Whenever I have times in my life when I want to give up I am reminded of a story from the life of my late Mother. As a newlywed in her early twenties, she decided to go to nursing school. The problem was, she hated it. At the end of every rotation she vowed to quit. At the end the every semester she swore she wouldn't re-register. My father would gently coax her on, urging her to keep going for one more semester. Her final rotation was on the psychiatric unit, and she loved it. There, amid the people who needed emotional nursing, she found her calling. She worked as a psych nurse the whole time I was growing up and at one point, worked in a busy emergency room as the emergency mental health nurse. She would talk to people right after they had attempted suicide. She was the one who asked her patients what the voices in their head were telling them. She could gauge the depth of someones depression. After the tragic crash of Swiss Air flight 111 she gave free mental health services to many of the first responders. She, of course, would help them as best she could. Many of her patients would return again and again, one mental health emergency after another. Her heart and her head were with these people. She described them as "hers".
As a teenager, I remember her going back to school to upgrade from an RN to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her arch enemy was the statistics class. She would work all day and then study well into the night for this exam. I have many images burned into my memory from this time. Her dark office with only a desk lamp illuminating a statistics text book and a stack of papers. Her glasses. The migraines she would get from too much studying and not enough sleep. The tutor she hired for herself. All the extra chores assigned to me because we all had to pitch in. The feeling of collective victory when we found out she passed. I was so proud of her when I watched her cross the stage at convocation. It's funny how we all anticipate watching our children graduate and we are anxious to snap a photo of them in their cap and gown, but watching a parent graduate is a truly meaningful thing.
Later, as a young adult, I registered in university to start my own bachelor degree, and my mother registered for a masters program as a Nurse Practitioner. We actually went to the University of Alberta together for a time. I was deprived of a chance to see her cross the stage once more. She was never able to finish this program as she passed away in the middle of it after a rough battle with cancer.
In an ironic and unkind twist of fate, the most suitable portrait for the cover of her funeral program was her graduation picture from her bachelors degree.
Of course, by the time it was my turn graduate, my Mother was gone. I knew she would have been proud. I got the "education is important in this family" message loud and clear. But there were other more important messages resounding in my ears from the story of my mother’s educational career. Messages like, don't ever give up. Push through even when things seem dark. Chip away at problems little by little. Trust in your ability to figure things out.
Truthfully, I never found university to be an taxing as she did. Watching my brave and successful mother be eaten alive by cancer was however, nothing short of horrific. It was a dark time. Everything seemed to go wrong and I was very fearful of the future. But she left me clues on how to survive that time, hidden in the example of the statistics class. Don't ever give up. Push through even when things seem dark, chip away at problems little by little. Trust in your ability to figure things out.
In a different, less traumatic way, raising five kids is its own kind of hard. Many days I want to give up, until I recall that image of my mother's dark office with only a desk lamp illuminating a statistics text book. Maybe I'll give it one more day.