A Guiding Heart

There is within each of us a better part of who we are, and who we can become. That part of us is the best of us. It is waiting, ready to guide us, help us, and show us who we really are.

A while ago, I received a phone call from my mother, and with the sensitivity of an angry bull she blurted out the three words that will haunt me until my dying breath: “I have cancer.” There was a stunned silence. She went on to explain the doctors had advised her to get her affairs in order. There would be no treatment. It was too late, she explained.

My mother and I had a strained relationship. She had remarried a man after breaking up my childhood family and had from that day forth put him first. I had lived with them for several years until the mental and verbal abuse became intolerable. I left home at the age of fifteen and was determined to make it on my own. For the next ten years I lived in survival mode making one mistake after another, learning my life lessons very early. By the time I was 25 I’d lived several lifetimes, it seemed.

Something came over me when I heard my mother’s tragic words, spoken with so filled with grief, her hope a foregone thought. In that instant, I was overcome with love, compassion and I forgave my mother in my heart for every terrible thing I experienced in her care and at her hands. In just a few short seconds, what had restrained me for years disappeared. I did what I do best. I went into action and began calling everyone, hospitals nearby, far away, in different countries. I was determined to keep calling until someone said yes.

Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto was my main focus. When you call there you get one of several dozen operators whose job it is to schedule appointments. The woman that took my call was named “Ann.” Although Ann said that there was a six month waiting list, I decided to call Ann again. Then again. And again and so forth. Each day I called and asked to speak to Ann and each day I asked her for an appointment. I could hear the frustration mounting in her voice until the day she barked, “I said no! Why do you keep calling?” There was an indeterminate number of moments passed, and then I replied, “she’s my mother, what would you do if she was yours?” Another silence, more eerily quiet than the one before it. I had been holding my breath, expecting to hear the connection had been cut after she hung up the call. Instead, I heard the words, “have her here at 8:00am tomorrow morning.” I felt like I’d won the lottery. “Pack your bags Mom, I got you in!!” I could barely contain my excitement.

I drove four hours to Windsor to pick her up. I found her curled up on the loveseat, a mere whisper of the energetic woman I remembered. She lifted her head and smiled and I helped her up. Then, my mother did something I would never forget. She hugged me. She had never just hugged me ever before. That just wasn’t something we did. It felt uncomfortable, but nice. I could smell the clean, floral smell of her, my mom.

The next morning we drove to Toronto and found Princess Margaret Hospital. I had my arms full, carrying a large bouquet of flowers as we neared the intake area. “Good Morning! May I help you?” the receptionist asked, looking longingly at the beautiful armful of colourful petals. “Yes, is Ann here?” I saw a heavyset older woman suddenly raise her head from her desk and look in our direction, a faint look of recognition on her face. Our eyes locked together. She looked from me to my mother and then at the flowers I was carrying. I smiled hopefully. She got up and walked toward us tentatively. “Hi! Ann? I’m the daughter that kept calling you.” I gestured towards my mother. “And this is my mom, Renata.” The three of us shook hands, tears welling up in our eyes. Wow. What an incredible moment. 

An hour later, sitting in the sterile doctor’s office, my mother asked me what she had done to deserve a daughter like me. She couldn’t seem to grasp how I’d simply forgiven her. I smiled and simply stated that she was my mother. The doctor came in and was very surprised that we’d gotten an appointment with her, as the waitlist was backed up for more than six months. My mother and I shared a private smile.

Five years later, my mother took her last breath and died in my arms. Not the three months the doctors initially gave her, FIVE YEARS. In that time, we were able to laugh together, love, and get to know one another. My mother got to have a relationship with two of her granddaughters and got to meet my third daughter as well, Eve Renata. None of this would have happened without forgiveness and a little hope, a four-letter word that can move mountains.

The moral of the story? Forgive to live. You’ll never regret it, but you most definitely will regret it if you don’t.