Mirror Mirror: Help me see how I want to be #dignity Part 1 of 3

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“I don’t believe dignity is something you’re born with…” 

           Miriam Webster defines dignity as, “a way of appearing or behaving that suggests seriousness and self-control: the quality of being worthy of honor or respect”.  Dignity is described as a noun, not a verb; therefore, it’s not an action one takes, but a presence of being and, by description, not something you can possess by simple existence.  I’m not sure dignity is something I was keenly aware of until a very mature age of my life and, my recollection is becoming aware of the genuine ability to have dignity by observation.

There has been one common thread amongst the people in my life who I have observed and believed to possess dignity.  Dignity, being a noun and not a verb, dignity does not require work to maintain, but persons possessing it have more of an inner spirit that drives them to respond to the world and those around them in a particular way.  There is an ease in decisions of consciousness, decisiveness, convictions, and those dignified individuals whom I have known of during my life seem to face situations of existence that would terrify most, with a calmness of soul, and a serenity and an acceptance of fate as the universe would have without questioning the Almighty with “Why?” as some people would.

This is my reflection of three such wonderful souls.

“When I realized what genuine dignity looked like, I thought Wow…”

            My first real glimpse of utter dignity that I recall was the last few weeks of my mother’s life.  She was 80 years old, had survived stage I lung cancer ten years earlier, as well as a multitude of other geriatric health issues, only to then find herself with a late diagnosis of terminal liver cancer.  The rather radical surgery removing a portion of Mom’s left lung saving her life ten years prior required a long hard recovery.  At that time, Mom said she would never undergo such treatment again, and especially when she felt perfectly fine before they cut her open.  It is my belief now, that her conviction some ten years earlier, was the reason why we found ourselves with this late diagnosis.  In other words, my mother was sick for along time and simply ignored the warnings until she became hospital bound, and a diagnosis was made much too late.  She didn’t wish to be diagnosed and feel obligated to undergo treatment she didn’t want to have.

To say cancer defined my Mom would not be telling the whole story.  The truth is my Mom was a lifelong survivor of many trials some would consider a reason to give up.  She was the youngest of three children in a family with an alcoholic father and mother with epilepsy when there was little treatment available.  Mom grew up with tremendous responsibility in a chaotic house with a mother she felt hated her.  Mom loved her father a lot, but he was apparently a mess and died young, and Mom eventually brought my grandmother to live with our family until she passed.   Not having much of an example, Mom married an alcoholic, and while they did their best with three children, history repeated, and Mom was left with most of the responsibility for our family.

Through all of her trials and tribulations, Mom was a strong woman, who was determined to appear like she had it all together, even when the world was crumbling around her.  I can only speak for myself when I say that her cavalier attitude was often off putting to me when I wanted her to crawl in the pot of pity with me when I was feeling bad about what life wasn’t giving me.  For Mom, it was all about appearances.  Don’t show the world your weaknesses, and they won’t be able to pick on them.  She never complained about being sick, even going to work with a turtleneck on to hide the fact that she had caught the mumps from me!  Mom carried this will and grace to her grave.  I really wish I had learned to appreciate it more while she was still alive.

Fast forward to numerous admissions with complicated illnesses.  Even then Mom went to the hospital by ambulance.  She never wanted to go to the doctors or a hospital.  As my brothers and I surrounded her to comfort her during delivery of the news of her liver cancer, Mom looked at all of us wide-eyed and calm.  We looked at Mom, waiting for the moment she would break down.  There were no tears.  Mom had been told there was no treatment that she could tolerate at that point.  She had anywhere from weeks to months to live.  We’re all tearing up, and patting her and asking if she’s ok.  The silence in her glare was puzzling.  Then she calmly looked around at all of us, and God is my witness said, “Well did you think I was going to live for ever!  For God’s sake, I’m 80 f*****g years old!”  Needless to say, we all just sat there frozen in place, not knowing whether to laugh or cry for her.  I mean she was right.  Mom was 80 years old, she led a decent life, she had happy times and sad times, she was loved and adored by many, and the fact was, she was sick as hell.

A decision was made to move Mom to hospice care, as she was ready to stop all life sustaining medications.  She starting refusing food almost right away and within days she slipped into a peaceful coma, drifting out of our lives on the tenth day.  Mom was in a beautiful room, surrounded by cards, notes and flowers from all the people who loved her.  This was her choice, her terms, she was ready to go and, she even refused morphine for comfort claiming she had no pain.  I remember sitting in Mom’s room the day before she left us, and thinking that I only hope if I had to make the choice she did, that I could leave the world so peacefully.  My mother was many things good in her life and, yes, a few bad things too; however, I can say without hesitation, she had dignity and I am so blessed that I got to live in the presence of it, grow from it, and admire it.

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Mirror Mirror: If What doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger?

ImageWhat doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!  That’s what my Mom always said, mostly when current life events sucked, and their seemed to be no immediate exit strategy.  Like saying it was the same as winging a little ray of sunshine over the situation, right?  This simple technique may have sufficed when I was five and I was being strapped in a pair of white tights, buckle shoes, gloves and a hair bun; however, as I grew older, it required a little more reflection.

They say you really can’t appreciate your parents until you become one, and I genuinely believe that now!  I admit I bought into my mother’s ranting of “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger………” it just sort of rang out with no ending, like that’s it, no further explanation is required, and I guess I thought ok, that’s it.    Somewhere in my “tween” years, I remember thinking, “well if this is it, I don’t like it!”  And you know what?  I got mad, and I got determined, and I learned to move to a place where the same things couldn’t hurt me in the same way again.  Well isn’t that special?  Perhaps what doesn’t kill us, does in fact, make us stronger!

To point to an early example of how this theory works, my freshman cheerleader tryouts.  I had made the squad every year since, well since every year.  Captain one year.  It never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it the crowning glory of years of junior high school, but I didn’t make the freshman squad.  I didn’t make the second squad to cheer for the girls’ team!  What?  You must be kidding me!  I made it home from tryouts, climbed into my Dad’s lap, and whaled like a two year old.  My mother……….you guessed it, just wanted me to know I would survive this bump in the road, and what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  I’m pretty sure I was just about the age to think, “screw you, it doesn’t’ get any worse than this!”  The next day I was called to the principals office late in the day and told some lame excuse about they had determined that my scoring had been misplaced, it was a horrible mistake, but they had determined they could place me as captain of the girls’ squad as consolation.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t add an extra person to the freshman squad.  It wasn’t until many years later that I found out that my Mom went to the school the next day raising holy hell, only to be told the school felt my placement on the squad may have posed a financial burden on our family, what with my Dad’s illness and my Mom’s need to work all the time.    Oh no you didn’t tell my Mom she wasn’t providing for her children good enough!  Next day I was on a squad of some kind, that’s all I know.  I guess what doesn’t kill us does make us stronger, because my Mom never let me know a thing at the time, but I think she made her point at one junior high school.  The next year, I was more determined than ever to make the high school squad, and I did!

All of that stuff seems a million years ago now, but the lessons learned were engrained in me.  Life has been very good to me at times, and not so good at others.  I honestly feel like life has tried to kill me a couple of times, and it’s certainly kicked my butt a time or two!  But every single time I come out on top, it’s like Conan the Barbarian beating his chest screaming, “I am a beast, I can take it!”  All right, I’m exaggerating, but it feels pretty good to get through the tough times, and know you can.  If I’m honest, I know that my ability to endure can be attributed to those early lessons.  After all, it probably never is as bad as we think it is.  When I’m struggling with the process, I pause and look around, because there is always someone with a lot more burden to carry than me!  People like my friend, Ellen, best friend ever, mother of five, and in treatment for stage III breast cancer.  Ellen is in the fight of her life, and you truly couldn’t meet anyone with a better outlook on life, so what could I have to complain about?  If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, when Ellen gets through this cancer thing, she’ll probably be a giant