When she died, I would sit at the table and try to get the fork in my mouth without crying into my plate. The tears just fell. Not when I blinked, Not when I thought of her, but the whole time. They fell.
I promised I would share this story. This is a story of loss, a story of cancer, and a story of hope. I am 32, and it's official. I have made it through my first birthday without her. She was a profound impact on my life, and she was my mom. I am still not sure exactly what can be said. The day I found out my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I was wrapping up my last 3 classes of my MBA program. I was applying for my doctorate program. I was in the middle of changing my career focus. I was planning my daughter’s 7th birthday. And I was dying inside. Her announcement came complete with a 5% survival rate for thirty days—stage four pancreatic cancer.
She withdrew. We had no time, but it was too much for her to bear. There is nothing worse than learning your plans have been cut short. I fought. I fought hard. I researched, networked, and reported every possible solution. She tried many, and although she survived well beyond her 5% survival diagnosis, none worked by another 3 months. Three months does not offer enough time to say goodbye.
I don’t really want to talk about the horrors of cancer. I don’t want to discuss her fear, or treatments, or our conversations… I do want to share with you the hope I found in myself. I want to tell you some of the greatest lessons she taught me. I want to honor her.
I believe in you honey, now go after your dreams, earn your DM and do not stand in your own way. I will be there watching over you. -Our last conversation- My Mom
That was one of the last things she said to me. To tell you I did not crumble to the floor wallowing in the thought of her watching over me, rather than living life with me… would be a lie. I cried. A part of me died that day. A few hours after hearing this, my aunt called to tell me she was gone. Anger is hot, and it comes on fast, but not always with focus.
I was irrationally mad. At that moment, my mommy left me. She left me in this crazy world to figure life out all by myself. I was mad. I was sad. She was 19 years older than me! She was beautiful. She was a fighter. And yet, She was gone.
It was weeks later when I found myself talking to a friend, and I had my ah-ha moment. I could do exactly as she said. I could choose to believe that she is with me, and she is seeing me through to greatness, and if in no other way- it will be true in the way that I feel. The anger fades.
Do not give up. Earn your doctorates degree and change the world with your kindness. – My Mom, September 2016
I posted this picture with one of my first blog posts. I only see sadness. I was exhausted. It was a lot of reading… but I cried more.
When she told me not to give up, neither of us was aware of the time commitments required for the program's study and participation. Toward the end of her life, she had told me that if it came down to me attending her funeral or staying in class – choose your education. It came down to just that for me.
You see, I wasn’t invited. After she died, I did not hear anything else from her side of the family. They left me all alone in the world. (Please note I live in a different state) All accept my favorite aunt, who was my mother’s best friend. It's heartbreaking, I know… but do not cry for me, please instead take this lesson I have learned.
Love is stronger than anything. Do not forget in your sorrows to reach out to the world around you. I grew up with true introverts, and when sadness takes over, they go inward. I, too, am an introvert but know to go out of my way to wear a few positive extrovert character traits when sad. Do not cut people out of your life when the going gets tough… Let them in so you can get strong with them! Please do not cut them out! Because you may forget to realize that they are hurting too.
Friends can be family. My teams in academic groups, networks, and businesses stepped up to help me. In them, I found strength. In them, I found my mom, the best parts of her! My mother taught me that life could be excruciating, but only as long as you allow it too.
One day, I woke up one day to an email from a young woman who also lost her mom to cancer. She told me the hardest part of losing your mother is figuring out who you are without her casting a shadow.
At that moment, my hope started to blossom. I did not have to feel that way. Instead, I could learn who I am with her there, looking out for me. In this way, I am not bound to her life. At that moment, I was free from my fears… at that moment, I needed to discover myself.
My friends stepped up. They told me what they see in me, why they love me. Why I would never be alone, and I, Constance Quigley, started to take shape… again and anew.
At one time, the tears just fell. When reading, when eating, when breathing. It was my friends that showed me my mother's lives through their support. When I realized that her kindness was shining through in all of my connections, my tears fell less.
The world got slower a few weeks later. Time seemed to still, and I ran through all of my memories with her. I thought as far back as I could… desperately trying to retain every precious moment I had with her. Clinging to the very thoughts that formed the beautiful woman that represents the mother in my mind. I had let go of every argument, every hurt, every disagreement. Now time slowed, and I only wanted every precious moment filled with memories of her smile. I have a smile.
When I was little, I would be insulted when someone thought I had my mother’s smile… Now it is my favorite part of her memory. I try to share it often.
My mom used to tell me that greatness is fake unless it is supported by kindness.
Take that lesson from my mom and be kind!
You are whatever you see yourself to be. It’s simple, but as the days turned to weeks, the message got louder. It reflected in my academic study, it repeated itself on social media, and I even caught myself saying it. You are whatever you see yourself to be.
So I choose to be a reflection of everything I honor in my mother. I choose to be kind, honest, moral, ethical, focused, positive, successful, blessed, and constant. I choose to honor the best of her and lay to rest the little things. I don’t think she abandoned me anymore. I have come to realize she found a better way to support me.
In honor of my mom, I wanted to share. In honor of my mom, I will succeed. In honor of my mom, I am putting my children first in every aspect of my life and my health second!
There is nothing in life that can compare to the desperate ache of losing your mom. I cannot offer anything more than what I have learned. It has been almost 6 months since my mom passed away. I still feel numb. I still wake up with the desire to call her! I still break when I realize she’s not there. I haven’t deleted her voicemail, but I can’t listen to it. It still hurts. My throat still swells, and tears still fall when I think of her.
But there is hope. I am not crying out of desperation, abandonment, or hurt. Now I cry tears of love, determination, and respect. If I could give you one lesson in all of my ventures, it would be to love hard. I loved my mother with every ounce of my being. I loved her with every breath I have ever taken, and today I honor her.
Love hard because a heart that loved completely finds peace and balance in the morning. A heart that loves completely will find hope. In little bits each day and those moments add, allowing your heart to heal in time and your love a greater reach.
Be Blessed. I honor all moms and cherish every moment.
We are Anishinaabe and her memory will live forever in her story and through her children. The featured painting is sacred and all rights are reserved, please do not copy. It was done to honor my mother’s spiritual journey. – Constance Quigley