Personal Growth

3 lessons I learned from losing my mother to cancer

October 28, 2013
My mom and dad

My mom and dad

This coming Wednesday, October 30, 2013, will mark eight years since my mother died from cancer. While I miss her more now than ever and would have loved more time with her, I am so grateful for the 25 years I did have with her. What a gift.

She was incredible. Always smiling, always engaging, and always taking an interest in others and building them up. Not to mention, she nearly always had a delectable something in the oven like meatloaf and potatoes or chocolate chip cookies, making our Pennsylvania farm house smell amazing!

As I was reflecting back on the experience of her passing, I asked myself, “What did I really learn from that. How has it shaped me?”

I want to share three lessons I jotted down. I believe they can help us all live with more meaning and purpose in our lives.

1. Don’t take your loved ones for granted – The reality is we don’t know how long any of us are going to be around. I want to make sure I appreciate and love the people in my life. I don’t want to get so caught up in the minutiae of life that I lose sight of the big picture and what really matters.

Now, hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank God for my beautiful wife, Claudia, and our healthy son, Jude. My heart aches when I hear stories of parents who have young children who are battling with serious, life-threatening diseases. I’m reminded of how much I have to be grateful for.

2. This isn’t a test run – It can be so easy to fall into the habit of putting living off until later. We think things like, “When I get out of this job, then I’ll be happy.” Or, “When we live in a more ideal area, then we’ll reach out and make more friends.” Or, “When I am more accomplished and feel more confident, then I’ll be the person I want to be.”

The reality is, this is our life now. Things are never going to be just right. When we do finally reach that arbitrary goal we had in mind, we find we’re still not happy and we’re still thinking, “Things will be better when…” Our goal simply moved father down the road.

Life is in the living. It’s a journey and a process, not some end goal.

3. Don’t sit idly by – Rather than being passive, we need to take a stand for what we believe and be bold and have confidence.

Even though we had six months with my mom from the time the cancer was found till she died, I didn’t take the time or have the courage to have the deeper, more meaningful conversations with her. I wanted to, but in my family we didn’t always have those types of conversations so it was uncomfortable and I sat idly by.

Now, I’ve learned to be more of a leader in this area. I’ve learned to be more proactive and push beyond being uncomfortable. I’ve learned that other people almost always respond when someone leads in this way.

So those are three lessons I learned from losing my mother to cancer eight years ago. I do miss her more than ever, but I am grateful for the years I did have with her and for the legacy she left behind.

Have you ever lost someone close? What lessons have you learned from the experience? You can leave a comment on the post below.

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  • Reply Nancy Zimmerman October 28, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Michael, very well written. I am so glad you are looking on the positive side and learning from your experiences. Do our experiences make us bitter or do they make us better. I really like your thoughts on #2. Life is not a test run. It is so easy to look back and see so many things we wish we could change and do differently! Yes… Life is now, work on today. Eight years……. I miss her so incredibly much and can’t wait to talk to her again! And I know that picture was taken on your wedding day 🙂 Hugs to all of you!

    • Reply Michael Good October 28, 2013 at 11:12 am

      Thanks and very well said, Nancy. I too can’t wait to talk to her again! Looking on the positive side isn’t always easy. But then I hear of someone who has an even more tragic story then mine. It doesn’t diminish my loss, but it does help me to be grateful for all I have been given.

  • Reply AnnetteDarityGarber October 28, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Michael, thank you for sharing with vulnerability and openness those lessons you have learned since your mother’s death. I, too, am trying not to take my loved ones for granted, since my brother’s death, and to squeeze them all a little tighter when I see them and let them know how much I appreciate them. 🙂 Glad to know you are learning to be a leader in those deeper conversations of life!

    • Reply Michael Good October 28, 2013 at 11:07 am

      Thanks, Annette. I was thinking of Jason and your family as I wrote this. I admire how you and the rest of your family, especially your parents, seem to be handling it with such grace. We’re still praying for you guys!

  • Reply Beth Yohn Sheaffer October 28, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I learned from losing my mom 38 years ago, and my dad 24 years ago. That they are never really that far away. I come from a large family and I see my mom and dad all the time in the faces, laughs and personalities of my sisters, nieces and nephews. I think it’s God’s gift of reminding me of my heritage, and my loved ones. It’s going to be amazing reunion. I can hear the giggles when are all together again!! Thanks for posting this! (I saw this because my daughter and Amber are good friends!)

    • Reply Michael Good October 28, 2013 at 11:00 am

      That’s beautiful, Beth. Thank you for sharing that!

  • Reply Larry Bays October 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Well said. I lost my wife almost eight years ago to caner, four days past her 49th birthday. Thought her eyes and great courage, I saw a glimpse of heaven and learn to “Die living and not live dying.”

    • Reply Michael Good October 28, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      Larry, beautifully said. I can’t imagine losing my wife, Claudia. Interestingly, my mom was also 49 when she died from cancer eight years ago. They would have been the same age.

      Thanks for sharing that quote, “Die living and not live dying.” I hadn’t heard that before. Had had to think through it for a moment; what a great philosophy.

  • Reply Jennifer October 28, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Wonderful lessons you have shared Michael! I lost my mom 7 years ago to MS and then one year ago (11/8/12) I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I have learned (and re-learned) that there are priorities in life, and those priorities need to be evaluated regularly to ensure we are really spending time in the areas we value (family, faith, etc). I have failed in this regard as I kept putting off making changes in my career by leaving a job that was sucking the life right out of me. This past week I resigned from that job, and this is giving me more time with family and more time to spend on the business with my husband. I am learning to be content and learning that it doesn’t take money to make me feel content. God is opening my eyes. I love each of the points you made and that 2nd one, “this isn’t a test run” really hits home. Each day is not a guarantee. So I need to ask myself, what am I doing today to build memories? Great blog post!!

    • Reply Michael Good October 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

      Thanks, Jennifer. Love to hear how you’re being proactive in your life, especially with being diagnosed with cancer yourself. Your story will be one of the many surviver stories we all love to hear, providing hope and inspiration for others. Keep it up!

  • Reply Tom Dixon October 28, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    My uncle passed away earlier this year, he was way too young. It reinforced to me that you have to take care of yourself, and to keep moving forward. Moving post, Michael – thanks for being so open in this area.

  • Reply Ryan Ash October 29, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I’m sure it’s not easy, but it’s great that you’re allowing your loss to shape your life for the better rather than wallow in self-pity! I’m sure your mother would be proud!

    • Reply Michael Good October 29, 2013 at 11:45 am

      Thanks, Ryan. Yes, I want to life my life, make decisions that would make her proud. For sure!

  • Reply Jody Maberry October 29, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Great article Michael. My brother was killed by a drunk driver a few years ago. I wasted a lot of time, a couple of years probably, wrapped up in lost. What I wouldn’t give to have that time back so I could embrace what the joy I still had in my life. It was there all along.

    • Reply Michael Good October 30, 2013 at 8:24 am

      Wow, Jody. I’m sure that was a difficult time. Love your perspective!

  • Reply Thomas Mason November 3, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Heartwarming post, Michael. I lost my mom 5 years ago from complications related to Diabetes. I can relate to the one about having the meaningful conversations that were often hard because of the dysfunctional family dynamic I grew up in. Now, looking back I wish I had the courage to bring some things up just to get her perspective on the people and events that occurred.

    • Reply Michael Good November 4, 2013 at 8:06 am

      Thanks for your input, Thomas. Glad to hear you were able to learn from that difficult time.

  • Reply Jen A. December 2, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Michael…Our stories are very similar except I just lost my mom two weeks ago after she was diagnosed with cancer 6 months ago. Like you and Thomas, I very much relate to your third point about not sitting idly by. I also come from a family that has a difficult time showing emotion. Although I regret not having deep meaningful conversations with my mom, I know she loved me and I know she knew that I loved her so I will carry that with me.

    • Reply Michael Good December 5, 2013 at 7:59 am


      So sorry to hear about your mother. I remember the first few weeks after my mom died. What a mixture of emotions just trying to process everything! That’s great that you’re focusing on what you know to be true, that your mother loved you. That was absolutely true in my case as well. Blessings to you and your family.

  • Reply 3 steps to becoming the person you want to be | March 17, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    […] I wrote in a recent post about my mom dying, this isn’t a test run, this is my life. I decided to be the person who I want to be, today. […]

  • Reply Carlo Angelo Isles March 20, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece of article. I can relate to lesson number 1.

    I lost my mother when I was 2 and my father when I was 8 years of age. I’m 28 now. I’ve been through a lot but all experiences I had molded me to a better individual and with different perspective in life.

    Your post inspired me to make a write up as well. I hope you don’t mind if I share it here too.

    • Reply Michael Good March 20, 2014 at 10:10 pm

      Carlo, thanks for sharing. I read you post and can relate to much of what you said, especially the part where you talk about what you’d do with her if she were still around. Blessings to you!

  • Reply John May 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    I don’t know how i feel now, but my mom is given 6 M to live, I am very close to her, i have spent 35 year living with her and taking care my grandmother with her. Call me mom’s boy if you want. I have no problem with that, If i could exchange her place right now i would.
    I know that her death will come soon or later, as for now she is still here and still able to take care herself and some times my grandmother. Be honest i don’t know how i going to take it when the time she has to leave me. i have been reading a lot of things on the internet, it helps but it scare me aslo.
    thanks again for sharing your stories, i hope god will take my mom in a very peacefull way.

    • Reply Michael Good May 7, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your mom, John. I pray for grace and peace.

  • Reply Lejla Husić Husnić May 19, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    lost my mom on 11/16/13 missing her with all my heart. don’t take your parents for granted, instead take care of them while you still have them,they took care of you when you needed them so return the favor. we all become so pr-occupied with our daily lives that we tend to forget the most important part which is our family. we never know how long we have with each other, so cherish it everyday and tell them you love them. My mothers death came fast, and I had so many things to say and do with her, but now she’s gone, don’t put it off, because tomorrow is never promised. God Bless!

    • Reply Michael Good May 21, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Great reminder, Lejla. Grace and peace to you and your family during this time.

  • Reply Christina June 10, 2014 at 12:42 am

    I just lost my Mom to breast cancer on May 21st. She was supposed to start her new chemo pills that day. Instead, her liver and kidneys started to fail and she died hours later. She was only 56. She was diagnosed twice in less than 1 year. My daughter has no other grandmothers. I cry all the time. I miss her.

    • Reply Michael Good June 20, 2014 at 9:20 am

      I’m very sorry to hear that, Christina! May God’s grace and peace be with you.

  • Reply Christian June 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I just lost my mother earlier this morning. She was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer at the end of 2013. It has only been about 10 hours and I’m already missing her like crazy. She is one of those people you absolutely know is going to heaven without a shadow of a doubt. However, I still can’t stop crying and desiring to be with her. I’ve had 19 years with her and I was always pretty distant like a typical, stupid, male teenager. I just hope she knows how much I LOVE her. I hate feeling so torn apart. Please tell me this doesn’t last forever.

    • Reply Michael Good June 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Oh man, Christian. I’m so sorry! What you’re going through now is not easy – loosing someone close never is! You’re situation sounds similar to mine in that your mother past relatively quickly. What I like to do is think of my mom looking down on me from heaven, even being in the room with me. And, I think about what’s it’s going to be like when I see her again.

      I think your mother knows what you’re going through now in this moment and I don’t think she’d want you to beat yourself up over being distant. And I will tell you, what you’re feeling now doesn’t last forever. Our prayers are with you!

  • Reply Maurina August 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I lost my mom on Friday, 6/27/2014. I was in shock that it actually happened as I couldn’t believe I was going to lose her. I actually thought she was going to get better, even after being admitted to the hospital for 10 days and transferred to Hospice for another 7 days before she passed. I just didn’t want to believe that my mom who had so much life in her before this, who had so much luck in life, and helped many, and who had so many plans was dying at such an age where our family’s life’s span was much older.
    I prayed to God for a miracle to heal her, as I have witnessed and heard of many miracles. I am an only child with no children of my own, and my mom and I went through battles in life together to make it. She was my soldier, my confidant, my advisor, my one and only true love. My mom was only 68 yrs old who was vibrant, energetic even with arthritis and was very independent. In December she had a high fever as the house was very cold, and she became sicker as time went on. I was with her, took time off and assisted her but there’s only so much I could have done as I was no hospital. She looked very weak and breathed heavily and I was in tears while I told her I’ll take her to the hospital that night. This was February 2014. It’s a good thing I did, as she was diagnosed with Pleural Effusion (left lung). While there the docs found that she had masses in her liver, and they could not see her lymph nodes and told me she had stage 4 advanced cancer. They did many tests and could not find the primary source, but said it came from an organ. As they worked on draining the fluids from the lungs, she became stronger and could walk around but with assistance. She was discharged after being in the hospital for 10 days. I followed all advice and the oncologist wanted her to go for chemotherapy early April before he went away. She said she would think about it and when we went back the end of April he scheduled the sessions. Every time the chemo was scheduled she had body pains which caused me to reschedule. First week of June 2014 I noticed her not eating or drinking the way she was. She was sleeping a lot and when I called her she was forgetting and not hanging up the phone. I figure something was definitely going wrong that’s when I took her to the hospital again. The doctors there told me she had days to weeks to live due to her unresponsiveness and mental confusion. She knew who I was though, as I promised her every moment that I’m not going to leave her and she responded “uh ha”.
    I couldn’t understand it, how could it be? Four months after being diagnosed with this dreadful illness? This couldn’t be happening? When she passed I felt numb, I felt confused, alone and abandoned. I have many crying spells which happens on and off. It can be very painful; I feel it in my stomach. Sometimes when I think of her that I can’t call her anymore while I’m at work I feel like I can’t breathe and need to get outside. I miss her so much and no one, nothing can ease this pain. Nothing to buy to make me feel better, but to go through this tear inside of losing my mother. Friday’s will never be the same…Life will never be the same… I miss her so so much. God Bless everyone!!

    • Reply Michael Good August 16, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Wow, Maurina, my heart is heavy for you. I can relate to you saying you didn’t think she’d actually die, even after she was in hospice care. That’s how it was for me, and I think for many of my family too. Not sure why that was. I think for me, it was a way for me to avoid the pain of the thought of losing her.

      I too had to wrestle with us praying for her to be healed, but yet her actually dying. And how do you pray and believe someone is going to be healed AND understand that these may be the person’s last days and treasure those and simply be there and love and support the person? I don’t think there are any easy answers.

      May God be with you during this season.

    • Reply Maggie September 15, 2014 at 12:36 am

      Maurina, I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my beautiful mother on 6/28/14 from ovarian and uterine cancer. I still cannot believe she is gone, she started to get sick in march with other ailments and was diagnosed with cancer in May. She had major surgery to get all the tumors out of her but lost her life because of the failure of the after surgery care she did not receive from the care facility she was put in. I could go on forever about this injustice to my mother but what it comes down to is I do not have her with me anymore and now I have to learn how to move forward without her. There are days I feel like I am drowning and cannot breathe. For me sleeping as much as possible during the day helps me get through the days now. I have to remind myself that I cannot call and talk to her so I keep playing the messages she left on my phone. I miss my mom more than words can explain. God bless us all!

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