Ten years ago this week, I sat with my 62 year old mother as she took her last breaths and died.
And while it wasn't unexpected – she'd battled terminal lung cancer for 8 long years, after being a smoker for 35 years – my mom's death, 5 weeks after becoming a mom myself, changed me and my life forever.
Changed not in a catastrophic way, like a fatal forest fire whipped up by hot summer winds – changed more like finally turning up the heat on a slow steady fire, the type of flame that makes a pot of vegetables, meat and water into a good mid-winter stew, bubbling gently on the stove.
This fire had actually gotten lit in me a few years earlier, its slow blue flame lapping at the edges of my life, but I hadn't really turned up the gas on it.
I knew that flame was there, waiting for me, but I was scared. I told myself a lot of stories about why I couldn't do what I longed to do — because of my mom's illness, this and that responsibility, what others would think, etc.
My mom's final decline and death woke me up to a few truths in some new and profound ways:
Nothing lasts forever.
People you love die.
You only get this life.
There was a new urgency to get going, to turn up that flame, and start moving.
And so I did. Slowly, surely, one step at a time.
And now, 10 years later, I live a life and do work that lights me up, fills me up, and is a true expression of who I am and what I can bring to the world.
(Plus the added benefit that I get to help other people figure out their version of that for themselves too.)
Ten years ago, I never would have guessed that losing my mom would make me brave enough to become myself.
I had no idea what 2013 would look like for me in 2003 but I moved ahead. Slowly, surely, one step at a time.
Whatever your dream of your future is, it's time to get moving.
If I can do it, so can you.
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Christina H. says
Thanks for this post Hanna! It is really timely for me as I’m making decisions about the next stages of my life and how to live my best life and live more fuly.
Hanna Cooper, MPH, PCC, CPCC, ORSCC says
Christina, I’m so glad if it was helpful for you — you have so much to give and I can’t wait to hear what decisions you land on!
Thanks Hanna, I know this is an old blog, but I was just searching online for stories and advice. I am in my first year of medical school and just lost my dad a few weeks ago to a massive unexpected heart attack. I feel like someone beat me over the head with a baseball bat and stole everything I love in life. And yet life has to go on, as stressful and difficult as before but with less motivation and lots more sadness now. I am to glad to hear you have turned your experience into a positive one over these past 10+ years. Hope I can do the same someday.
Hanna Cooper says
I’m so sorry to hear about your loss of your Dad – never easy no matter what the circumstances, but unexpected loss can really take the wind out of a person. Know that my heart reaches out to you.
I hope you can take some time for yourself, even in the midst of a busy life as a medical student. Reaching out, looking for stories, and sharing yours are all important ways of starting to process this life-changing experience.
Know that you’re not alone, and that it doesn’t have to make sense right now. It sounds so cheesy, but time will help… as will experiencing the experience you are in, as it is, even knowing it is unpleasant. Give yourself permission to be in the tender place you’re in.
Keep in touch, & keep reaching out – I’m glad if anything I wrote might be useful to you.