This will be my first Mother's Day without my mom.
Last April she was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer and given "give or take" a year. Over the past few months, I’ve become fully aware that not everyone gets this type of warning that a loved one will be passing soon. A chance to go deeper into your relationship while someone is still alive can easily be taken for granted, especially in a culture that chronically avoids the topic of death. But from the moment my mom found out about her prognosis, she started giving me what would become the most important gift I think a mother can give a child: the gift of deep, meaningful conversations. Truthfully, she had always been open to giving this type of gift, but after hearing her diagnosis I felt a sense of urgency to participate more fully in her regularly scheduled conversations pondering the meaning of life.
When my mom first told me she had a year to live, I immediately left work to meet her at home, thinking this would be the moment I would finally see her really break down. Up until this point, she had mostly comforted me about her cancer. I figured from all the stories I had heard, the movies I had watched, and the books I had read, a person just given a terminal illness diagnosis is supposed to be depressed and crying in a corner.
But that's just not how she rolled.
That afternoon, when I found her in the backyard, she was happily gardening like she usually did after work on spring afternoons. She hugged my hysterically crying body and told me that if she was going to die in a year, why would she waste time moping around? She thought that was a pretty big waste of time. When my boyfriend came home later that day, she immediately lightened the mood by saying, "So apparently I have a year to live, let's smoke some weed!”
This was my mom.
She did not waste one second after her diagnosis feeling sorry for herself nor did she let the news slow her down. This past year she traveled to Tijuana with my brother, Canada with me and my sister, Colombia for my brother's wedding, Michigan to meet an author with her book club, Truckee for the Donner Party Experience, Hearst Castle, Colorado for a reunion with her college roommates, the pyramids in Cancun, a road trip through Florida, countless trips to LA. She swam with dolphins, performed improv, saw Hamilton, and threw huge parties at her house (even if that meant having a potluck gathering around her living room hospital bed).
Living next door to her, I witnessed hundreds of people travel from around the world to visit. She never shied away from anyone or any subject. Instead, she made jokes about her cancer, sang songs about death. Her visitors left with glow, blessed after being around someone so honest and transparent. She was always so HERSELF. It was such a gift.
We spent hours together in the back yard and eventually around her hospital bed talking about life, death and what it all means. My mom thought that death brought something vitally important to life - and was convinced that her cancer wasn't so bad. That it was a gift to be given a timeline to prepare and get things in order for her descent into the next realm. She made the year count and passed on her greatest lessons to the most open of ears.
Another gift my mom bestowed upon me and my siblings was being very clear on what she wanted to happen once she passed. She wanted to be cremated and spread across her favorite places: Boulder, the Santa Cruz Mountains, the backyard of her home in Cupertino. She wanted a huge celebration of life, with singing and laughing and dancing in her honor. She wanted her birthday to be celebrated every year with lox and bagels. And she didn't want any significant life events to be made sad by her passing. She always said to "Celebrate me and then send me peacefully on my way." She was happy to stay and she was happy to go.
In a culture that predominantly avoids talking about death, she was a breath of fresh air. She never pretended death wasn't real, and thus she was always totally present. I feel lucky to have had this experience with my mom. She has been my greatest spiritual teacher yet. She taught me not only how to live, but how to die.
So many people lose their parents before they have had a chance to have these types of conversations, or their parents shy away from the topic of death altogether. How deep do you go with your parents? Do you stick to discussing the surface level details of your lives? Or do you frequently dive into unknown territories that might feel uncomfortable?
If your parents are still around, consider going deeper with them this Mother’s Day. Their words may be something you hold onto for comfort once you no longer have them on this earth.
pictured: one of my mom's last crow poses, about four months before she passed