Mom Taught Me How to Live & Die with Courage, Gratitude and Spunk: She Can Teach You, Too

This is the most painful blog post I’ve ever had to write. But, dear reader, I feel that I owe you an explanation of why I’ve been absent so often and for such long stretches of time during the past year.

Last fall, my strong, energetic,
astute, health-conscious mother — who lived nearly 3,000 miles away from me —
announced at an intimate family gathering that she’d been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

My dear Mom — whose lung cancer
had absolutely nothing to do with smoking – chose to forego any medical treatment
that might give her unwanted side effects. In other words, she didn’t want to take pills or submit to chemotherapy or radiation. Instead, she opted to let the cancer run its course and to lead her life to the fullest in whatever time she had left.

After her initial shock at
getting stage 4 lung cancer, my normally healthy Mom went on to beat the odds — heroically,
stoically, defiantly — for a full year. Remarkably, she lived well past the three months she
thought she’d last.

Recently, after going through her long, amazing “bucket” list of
things she wanted to do, Mom passed away peacefully, with a smile on her face.

momThankfully, for nearly a year, I was around to personally watch Mom’s
brave battle, because as soon as I completed last-minute editing and
fact-checking deadlines for my then-upcoming book, Beyond Sugar Shock, I hurriedly relocated.

I moved
from New York City (my home for the past decade) to be near my dying Mom in California (where she lived) for what we thought would be her final weeks or months.

As it turned out, Mom lasted another 9 1/2 months after I arrived so I had the good fortune of being able to spend many amazing times with her at the end of her life.

What a life-changing experience it’s been — terribly painful and grueling, but also truly uplifting and inspiring.

Looking back, it was a rare honor and distinct privilege to see Mom valiantly fighting off the
lung cancer that was invading her increasingly frail body and brain.

And how
extraordinary to see her indomitable spirit prevail so long past the few months
she thought she had left!

Indeed, the entire year since Mom’s
diagnosis was filled with a bitter-sweetness — precious new memories; unexpected obstacles; valuable
lessons; gut-wrenching, disease-triggered side effects such as anger and impatience; and sweet,
tender moments that I now call “My Mom Miracles.” Like the time she called me up just to say, “I’m feeling weak, but I want you to know I love you very much.” What experience can top that?!

Perhaps my biggest takeaway
from the last year is this: Mom taught
me the secret to dying well.

My mother went out with such style, spirit,
and spunk!

All of us still living can learn from my mother.

Mom offered a stellar example
of how best to leave this earth: The secret to dying well is to seize the moment with courage and determination and to squeeze as
much joy, fun and deliciousness as you can while doing what you most love.

Although I’m shedding tears now as I write this, what I now find amusing is that Mom’s things-to-do-before-I-die “bucket list” demonstrated a vitality, enthusiasm, and verve that many young people lack. What Mom did in her last year of life would would put many people to shame!

Just read about her end-of-life “exploits,” if you will.

In between napping (and suffering from the indignities of the disease),
my wheelchair-bound mother went to challenging plays, modern ballet
performances, thoughtful art movies, high-definition Metropolitan Opera
screenings, nice restaurants (including new eateries), her favorite farmers’ markets (Mom loved organic fruits and
vegetables), and even a nearby beach, where she loved to watch waves crash against
the shore. (Recently, at her request, in a private memorial ceremony, I scattered Mom’s cremains — that’s the word for cremated remains — into the Pacific Ocean.)

While the lung cancer was
rapidly spreading and her time was running out, Mom also gave cooking lessons to
her nurses and me (I now have a notebook of newly acquired great recipes); did some redecorating (she surrounded herself with photos of loved ones, added longer bamboos
to one of her favorite vases, and bought new, cute end tables); and did final, generous
planning and organizing of papers, finances, etc.

This past summer, Mom even vicariously
swam with me. What I mean is that when she no longer had the strength to swim herself, Mom — who didn’t even complain that she wasn’t up to it — asked
me to take a few laps in her favorite area, near the ocean. (It had salt water, not chlorine.) When I returned from my swim, Mom looked at peace and said she felt “refreshed” and “calm,” as I did. Isn’t that amazing?

In her final days, Mom even continued to read two newspapers daily (who does
that?!), often underlined sections she found interesting, and saved piles
of articles for me to read (I’m still going through them!).

Much to my utter joy and profound relief, Mom also lasted long enough to see my second book, Beyond Sugar Shock, get
published. (Hay House published it in June.)

I invite you to read the book’s Dedication (see below) that I
wrote for her. (I’m so thankful that my Hay House editors kindly let me add it at
the last minute.)

In other words, knowing that she was going to die soon, Mom was determined to enjoy a
dazzling end of life, spending many meaningful, memorable times alone, as well
as with friends and loved ones, including me, of course.

As I think back over this past year, I am grateful
for so many things.

  • I’m grateful that Mom and I were able to spend so
    many good times together doing things we both loved (going to the theater,  farmer’s markets, films, Metropolitan Opera screenings, dinners, the beach, etc.)
  • I’m grateful that Mom and I were able to share the simple, fun pleasure of finding grammatical errors in newspapers or books. That’s a love we both shared. (I suspect that I became an author and journalist, in part, because of Mom’s love for the English language and her interest in the world.)
  • I’m grateful that Mom took time, even in her final
    days, to teach me things that she felt are very important. (Read below about some of her lessons.)
  • I’m grateful that Mom forgave me for the many times in
    the past when I disappointed her, “fell short,” or did something “wrong.” (Hey, I haven’t been the perfect daughter over the years.) Likewise, I am grateful that I was able to forgive her, too.
  • I’m grateful that Mom said truly nice things
    about me to others (behind my back). She described me to her rabbi as a “wonderful, loving, supportive daughter with a heart of gold.” (I’m getting tears in my eyes again.)
  • I’m grateful that I was able to say goodbye to Mom the night before she passed away. I told her that it was okay to go, that I’m strong and that I’ll be fine without her, that she had taught me a lot, that I’ll think of her whenever I swim (one of her favorite things to do), that I’ll make her proud of me, and that she’d been a wonderful role model.
  • I’m also grateful that Mom, without even realizing it, gave me an idea for — and inspired me to write — a much-needed book, which can help many. I’m now hard at work writing it as I grieve for her. (More about that later.)

Now, here’s the Dedication my Hay House editors let
me add at the last minute to my book, Beyond Sugar Shock, after I
learned that Mom had stage 4 lung cancer. (It comes right before the Table of Contents.)

My Beloved Mom

To my
amazingly strong, talented, inspiring mom. Thank you for teaching me by your
stellar example to believe in myself and to optimistically pursue my goals and
dreams, to embrace the arts and other passions with a childlike enthusiasm, and
to persevere no matter what.

And here’s another, more recently written special Dedication to Mom that I’m posting on this Sugar Shock Blog and my other blogs, including my Gab with the Gurus Blog.

To My
Remarkable Mom, Who Taught Me to Die Well

Dearest Mom, although your time on
earth has ended, you still inspire, motivate, and guide me. I think of you often,
and I miss you a lot.

You’d be happy to know that I
still remember your many lessons. For example, I’m determined—like you—to
follow my dreams with steadfast optimism, staunch determination, unwavering
dedication, and purposeful perseverance.

What’s more, I’ll follow your lead
and make sure to have ample integrity, self-discipline, and courage in the face of
unexpected obstacles and surprising disappointments.

And yes, Mom, I’ll take your smart
advice to continue to eat healthy foods and stay active; floss my teeth daily
and get them cleaned regularly; put on hand lotion often; plan better so I’m
always on time; see your nutritionist periodically; be well-read so I’m not
“boring” (and can talk about more than sugar!); avoid potentially carcinogenic
food (with grill marks); and, most of all, carefully drive the awesome car you found
and generously bought for me a mere six weeks before you died.

Mom, I’ll also try to stop nodding
my head and quit fiddling with my curly hair when people talk (because it makes
them nervous); quit interrupting and listen better; and wear those kitchen gloves
you gave me when I wash dishes (so my hands don’t get rough)!

Most of all, Mom, thank you for your
two final, precious gifts, which meant the world to me. Thank you for calling
me to say “I’m feeling very weak, but I want you to know that I love you very

And I’m so glad that you told your
rabbi—a few days before the cancer came to claim you—“Connie is a
wonderful, loving, supportive, daughter with a heart of
gold.” I’m very touched that you thought so highly of me, Mom, and I will try
to live up to that opinion for the rest of my life.

Dearest Mom, I’m a far better, kinder, sweeter, more compassionate person because of you. Now, in your honor, I commit to developing the best of your qualities in me and to do my best to help many people around the world.

reader, do you have any memories of your late or living Mom, Dad, son, daughter, brother, sister, in-laws, etc.?
We’d love to have you share them with us here.

And what did you learn from my personal post?

thanks to Raeleen Sewell for the wonderful work of art (above). See her touching blog post, too, about missing her mom.

2 thoughts on “Mom Taught Me How to Live & Die with Courage, Gratitude and Spunk: She Can Teach You, Too

  1. Oh, Connie. We have missed you, knowing that it must be something really compelling keeping you away. It is wonderful to have had such a wonderful mother and role model. God bless you, and know that time does ease some of the pain. I still miss my father every day—he was such a kind and peaceable man—definitely the rock of our family.

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