My mother recently lost her battle with cancer. She is the leader I aspire to be. Here is my letter to her.
Thank you for making me into the man that I am. You are my mother, but we always relied on each other. You have always been my number one supporter and most resilient person I know.
Your first language was Spanish, and you became fluent in English in grade school. While doing so, you helped raise your eight siblings when my abuelito and abuelito were in a new country. School may have been difficult because you went back and forth to Mexico with your family, but you did it.
You taught me that people needed me to guide them and take that first step. It was about taking care of people, making relationships. In grade school, I would bring friends home to eat or stay at the house when their times were tough. We watched the Bulls, Bears, and White Sox (although I still think you prefer the Cubs).
You were tough but loving. You told me you wouldn’t see me fail like so many others in the neighborhood. We saw a lot together when I was in grade school. The area wasn’t always safe but you made it safe. I couldn’t go certain places because you said no. I didn’t get it at the time but now I do.
You always wanted to be a nurse but never made the jump until you were finally ready. I still have vivid memories of seeing you hiding in my bedroom to study while hiding from an alcoholic husband. While we were in there together, you pointed at your textbooks and told me that education is the way out of our situation.
It broke my heart when you came home dejected after failing a test because of our circumstances. But you got back up and tried again. Finally, you did it – you succeeded. I remember watching you walk across the stage to become a nurse. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.
The greatest attribute was that you became an inspiration to others. You inspired my father, your husband, to quit drinking and saved his life. Now he is the greatest grandfather in the world. He loves you so much.
I learned about unpopular decisions because of you. You went against some of your family members’ wishes and moved out of south Chicago to the suburbs to make sure I had a better life. It didn’t matter what other people thought. You’d do anything for me and my brother with Dad at your side.
When you told me you had cancer, it was devastating. I could only imagine how you felt. You showed emotion and pain. It humanized my protector.
You served everyone before yourself. A month ago, you insisted on going to the nursing home to continue your shift. You made this choice despite having gone through chemotherapy, radiation, and a broken vertebra. You were concerned about your patients and letting your team down. For the past five years I begged you to slow down, but you told me to stop being pushy.
You kept demonstrating empathy, love and respect for others.
Do you remember making me smile when I was down?
Do you remember teaching me how to keep my head up?
Do you remember holding me in my most difficult times in life, telling me everything will be ok? Those times will always be between us.
Do you remember telling me countless times how proud you were of me? That gave me confidence to do anything.
When you got really sick, you sat in the hospital alone for two weeks because of restrictions due to COVID-19. I don’t know how you did that. Alone, without family. It was torture for me to not be by your side, but now we finally have hospice and you can finally come back home.
The other day you told me that you’re not leaving; that you’ll still always be with me. You’re right. I’m going to pass on stories and use what you taught me. Those will be passed down to your grandkids.
I grew up with a mother whose first language wasn’t English and a father who was an alcoholic. Statistically, I’m not supposed to be where I am today. But I made it because of you.
I love you.
By Ronald O'Connor
Treasurer, CFO, CSBO
J. Sterling Morton HSD 201
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