It can be a scary word to some. I, however, have learned to embrace transition and change since time and time again, life reminds me that being able to ‘go with the flow’ usually results in a more positive and transforming experience. We are also often given opportunities disguised as challenges and it is up to us to determine which lesson we glean from these trials. Our struggles with change reveal our character and can surprise us with what we are actually capable of.
Terminal cancer is a heavy, sad pairing of words. It leaves no room for hope, no room for miracles. You are faced with a certainty– you will lose this person, your days together are finite.
Immediately, there is a certain pressure to say and do the things you haven’t. When my 60-year-old mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year, we certainly didn’t understand the ‘lesson’ life was teaching us. My family and I gravitated toward the feelings we were familiar with in time of despair: anxiety, sadness, uncertainty, desperation, false hope. When I realized that none of these feelings would ultimately better the situation we were in, I realized that a shift in perspective must happen or we would be too lost in sorrow to enjoy the time we had left together.
I wanted my final time spent with my mother to be meaningful and not wrought with sadness and stress. There would be plenty of days where she would feel too sick to speak or even sit up on her own. I didn’t want to waste precious time focused on the battle ahead and the inevitable outcome; I wanted to remove myself from the sadness of the equation so I could carry on, be present, appreciate her and most of all let her know how much I loved her. I understood the only way I would be able to be fully present for my mother in her time of need was to take the negative feelings I was experiencing and channel it into some positive outlet. This way, I could accompany her on this path and remain a positive and encouraging voice in her time of darkness.
I made the decision to move the pain through my body and began my fitness journey.
I began to channel all of that excess energy into spin classes, CrossFit, running, just moving. The best advice I ever got was to “move through your pain.” Physically moving your body when you feel strong negative emotions can release you of negative emotion; you reemerge clear headed and capable.
I was able to release my body of the fear that was weighing it down. And every time I got angry at cancer or depressed because my mother could no longer do the things I associated with her being my mother, I just worked out harder.
My body changed, but more importantly, my mind transformed along with it.
I was able to tell her everything I needed to tell her, brush her hair, and make her as comfortable as possible in her final days. Because of the steps I took to disengage from the disparity, I was able to be her accomplice and the person who she turned to for comfort and assurance when the pain became unbearable.
I bid farewell to my mother on January 16th at 7:47 p.m., and she returned to her ‘place in the universe’ as my wise brother so eloquently stated.
In the week prior to her passing, I told her I would honor her by making my dreams a reality– to carry on with my business, which I started in her kitchen. I was so thankful that she was able to witness the accomplishment of many of my goals.. I told her I would make the rest of my dreams come true and she knew I would.
I can feel her surround me from time to time, often I’ll find an unread email she had sent and it will have the perfect message for me; exactly what I need to hear at that moment. The ones we love never really leave us so there is no need to fear– their presence just takes a different form. I hope this has served to inspire someone who is facing a challenge right now. You may not have control over the situation but you do have control over how you react to it. You have a singular opportunity to make a major, lasting change in your life.
Take what you fear and move it through and out of your body. Remember to be gentle with yourself and always come from a place of love.
Love and gratitude are the highest vibrations we can carry. Be thankful for the hardest lessons for they reveal our true character.
“Grief does not change you it reveals you.”
Alex is 30 years old and lives in Manhattan