Sadly, this article was written a few years ago. My mom passed away a few months after I wrote this article and my boyfriend passed away from cancer recently too. This doesn’t change the story or make it any less relevant. My mom still accepted just who I was which allowed me to weather the storms of my life.
I was the black sheep of the family beating to my own drum. I was the first-born daughter with two younger sisters. They say the oldest paves the way for the others and my road was rocky. I was bullied by a group of girls and eventually got beat up by one of them in high school. I thought it was my fault, that I must have been unlikable so I slowly self-destructed. As they terrorized me on a daily basis, I felt somehow I was not good enough because these girls hated me. I later realized that they disliked themselves and took it out on others. But as a teen, I believed I had done something wrong. I had a big temper and was an angry, dispirited teenager. Things at home were far from smooth sailing. The harshest words I ever heard from my mom were “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” When I heard that, I felt maybe she loved me a little less and in order to gain her love meant I had to meet her approval. I was in piano for many years and although I enjoyed it at first, I stopped liking it but continued on because disappointing her meant she would love me less. When I eventually quit, she never said a word.
As the hormonal imbalance of my teenage years wore off, I had an overwhelming sense of guilt that I had been so hard on my mom for not measuring up. I thought my mom expected me to be successful in school but the motivation was never there. I wondered if my life would get on track but I was never able to push forward because I felt guilty and inadequate. In my own head, I assumed if I was my mom I would be disappointed in me.
My middle sister announced she was getting married as I was finally getting my life together at 25. I realized marriage and settling down was not the path I wanted. Instead, I opted to travel because that was the only thing I found to be fulfilling. I traveled all over. First stop was a small town near Alaska, then overseas to Thailand, then to the East Coast of Canada. Finally, I made it back to the West Coast of Canada so I could be her bridesmaid. Seeing my sister get married hit me. When I witnessed the joy in my parents’ eyes, I saw a way to make my mom proud of me. Despite my resistance to marriage, I thought it would be the answer to gain my mother’s approval. I got engaged and soon realized he wasn’t the right one for me. It took me a long time to realize that all of my floundering was an attempt to make up for the terrible teen I was. I partied too much and when I ran off to Ireland, I didn’t tell a soul. I sent a message to my mom when I arrived. Telling her gave me those same feelings I felt when I was a teenager, that I was selfish and a major disappointment. I came back home feeling lost and incomplete after another failed relationship.
I found work at a remote heli-skiing lodge. On my breaks I would visit my mom and dad. Months before we found out my mom had terminal stage IV lung cancer, we went out for dinner. As we were being seated, my mom told me there was a time she had hoped I would get married and settle down. She said she realized that was not my version of a happy life. She told me how proud she was of me for living a life against the grain, taking a path that crisscrossed the globe. She said she lived vicariously through me with my world travels. Her face was relaxed and gentle as she said “we love you honey and we just want you to be happy, that’s all we could have ever asked for you.” I can’t remember a time my mom had ever said such a wonderful thing to me. She is quite reserved with her thoughts and feelings, so maybe she didn’t realize it was the one thing I needed. I’m sure if she had known that that was all I needed to be happy and free, she would have told me much sooner. I was elated and my feelings changed immediately about her and myself. I felt like I had an ultra-nurturing friend that would never abandon me no matter what I did in life. All I said was “thank you mom, that means so much to me.” What more could I say? I didn’t realize this conversation would change my life. I realized I didn’t have to be anything for my mom to love me unconditionally. Her simple words liberated me from the guilt I had self-imposed on myself since I was 15.
That conversation accelerated the dream to move to Thailand. When she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, her voice grew louder. I moved to Thailand despite the news of her illness because she insisted I continue living my life. To cut my dream short and stay in Canada would have hurt her more. In her eye, she had wanted to go on the adventure to Southeast Asia, and there was no better time. This adventure was in honor of her. I was living a life true to me, which is all she wanted for me. Her only request was that I take lots of pictures. I was able to experience Thailand as though it were my first time thanks to the freedom she had given. I took pictures as though I were seeing all the beauty through her eyes. Everything seemed more radiant.
When I arrived in Thailand, I immediately fell in love with a man I had been acquaintances with over 10 years. My dream of being a writer became a reality too. With the new perspective I had and the approval of my mother, my eyes were finally wide open to the things I always knew I wanted. I wasn’t attracting that into my life until I knew my mom accepted me. I didn’t let people close to me for fear they wouldn’t accept me. I had done it to my fiancé over the years. I’m going to marry the love of my life this year. And I am getting more opportunities as a writer. I can see it in my mom’s eyes that she is happy and filled with joy.
My mom’s doctor says she is the most positive cancer patient he’s ever met. She has defied the odds on survival. When they found the mass, it was apparent she had had the lung cancer for many years. I wonder sometimes if she instinctively knew something was not right in her body. Maybe that’s why she felt the need to have that conversation. My mom let me know that my dream of living a life less ordinary was something she completely supported, and that has allowed me to make an extraordinary life for myself. I am so grateful she was able to express her thoughts and feelings to me. She guided me by her genuine love and character. As I visit the past, I can see the roads I went down and knew I wouldn’t go back the same way but for my mother’s support. And gaining her love has made a world of difference.