Over the last 6 months it has become clear to me that everything that I do personally and professionally stems from my relationship with my mom. My mom died three years ago at the age of 60. She died due to getting a surgery that she had no business getting. Years earlier she got gastric bypass surgery in order to lose weight. She figured that would be the answer to her problems. As the years followed she did end up losing weight. However, the weight she lost did nothing for her self-esteem and self-image.
She was still hard on herself. Because she had this excess skin, she decided that getting plastic surgery to remove the excess skin would allow her to love herself more. So she decided to reach out to doctors and see if this was possible. Just about every doctor she spoke to told her that she was not a candidate to have surgery. It was too risky. My mom had a host of chronic diseases: she was diabetic, obese, had heart problems, high blood pressure, and was on a host of medications for those conditions (not to mention other medications to combat the side effects of those medications). The amount of skin that my mom wanted removed and the evasiveness of the surgery she wanted was too much for her body to handle. Just by going under anesthesia she was at risk of not coming out of it okay.
Even though a bunch of doctors told her she was not a candidate for surgery, she kept on looking until she found someone who was willing to work on her. Low and behold, she found what she was looking for. She found a doctor who would remove the excess skin that she was so self-conscious about.
The doctor my mom was working with reasoned that in order for him to repair a hernia that she had, he needed to remove the skin around her midsection in order to get to it. Bullshit. One, my mom could have easily lived with the hernia she had. It wasn’t that serious. Two, even if the hernia needed to be removed, he could do it without removing this excess skin. Even though this was the case, my mom decided to go with the surgery anyways.
I was completely against it. Actually, at the time, I was outraged when she told me she wanted to get this done. I told her that she didn’t need it. I asked her why it was important, what was it going to change? She basically told me that it was going to bring her more confidence and allow her to feel better about herself. But I knew that wasn’t the case. Looking back, my mom would do one thing that she thought would make her feel better about herself, but then she would just find something else to frown upon and continue to put herself down. So I knew from experience that this wasn’t the answer.
The day before she was set to go to surgery she told me that she was nervous about getting it done. I said, “Don’t do it.” But, for whatever reason, she decided that she was going to go through with it anyways. I pleaded with her not to get it done. And I tried my best to talk her out of it. My efforts didn’t work. She decided she was going to go through with it anyways. That day ended with her and I getting into an argument and me being upset with her. This was a common theme in my life from age 22-25.
The next morning she went in for the surgery. After the surgery, she woke up and spoke to some family members and friends on the phone (I wasn’t one of them). During one of her conversations, she mentioned that she was having some difficulty getting air. Some difficulty turned into extreme difficulty in a short matter of time. Come to find out, the medical staff had to induce her into a coma. What the fuck?! I couldn’t believe what I was being told. But this wasn’t the first time in my life when my mom had gotten really sick or had some type of complication with her health. She had bounced back every other time so I figured this was the same. But deep down, I knew something was off.
Subsequently, she was transferred to a continued care hospital. My family and I were left with more questions than answers. When they “woke” my mom out of her coma, she was never the same. She was hooked up to a bunch of tubes, couldn’t orally communicate, and I could tell she was in a terrible pain. The “team” of doctors and specialists who were working on her could not give us a prognosis on her ability to recover. Every week when we met with the team we were given a different story, a different runaround. It was some bullshit to say the least.
Out of the many days that I went to go visit my mom, there was only one time that I could tell she noticed it was me that was standing in front of her. Till this day, I have never seen so much pain in someone’s eyes. I got the feeling that she was sorry and couldn’t believe the predicament that she was in. Looking back, I could also tell that she didn’t think she was going to make it. I just sat there and cried. Cried and told her how much I loved her and how sorry I was. I felt like shit because I was so hard on her over the past few years. All I wanted was for her to let me help her get her health on track. But as I look back, I was way too forceful in my approach. I wasn’t empathetic to her conditions and didn’t try to meet her where she was. I looked my mom in the eyes and asked her if she knew that I loved her. I think it took every once of energy left in her body, but she was able to barely shake her head yes. That was the last moment my mom and I got to share together. From that point on, over the course of several weeks, my mom went under a series of tests to see if they could go into surgery to help her. The medical team never gave such clearance.
My mom ended up slowly dying in the hospital over the span of 8 weeks. I’ll never forget the moment I found out she wasn’t going to make it. It was May of 2015. A couple of my closest friends and I just arrived back in New York from Abu Dhabi. I was walking around NYC with one of my close friends when I felt my phone vibrating. I gave it a quick glance to see who was calling and it was my grandmother. Nanny never calls me at night, let alone at midnight. I knew something was very, very wrong. Because I didn’t want to take a chance of breaking down in front of my friends and other people, I decided not to answer the call.
Later on that night/early morning, when I got off the subway alone and was walking back towards my friend’s house, I decided to call my older brother. Right when he answered the phone, I knew what he had already been told. He was choked up and crying and told me that mom wasn’t going to make it and that she only had a few more days. My world instantly shattered. There I was, in the middle of Harlem balling my eyes out. Even though deep down I knew this was inevitable, to actually hear it killed me on the inside. I was a mess. My brother and I tried the best we could to console each other, but at the moment there was no way to calm either of us down. We both loved our mom so much. She literally did everything she could for us and even though we all had our disagreements, arguments, and fallouts, the love that we had for each other was unmatched.
Once my brother and I got off the phone, I proceeded to call my dad and let him know the news. This was the first and only time I’ve ever heard him cry. That alone showed me how much he truly cared, appreciated, and loved my mom. We spoke for about 15 minutes on the phone, which is an eternity for us. My dad has always been a man of few words, but that morning was different. We consoled each other the best we could, but I was still beyond devastated.
I ended up walking for about another hour until I reached my boy Shabazz’s apartment. It was close to 4 am when I knocked on the door. To his surprise I was balling my eyes out, snotty-nosed, and looked like a mess. He asked me what happened and then I told him that my mom was dying. He was thrown for a loop. Even though we are close friends, I didn’t tell him what was going on with my mom. Matter of fact, I didn’t really tell anyone except for 3 of my best friends at home. Shabazz gave me a big hug, sat me down, and just listened to me vent for about an hour. He’s always been a great listener and I appreciate him so much for that moment. More than he’ll ever know. He helped give me some perspective and calmed me down slightly so I could go to sleep before I caught my flight back home the next morning. It was time to return home and face the fact that my mom was going to be gone forever.
When I got back home I visited my grandma and uncle to get caught up on everything. Long story short, there was nothing that the medical staff could do to help her. Essentially, all they had been doing was “keeping her alive” through IVs. As a family, we decided to move forward and allow my mom to die. There was no point of letting her suffer any longer. The hospital called me when she expired. I drove over to the hospital to pay her one last visit. I walked into the dark room, turned on the light, and there she was. Lifeless. So many emotions ran through me at that point. At that moment I had no idea why I even went in there to look at her. But looking back, I’m glad I did.
The grieving process wasn’t easy for me. At that time I was 25. Up to that point I always kept my emotions to myself and didn’t share them with others. People would ask me if I was okay and with a straight face I would tell them that I was as okay as I could be. But that was bullshit. I was hurting like hell on the inside. I began to think about all the things that my mom would never see. She wasn’t going to see me get married, wasn’t going to meet her grandchildren, and ultimately wasn’t going to see me grow into the man I am currently becoming. All of this ate away at me. But my thoughts got even worse.
All I could think about was how I couldn’t help my mom. At that point of my life I was well versed as a fitness professional and was well into my second year of extensive nutrition study. How was it that I could not help my mom with that? After contemplating this for months, it dawned on me that I was too forceful with my approach. Instead of meeting my mom where she was, I was trying to get her to change everything right away, without her input. Most people can resonate with how difficult it can be to help those you are closest with, especially family.
Looking back, I wasn’t empathetic towards all the pain my mom was going through. Part of me felt like she was just being lazy and was stuck in her ways. But now I have a clear understanding of just how broken my mom was, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I used to get so annoyed and mad at her when I had to repeat the answer to a question she asked me what felt like a thousand times. Well, she had all the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s/ dementia. But at the time I didn’t realize that. Just about every day she would talk about how nauseous and sick she felt. A direct result of all the medications she was taking for pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression, among others.
What upset me the most about all of this was that my mom felt hopeless. She didn’t think there was anything she could do to help her situation, plagued by a fixed mindset. She put all of her eggs into the conventional medicine system. Whatever one of her doctors told her to take, she would. When the pharmaceutical drug had a side effect, she would take whatever other drug the doctor prescribed to help deal with that side effect. I would try to recommend traditional alternatives that she could look into and try, but she never really wanted to do it. There would be times when she would exercise a little bit, eat better, and be more social. When she did that her whole demeanor and being was different. She was happier, motivated, and moving in the right direction. But then she would stop for different reasons. In my opinion, it was mostly related to her prescription drugs and fixed mindset. It would throw her right back into her old ways.
My mom was very generous and one of the things that brought her the most joy was being able to do things for others. This was a gift and a curse in my opinion. Our relationship started to sour a little bit when I returned home after graduating from Georgetown. For the past four years I had been really independent and living on my own terms. I didn’t have to check in with anyone, I didn’t have to ask permission to do things, and I was allowed to live my life how I wanted to live it. However, when I returned home, my mom had different expectations. She expected me to tell her where I was going, what I was doing, and when I was going to be home. Granted, I will always be her baby in her eyes, and in retrospect I can see why she expected these things. But at the time this infuriated me and caused me to have some disdain towards her. Instead of being an adult and expressing to her how I felt in a cool, calm demeanor, I was angry, emotional, and aggressive in telling her to basically leave me alone. This crushed her. All she wanted to do was to be able to help me. But me, the son she adores like no other, would push her away. I didn’t want her to cook for me, clean up after me, do my laundry, nothing. I think she thought I didn’t want anything to do with her. While that wasn’t the case, looking back I can definitely see how it looked that way.
I recently went on a retreat in Austin, Texas this past April, which was instrumental in shifting my perception of how I view my relationship with my mom. During the retreat, I had many visions of all of the great moments we shared throughout my childhood. She was always there for me. As a single mother, she did everything in her power to make sure my brother and I were taken care of. Anything we needed for sports, school, clothing, or anything else we wanted as bratty kids, she provided. Even on the days she didn’t feel well, she would go to my baseball games as a kid and my football games in high school. Specifically, I had a vision of one of my baseball games, when I was 11 or so, when I put my sweaty hat sideways on her head after a big win. The smile on her face was priceless. That smile symbolized exactly how she felt towards me all the time: Happy, loving, and proud! My mom did everything for me. EVERTHING. I was so spoiled. I was her world. Different examples of this played through my mind during the retreat. It took me back to times in kindergarten when she would take me to Toys R Us every time she got her paycheck. How she bought me a Playstation for my birthday when it first came out and how she surprised me with a Dreamcast one Christmas. Not to mention all of the shoes, clothes, jerseys, video games, and all of the baseball/basketball/football gear she bought me all through adolescence and high school. She would get me all of these things knowing damn well she couldn’t afford any of it. While part of me gets upset that she accumulated so much debt doing these things for me, I realize that it brought her a lot of joy.
My mom always had my back. If anyone said something negative about me, she would be the first one to come to my defense. She gave me the freedom as a young child to explore different things and learn on the fly. She continually helped me with my schoolwork and instilled in me a love of learning. I never realized it back then, but I was a low-key nerd. I loved to learn new things and that was a direct result of her. She gave me the autonomy to be myself and let me know that I was good enough no matter what I did or how I looked.
After exploring my early childhood through high school days, I started going deeper into my relationship with my mom post college up until the day she died. I realized that the relationship was contentious because of me. I was so used to having my freedom in college and didn’t want to change how that was. I didn’t want to tell her where I was going, what I was doing, when I was going to be home, etc. This really hurt my mom. She was also hurt that I didn’t want her to do anything for me like cook, do my laundry, clean up after me, etc. Back then I thought she was just being annoying, but it dawned on me that she wanted to do all of this because it gave her a sense of purpose. Providing for me was what brought her joy. When I wasn’t allowing her to do those things, it hurt her. It took my reflection during the retreat to realize this.
Looking back, my mom was always super proud of me. She always bragged about me to her friends and family. This is why she always wanted to know what I was up to. She wasn’t being nosey or annoying, she just genuinely cared about what was going on in my life. She was truly impressed by me and the man I had became. It took the retreat for me to understand that she is incredibly proud of me now. She sees all of the great things that I’m doing for others and myself. Now I can feel it deeply in my heart that she is always watching me with great love, joy, and fulfillment.
Before the retreat, I was of the mindset that I did all of the work that I’m doing because my mom being gone hurt me so damn much. Since I wasn’t able to prevent her premature death by helping her instill a healthier mindset and lifestyle, I figured I would never be satisfied with the amount of other people I help in my career. But now I have a new view on it: My mom is helping me do all of this work. She died so that I could evolve into the person I am becoming. If it wasn’t for her death, I don’t think I would be where I am now, helping others, being more compassionate, and learning how to take care of myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. All while having a passion to help others do the same. I love my mom so much and miss her dearly, but I now understand that she is with me every step of the way. She is guiding me, inspiring me, and most of all, she is so proud of me! I love you so much mom! Happy Mother’s Day!