The Gift of a Dying Mother: Reflections on Taking Your Turn
Twenty-seven years ago, as my mother lay dying in her bed, she looked up at me, drew a deep breath and exhaled these words: “I never got my turn.” I was stunned, horrified and heartbroken that a woman of her education, experience and impact would come to the end of her life with that feeling on her heart. As her only child, about to be orphaned, I felt compelled to understand.
What did she mean?
I was confused and left to draw my own conclusions. How should I interpret her dying words? Along with letting me care for her at the end, this decidedly self-determined woman’s parting gift to me was a question rather than an answer. That question has guided almost three decades of my life since. It’s been an experiment in inquiry rather than the illusion of certainty that would have been so much more comfortable.
What I knew...
- Growing up in the Texas dust bowl, Juanita had wanted to be a writer. As valedictorian of her high school and college classes, she could have done anything. But, in response to her mother’s mental illness, she chose instead to study pre-med and she became a physician in 1938. At the end of her life, she tried again to write, but she’d lost her touch. Was this the turn she wished she’d taken?
- As a Christian child psychiatrist, Dr. Hart was loved and respected by all her patients. She was empathetic to her own detriment as she always put other people’s needs above her own. I heard her in the evenings on the kitchen phone calming someone else’s anxiety when all she wanted was to relax. Was she wishing she’d fulfilled her own emotional needs instead?
- After my father’s death, my Mom shared with me that her decision to study medicine had been her second choice. Her first husband, also a medical student, didn’t want her to be a stay-at-home wife, so she went ahead. And when, upon graduating, he left her, she was left to fulfil his dream for her instead. Was she grieving her desire for family first?
More than this...
Now, as I’ve lived more of my life, I wonder if “taking her turn” was something more essential. Life has a way of turning the ship into unexpected directions. My mother had plenty of them. But today I doubt that she was referring to any of those circumstantial redirections.
I feel tears welling up from chest to eyes. As I write, I can feel why she was so adamant that I find and follow my own calling. How I wish she could have too.
Too great a cost
Just this year, I’ve come to know that the ways I deny myself have more to do with what I believe to be the costs of saying Yes. Yes to soaring as high and diving as deep as my Spirit calls me. Yes to letting myself trust that those I love will be okay if I follow the golden thread of my own life. Just now I know that the costs of saying No are too great to pay. And that in fact if I do not fully embody my spiritual call, it costs the people in my life too.
Your turn starts here.
If you're ready to say Yes, here are five practical steps you can include in your day to begin taking your turn:
- Identify your passions and interests. Take some time to reflect on what you truly enjoy doing and what brings you fulfillment. Try pursuing activities or hobbies that align with your passions.
- Set goals. Once you’ve identified your passions, set specific, achievable goals that will help you pursue them. Break your goals down into smaller, manageable steps, and take action towards them every day.
- Take calculated risks. Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and take calculated risks that will help you achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a natural part of the learning process and often leads you to new opportunities.
- Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally is essential for living a fulfilling life. Make time every day for activities that nourish your body, mind, spirit and heart. It might be exercise, meditation, getting out in Nature or spending time with loved ones.
- Seek support. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you. Consider joining a group or community that aligns with your interests or goals, and seek out a mentor who can offer guidance and advice. Remember, taking your turn does not mean doing life alone.
A sacred covenant
Taking your turn means making a sacred covenant with your Deeper Self, to allow yourself to soar as high and dive as deep as your Spirit calls you. It's to allow yourself to do this, not with restraint or guilt or fear that you must abandon the ones you love. It's living your life at 100% opacity rather than expecting that some dimmed version of yourself is all you’re entitled to.
No matter how fully or reluctantly you embody your calling, you are impacting those around you. You have influence by your living and by your reluctance to live. Even the regret you might feel at the end of your life might be your gift to the next generation.
But why would you miss the chance to be fully alive?
So, this is my appeal to you. Take time. Be still. Listen. Pay attention. Heed your call. Live your life. Take your turn. Do it now.
The work I do today has grown out of the soil of my mother's regret. But I'm still learning... how to embody what is essential to me... how to trust the process... how to make my turn. I always will be.
To learn more about all the ways you can walk your road with me, click here and open the tab "Work with me."
Because you matter.
With so much love,