by Susan Hayes
Jillian was only 23 when she was stolen from her family by melanoma cancer. As her mother, I'm learning to navigate this long, unchartered road filled with potholes. I'm learning to live with the huge hole that Jillian's death has carved into my heart. Without falling in. I reflect on all the changes and events that have taken place in our lives this past year.
This past spring, I was honored to speak at the Grand Valley State University's 2013 Relay for Life. I was asked to share my experience as a caregiver to someone who has cancer. I'm not comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. I was the kid who was sick the day of "current events" in Mrs. Marlow's sixth grade class. I was the one who threw up the night of our school play, "Alice in Wonderland," where I was supposed to play "Mary." I would have been sucked down that hole, I just know it. I never did find out how the play turned out. I never asked.
I had the week to think about how I was going to stutter and blow it in front of the crowd of people. Of how my mind would blank out and I'd forget where I was, and what I was doing on a stage. I thought about a lot of things that week as I struggled to find my big girl pants.
A long ago memory kept playing in my head all week. It was when I took the kids to a local sports store, where they featured a climbing wall. Josh must have been 12, Jillian around 9. They both scaled it, Josh ringing the bell at the very top. What an accomplishment! Jillian didn't make it to the top, but I was so proud of that little monkey for trying.
Then it was my turn. I got about half way up before I was ready to quit. My arms were tired, I was ready to be done with this. Until I heard this little voice below me, "Come on mom, you can do it. Keep going." Immediately, Josh joined in the encouragement, "Come on, Mom!"
Nope, I tried, I couldn't do it, and I started to climb down. Jenni was very young, sitting below with her siblings, and I wanted to get back to her. The little voice, Jillian's voice, got louder. "Mom, remember you always told us NEVER to give up. You can't give up. It's what you said Mom, never give up."
I looked down below to where my kids were cheering me on. By then a crowd had gathered, all watching, big grins on their faces. I'm not sure if they were cheering me on too, or if they just found the humor in the predicament I'd found myself in.
I had a choice to make. Oooookay. I began to climb toward that bell with all my might. My arms were straining, my heart was hammering, and my feet kept slipping, but I was determined now. Slowly, I made forward progress, little by little. I had to reach that bell. And I did. I rang that stupid bell as cheers and applause greeted me from below. It was a great moment for me. I couldn't have cared less whether I was physically able to climb that wall or not. It was the rare moment you get as a parent when you feel that one of the lesson's you tried to teach your children really does show value. Simple. You don't give up.
Change is inevitable in our lives. And some of those changes aren't always welcome. Loved ones are diagnosed with cancer. Relationships are broken, new tumors are discovered, and loved ones are called home. We can sit on the sidelines and ask, "Why did this happen? Why me?" Or we can slowly make progress forward, even if our feet slip, toward that big shiny bell, sparkling with promise.
Thank you my friends, for your continued support.
Thank you, my precious children. Those here on Earth, and the one in Heaven.
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