I’ve missed a lot of opportunities. I have regrets. When my mom’s health was declining after her ALS diagnosis, I thought I’d have plenty of time to see her, to talk to her, to ask her about her best and worst parenting moments. I was wrong. I missed out on so much. That’s something I’ll feel continuously for the rest of my life.
On her birthday this year (February 13, 2014), I had this to say:
You know what really sucks? That the gentlest, most caring person I’ve ever known shouldn’t get to celebrate her 57th birthday. That her husband shouldn’t get to shower her with flowers and gifts, or her children and grandchildren call her or take her out for breakfast. That she shouldn’t get to hear for another year, another day, that she means the world to some people. To me.
“Yeah, it feels like the world has grown cold now that you’ve gone away.”
Although she would say she had no regrets about how and when any of us kids were conceived, I know she regretted a lot about her life. She was trapped, chained, and held captive by her own lack of self-worth. She never finished college and was consistently paid less than she was worth in non-fulfilling jobs. I like to think that, had it not been for her crippling self-consciousness and abysmal self-esteem, my mom would have been a singer/dancer.
I like to imagine her as carefree, moving her limbs expressively with the wind, singing like no one was listening. Really, I think that’s the kind of life she wanted for her kids and grandkids. Before she died, she said that she wanted Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” played at her funeral. That was her farewell message to her grandchildren.
Since then, I’ve felt so weak and checked out of life more times than I can count. I’ve wanted to leave, just quit living. But then sometimes, out of nowhere, I’ll hear “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, and it’s like my mom is there, telling me to keep living and thriving. It’s not how she lived her own life, yet I feel like it’s what she wanted for me. I’m not brave, though. I want to build a nest and bury myself in it until I forget, until I’m forgotten.
But that’s not what my mom wanted for me. She’d want me to be brave, to speak up, to be an advocate and a champion, to be the empathetic, strong yet sensitive human being she helped create. She’d want me to speak up.
I will not miss this opportunity. I almost didn’t do anything for 2014 Donna Day. By now, you’re probably wondering what this post has to do with Donna at all.
I struggled to think of what to say on this third annual Donna Day. When I think about Donna, I think about loss, tragedy, grief, injustice. And all I can think about at that point is my mom. But Donna didn’t lose her mom. Her mom lost her. It’s still so unimaginable to me, and I am clearly no stranger to loss.
Donna is no longer celebrating birthdays, being showered with gifts by loved ones. She will never again hear someone tell her, “You mean the world to me.” And she will never dance again, swaying her arms with the wind.
But she was brave.
Cancer is far more treatable than ALS, but there is still so much research to be done. Research costs money. Lots of folks are again shaving their heads to raise money to fund pediatric cancer research, including my wife. I did not plan to do it again this year because my readers were already so generous last summer, and I didn’t want to ask for more.
I can help in other ways: by getting the word out, by supporting shavees, and by volunteering. That’s what I’m urging you to do now. Here are some ways you can help:
1. DONATE to the Donna’s Good Things shave event for St. Baldrick’s by clicking on the green “donate” button.
2. SHAVE your head at our event on March 29 in Chicago by clicking on the blue “join us” button.
3. BUY a St. Baldrick’s Super Hero t-shirt (just $14.99) for the kid or adult in your life who is your hero by clicking here. All proceeds between now and February 28 will be credited to the Donna’s Good Things campaign.
Thank you, readers, for all that you do. Your caring means so much to me.