pushing through

portrait of my mom


when you’re struggling, dealing with a rough patch, it’s natural to feel lost, despondent, cynical of the so-called “grand plan.” you wonder how you’ll push through…but then you do. and one day, things take a turn. or maybe it’s not a single day, but a series of moments, strung together over a period of time, that help you realize you’ve healed, slowly. you’re wiser, and perhaps are stronger than you ever knew you were.

where does “it” come from—that drive to push forward when you just want to fold? in varying degrees, we all have inner strength. we get up every morning, put on our clothes, step out into the big, messy world, and get on with it. but going through the motions is not necessarily moving forward. bootstrapping it, carrying that burden on your own back, only takes you so far.

though you may not realize it, maybe “it” comes from somewhere else, somewhere deeper within.  from people who have touched your life: parents, grandparents, close friends, mentors. people who taught you how to be strong, by instruction or better yet, by example. 

when they’re gone, the lessons they taught stay with you. become a part of you. 

growing up, i always longed for the mother-daughter relationships i’d seen on TV. much to my chagrin, my mom was no florence henderson. we didn’t go shopping together, talk about boyfriends or crushes, share hopes and fears, discuss feelings.

but i knew what she was feeling. every day when i’d watch her roll up the sleeves of her white lab coat. when i thought of her, the youngest of 12 from a poor family in the philippines pursuing medicine when other women were busy perfecting their casseroles. when she’d spend as much time diagnosing patients as holding their hands for an extra minute or two. feeding them a bite of mashed potatoes and greyish green beans when they were too weak to do it themselves. bringing homemade noodles to the nurse’s station when the other doctors treated them like hired help. rolling in at midnight on a school night, waking us from a dead slumber and telling us to get dressed so we could grab pancakes at country kitchen, just so we could be together. taking phone calls and pages at all hours of the night—because that was what she did. who she was.

she was there to help. to heal. to lift people up. to prove, sometimes by sheer stubbornness and force of will, that somehow you can push through anything.

she did. and i do, because of her.

my mother.

sometimes the strength we have within is not just our own. but from those who came before us. those whose impact has become a part of us.

it always crushes me to think my kids will never know her…but maybe they will. through me.

looking through old photos today, my little one confirmed the suspicion.


“hey mommy, there’s you.”

i can only hope he’s right.