Published on January 5th, 2014 | by Kailei Carr8
“We Are All Going to Die” and Other Lessons My Mom’s Death Taught Me
2013 included the best day in my life and the worst day in my life. On June 15th I got married and gained a life partner, and on August 5th my mother died and I lost my hero. Through it all there were so many moments that taught me about myself, life and death and I’m hoping that some of my experiences can help someone else.
First, let me tell you about my mom. She was the first in her family to go to college and also to receive masters and doctoral degrees. She was the person who sent out 400 holiday cards each year to friends and family all over the world and would send birthday cards to everyone she had ever been close to – including people she hadn’t seen in decades. A woman she knew was so inspired by her that she wrote a book in honor of her – a collection of “thank yous” from over a hundred friends and family members whose lives my mom touched. She was the epitome of selfless giving and she did that freely with her time, her money, her resources and her network. So when my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer in February of 2012, it was devastating. I didn’t know how life as I knew it would change. I knew one thing, though: I was going to be there every step of the way. So I was with her – at chemo treatments, doctor’s appointments and even moved in for most of the time she was sick. My company allowed me to work remotely when I could – sometimes for months on end. I was her care taker and if I couldn’t take the cancer away I sure as heck was going to do all I could to make this as comfortable as possible for her. She fought the devastating disease for 18 months and after a few months of reflecting, I wanted to share just a little bit of what I learned:
1. We are more resilient than we think. If someone would have told me that I’d be watching my mother dying from cancer, preparing for my marriage and planning my wedding all while managing a team in a demanding job, I would expect I’d be crumbling. Like, “be on watch because I am about to break down at any moment” crumbling. And I think other people expected that to be the case for me. But you know what? I didn’t crumble. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments and there were certainly things that suffered (note: a summer hiatus of The Vyne). But crumbling would have meant that my mother would not have had the care she needed and that my upcoming marriage would not have started on the right foot. So crumbling was not an option. And I am sure that under the same circumstances many of you would have also stepped up to the plate. We humans are pretty darn strong, you know, and we don’t often give ourselves enough credit.
2. We should honor death more like we honor life. There was not a day during my mother’s illness when I expected for her to die. When my mom died, she was under hospice care at home. Before she went home the doctors mentioned she had days or weeks, not months to live. But I still wouldn’t accept that. My mom was an exceptional person who had defied odds for her entire life, so why should this be different? I always had hope. As a result, I didn’t stop and think about the notion of her not being here tomorrow. I didn’t take the time to ask her any questions that needed to be answered or tell her all the things that I wanted her to know. Doing that would mean that I would have given up on hope. And I didn’t want her to stop fighting.
The truth is, we are all going to die. And whether we die today, tomorrow or 50 years from now, asking questions and telling people we love what we want them to know does not mean that we have given up on them. I heard this TED talk on creating a heroic narrative for death that was really powerful. I’ve embedded the video below this article if you want to view it.
3. There is divine order to life. If there is one thing that I have learned most of all through this experience it is that there is divine order to life. Let me explain how this all went down. My mom got a chance to hear about how loved she was before she got sick. Just two months before she was diagnosed with cancer, she received a prestigious award and heard stories from people from around the world whose lives she had touched in many ways. There was a point after she started treatment when she was in the hospital with pneumonia for over a week. Doctors didn’t think she would make it but she did and lived for another year and a half. During that time she was able to see me get engaged, co-plan my bridal shower and be a part of my wedding. In fact, she was so determined to be at my wedding that though she was in the hospital for two weeks before and was released just the night before, she still walked me down the aisle with my father and brother. She also didn’t pass away until I was done with work — my last day was August 2nd and she passed away one business day later on August 5th. So, I didn’t have to worry about work while I was grieving. And now, instead of going back to a job I’m not passionate about I can focus on what I love which includes more of what we’ve been doing with The Vyne and VyneWorld.com. If that isn’t divine order, I don’t know what is.
4. Make sure you and your loved ones have an estate plan. My mom was very organized and planned many details related to her death years before she got sick. She even outlined which scriptures to read and songs to sing at her funeral! Despite this level of detail, closing out anyone’s estate is a doozy. For me this was a full time job for a few months. Thinking about death is hard, but we all will go through it. So if you haven’t spoken with your parents or your spouse about their wishes, please do so. Talk to an attorney to get a living trust and will prepared. Make sure the beneficiaries on all of your accounts are updated. There’s no time like the present.
So though 2013 was a roller coaster of a year, I know I am a better person because of all of the experiences, good and bad. And I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store.
Amanda Bennett’s TED Talk: We need a heroic narrative for death