A two-pound bag of Hershey miniature chocolate bars is stowed safely by my mom’s Lazy Boy where she sits during the day and sleeps at night. She says with conviction that she never eats them. But I can see by the shrinking size of the bag that someone certainly does. As mom’s caretaker, I fret over her how she eats. Should I steal the bag? I worry about it.
An author friend calls herself a CIO. A few months ago, I adopted this job title for me as well: Chief Inspirational Officer. I suspect it has been my life-long calling–teaching, writing, and caring for others. It works as I navigate mom’s struggles and continue my work with cancer patients, veterans, and writers. Like my writing, this work helps lift me like a kite on a wind-swept beach when I need a boost.
Three weeks ago, Mom was ill, and I placed her in hospice. It was a hard decision. A couple of days afterwards I tossed clothes in a suitcase and headed to Tucson to speak at a Survive Well Conference to cancer survivors. I was stressed and underprepared—and that is not my style. But the “parent of a parent” is first and foremost a caretaker. I make mom’s decisions and struggle with my choices. It is the hardest job I have ever had. I love her like a best friend, and I am losing her. A gracious, kind, and caring woman she remembers little about me.
As I climbed the steep stairs to the stage at the conference, I wondered if I would trip in the tangle of cords on the floor and somersault forward into the audience like a rock concert routine by Queen. But after years of performing daily for my high school students, my brain is wired to make an easy shift into the joy of speaking. I embrace these moments.
And as I looked out over the sea of eyes—six hundred eyes—I was stunned into a moment of silence. These are the eyes of cancer survivors. These are the eyes of courage. And I embraced their shared aura. “Wow!” I began. “Look at you. I feel your courage.” And they did something I did not expect. They applauded wildly. I shared a few stories, but I have forgotten which ones. What I remember vividly is that I had been asked to inspire this crowd, but I parted from these survivors with tears in my eyes. I was uplifted by them.
As the sun set later that day, I returned to Chandler and to my mom. She was snoring gently when I entered her room. Somehow a new full bag of Hershey chocolates had appeared, snuggled up to her Lazy Boy. Mom took a rattled breath and smiled warmly at me as she awoke. “You are going away today,” she said as she looked at me confused. I took her hand. She saw me eyeing her chocolates. “I don’t eat them,” she paused. “I give them away. I promise.” Then she did something I had not seen her do for many years. She winked at me, a mischievous wink. “Please have some chocolate.”
I hugged her, and she smiled again before her eyes fluttered lightly and she slipped back to sleep. As I nibbled a chocolate, I visualized my day. The cancer survivors. My mom, with her wink and her Hershey chocolates. They are true Chief Inspirational Officers. As we wander and sometimes struggle down our paths, perhaps this is a job title we are all trying to hold. I know I am–and perhaps you are, too.