My dad had thick, coal black hair and a smile that could light up a room. He was kind and handsome and hardworking. He took me to ballet, and he taught me how to use a hammer and how tend to a garden.
And then, my dad was diagnosed with cancer.
The cancer invaded his once healthy body. I watched as his hair and his strength slowly disappeared. I no longer sat next to him as we hammered away on a new project; I sat next to him on a hospital bed. He traded in his gardening tools for an oxygen tank. And, when I wanted to be near him, I had to wear a mask over my face.
My dad died.
For years, I have tried to cope with the loss of my father. I’ve cried. I’ve yelled. I’ve questioned God. I’ve sat in devastating denial, and I’ve searched for a glimmer of hope. And, until recently, I have ignored one important fact:
My dad died, but my mom lived.
My mom lived. A small sentence, but a powerful one.
My mom lived through heartbreaking loss and earth shattering despair. She lived, and she taught me how to ride a bike and rollerskate. “Eyes forward,” she would say, “balance is key.” Lessons I would use throughout my life — in school, at my job, and in my relationships.
My mom lived through nights of crying herself to sleep and days of trying to make ends meet. She lived, and she took me to tennis camps and horseback riding lessons. She drove me to therapy appointments and birthday parties, and she taught me that self-sacrifice can sometimes be the most generous gift we give.
My mom lived through survivor’s guilt and depression. She lived, and she showed me the power of parallel parking and properly applied red lipstick. That we can spend our lives driving around the block waiting and hoping for the perfect spot to present itself, or we can take whatever life throws at us and turn it into something pretty perfect. A great red lip doesn’t hurt either.
My mom lived through denial and grief, and she kissed bruised knees and tried her best to bandaged broken hearts, and I learned there is no pain too great that love can’t cure.
My mom lived and she laughed and she loved again. And from her, I learned that it was OK for my life to continue too. I was allowed to be sad, but I was also allowed to be happy, to smile, to experience the world, to live.
I have never realized how much of an accomplishment that is — to live after facing so much loss. I’ve never appreciated how much strength and courage she had to possess in order to continue on with life after my dad’s death. I’ve never thanked her for the tremendous amount of love and sacrifice she had to give in order for me to have the beautiful childhood memories I do.
My dad died, but my mom chose to live, and in doing so, she taught me the power of a mother’s love. And for that, I am forever thankful, because her life has made a beautiful difference in mine.
Mom, thank you.
Ali Cummins is a wannabe movie star turned teacher and mother of two. When she isn’t busy grading papers and breaking up fights over Barbies, she writes about her experiences parenting a child with special needs. She can be found at Crazy Cakes & Eskimo Kisses and on Facebook.
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