face – especially when her doctor told her that she didn’t need to continue her chemotherapy treatments. It was a small victory, and when you’re living a day and sometimes a moment at a time, every small victory deserves of a momentous celebration.
My brothers thought I was nuts. They said things like “Mom is still a little weak from the radiation – let’s wait until she feels better.” “No. It has to be now”, I said. “I can’t explain it, but I feel like it has to be now. I don’t know why but I feel a sense of urgency” They reluctantly agreed. I don’t believe my brothers understood the intent of her doctor’s words when he spoke to us about the quality of life. Or maybe they didn’t want to hear what he was really telling us which was that Mom didn’t have much more time in this life. So I told Mommy about the idea and asked if she was up for the party. As I expected, being the loving, nurturing mom, she was only worried about all of the work I would have to do to plan the event. As fate would have it, I had offered to host a bridal shower at my home the day before, so the yard would already be beautifully decorated with balloons, white table linen, white chairs and a beautiful white tent. All that remained was to send the invite and prepare a few of mom’s favorite dishes. To her, a barbecue was nothing without spare ribs and my signature macaroni and tuna salad, one of the first dishes that she taught me to make.
The date of the celebration, I will never forget – July 21, 2001. I invited her friends, her family and her cancer support group, as well as some of my friends who were my support and strength during her illness. Everyone was asked to bring an inspirational item or quote that they would stand up and read to her. My friend Liz decorated a beautiful basket to hold all of her gifts. My brothers and I presented her with a gold survivor pin to wear proudly on her chest, and a gold rose for her courage. We also acknowledged our strongest supporters and presented them with a gold rose. My friend Cherrie, who was like a daughter to her, and now my son’s Godmother, still keeps the rose we gave her in her car. Mom cherished that day. She felt so special and was so surprised that so many had come to honor her. She showed the basket of love to everyone and wore her pin proudly. July 21, 2001 was a day full of joy and laughter. The day I announced to my soul that joy and sadness could co-exist and that I was no longer going to allow fear to take a permanent residence in my heart and head. My brothers followed my lead during the celebration and were instrumental to the event’s success, but still did not understand the urgency. That night, unbeknownst to me or my husband, my first child was conceived. The very next afternoon, mom was rushed to the ER complaining of dizziness and pain in her head. I held her hands and prayed with her after the ER doctors told her the cancer had spread from her lungs to her brain. This happened the very next day. It was at this moment that my brothers and I were both clear about the reason for my intense feeling of urgency. Mom’s time with us was limited. She would live long enough to see my first ultrasound and the confirmation that a tiny, precious life was growing inside of me; just long enough to celebrate her 58th birthday.
Two weeks after Mom’s celebration, I was fired from my job for not being “available” enough for someone in my upper management position. I lost my job in the midst of the most tragic time in my life because I chose to take off time to support my mother and best friend. I was so angry! Once the anger subsided however, I was able to see the blessing. I had three months severance pay and was able to spend every moment of her last days with her. I somehow, while still in my first trimester, found the strength to take care of Mommy until the last whisper of air escaped her body. I fed her, I changed her, and I laughed with her, and prayed for her. I witnessed the most beautiful moment in her life – the moment she left her earthly body and found a magnitude of peace. And it all started with the day I trusted my intuitive voice and chose to celebrate her courageous spirit. The most important day of my life was the day I made a subconscious decision to embrace every part of life – the joy and the pain – and be present for it. That day gave birth to so many precious, life-affirming gifts.
I believe Mommy prayed for me to receive this gift of awareness. It was a gift that I will pass on to my own two children. To love life fearlessly, joyfully and with urgency – as if each day is the most important day of your life.