by Evelyn Santiago
“The most powerful force on earth is the human soul on fire”–unknown
Mentally, death takes a toll on all of us. My mother couldn’t accept that she was dying. She was a born fighter and she wasn’t going to be put down by anything.
I remember one incident crystal clear shortly before she passed away. She had been getting progressively weaker and lost a lot of weight. I was home taking care of her but at the time I was in my room upstairs. I heard a loud thump and rushed downstairs. It was my mom on the bathroom floor. She had tried to go to the bathroom and fell in the process. I tried moving her a little bit but I could tell she was in excruciating pain. I quickly grabbed two pillows and put them under her backside while she waited on the floor. I grabbed my cell phone and called hospice. Because I wasn’t able to pick her up by myself, I also called my husband to see if he could get her off the floor. Meanwhile, hospice sent an ambulance to evaluate my mother.
My mother’s wishes were specific and to the point. Under no circumstances did she want to go to the hospital! She was adamant on that. It was a fight just to get her to live with me so that I could take care of her. So, you can imagine what kind of fight she would put up if anyone dared tell her she was going to have to live her last days in some cold stuffy hospital.
First, the hospice nurse arrived. Her name was Elaine. Elaine checked her vitals and asked my mom how she was feeling. Elaine was not much bigger than I. Then, my husband arrived. To give you a physical description of him, he is a little over 6 feet tall, built around 250 lbs. Not one to mess with.
The first thing out of my mother’s mouth when she saw him, “SUPERMAN HAS COME TO SAVE THE DAY!” With his athletic build, he swept down and picked her up in his arms and brought her to the couch where she usually rests. My mother could barely move and she had already fallen a few times that week so we could all tell she was in a huge amount of pain. Her bones were becoming more and more brittle as the days passed.
Shortly thereafter the ambulance crew arrived. Two men, almost as tall and burly as my husband came through the door. They said they needed to assess my mom. After they checked her, they concluded that she would need further testing and x-rays at the hospital to determine if she had any fractures or broken bones. They were not doctors and they could not tell by a simple physical examination.
My mother was not having that at all. With every fiber in her being she got the strength to get herself in the sit position and then she did something that none of us expected. If you want to know what a woman with balls looks like, take a look at my mom. She stood up on her own, in front of everyone and said bluntly and with conviction: “I am not going anywhere dammit!”
I was not surprised, after all she was my mom and I knew how strong she was—both mentally and physically. Both of the EMT’s mouth’s dropped. And then, they laughed. They couldn’t believe this tiny, frail woman who was probably no more than 90 pounds at the time was strong enough to get up on her own, especially after all the falls she had that week. Ultimately they said if she could muster the strength to do what she just did, they would have no choice but to respect her wishes. Even though I was her power of attorney (which means I could make medical decisions for her) there was no way in hell I was about to go against her.
I learned an important lesson that day. Our minds are the most powerful tool that we have. My mother was tough in her spirit and that is what enabled her to endure and thrive in her life. It took her from burying my sister after she passed away from a brain tumor at the mere age of 6 through the death of her own sister with cancer, through taking care of my grandmother with congestive heart failure and my grandfather with dementia—both of their deaths and three bouts with her own breast cancer. She was not the type to be defeated by anything. Her strength has always shown me the power of the human spirit. She had suffered a lot in her short life of 53 years but she never allowed it to stop her from truly living.
The reason I share this story is to say that despite the traumas and pain of the hardships we face, we can never let the fires in our spirits die out. Experiences like these will undoubtedly change us in many ways, but it cannot diminish the essence of who we are deep inside. This is the power that we have as human beings. It allows us to jump through hoops, dodge a bullet, go through the flames and still come out unscathed. There is immense power in the seemingly weakest moments in our lives. We can gain strength in weakness and resilience from pain.
Now as I sit here writing this, I have to constantly remind myself of this lesson. With every painful memory that comes to mind I have to try my best to remember how powerful I am. It is not easy, but I know because of my mom that it’s possible. This is what gives me hope that everything is going to be all right. I know it’s going to take time but I’m going to be able to get through my own grief.
This is what brings me some comfort and I hope it does the same for you too.
In 2013, Evelyn’s world turned upside down when she had just been interviewed for Rutgers Physician Assistant School and her mother passed away from her third recurrence of breast cancer. A week after her passing, she found out that she was pregnant with her first child. In the past she has dealt with the losses of several other close family members including her 6-year-old sister to brain cancer and her grandparents to heart related diseases. In caring for these relatives through their illnesses and final days her blog, “Good News, Grief” was born in an effort to teach others about grief and loss. She aspires to help others with their journeys through grief by sharing her own experiences. Evelyn is a loving wife and mother to two beautiful children, Adyson (2 years) and Alex (3 months). She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and continues to work towards becoming a Physician Assistant in the near future.