Tuesday, April 30, 2024

An Inspiring Mother

It seems no matter where one might look, people are eager to impose limitations or expectations on others. They want us to do more and do better: become doctors, lawyers, or architects... But then, as we grow older or become ill, they demand that we do less. "Are you sure you're still safe while driving?" "How can you be so active when you're getting older?" Or, in my case, "It's not normal to be happy while fighting cancer. Elisa, you're living in denial." 

The silly thing is that I have both good and bad days. Just because people see one moment of our lives, that doesn't make them experts.

Last week, I spoke with my mother about this. "I refuse to act like I'm dead while I'm still busy living." Sure, life has changed, imposing its own limitations. I use a wheelchair for long distances. I can no longer go hiking, and I sleep an ungodly number of hours each day. I'm 41 years old, and certain things I loved are no longer on the table, but that doesn't mean I can no longer enjoy what I CAN do. Life is change, right? So we can either pivot... or fall. 

"I read an article the other day," my mom said. "It claims certain people are biologically equipped to handle hardship." She paused, then whispered something so quietly I had to ask her to repeat it. "It's just," she said, "if anyone was built to handle hardship, it's you."

My parents are wonderful, loving people, but compliments like this are years in the making. It made my heart swell.

They've worked hard to get where they are and expected me and my siblings to do the same. My dad built a drilling company from the ground up, and my mom was a successful musician (drummer) and later worked as a bookkeeper for many years. But things haven't always been easy for them, and knowing how hard they've fought to continually find the good—through my dad's battle against stage 4 cancer as well as the death of a grandchild... They had businesses go under before finding success and have braved other trials that somehow made their marriage stronger. Knowing all of that made her words resonate. "You're my hero, Mom. Really." 

My parents are in their mid-70s, and they rock climb nearly every day. My dad goes trap shooting and golfing every chance he gets, while my mom enjoys teaching line dancing lessons. I remember several years ago when someone tried imposing boundaries on them. "You're both getting older. You should slow down." But I'm proud that my parents didn't listen. They knew what they wanted and decided to simply go out and enjoy their lives.

"You've been through so many tough things," I said, "but you smile through it all. And you do it with such grace." Before fighting cancer, I never understood how much strength it takes to be gentle, good, forgiving, and hopeful. Those are the strengths I see in my mother. Those are the things I wish to find in myself.

"You won't believe what someone told me the other day." I knew she'd have good advice for me. "They said I must not be 'that sick' if I can make breakfast for the kids every day, smile, and do my makeup. You'd think doing my makeup is harder than raising the dead!"

My mom laughed. "Well, you're doing your best with what you can control." She took a deep breath. "I wish more people would get out and enjoy life." Then she told me how she recently attended a band audition AND got the job. "I'm playing gigs and everything, Elisa. I'm in a band again!"

I couldn't help smiling because every day is a surprise with those two. They were so good to me while I grew up, but now they're leading by example. I've realized more and more that I need to let go of the expectations and limitations people might want to impose on me. If oncologists are right and I'll die from melanoma at some point, it would be tragic to quit living before I'm even dead. So, I'll keep doing my makeup if I want to. I'll go for strolls with my family—whether walking or in a wheelchair. And I'll smile through the pain. 

If we can't muster even a bit of gratitude and enjoy what we have, what's the point? I'd rather make the best of my situation and learn how to enjoy every last moment of life that I can.

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