As I stand here today, I think back to the day I found out that I had been selected as the Texas Mother of the Year. It was a great moment for me personally. But as I recall, it was a bad week for mothers.
I remember deciding not to herald my news on social media, because that very week, the journeys of two mothers in my social circles had ended. First, one mother had ended her own despair by taking her own life and leaving behind two precocious pre-teens. The other, only days later, lost a hard-fought battle with cancer and left two precious preschoolers. Though they were very different women, who had very different circumstances, they were actually quite similar to each other, and to all of us. And through their stories, I hope to illustrate two simple truths; that we will all face despair, and that we can never give up.
Despair is real, it is deep. I myself fought grief when only four short years ago, a medical accident rendered my own mother brain-dead and on life-giving machines for a month. During that month, I gave birth to my fourth son, and he was not even two-weeks old when I took him with me to take my mother off of the machines. When we grieve, we can sometimes feel as though there is no end. No light, no tunnel, just darkness and a dead-end street. I can only imagine what that mother felt in her last moments before she decided to end her own life. Her story is so completely different from the other mother—a woman who had bravely overcome two previous bouts of cancer, only to have it return yet a third time. She fought so hard for herself, her husband, and for her children. Two paths, and though I wasn’t there with them in those final moments, as a mother, I can only assume that at some point, one of the final thoughts that passed across both of their minds was the same—what about my kids?
As mothers, this is a thought upon which we all frequently dwell. What about our kids? This is the battle cry—the driving vehicle that delivers us from that dark place. This is why we can never give up. The first mother lost that battle. She decided she couldn’t go on. As a motherless child in my thirties, I know what a hard road her young children will travel without her even though there are many left behind who will tell them about her unconditional love. The second mother, though she lost her battle with cancer, she never gave in, not even at the last moment. In fact, her continued fight is the reason her kids were even here—because she refused to believe that cancer could rob her of the opportunity to have children. Her children will miss her dearly, and they will one day understand that it was her fight that gave them life.
This is the cost and the reward of never giving up. While we continue to fight, we build a legacy for our children, much like a roof over their heads to shield and protect them from a storm. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. While I’ve never liked that sentiment, I understand its truth. As we are tested by the fire of despair, we are sharpened, polished. And whether we become a gleaming sword, or a shiny jewel, our edges are sharp, and our makings are strong.
What about our kids? What will I leave behind? I have yet to know that answer for myself. These two mothers—two dear, sweet friends, will remind me what I must do, and I hope they will remind you as well. Despair is big, and our fight must be even bigger. So no matter what despair we experience—if it is depression, self-confidence, complacency, financial hardship, marital discord, jealousy, anger, impatience—we must fight. We fight with our presence, we fight with our attention, we fight with our time, we fight with our words, our actions, our love. And that is a fight I pray you never give up.
Jenay Sherman is the 2017 Texas Mother of the Year.