For 6 years I have struggled trying to turn the incredibly painful experience of losing my mother to Ovarian Cancer into something positive and worthwhile. Some of my darkest most difficult moments have been made brighter by the love and support my mom's friends have shown me since she passed away.
The outpouring of love and kind words through cards, texts and even dessert was incredibly uplifting (although I could have done without the daily Shiva cupcakes)! What's been even more powerful is that six years later the commitment to stay a part of each other's lives is stronger than ever. I still feel that foundation of support; it's woven in the fabric of the relationships we have continued to build since her passing. Our commitment to honor her legacy and her life, by doing our best to recreate it together, makes this irreplaceable loss a bit more bearable.
However, embracing this support was not always easy for me. In fact, I spent many years pushing people aside, building walls, borders and keeping my distance, in an attempt to bury so many of the emotions that were brewing inside of me. I struggled with this feeling of pity that inhibited my openness to accept help from others. At 19 years old the very stubborn part of me wanted to be fine on my own, and the ashamed part of me didn't want to feel like a burden or a charity case.
When my mother got sick she would use birthdays, graduations and other milestones as an opportunity to write letters to her children. These were not your typical cards; they instead were filled with sentiment, guidance and tremendous meaning. She wrote to us, and through her words would shine light on the important things she felt we needed to focus on. The beauty of these cards is that every time I read them I find myself reading something new.
As I get older her words continue to change and hold different meaning and purpose in my life. It's an exciting, at times overwhelming, exploration of the legacy that was left for me by my best friend, my ultimate role model and the one person that knew me better than myself.
"Family and friends are the most important things to have in your life. They are the people who will always be there for you. I have no doubt that you were able to see and appreciate how wonderful people are in times of need. Never be afraid Julie, to share your life with others by being honest and open. As you can see they will almost always react or respond in kindness and love when you allow them into your life. Make sure to stay open without walls or borders."- My 17th birthday card from my mother
It's safe to say she knew her daughter well. And so with time, re-reading my mother's words, along with a few thousand dollars in therapy (sorry dad!), I began to let those walls down. I allowed myself to embrace so many loving relationships of support that were luckily already a part of my world. I began to understand that part of dealing with loss isn't necessarily done alone.
Throughout the years this new understanding pushed me spend time with so many wonderful people. It allowed me to continue creating close relationships not only in my personal life, but in my professional life as well. As the Co-Founder of Fuck Cancer, I feel very blessed to get to spend every day working alongside some of the most inspiring women I have ever met. More importantly, this understanding allowed me to open myself up to creating new meaningful relationships with other mothers I respect and admire. This helped fulfill a part of my life that had been missing for too long.
A few months ago I went on walk in the park with my best friend's aunt. I'm not quite sure how, but it has become a bit of a yearly tradition. She's a lovely human being, in many ways she reminds me of my own mother and I always feel a tremendous sense of comfort after we walk. Our open dialogue led me to telling her how much I struggle with the idea that I no longer have a mother. I miss her support, I miss having her as a sounding board to work through the obstacles in my life, and above all, I miss having someone I could turn to that always made me feel safe and secure.
But it was during this walk in the park that I realized something extremely important, and it left me feeling rather inspired and incredibly comforted. Some of the most important and significant moments in my life, when I was given comfort, guidance and love from a mother, came from one other than my own.
Later that day I got to thinking (yes I just made a direct Carrie Bradshaw Sex and the City reference). Being a mother is so much more universal then we let it be. What I understand now is that so much of being a mother is giving love to someone in need. That's a role any woman can provide. A role that should be practiced as much as possible. A role that should be passed on. A role I hope to play one day not only for my children, but for any child going through a difficult time. The realization that this role, regardless of your biological connection, can be just as significant and important in someone's life makes me want to recreate it as much as I possibly can. We should all recreate it as much as we can.
To all of the incredible woman in my life who have talked with me, who have given me guidance or who have just given me a hug and provided a safe place to cry - I thank you. I hope any woman reading this article walks away feeling the significance and honor in being a mother even if it's for just a walk in the park.