Today would have been my mums birthday had Cancer not taken her from us. Today, while I remember some of the conversations and emotions we shared, I am also reminded of some of the life lessons she taught, either by what she did or what she didn’t do…
My mother grew up with minimal education and spent most of her life working very hard to try and make a ‘successful’ life from humble beginnings. She encountered many challenges and difficulties along the way, because life is generally what happens while we are busy trying to achieve our goals!
Coming from a small, rural community (post depression era) there were a lot of challenges, socially, that I have a better appreciation for since growing up and living a very different life from my mother…
My mother worked very hard and expected the same from everyone else around her. Character and physical abilities were synonymous to that generation. Even women were expected to be hard workers and work long hours without rest. Anything less than this was unacceptable. This was not a time and place to have any form of illness or disability. In fact, illness and disability was seen as weakness. Going to the doctor for anything less than a life threatening accident was also a sign of weakness to my parents, and so no one went to the doctor for the usual checks ups as this was synonymous with hypochondria! Therefore NO ONE was taken to the doctor unless it was deemed a medical emergency and if you became unwell you were expected to either ‘work through it’ or not be an interference in the day to day schedule and routine. Sadly for my mother it cost her her life… By the time she went to the doctor (after months of me begging her) her cancer was so advanced that she had only a few months to live.
What I have learned from this is not to treat my own health, and anyone else’s with such little respect. I am having to relearn all the bad habits that were drilled into my childhood and take a ‘care – taker’ approach to my body and its health.
I have learned that being sick, even chronically ill, is not a character flaw or weakness, and to regard it is a biological process going on inside us and how we manage our health and our attitude to our health can be indicative of how we view ourselves and value ourselves as human beings. If we don’t value our body and it’s health, we can’t expect others to do so.
Sometimes illness can be a mixture of bad ‘luck’ and genetic disposition, and a whole pile of other factors that we are just scratching the surface in understanding, but it has nothing to do with mental weakness or instability. I feel I should acknowledge that mental illnesses is not included in this discussion since I don’t have first hand knowledge of many mental illnesses or disorders I don’t feel I am not in a place to include or discuss them with any sort of experience or expertise.
My mother had died before I was diagnosed with autoimmune illnesses and so I have often wondered to myself how she would have reacted to my chronic condition and I can only base it on how she reacted to illness and health in the past. Sadly, I think she would have been dismissive and possibly even judgmental. She would have dismissed what she didn’t understand and she possibly would have expected me to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’. Whilst it saddens me that this might have been a very testing event to our relationship, it has also made me determined to ensure that the legacy of this thinking has stopped with me. I refuse to follow in the footsteps of my ancestors who have all suffered from many different illnesses, including mental illnesses, because of lack of empathy, a legacy of denial and poor education and awareness of health issues and medical knowledge.
I have had to become a care taker of my health, and I must fight off the guilt and frustration that was nurtured in me at a young age, and learn to be kinder to my body and its needs. I also forgive my parents for some of their attitudes as I realise that even though they are our mentors at birth, they are also human themselves. They are victims of their own legacies of prejudice, denial, lack of understanding and education. I forgive them for not knowing any better … as I also forgive myself for being sick when I don’t want to be.
Sometimes forgiveness is the greatest gift we can offer a loved one, and it shows far more character; even if you are ill or not. Although I don’t condone family members who are rude, cruel or judgmental, I DO think we can forgive them, even when it isn’t deserved, even when they don’t even ask for it.
I can remember a time when I was in a relationship and although my partner had left me once, he was asking me for another chance. My mother was very disappointed that I was willing to give him another chance and when she asked me why, I said “… because one day I am going to need someone to offer me forgiveness and another chance, because I will have made a mistake and screwed up… and when I do, I hope there is someone like me who is willing to give me that second chance…”
We never spoke of it again, even when he left me the second time. I am still glad to this day that I gave him the second chance. Even knowing how deeply it all hurt. The lessons was still worth the learning.
So even if my mother would have been cold or judgmental of my chronic conditions, I know I would always offer her forgiveness and a second chance if she wanted it. I know that now, as I sit here writing this and I also offer myself that second chance at forgiveness for getting sick. Love and Forgiveness are the pillars for which my relationships are now made. The strength of both have a lasting affect on me and my day to day life.
While I miss a lot of the conversations and discussions that my mother and I had while she was alive, I sometimes think I am still valuing from them even now when she is no longer with me, because I can learn not only through what she DID do in her lifetime but also by what she DIDN’T do.
Character has nothing to do with what happens in our lives, i.e. whether we get sick or someone leaves us or we lose our jobs or we lose our ways… character is how we deal with and cope with those events and what we learn from them. In that sense I am very proud of the character I am developing. I am sure life will keep giving me many chances to refine and test those skills.