I grew up in the Midwest, the child of a mother who suffered from depression. In my teen years I learned mom’s excessive sleeping was part of her illness. My father was a police officer and worked extra jobs to help support our family. In my early 20s I began to see a transformation take place in my mother that would come to change many lives.
I recall seeing many inspirational books lying around in my mom’s sitting room as she healed. One was Daily Word. I also would see the magazine on the kitchen counter or in my mom’s purse. Then one day I received a copy of Daily Word in the mail. My mom had decided to send copies to her four children.
I was pleased that my mom shared with us something that was helping transform her life. I became very interested in this little book and the simple, nonjudgmental principles it contained in each message. What I didn’t realize at the time was how Daily Word, and other spiritual books I had seen in my mom’s sitting room, would contribute to the most peaceful dying experience I could imagine.
During the last 15 years of my mom’s life I observed a most peaceful and joyful lady. I felt like I had my own personal Mahatma Gandhi. This internal peace and joy were something I wanted to understand. Family, friends, and I went to my mom for advice frequently. She always seemed to have the perfect thing to say.
Ten years ago my mom was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. During her two years of chemotherapy she seemed to apply every bit of what she had learned through her spiritual studies. She was unshaken and peaceful—accepting what she called the is-ness of life. She maintained her inner smile and continued to stand in awe of the beauty of the flowers in her backyard, as she had for so long.
My younger sister, Ann, and I were in the hospital room with my mom when she awoke from her final surgery. The doctor said: “Ruth, there is so much cancer that has returned that there is nothing else we can do for you. You will have to go home and go on hospice care.” Her reaction was calm and peaceful as she thanked the doctor—similar to what I had experienced for the last 15 years of her life.
As the doctor left the room I sat down next to her, took her hand, and said: “Mom, are you afraid to die?” She looked at me with the most peaceful expression and calmly replied: “Kathy, fear just comes from a thought and I am not afraid of a thought. No, I am not afraid to die.” She said this slowly and clearly and in that instant, the biggest “aha” moment came over me. As sad as I had felt about her circumstance for the past two years, I wanted to run outside and jump for joy … I finally got it!
I kept repeating to myself what she said: “Fear just comes from a thought and I am not afraid of a thought. No, I am not afraid to die.” I wondered how I could feel so inspired after just receiving the news from the doctor; yet I knew I had just woken up to a truth that is so simple and so profound it would change my life dramatically in the eight years since her death.
In the final weeks of my mom’s life, many friends and family members came more than once as they stood in awe of the peace they were witnessing. My mom represented one of the most simple, yet profound, truths. It was through my mom’s dying that she taught so many of her family and friends how to live.
I share this story with my students every year as we discuss the topic of culture and the lenses through which we see the world. My hope is that they, too, may understand fear is just a thought.