When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, her doctor said she had a few years. Despite chemo rounds, we watched her decline quickly. A short seven months after the diagnosis, she was gone. It’s been two years now, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the things I learned from my mother. It’s interesting how in retrospect you forget a lot of things– except the important ones.
Realized recently one of the things I learned from my mom is that you are what you love.
When my mom passed away, my niece was a few months shy of her second birthday. On top of the grief my brother and sister-in-law felt when my mom died, they grieved that their young daughter would never get to know my mom. Essentially, they grieved twice: for the loss of their mom, and all over again at the loss of their daughter’s grandmother.
Isn’t that the way grief is? One loss isn’t usually one loss.
Telling My Mom’s Story
Prompted by my brother and sister-in-law’s feelings, I decided to make a little storybook about my mom for my niece. In thinking about how I wanted to tell my mom’s (very full) life story in toddler language, I decided to give it a “what Grandma loved” theme. This introduced my mom to my niece through the things she loved–God, the scriptures, music, drama, cooking, reading, learning, serving, etc.
Even though I was actually working on my mom’s life storybook (for the rest of the family) at the time, writing this book was an important part of my own healing process. Doing this service for my niece –and in turn, my brother and sister-in-law– helped me, too. In the main book, I detailed my mom’s life more fully, and included things a bit beyond a toddler’s grasp, including this quote that made me cry the minute I read it because it describes my mother so well:
When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’ -Erma Bombeck
Her life storybook really tells the story, but the toddler book helped me distill the essence of my mom. It was very good for my heart.
Our Lives Are What We Love
What are your priorities? Passions? Driving force? The things we love are just the reflection of who we are.
Sometimes, of course, we have to do things we don’t love. Like laundry. But if you look deeper, even those things are rooted in love. When I stop to think about it, even my weaknesses and imperfections are often grounded in love. For example, I have a habit of finishing people’s sentences. (Please notice that I didn’t say bad habit. Because although it can be annoying to some people, other people actually like that I’m helping them out–they even thank me.) That habit comes from a place of love, of wanting to help someone find a word they’re looking for or help them not feel awkward when they don’t know what to say. In my heart and my subconscious mind, it’s really important to me that people know I’m engaged in what they have to say, and that I want to help.
So whether we’re talking about talents or weaknesses, positives or negatives, if you look beyond the surface, most of what we spend our time doing comes from a place of love. Our lives become a collection of what we love.
“That’s My Grommaw in Heaven!”
I sent the “Grandma Loves Me” book to my niece after my mom had been gone about four months. Fast forward about a year, and I was visiting my adorable niece at her house. I don’t know if she walked me through every room in the house to give me the complete tour because she didn’t realize I’d been there before, or because her family is still fairly new in the house and when people come over they usually give tours. Nonetheless, I got a very animated and excited tour. I saw the floor, the bathroom, the closet–all of it, with bubbly 3-year-old narration.
When we got to her bedroom, we stood at the door and she showed me the lights. As we walked into the room, she ran ahead of me to her bed and excitedly yelled, “That’s my grommaw in heaven!” I was touched to see “Grandma Loves Me” sitting on her bed. She grabbed the book and started to tell me all about her special grandma who lives in heaven.
Not realizing I made the book, and not understanding she was telling me about my own mother. My niece brought me the book and sat on my lap and flipped through the pages telling me all sorts of things about her grandma.
I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop the tears. My niece knows her grandma. She is as real to my niece as if she lived here with her. She sees Grandma’s pictures and knows what she loved.
Share What You Love
Someday the million moments we live in will be summarized. I think about this sometimes, and it gives me some perspective in my everyday struggles. When it really comes down to it, I’m not perfect at much (if any) of what I do. If I continue to live with a focus on what I love like my mom did, it will benefit both my family and me. I’ll be remembered for the things I love. My family will know what was important to me and what I valued in life. They will know me, whether they ever met me or not.
What can you do to share your love today? Whether you realize it or not, the things you love are probably the things you’re really good at. Talents and passions often go hand-in-hand. Do something today that’s grounded in love. Show your heart and your true self. Record the things you love, too, so that someday people beyond your current touch can know and love you, too. Connections like that mean everything.
4 thoughts on “You Are What You Love”
Jennifer, I loved reading your story! What a beautiful tribute to your mom and of cherishing life. I also loved what you shared about your family’s process of healing, and how you helped your niece and her parents.
Thank you so much, Margaret! This experience makes me think often about what we lose (or lack) when we don’t make the effort to just sit down and write or think and sort through mementos and memories. There really is great power for healing in it!
“Someday the million moments we live in will be summarized.” This touched me deeply. My husband and I have casually said what we’d like on our headstones (“Remember, it’s the 1% milk” or “She loved her Doritos”) but for some reason, I never thought of it in terms of summarizing one’s whole life. I’ll have to mull around my talents, passions, and priorities and see what might be summarized about me – and see if I’d like to make any adjustments to that while I have the chance. Very insightful post. And what a sweet gift you’ve given to your niece of a dear and cherished connection to her grandmother.
Thanks so much, Jen. That thought about life being a million moments that will one day be summarized struck me out of nowhere a few years ago, and I’ve thought about it again and again. Thanks for reading and for your kind words.