I have been led to share a wonderful story with you. However, this journey came with new challenges and self-reflection as I considered the “bigger picture” this story represents. Just prior to Mother’s Day this year, I began writing this story in memory of my Mom.
As I progressed through the composition of this story, I felt the familiar presence of a heavy heart as I reflected upon what she meant to me and the positive impact she had on others since her passing 20 years ago. As my emotions overcame me, I just could not muster up the words or courage to finish this story. Reflecting on this experience has made me realize I must go to where I am led as I am called to share this story that began in my basement.
We all have heroes, mentors, and people that have influenced us, encouraged us, and motivated us to new heights. Some of my personal heroes include political figures like Sir Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. Some are sports heroes like Peyton Manning, Walter Payton, Michael Jordan, and Pat Tilman. My other heroes and mentors are mostly made up of people you don’t even know. One of them is named Gwen. Gwen was my mother.
My journey began during an afternoon of spring cleaning at home in my basement. It was late April, the week before Mother’s Day when I was surveying the treasure trove of stuff that had collected in my basement over the years. As I stood there in my basement, I wondered if I should consider “cleaning house” before any “honey do’s” arose.
I started sorting through various artifacts and relics of years past when I encountered two tattered cardboard boxes that were curiously out of place. It had been about four years since I last laid eyes on these boxes. I inherited these two boxes after my Father passed away about four years ago. I brought the boxes home and stored them away in my basement, never ever looking at the contents.
The actual boxes themselves are not important. It is what I found inside the boxes that inspired me to write this story. Oddly, I was drawn to these boxes for the first time in four years. My curiosity and anticipation was child-like as I rummaged through each box. As I collected my thoughts and inspected each item, I realized that this “stuff” had belonged to my Mom. My Dad must have collected some of my Mom’s personal belongings after she passed away 20 years ago and placed them into these two boxes for safe keeping.
My Mom passed away from stage 4 breast cancer just before Mother’s Day in 1995. This was after a yearlong battle that started just after Mother’s Day 1994. It was Mother’s Day 1994, and my family was celebrating Mother’s Day at my parents’ house.
My Mom was always strong and was rarely sick. But on this Mother’s Day, she appeared particularly pale, fatigued, and very fragile. After a few weeks of doctor’s visits and tests, the doctor delivered the bad news about my Mom’s future. I would have never known the true impact of this news until I discovered the contents of an old cardboard box.
The contents of each box contained nothing of any monetary value. There were trinkets of costume jewelry, stuffed animals, old photographs, miscellaneous personal belongings, and a red spiraled notebook. I didn’t open the little red spiral notebook at first and tossed it to the side as I continued to reflect upon my Mom during that time in her life she battled cancer.
As I stared at the torn, faded and dog-eared notebook I picked it up and began to thumb through the yellowing, discolored pages. This is when I noticed my Mom’s handwriting and the contents written in the notebook. To my astonishment I realized this little red notebook was Mom’s Cancer Journal from June 1994.
As I read through her journal, I realized that it was almost exactly 20 years ago to the day that my Mom passed away from cancer. Although this tattered little red notebook appeared unremarkable, it was the contents of the notebook that resonated profoundly within me. My Mom chronicled a personal journey of her one year battle with incurable cancer. It was difficult and sometimes emotional to read, but I was glued to every page as I could feel my Mom’s presence through her words in that journal.
Mom’s Leadership Wisdom
As I read about what my Mom went though and how she overcame so many obstacles and bad news, I realized that she was reaching out to me, knowing that someday I would read her journal. It was twenty years since my Mom passed away, and she was still giving me advice, encouragement, strength, and motivation through the words in her journal.
Leadership and Influence. Mom was an integral part of cancer patient groups and would often give support and advice to other patients who had little hope or faith of recovery. Mom always said that your ability to influence others should never be underestimated. You should always use your powers of influence to encourage others in a time of need, influence them with personal experiences and stories, and influence them with a positive, never quit attitude.
Mom reflected in her journal that the time you have to positively impact others and influence their lives is limited by the time you have here on earth. So what are we waiting for? It’s time we realize that what we say and do “matters”.
Mom was leading and influencing others during a time when she was fighting for her life. I believe she understood that giving strength and leadership to others help give her strength and faith in return. Although my Mom positively impacted many people during her short life, she probably had more influence and impact on other people’s lives during the last year of her life.
Inspiration and Confidence. Mom’s inspiration to succeed often came from her unrelenting confidence to overcome obstacles and set-backs. Her journal details horrific overnight visits to the hospital that involved receiving heavy doses of chemotherapy into her body to keep her cancer from spreading.
Although the chemo was keeping her alive, Mom realized that it was killing her, too. Through all of the pain and mental anguish of chemotherapy, Mom wrote in her journal the importance of keeping faith and having confidence so that others would not lose hope. My Mom was inspired by the saying, “When you allow your confidence to shine, you unconsciously permit others to do the same”.
I believe what Mom was saying in her journal was that she needed to portray strength and confidence for others even through the hardest time of her life. Mom was convinced that her strength and confidence would be an inspiration to others, even in the face of extreme adversity.
Mom understood that others would just give up, give in, and quit over the smallest problems or obstacles they encountered. She understood that her moment in time was limited, and the need to openly portray strength and confidence was more important than her personal feelings.
Attitude and Vision. I remember as if it were yesterday when I last hugged my Mom. It was a sunny Monday in May 1995 when my 5 year old son and I arrived at Mom’s house for lunch. Mom was explaining the next phase of chemotherapy she was about to have on Thursday. This treatment would be another overnighter at the hospital.
Although Mom knew what she was up against with the upcoming chemo treatment, she never lost her ability to keep her sense of humor and positive outlook with everything around her. Mom always looked forward. She never wavered from planning for the future and setting goals for herself. This positive mindset and commitment never wavered that day or at any time during her entries into her journal. Not ever.
As we concluded lunch that day in May 1995, we all hugged each other and said our goodbyes. The next day I left town on a business trip. As I sat on the airplane, I reflected on what a wonderful time we had together and how strong she seemed to be, both mentally and physically. I had made myself some notes to call home in a couple of days to check in and see how Mom was doing after the chemo treatment.
I never saw my Mom again after having that wonderful lunch with her and my son. Two days later in the middle of the night, I received an urgent telephone call at my hotel. I was notified that my Mom had just passed away. Her cause of death was related to unexpected complications from the advancement of her cancer and subsequent chemotherapy treatment.
I never got the opportunity to really say “goodbye” to my Mom and tell her how much seeing her meant to me that day. However, I will always be indebted to her for the lifelong lessons she taught me and others around her. I realize how she wouldn’t allow her condition, naysayers, or negativity to define her. Mom believed in the saying, “Someone’s perception of you does not have to become your reality”.
Her legacy is defined through an unselfish commitment to help others through a basic principal where your actions should speak louder than words. My Mom didn’t speak in acronyms or business jargon…she was just Mom. I can hear Mom say, “Never underestimate the power of influence you have on others and the potential impact on their lives”.
So who are your heroes, the role models that you look to for inspiration and guidance when times get tough? Don’t know…Well look around; look closely because they may be seated across from you right now. Hopefully, somehow you’ll be led to a real hero or reacquainted with a long lost memory.
Or who knows, maybe some of those memories are just waiting to be shared or are tucked away in an old cardboard box somewhere in your basement.
Author: Skip Myers
Author’s website: http://www.ruinabadguysday.com/blog/