She had fallen before. Yet amongst the cacophonous clatter of Cream of Mushroom cans and the metallic taste of pure horror as my mother collapsed straight into a seasonal grocery store display, seven year-old me felt a profound pain and shock unlike anything before in knowing that things weren’t going to get better. In an instant, the most compassionate, inspirational, and affectionate person that I’d ever known had been reduced to a solemn, unresponsive slump on the floor. Even worse, a crowd began to gather around her like ravenous hyenas after a fresh kill, making me want to shriek at them for degrading her with stares overflowing with condescending pity.
With the assistance of my father, who came sprinting through the store once he heard, my mother eventually recovered and was provided with a scooter cart for the rest of our shopping trip. Yet nothing could stop the torrent of tears that poured out of my eyes that night while my parents slept. After all, here was the mother who had read to me every night and watched movies with me in my parent’s bedroom on the weekends, broken by the stage IV lung carcinoma that had metastasized to her brain. In the coming weeks, the only solace for me would come when I saw her in the hospital, the refuge where she still never ceased to love and embrace me in every way she could.
Needless to say, when she passed away, I was devastated. Mother's Day and its memories of jubilant breakfasts in bed morphed into solemn reminders of how empty the world was without her. Free hug coupons and personal drawings that I had gifted her took on a melancholy hue as I stumbled across them in the bedroom where we had once watched movies together as a family. My once-attentive father all but receded away, leaving me in a bleak house with empty painkiller bottles piled up in dilapidated shoe-boxes and other shocking reminders that my mother was gone. In short, I had been plunged into a world of grief and adversity, of brutal ironies and cruel jokes, of debilitating despair and excruciating emptiness.
In the face of such anguish, I found solace in the last note that my mother had written to my father and me. On it, she wrote a simple message: "Go, Brian! Do the best you can!" From the moment after I read it, I have made my mission to persevere and honor my mother's memory in that simple way—constantly doing the best I can for myself and those around me. Through lonely days and sleepless nights, storybook tragedies and missed movies, her words are the wind on my sail that propel me into a future where no free hug coupon goes unused.
For now, while my mother may never have cashed in her free hug coupons, I carry both them and her final note with me wherever I go. They give me the grit to lead multiple honor societies and to pick up trash in my mornings even when pouring rain all but washes me away. They give me the opportunity to pass on those free hug coupons to the struggling students that I tutor and melancholic members of my community as I remember the extraordinary grief that we all come to face in our lives. They give me an inexpressible appreciation for the immense beauty in our world, whether it be in the awestruck eyes of a Kindergarten class as I play Liszt or the blazing passion of a ninth-grade Science Bowler as we gush about mitochondria. They give me hope that for every life that I save or help, I can begin to make up for the one that I lost. Yet most importantly, they give me indescribable optimism, solace, and satisfaction in knowing that I’m working to accomplish my mother’s dream every day.
Peak To Peak Charter School
Lafayette, CO 80026
Awards: Personal Essay/Memoir
New York Life Award, 2019
Gold Medal, 2019