On Self-sufficiency and Womanhood

The loss of my mom means, among other things, that I have lost my greatest source of support and encouragement. It is this that pains me most about losing her, although it’s entirely selfish. I want her here to cheer me on, the way she did for 20 years. Of course, she went above and beyond cheering me on. She consistently stood up for me and was fiercely protective. As a social worker, she knew how to advocate for someone to ensure that their needs were met, and her parenting reflected this. When I was diagnosed with PCOS she got me into the best gynecologist in town and did not rest until she was sure I was receiving the proper care. She helped me switch doctors when I was uncomfortable and because of her connections in the medical community, she was able to find me the best of the best. She also understood my anxiety and depression issues and made sure that I got in with the best therapist she could find. I’ve been seeing him for two years now. Her concern for my health and well-being never ceased, even when she was in her very last days.

One of the most critical lessons my mom left with me is the importance of standing up for yourself. From an early age my mom learned to do this, and she spent her whole life as her own #1 advocate. I was fortunate enough to have her as my advocate for the past 20 years, but now I’m left to fend for myself. And I have to admit, I’m scared shitless. I never fully appreciated how much she did for me until recently, and I hate that it took me so long to realize how much time and energy my mom dedicated just to me. If I was ever mistreated by a friend, boyfriend, coworker, or boss, my mom had something to say about it. She would always hear me out and validate my anger, frustration, or sadness. She would always encourage me to speak my mind and not let others take advantage of me. When it came to schoolwork, she was always interested in what I was learning and exceedingly proud of my successes. She especially appreciated my writing and read everything I wrote – whether it was an essay. research paper, or blog post. She believed in me so much and gave me confidence when I had none.

Losing my biggest supporter was a blow I didn’t think I could take. I’m still not sure how to go on without her, but I know that I have to and that she wants me to. I’m learning what it means to be self-sufficient. My mom always stressed the importance of independence, especially after her diagnosis, because she knew she could not be there forever. Some things are easy to do on my own – going to the doctor, filling and picking up my own prescriptions, applying for jobs. Other things are much more difficult without her. I am in desperate need of a professional bra fitting, and my mom would have been the one to go with me. The prospect of going on my own terrifies me, and maybe it’s just the lack of her particular presence. There are aspects of womanhood that just call for a mother’s help, although I know there are many women who never know their mothers or aren’t close to them, or lost them like I did. I still can’t help but be afraid.

Her emotional support is what I will miss most. Learning to stand up for myself is difficult, because I’m more passive by nature than my mom. In addition, we live in a world that encourages women to be silent rather than speak out. We’re more often blamed than celebrated, and our gender bears a particular burden that men escape. It says a lot about my mom’s strength and character that she made her way in the world primarily alone. She had many friends, but her family was not a source of support and after the divorce she was a single mother. Despite these obstacles she was extremely successful in her job and she lived a happy and fulfilling life. Most importantly, she never backed down when it came to the treatment she knew she deserved. She absolutely would not accept being treated in a condescending or demeaning way, and she highly valued her autonomy. She refused to be silent. She taught me, by example, what it means to be a strong, independent, and feisty woman.

As I enter womanhood, I know that I must be the one to stand up for my rights. I must be the one to demand proper treatment and respect. I must put my needs first, because no one else will. With the support of family and friends, I will build up my self-confidence and learn how to take care of myself. Although I sometimes feel very alone without my mom, I know that I have a circle of people who truly love and support me. And I know that she wants me to carry on and be the very best person I can be, fulfilling the potential she saw and believed in. She would be here, cheering me on still, if she could.

Her encouraging words will always remind me: “Don’t ever doubt yourself.”

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