My mother died of pancreatic cancer. Leading up to this day, the anniversary of her passing, I thought long and hard about a few things: How would I feel on this day? No matter how much time passes, It still feels surreal that she is gone. I still feel weird when my phone doesn’t ring and I don’t hear her voice on the other side, checking in on me with genuine motherly concern. And not hearing from her on my birthdays, or holidays. And to not be able to share the good things that are happening in my life and with her grandson, whom she was so in love with and proud of. How should I honor her? Should it be by crying and feeling somber?
I thought long and hard about how I should commemorate this day. And then it hit me: Since my mother’s cancer diagnosis was ultimately the breaking point for me that gave me the extra push to change careers from wall street hedge fund recruiter to FDN practitioner, It seems fit to honor her by dedicating a blog post to her memory. But I have decided not to focus on the bad stuff like how horrible the last few months were for her, OR the cancer that ultimately took her life. Those things were not what defined my mother or her life.
My mother’s life was defined by much more than that. She lived for 73 years. She was born in Alexandria, Egypt. She and her family were thrown out of the country by President Nasser. How many people in generation X do we know that endured something like that? She moved with her family to France, where she met my father. They fell in love, moved to Israel, then moved to the US without a penny in their pocket and very little in the form of higher education. They scraped by and worked several jobs to pay the bills and to provide a house, clothing, schooling, vacations, toys, and entertainment for their three children.
My mother had many flaws (don’t we all?), but today I am going to focus on remembering all of the positive and funny things about her, as well as the lessons I have learned from her that make me the man I am today.
1) She was funny (many times without even knowing it, which is the funniest kind of funny!).
- I remember one time we were at my uncle’s house in long island: It’s a beautiful summer day and the whole family is about to go swimming in the pool. So, my mother, a huge worrywart who was afraid of her own shadow, yells at me in her thick Arabic accent “Ricky! Be careful! If you drown, I’ll KILL YOU!”.
2) She was always the life of the party.
- Anyone who knew my mom would tell you that. She was a loud, boisterous, smiley woman who really enjoyed family and friend gatherings and holidays. She treasured social interactions with the important people in her life. Even the people who were her customers at CVS (she was a cashier there for over 25 years) were drawn to her and used to wait extra time on her line just to have their daily fun-filled interaction with my mother. Without ever telling me, she taught me an important lesson: happiness isn’t about accumulating wealth or social status. It’s about enjoying and savoring every moment you have to spend with the people you love. It’s about your relationships and keeping the bonds strong. Here is a picture of her facial expression that defines her personality:
3) She lived (and died) for her children.
- There wasn’t a day that went by when my mother wasn’t worrying about us. She spent her entire life struggling to give us a happier and more stable early life experience than she had growing up. When we were sick, she used to pray out loud to gd to transfer whatever illness we had to her. She couldn’t stand to see us hurting whether it was physically or emotionally. We, and her grandchildren, were her life’s work. She derived her greatest pleasures from seeing us happy and successful.
4) She was a wicked awesome cook!
- My mom loved food, and she was great at cooking gourmet French and Arabic dishes. I can still close my eyes and smell and taste her delicious meat bechamel. Friends and family who came to eat at our house always knew they were in for a treat. And, like many Jewish mothers, she pushed food on us like she was a drug dealer, lol.
5) She showed me that incredible bravery can come from the most unexpected people at the most unexpected times.
- There is no denying it: my mom was a total scaredy-cat (yes that’s a real word!). She was afraid of her own shadow. She rarely went to doctors, even when she wasn’t feeling well, for fear that the doctor would tell her that she would need surgery or that she had some horrible disease. She instilled fear into all of her children by being insanely over-protective and fearing that we would be kidnapped or killed the moment we walked out of our house. So you can imagine my surprise when she became the bravest person I have ever known after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Not only did she receive a death sentence from her doctors and need surgery, but she underwent a 13 hour Whipple procedure (one of the most complex and risky surgeries available through modern medicine today). And she faced it like a champ. She endured tremendous suffering and knew her death was imminent. But she stayed strong. She accepted it. She left this world with dignity. And with her family surrounding her at her bedside. Perhaps it was fitting that her greatest act of courage was to face and accept her own mortality. Almost as if she fulfilled her challenge here on earth by doing so.
I am proud of my mother, and I am proud to be her son. Most importantly, wherever she is right now, I want her to know that her death was not in vain. It was her cancer diagnosis and subsequent suffering that ultimately led me to change careers and to follow my true passion, which was to become a holistic health practitioner and to teach people how to heal themselves and how to live a preventative lifestyle and avoid devastating diagnoses like the one that she received.
Finally, I want to share a very personal message to you about what I learned from my mother’s death:
1) Life is so very short. Hug the people you love. Tell them that you love them every day, and show them with your actions.
2) Don’t hold grudges. People make mistakes. Forgive and forget.
3) Be present. With all of the laptops, smartphones, and tablets in circulation, it’s hard to find someone who isn’t staring at their devices like a zombie. All the while, life and the world is happening around us, and we are missing it. Put the phone down and be present when you talk to you wife, husband, parent, sibling, friend, or child. Be in the moment and enjoy it for everything it can give you.
4) Get grateful. I read an amazing quote the other day: “If you want to feel rich, just think of all the things you have that money can’t buy.” How true! Think about your health, your family, your friends, your children, the fact that you are alive and breathing. There are so many things to be grateful for that if you shift your mindset to thinking this way you won’t even have time to think about the things that you don’t have. You’ll just be happy!
5) Take care of your body. It’s the only one you have. Become an active participant in your personal health. Don’t just sit back and wait for disease to hit and then pray that doctors and modern medicine will help you. YOU HAVE THE KEYS to you own health, and those keys are the lifestyle choices you make each and every moment of each and every day. Stop looking for that magic pill to lose weight and get healthy. It doesn’t exist. Pay attention to your diet. Food is medicine. Get 8 hours of sleep each night. Moderate exercise. Spend time every day counteracting the effects of stressful living with 10-20 minutes of deep meditation.
That’s all for today, guys. Have a great rest of your week!
Rick Gold, Functional Wellness, FDN Practitioner
Gold Functional Wellness, Inc.
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