Right after my 23rd birthday, my father passed away of cancer.
I watched him morph into a completely different person over the span of just one year as the cancer slowly took him away from our family, his friends, and myself.
After he passed away, it took me several years to fully understand how his death had affected me so personally. I moved to Charlotte about 6 months after he passed to begin a new life and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
After moving to Charlotte I found amazing friends, fell in love with a new city, and finally felt like I was apart of something bigger than myself.
Late in 2013, my mom was also diagnosed with cancer.
I still remember where I was when I received the phone call as I also remember where I was when my father gave me the same news 7 years previously. My mom cried to me on the phone while she told me that she was scared and even though I told her all the normal things people say to those newly diagnosed with cancer, “You’ll beat it”, “You’ve got this!”, all I wanted to do was cry with her and tell her that I, too, was scared.
I also wanted to admit to her that I didn’t understand why my family had been dealt such a crappy hand.
I was angry and in pure disbelief that this could be happening to me all over again.
The doctors at MCV in Richmond, VA had ordered my mom to begin chemotherapy a couple weeks before Christmas. Being in Charlotte, I lived 5 hours away from her and felt helpless being so far away and not able to be at her side during treatments. Before Thanksgiving of that year, my mom also underwent a full hysterectomy in an attempt to remove all of the cancerous tissue. I was with her during that surgery and was thankful that she was able to be with our family shortly after for the Thanksgiving holiday.
After recovering from surgery, my mom prepared to begin chemotherapy. I knew how trying and frightening it would be for her to begin treatment right before Christmas, so I did something to try to make her understand that she was special, supported, and loved by not only me, but also my friends and colleagues.
I wrote a blog post on my personal blog asking anyone who could spare the time to send my mother a Christmas card that year.
I did this for many reasons. I did it to show her that she was not alone. I did it to show her that people cared for her and were cheering her on. I did it because I knew that she would think she wasn’t special enough to have people supporting her through her treatment. I wanted to prove her wrong.
I honestly had no idea what kind of response I would get.
I assumed I would receive a couple dozen cards for her. I asked people to address the cards to my mom but to actually mail them to my apartment in Uptown. I didn’t tell a single person in my family and asked everyone involved to not spill the beans to my mom about the covert operation. We all kept this a secret for an entire month.
In total, I received over 120 cards, most of them were from people in Charlotte, but there were also several sent from all over the country from people who I had never met and probably never will.
I lost count there were so many cards. Some people even sent large envelopes with 20-30 cards in them that were gathered from school children or restaurant employees.
My friend Zach asked each of his employees at Red Robin to write my mother a card. And they all did.
A friend and former coworker made a GIANT card from 2 poster board pieces and shiny wrapping paper with curly ribbons signed by all her coworkers, whom I had also never met. That gigantic card could hardly even fit in my trunk.
Some generous folks even sent big packages with several gifts inside. A woman who worked at the University of Alabama, whom I had never met, sent my mom a care package stuffed full of gifts from the university. My mother’s grandfather was the President of Alabama in the 1940’s so her family members are huge Bama fans. It meant so much to her that the school faculty had gone out of their way to do something so thoughtful.
My mom’s favorite gift? A large box from a man who followed me on Twitter that lived on a small island in Florida.
He had lost his wife to cancer and was raising his two children alone. This man personally asked me my mom’s interests because he wanted to send her a custom-made package. I told him that my mom loved the beach and being in the water. A couple weeks later, I received a box full of seashells, real beach sand, beach Christmas ornaments, a sand shovel, and much more. It must have taken my mom 20 minutes to look through all the gifts in that box.
She loved every second of it.
The response was truly amazing. The community of Charlotte had helped to spread my plea and it went semi-viral, all in an attempt to do something kind for my mother, whom most of them had never met.
Looking back now, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of myself than when I loaded up all of those cards and gifts into my car before heading to Richmond to see my family for Christmas that year.
When my mom finally opened the cards, she was shocked and cried tears of sadness, hope, and relief. I actually took pictures of this moment. The photos show nothing but pure, genuine emotion. My mom kept asking “Why??” through her sobbing because she couldn’t understand why so many people would take the time out of their busy lives to do something so amazingly beautiful for her.
But I understood fully.
Unfortunately, my mom never got around to opening all of the cards because she spent most of her time in the hospital and in treatment.
She passed away a year and 5 months after she received those cards.
That Christmas was the last Christmas my mom enjoyed in her own home as she spent the following holidays in a nursing home and hospital.
It’s only been 2 months since my mom passed and I miss her everyday.
During her year and a half long battle with cancer, she fought harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. Not for a second did she think she wouldn’t beat it. Throughout her fight, she kept a smile on her face and continued to tell jokes and make others laugh every single day.
I want to be like her when I grow up. Courageous, stubborn, funny, and a pure joy to be around.
During such a difficult time, I needed my own community to rally around my mom and I. And Charlotte did just that.
Every time I saw someone here that I knew (or didn’t know), they would ask about my mom and my family. They always told me that they were thinking of us and saying prayers for my mother. The community supported us when we needed it the most and lifted us up so we could push through together.
When my mom passed away, the most important items I inherited were those Christmas cards.
I didn’t care as much about the fancy china or the 45 records that may or may not be worth something. After my mother’s memorial service, I made sure to search my mother’s house to find every single card that was sent to her that Christmas. They’re now back in Charlotte with me and I plan on writing a Thank You note to each person who sent a card to fully express my gratitude and assure them that their kind gesture has not gone unnoticed.
My time here thus far on Earth has been full of several life-changing moments, both joyful and incredibly heartbreaking. This is one of those moments in my life that I will never forget.
Thank you, Charlotte.