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In 2013, my mother died. The moment when the doctors asked me to "pull the plug," I knew my life would never again be the same. Most days I felt as if I was crawling through a never-ending tunnel of self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-pity. Three years later I'm still inching my way through that wretched tunnel, however recently, I've felt a tiny breeze in the stale air, signifying a change in this long, dark and lonely journey. The breeze, in the form of newly developed self-respect from living life without unconditional motherly love, makes the battle wounds hurt less, and the old scars badges of pride.
My mother's death hasn't addressed any questions or fears I had about dying, but it's given me new insights on how to move forward with life:
1. Nothing is certain. If you have something to do or say, just do it.
One of my greatest fears is to (again) lose an opportunity to tell someone how I feel. My insecurities rationalize reasons to avoid broaching subjects that make me feel vulnerable, but I repeatedly remind myself to apply an alternative perspective; I may never again have the chance to do so. Imagine everything we'd say if the total amount of time we had with someone was concretely defined. We wouldn't waste any time and trepidation wouldn't stifle conversation. Now live everyday with this in mind -- I guarantee it'll change your outlook on fights, grudges, and all things left unsaid.
2. If you don't ask, the answer will be no.
It's an incredibly terrifying thought to chase an outcome that can wound your pride or ruin your reputation. However, if you truly believe in an idea and are only being held back by fear, take the plunge and go after it -- even if it doesn't work out, you can at least say that you tried. You'll get closure and be able to move forward.
3. Kindness is the most powerful force in the world.
When you live in a world plagued with insecurity, negativity is spread no differently than the common cold. Please don't let it jade you. You'll be amazed at the amount of positivity reaped and opportunities gained through kindness. Help someone who needs it just to negate some of the negativity in the world. Praise a job well done, or just simply smile more. A simple act of kindness has an incredible ripple effect.
4. Find your Happiness Baseline, and enhance it.
"Your overall level of contentment will briefly fluctuate with great successes or major tragedies. You will eventually return to your baseline." To enhance your baseline, everyday life should be full of little things that impact your happiness the most. When I look back, my fondest memories of Ma aren't tangible; the scent of her perfume (which I now wear daily) reminds me of her hugs, her love of poetry and storytelling reminds me that our passion for literature is shared. The little things are the universe's way of telling us we are each capable of happiness. It's magic -- learn to yield its power.
5. Own up to everything you put out in the world.
No one is perfect, least of all me. On occasions I snap, say or do what I shouldn't and ultimately disappoint myself - it's embarrassing and painful, but I own it. If I hurt someone, I apologize. If it's someone I care about, I persist even more. Everyone is allowed to make mistakes -- the term human error wasn't coined because we're all monotonous robots. More importantly, everyone should make mistakes and from time to time be reprimanded (verbally, of course) -- it reminds us of our humility and humanity. Learn, grow, make amends, move forward. Those who love you will be there through all of the ups and downs, and those who don't can see themselves out of your life.
6. Accept yourself.
Learn to accept the person you are and try to be the best version of yourself you can be. If you're like me, you'll find this the most difficult. I pride myself on having a welcoming nature and for wearing my heart on a sleeve. When people don't like me (or worse, judge me), my natural reaction is to internalize their opinion and question who I am. Recently however, I find myself coming back to the same conclusion; I am exactly who I want to be. When Ma died, I was alone and in a country so culturally different from home (she passed away on holiday). Every second I made tough choices that now seem unreal; deciding on local hospitals, doctors, and treatments with slim survival rates. Listening as my decisions were heavily scrutinized. Choosing the exact moment of her last breath. Watching her slowly slip away and turn cold. Dressing her for the memorial. Arranging the funeral. Participating in a grotesquely painful cremation ceremony. And enduring every single ounce of blame, guilt and heartache left in the wake. For her, my mother, I grew up in a matter of days. If I can live through that plus the absolute devastation of losing the only person whose love I never questioned, and still make people laugh -- I really don't have a reason not to like myself.
7. Let the haters hate.
There is someone out there who doesn't like you. I guarantee it. I know more than a few who aren't too fond of me. Many think I'm too loud or too talkative, or simply not living up to their expectations of the status quo. My mom had a saying, "if they don't feed you, clothe you, give you shelter, protect you, or try in some way to enlighten you, then you owe them absolutely no explanation for how you live your life. None." People may judge you and/or laugh at you - they've certainly done so at me, but people will respect you for being exactly who you are.. To all those devoting their time and effort into talking about you, let them. You've already won. In fact, you've got yourself the very definition a fan. Whilst they're giggling, put on your best dancing shoes and go have fun. Life is way too short to worry about your critics.
Am I happy that after my mom's death, I still choose to see life in all of its intricate fragility. As beautiful? You bet. Would I give up this enlightenment to have my mom back? In a heartbeat. Since I can't, I'm sharing my journey and all that I'm learning to become a woman my mother would be proud to call her daughter.
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