[Things my mother taught me] Part three: Advocacy and Activism

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My mom has impacted me in more ways than I can accurately recount, but one that stands out among the rest was her determination to advocate for herself and for others. During her years as a social worker she gained an abundance of experience advocating for her patients and always made sure that their needs were taken care of. She learned how to negotiate with insurance companies to ensure that patients received the medications they desperately needed. Her compassion for her patients motivated her to help them in every way she possibly could, and providing emotional support was a part of this that she was happy to give. Her patients loved her and bonds of friendship were formed. When she was forced to leave her clinic as her health declined, her patients were absolutely devastated. It makes me so proud and inspired to know that my mom truly and profoundly impacted the lives of so many.

She carried her experiences as a social worker into her personal life and family life. Advocating for herself became crucial early in her life, as she lived with an abusive father and a complacent mother. She knew she would have to fend for herself and she did. She never stopped standing up for herself even on her sickest days. I often though that she was wasting her energy, but I understand now that it was self-care and self-preservation. She refused to be treated poorly and made no excuses for such treatment. It takes incredible strength, resilience, and determination to do what my mother did for so long.

When she wasn’t advocating for her patients or herself, she was cheering on my brothers and me with amazing gusto. What I miss most, and will continue to miss, is the fact that she truly was my biggest fan and cheerleader. As a kid I was always embarrassed when she bragged about me relentlessly, or stood up and shouted praise in the middle of an honors ceremony. But I realize now how much I took that for granted, and that her actions truly show how much she loved me. She really was SO proud of me and all of my achievements. Nothing was too small to celebrate, in her eyes, and she made me feel proud of myself in a way that no one else ever has. The loss of her encouragement pains me in a unique and acute way.

But I know that she wants me to carry on being the determined and ambitious daughter that she raised. After watching her advocate for others for so long, I have decided to follow in her footsteps. In my mind, nothing could be better than a career in which I am able to help others. I am planning on a career in social work of some kind, and even though my mom always bemoaned the poor pay, I know that the job will be rewarding in ways that money cannot quantify.

My mom always supported my passion for activism as well. My interest in making an impact on a broad scale has only increased as my feminist identity has strengthened, and this is something that my mom understood and appreciated. My desire for social justice is often laughed at or labeled insignificant, but my mom was proud of my social consciousness. Whether or not I could make a huge difference wasn’t the point – she admired my idealism and compassion for others. Her unwavering support, even when she didn’t agree with my views completely, meant the world to me. I could not have asked for a more understanding and supportive mother. I am lucky to have professors and friends who also encourage me, but no one can replace the unconditional support that my mother provided.

Because of my mom, I know the importance of standing up for yourself, and for your loved ones. I also know the importance of standing up for anyone in need – regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation. I know that advocacy and activism DO make a difference. They matter. Whether I’m helping one person or 100 people, it matters immensely. I have the power to make a difference in peoples’ lives, just like my mom did. And that is exactly what I intend to do.

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