A Lesson from Mamaw: It’s Always Worth It

By Katie, 7:17 am

Today is a day we celebrate mothers, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been nothing short of blessed in the moms department.

Besides my husband, my mom is my best friend, my confidant, my ally. My mother-in-law is an incredibly wise and supportive woman who has showered me with love since the day we met. Unfortunately I never got to meet my grandmother on my dad’s side, as she passed away shortly before I was born, but I hear she was the type of person who found immense pleasure in giving to others. And then there’s my grandmother on my mom’s side.

Mamaw, as we called her, was in some ways a study of contradictions. She was soft and gentle, and yet also a pillar of strength. In the face of terminal cancer, she fought her hardest while simultaneously accepting her fate. She believed that life was about working hard and loving hard while you were here, while always remembering that the only thing that really matters is where you’re going when you’re gone.

Mamaw taught me many lessons directly, like how to play the piano and how to stop biting my fingernails (she’s smiling in Heaven right now over the much-improved state of my hands). But through her life and her death, she indirectly taught me another important lesson, and that is this: Regardless of your ultimate destiny, taking care of yourself is always worth it.

You see, Mamaw always lived a pretty healthy lifestyle. She served vegetables with every meal and took a daily walk around the neighborhood. Even as she got older she remained physically active, and when her cholesterol got a little high she immediately took steps to bring it down. She maintained a healthy weight and enjoyed dessert in moderation. Overall, her body was in good condition.

That is, until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

No cancer is good, obviously, but as far as cancers go, pancreatic is one of the worst. The prognosis is usually pretty bad; the average survival time from diagnosis is 3-6 months, and the 5-year survival rate is less than 5%.

At first my overwhelming sadness at the news manifested itself as anger. It just wasn’t fair. Mamaw didn’t have the standard risk factors, such as smoking, obesity, or a diet low in produce but high in red meat and sugary drinks. She had always taken care of her body, so why was her body turning on her now?

For some, my grandma’s diagnosis is just proof that eating healthy and exercising just aren’t worth it. See, they say, why bother with all of that if you’re just going to get cancer in the end anyway?

Although I never actually asked her, I know Mamaw would disagree.

I know that had a little bird descended from Heaven and told her that she would eventually die from a horrible disease, she wouldn’t have thrown up her hands and said, “Well in that case, I’ll have six slices of cake and won’t step on the treadmill ever again!” No, I think she’d continue to take care of herself just the same, knowing that doing so would provide her with a much greater quality of life, regardless of how much time she had left or what her ultimate fate would be.

My grandma showed me that – while it seems like a contradiction – our bodies are both strong and fragile; they can be unbreakable one day and totally broken the next. And yet that is not reason to throw in the towel, to give up on the journey toward health. While we have no idea what will happen tomorrow, we do know how to take care of ourselves today. And it’s always worth it.

Mamaw died in her home, surrounded by all of us, on this day – May 9 – two years ago. It was a mere month before my bridal shower, two months before my wedding. I miss her like crazy, especially today. But I am so thankful for the time I had with her, when I could witness what a life focused on balance, love, and faith really looked like.

I love you, Mamaw. Happy Mother’s Day.

Mamaw and my mom

Who are you celebrating on this Mother’s Day? What lesson has that person taught you about health? About life?

17 Responses to “A Lesson from Mamaw: It’s Always Worth It”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Katie – it gave me the shivers (in a positive way!) but I am incredibly sorry for your loss. I think it’s safe to say, however, that you and Mamaw learned lots from your time together.
    I am celebrating my mom today – who I appreciate and am grateful for beyond words. Like your Mamaw, she’s taught me to take care of myself, and BE myself. She supports me no matter the decision, and is open and willing to try any crazy thing I’m doing/cooking, and is always there for me…no.matter.what. Sometimes, I look back at my teenage years and wonder why, though :P Makes me realize that those you love need to see your appreciation EVERY day – not just today :)
    Have a wonderful day, Katie – and again, thank you for the touching story! I am certain your Mamaw is quite proud of you to be continuing in your healthy lifestyle :)

    • Katie says:

      Thank you for your sweet comment! I really appreciate it. Your mom sounds like an amazing woman. :)

  2. Although there is lots of sadness, and i felt quite upset for your loss reading this, there is so much beauty and so much to learn from and celebrate. this really touched me, im so thankful you posted this. theres so much love in your life and so much love you have experienced. i know u will always cherish it and from an outside perspective, it’s so beautiful to see. happy mothers day! <3 i am celebrating not only my mother but the long link of mothers connected to my past that all inevitably brought me here.


  3. Thanks for sharing your story. There is so much brokenness in death, but so much beauty that can come from it. I lost both of my grandfathers some time ago. In terms of Mother’s Day, I am blessed to have a wonderful mother who is not only still loving but is very much part of my life. I actually posted about that today–the lessons I have learned from her–so I won’t repeat it here if you want to read it. Have a great day and thanks for your story! It hurts to recount, I know, but have faith that people all over have been there and feel your pain.

  4. Zach says:

    Awesome, awesome lady. I don’t know if anyone who knew her could say a bad thing about her… And this isn’t a soaring, deep memory of her, but her applesauce was terrific. And that’s pretty much all I need to say about it. I know my grandma misses seeing her.

    • Katie says:

      Her applesauce was quite good, wasn’t it? ;)

      Thank you for your kind words; they mean a lot to me. I hope you are doing well, and happy Mother’s Day to your beautiful mom!

    • Linda says:

      Thanks Zach for remembering Mom and her applesauce! She’d be pleased. Hope you’re doing well.

  5. I lost my Gram two years ago on my birthday, a month before my wedding. I can really relate to your story, and while I’m so sorry for your loss, I am so happy that you had a wonderful relationship with your grandmother. I guess that’s what it’s all about, right? Taking what we can from these wise women while we have them, and using it to become better women ourselves. I started having children late, so I may never be a grandmother, but I hope to touch a few lives in that way during my lifetime. I truly believe that the future of the world lies in the hands of the mommies (and grandmommies!)

  6. Wow. What a touching story. Your Mamaw sounds like she was quite an amazing woman.

    My mom has been through the most trials out of anyone I’ve ever met…literally. She grew up in a home of alcoholics, one of which was her mother, who passed away from the disease when my mom was 12. She has also lost her brother to alcoholism, and my sister suffers from it as well (thankfully she is 9 months sober). My mom has also suffered from breast cancer, skin cancer, and 2 mini strokes. Would you believe me when I say that she is the most optimistic person I know? Because she is. You would never know she has gone through those things. She is still active, gracious, and thankful to God for the life she’s been given.

    We are so blessed to have such amazing women to look up to! <3

    • Katie says:

      Your mom really is an incredible woman! I loved reading your post about her! :)

  7. What a sweet post! I am so glad you have had such postive women role models to look up to in your life!!

  8. definitely my mommy…she’s everything i want to be, and has just been a shining example of a Godly woman in every area of her life. she and my dad both have cholesterol issues, and the second they found out she completely changed the way she cooked and exercised. they’ve never been fat, but they said they wanted to be around for us and healthy for as long as possible. i love her so much!

  9. Amanda says:

    What a wonderful and beautiful story :) I loved reading it girl!!

  10. Josie says:

    i’m celebrating all the strong women in my life! thank God for your sweet mamaw. this post is one big beautiful truth.

  11. Linda says:

    Thank you Katie for such a beautiful post.We miss Mom so much!
    But we can be thankful for all the love she gave to each of us.

  12. John says:

    That says it all Katie. Mammaw was the best. She – and Pappaw – gave us the five “Jewels” (as Aunt Helen called all the girls) … and I was lucky enough to get Bonnie. We’re all so very blessed for having had the good fortune of having Mammaw in our lives. For crossing her path. Each of our lives is better for all of the years and great times and love we shared together. Now, we’re her legacy and have the responsibility to carry on. As we do every day. We’ll always miss her and keep her in our hearts. She’ll always be a big part of each of us. Happy Mother’s Day, Mammaw!

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for this lovely comment, John! Although I never thought of it quite this way, you’re absolutely right that we are her legacy. It makes leading a good life all that much more important! Also, I didn’t know that Aunt Helen called the girls the five “jewels.” That’s so beautiful!

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