Learning Courage and Love From My Mother

With all the recent talk about women’s rights and how people in marginalized communities are treated, I start to think about my mother. My love for my mother was unparalleled (until I had my own children)! Valentine’s Day seems like a perfect time to for me to remember how my mother affected my life in the way she lived hers.

My mother was an amazing woman. She was the most courageous person I have ever known. Compassionate. Caring. Loving. Courageous. (Did I say courageous? Because she was courageous!)

My mother grew up in southern California in a middle class family. She went to high school where her father was the head custodian. She wanted nothing more than to grow up and raise her kids like her parents did, in a safe and loving home. She wanted to be active with her future family and have a career that was full of compassion for others.

I distinctly remember my mother telling me a story about herself one day after she picked me up from high school tennis practice.

“I loved playing tennis when I was your age. I could run for the ball and felt so free. One day I went running after a ball and fell, for no apparent reason. I didn’t trip, I didn’t skid, I just fell. I thought how strange that was, but brushed it off, until the next time it happened. About a week later I fell again, but this time my leg went stiff. I couldn’t feel it. I decided to tell my mom. She took me to the doctor and they could not find anything wrong with me. My carefree running days were over. I worried about falling every time I played tennis after that. I’m so happy watching you play tennis and volleyball, Christi. It brings me so much joy! I just wish I could play with you.”

Some time after her tennis experience, my mother spent about a month in a mental hospital. The doctors really thought she was making things up in her head and that the episodes of stiffness and numbness were not physical but mental. She went through a lot of tests and was ultimately diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This diagnosis changed her life. However she faced it with courage and strength.

The many stories my mother told me about her life after her diagnosis profoundly shaped my life. The experiences I witnessed her go through and the experiences I had due to my mother’s MS changed my life. I watched my mom struggle to live her life independently and tried to help her be successful at that. My sister did as well. My father made it his mission in life to love, honor, and protect her in sickness and in hard times.

My mother was not one to feel sorry for herself and say “why me?”, she made things happen. The ADA laws were put into place when I was a child and I remember the city we lived in asked my mother to go around and find where handicap parking spots, ramps, and other accessibility features should be place. We drove around for hours over the course several days. When those blue signs went up I swelled with pride.

When I was in junior high, I came home one day and found my mother stuck. She had fallen in between the toilet and bathtub. She was wedged so tightly that she could not move. She had been like that for almost 7 hours. I couldn’t lift her, and had to call my father to come home from work. I remember feeling those were the longest 15 minutes of my life, and I could only imagine what 7 hours must have felt like to my mom. I felt so hopeless and helpless. My mom, true to her character, said “I’m pretty sure I didn’t break anything, thank God for that!”

While I had to do more around the house, lift my mom’s scooter in and out of the car, help her get around, and have more responsibility than most of my friends, I did have a wonderful life growing up. I was shaped by watching her courageously face life. I watched her triumph over difficulties in life with her attitude, and the love and support of her family. If you can’t succeed doing it one way, find a different way to succeed.

As we face challenges in life, whether it is due to a disability, gender, color of our skin, or a myriad of other challenges, we can take a chapter out of my mother’s book of life: face our difficulties with courage, strength, grace, love, and a never give up attitude.

I love you mom! Happy Valentine’s Day!!