A Most Important Fight

The life journey mothers and daughters have, in all the ups and downs, is full of important memories and lessons.  For me, these became even more valuable the day my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.  While the old memories were sweet,  I was bound and determined to also make amazing new ones, and make them we did.  The memories made and lessons learned in that first year are some of the most important in my life.


I remember finding out I was pregnant with my daughter days after finding out my mom was diagnosed with the disease.  At that moment I felt a profound connection with my mom, something almost magical. I thought deeply about being my mom’s daughter who would now raise a daughter of my own.  When I would feel my little girl kick and somersault in my womb I found myself praying for the strength and wisdom to raise my girl with as much love and compassion as my mom raised me.  In this memory, I learned my mom would live on in the hearts of those she paid it forward to.

I remember vacationing with my mom on a special trip to Key West.  I relished in the slow mornings, sitting on the porch together, sipping coffee, talking about everything – and talking about nothing.  Our kayaking adventure remains beautifully painted on the canvas of my memory with the mangrove island so close we could touch it. Pelicans and cormorants dove around us and as an Eagle soared above.  I can still hear the lapping of the waves as we took a swim in the salty ocean, talking about how delightful it is to feel almost weightless in the water as we floated on our backs in the sunshine.  In this memory, I learned to savor the moments you are given.


I remember holding my mom’s hand as she was prepped for Deep Brain Stimulation surgery.  Relief flooded me when the neurosurgeon came out to say all had gone well and gave us the go-ahead to see her in ICU.  My cousin and I sat by my mom’s bedside as she took her cognitive functioning test and quietly laughed when, in my mom’s competitive spirit, she justified why she got an answer wrong as if having had brain surgery only hours earlier wasn’t a good enough excuse.  In this memory, I learned you can always try for your personal best.

There are many things I learned.  There are many things I remember.  But there is one thing, for certain, that I could never forget.

Right after getting a confirmed Parkinson’s diagnosis my mom and I sat down to talk about all that this may mean for her and for our family.  My mom, being a nurse, knew more than most what could be coming in her future.  We talked, almost clinically, about possible plans moving forward including medicines, surgeries, doctors, diet, and exercise.


In the midst of all the practical, there was a moment that could have been easily missed, but thankfully it wasn’t.  Instead of being passed over, this moment will be burned into my mind forever.  As we sat on the couch, it was as if all sounds ceased except for my mother’s voice. My mom’s tender eyes turned to me and she quietly, but determinedly said, “Cheryl, Parkinson’s can make it hard to show facial expressions. I  want you to know I am going to do whatever it takes to fight for my smile.”

I sat in the sacredness of the moment, steeping in the lesson just poured upon me.  Here I was, with my mother who had just been given the diagnosis of incurable degenerative brain disease and her biggest priority was to fight for her smile.  She wanted to keep making the world a brighter place.  She wanted to continue to spread joy, laughter, and hope.  My mom wanted to make sure on a Sunday morning she could smile as she greeted other church members.  She wanted to fight for the ability to brighten up the day of the person helping her with groceries.  She wanted to be able to go outside and let the neighbors see that there was a welcoming place as she genuinely grinned and waved. Those desires for others meant my mom was determined to fight for her endearing, slightly crooked, radiant smile.


For 8 years now, every morning, my mom has woken up –working out her cheeks, lips, and jaw –fighting for her smile, battling against the disease, refusing to let it win.  To this day there is still a grin for neighbors and a smile for church members because something we take for granted, my mom was unwilling to overlook.

There are many things I will remember about this journey with my mom.  But one thing I know I will never, ever, ever forget is how important it is to fight for a smile.



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