When my mom was 49, she was afraid she was pregnant. She noticed some swelling and that her period was off.
The doctor informed her she was not pregnant. She had ovarian cancer. Through tears and some sarcastic laughter, my mom responded, “Now I want to be pregnant.”
A year later, she was informed her cancer was terminal. Maintenance chemotherapy kept her alive for four more years, but her end was inevitable.
About six months before she died, my mom asked me to help her with a project. She wanted me to draw cartoons of all of her fears.
Up until this point, I thought my mom was just born angelic or with some superhuman form of positive brain chemistry. I had no idea she was actually scared.
She asked me to draw her fears in a humorous way, so she could look at the cartoons and be lifted out of a dark place. She also paired each cartoon with a thought or Bible verse that encouraged her.
It was difficult to watch every single one of her fears come true.
She did die with pain.
Her tumors did distort her body size and ability to move.
She did not get to see any grandchildren born.
Normally people talk about fears not actually happening. That they’re just in our head and we need to get over them.
But all of my mom’s fears came true. I never understood how to hold that tension within me.
And then, I began to do things that brought up fear within me - writing books, starting a business, confronting unhealthy relationships, etc. For the most part, I stuffed the fear and simply hoped for the best.
As I started the book I’m currently writing, about running a thriving private practice, I became
almost paralyzed with fear. It felt different than all of my other books because this one was about something I constructed and held very dear. I was fearful I would be judged or criticized by my colleagues for running my business differently than the norm (a topic I later wrote an essay about).
When I voiced my fear to a friend (who also happens to be a therapist), she said, “Yeah, the criticism will happen. What you fear will happen. So act on your heart.”
It feels trivial to compare this experience to my mother’s fears about death, but also freeing.
For I finally get it.
In our toxic “positive vibes only” culture, we are taught to not give time or attention to our fears.
Our culture often tells us, “Focus on the positive otherwise you might make the fear happen.”
Well, what if sometimes we just accept that what we fear will happen?
And then act anyway.
I recently had to confront an individual who did not deliver a service I had paid for (you can read about that experience in my essay about my therapy dog). I was afraid she would respond with anger and gaslighting behavior. Turns out, she did. She was angry and blamed everything on me.
Afterward, instead of being upset that what I feared came true, I thought, “Well damn, my intuition was spot on with that. And I’m still glad I voiced my concerns and confronted unprofessional and inappropriate behavior.”
I may not have gotten the outcome I wanted (my money back or the service provided), but I acted with solvency and integrity.
And that’s what my mom did. She knew she was going to die. And she still did her best to act how she wanted. We got outside. We explored. We had deep conversations. We cooked food. We watched shows and laughed. We made funny gifts to mail people.
Her last year, one full with fear, was actually one of the best of our lives.
Acting in the face of fear can be challenging and overwhelming.
If you need more support, a therapist can help.