My story – Life, loss and learning to love lettuce leaves

This post has been sitting in my drafts for several years now. There’s been so much to say and so many emotions that it really has been one of the hardest things to write down. To talk about my whole life in FULL detail we’ll be here till next week, so I’ll just skip to the defining moments.

My mom died when I was 12.

I have yet to meet a stronger more resilient person, yet the battle with cancer was too great for her. But boy did she fight. Like full on underground dirty cage fighting style!  Even though she grappled with this toxic disease engulfing her on the inside for years, on the outside she remained calm and controlled and she made it look like life just went on as per usual for her, when in reality it was anything but. I think that’s why her death came as such a shock to me. She was invincible in my eyes. She was Mom. There was nothing she couldn’t do, fix, troubleshoot or mend-and-make-do the hell out of something that you couldn’t even remember that it was once broken.

One of my most vivid memories that will stay with me forever, it must have been about a year before she died. We were lying together reading bedtime stories and for some strange reason I thought to ask her outright, “Mom, are you going to die?” and without skipping a beat she answered “not today I won’t!” and she dashed a confident smile at me.  Only now as a mother myself does that moment in time haunt me, knowing how scared and fragile she must have felt. Knowing that the prognosis was grave and that doctors had probably given her only 6 months to live. Knowing the weight of all the futile treatment and debilitating side effects and impact it had on our family over the years would all have been for nothing. Even though she knew all of that, she still chose strength instead of being an emotional mess. She carried that confident smile right up until the end.

My dad was hit badly. Bullet-wound badly. Yet he still showed up, every day and instead of running away from the situation, which let’s face it, a guy in his 50’s, recently widowed with a 12 year old daughter on the verge of teenage hood. What would you want to do?

I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad was the most emotionally generous person I will probably ever have the privilege of knowing. You would never know it from first impressions though. He was a short stocky man with a grizzly temper, when he spoke it made you feel like you were in trouble just for looking in his direction. But if you got to see past the steel facade, you would see a heart so big it was amazing it didn’t crush him. But in the end it was this giant ocean of emotions that he carried around in his battered old body that eventually drowned him. The sorrow and longing he had for my mom every minute of the day consumed him. 9 years after my mom had passed away he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that had spread to virtually everywhere by the time he gave in and went to the doctor. I believe he knew he was terminally ill for a long time. But he hung on long enough to see me find my wings and as soon as he knew I had become my own person it’s as if his heart could finally open the flood gates and he let go. Less than a year after the initial diagnosis he was dead.

I’m not sure what hit me harder. For a girl to lose her mother at such a vulnerable age calloused my soul, but that exoskeleton gave me a resilience I could only fully appreciate later in life. Plus you don’t know what you’ve missed out on losing your maternal figure at that age, so from that perspective it might have been easier. Losing my dad was like losing a vital organ. Day-to-day functioning seemed so much more overwhelming without his influence and guidance in my life. Having children of your own is when it hits you the hardest, knowing they will never get to know each other. But I take comfort in the fact that I had 12 years and 21 years with two of the most incredible influencers and it’s an honour to carry their legacy in my DNA every day.

So I was faced with a choice. Choose to let self-pity and melancholy define me, or piece together the shards that were left of myself and create something from the emotional rubble. So I chose to look for lessons in the wreckage:

Your body is your place of worship

Regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your body is the most sacred gift, but it is only on loan to you. Yet we drive it around like a rental car, assuming it will be someone else’s problem when the check engine light comes on. Never forget you are just a tenant. Your body is a miracle, it gets on with millions of processes in such a humble way and asks for very little in return. Pay the rent!

Do things scared

You can be the toughest muscly oke on the beach, but I can guarantee even he has a few things he’s too poep scared to do. Being brave has nothing to do with being fearless, you can be as petrified as everyone else but yet you still do it, you just do it scared.

Your health is your only obligation

We feel so responsible for so many of the little things, especially women, it’s just hardwired into our genetic coding to take care of everyone else all the time. For men it’s often being in charge of providing and protecting. But all that care and devotion means nothing really if you’ve neglected yourself in the process. Your mental state, your physical shape, the way you model self-care and self-respect to your loved ones is your true obligation.

Eat something green every day

I can’t stand lettuce! A salad with limp iceberg, big chunks of glassy tomatoes and rubbery pieces of cucumber is my ultimate worst! But that doesn’t mean that’s the only kind of salad out there. The food you eat should be more than just 3 random meals a day you prep in drudgery. Teach yourself to enjoy healthy food. See it as delicious medicine that makes every cell in your body radiate with delight. But if you really just can’t then at the very least eat something fresh and green every day.

Find joy

Life really is a series of choices. The great thing about that is that you can always make better ones. We all spiral in the dizzy satisfaction that comes from negativity; it’s one of the things that make us such bizarrely interesting creatures. But you can choose to stop spinning in circles, regain your balance and choose to find the good in every situation. Unless you run out of coffee and you live on a mountain and it’s a Saturday afternoon and you face the impending doom of only being able to get your next fix Monday late morning. Then you’re totally allowed to marinade in self-pity!

Trust the process

Look back on your life. Can you see all those serendipitous little moments that lead you through a labyrinth to get you to where you are today. Good or bad those little moments are the crumbs that make up the delicious chocolate cake that is your life. Just as cake batter looks pretty gross step by step, trust the process when all it feels like you’ve been doing is cracking eggs for years. There will be chocolate cake at some point.

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One Comment

  1. Beautifully written Jax! A lovely dedication to your parents and to life itself! Very wise words of wisdom.
    X Katie

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