I will always remember the phone call from my sister Lupe that changed my life forever. Lupe was talking so fast that I didn’t understand a word until I heard, “She’s going to refuse treatment.” Our mother was refusing treatment for her cancer.
My mother had never smoked a day in her life and rarely drank, yet she was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. But with her faith and toughness, she somehow took the news in stride. She was confident in her decision.
I felt my heart fall into my stomach. All I wanted to do was cry and call my sister Lucy. But I couldn’t; Lucy had already been dead for nine months. Her four-year battle with ovarian cancer withered not only her body, but also the spirits of our whole family. How could we face this again? I knew I would have to be there for my father.
My professional life was completely different from my home life. My investment banking career was taking off, and my family was starting to enjoy the benefits. We’d just come back from our second trip to Maui in twelve months. Our kids were in private schools and, for the first time in a long time, we had more than enough. Yet, for the first time, my life felt empty. Even though I was working so hard, I still had a deep need to make a difference.
My mother’s courage gave me strength I’d never known before. At the pinnacle of my investment banking career, I resigned and never looked back. I reached out to some of my contacts, and soon the Grace Group was providing fundraising services to its first client. Now I could make my own schedule. Now I could spend time with my mother in her last days.
Humans are hardwired to feel a connection to people and things we love or care about. Sometimes we suppress these feelings through the fear of what others will think. And we create prisons using the opposite of connection: isolation from society, from each other. Even though my life looked like a mansion from the outside, on the inside it was a prison. I created a prison for myself because I wanted to look good for other people. Are you living in a prison you created?
I needed a way out. And somehow, my mother’s death gave me new life. She rescued me from a desert that would have sucked every bit of my soul dry.
Part 2 of this story is here.