The Life Lesson I Learned From Losing My Mom

When you are presented with a new beginning, say hello.

By: Stephanie March

In the last four years the following things have happened:

I have had surgery seven times.

My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

My mother came to live with me for nine months to be treated for pancreatic cancer.

I got a divorce.

My agent fired me and my manager saved me.

I shot a hilarious show.

I moved three times.

My partner and I doubled our business.

I fell in love.

I proudly joined the boards of two remarkable organizations and traveled to over 23 different countries around the world.

My stress induced early menopause.

My mother’s pancreatic cancer returned.

I got married.

My mother died of pancreatic cancer.

There have been so, so many goodbyes in the last four years. I said goodbye to my 30s, the house I so lovingly built, and a decade with a husband who left me gasping for air. It is an entire era of my life that will forever be shrouded in doubt, deception and a lurking fear I just dreamed it all up. I said goodbye to my appendix, my breast implants and my endometriosis. I said goodbye to the chance to have a baby. Goodbye to eating everything I wanted without giving a damn about calories or carbs of any of the rest of that completely tedious foodspeak. I said goodbye to playing the ingénue.

At one point in the middle of all of this I was freshly divorced and childless with a cat, sleeping on a mattress on the floor because none of my new furniture had arrived. It was completely fine because there were so many exciting things coming my way — freedom! dating! choosing all my own furniture! watching Netflix as late as I wanted while texting my best friend in L.A.! My friend Melanie said to me just after my divorce, “Remember, the reward for suffering through all this bullshit is that now you can do anything you want. Literally. Anything.”

For a while, it was true. Honestly, that span of time when my mother went into remission and I moved into my bachelorette pad was some of the most fun I have ever had. Mom wasn’t sick. I wasn’t sick. I lived in a teeny perfect gem of a place that suited me to a T. I was falling head over heels for a kind, tall, handsome, gentle genius. I had unlimited dinners with martinis, my gay husbands (“gusbands” as they prefer to be called) and I bought a lot of cocktail dresses. All good stuff.

Then 2017 appeared, my mother lost 14 pounds in nine days, and it started up all over again. Tumors. Removing a pancreas. Type 1 diabetes. And the slow, sinking, ugly suspicion that this road was headed to a place well beyond our reckoning. This road was going to end.

I asked myself how that was possible when everything else was just starting again. A new partner, a new nephew, a new home for flowers, and summer swimming, and rosé. A new train station off a new rail line. I was just getting my stride back. But it derailed as I hustled back and forth to Texas, never spending more than three consecutive nights in a single place. My love life was in suspension. I felt like I would go mad. Bachelorette pads are fun, but they are for bachelorettes, not ladies with beaus. And certainly not for ladies with beaus who have their own homes and families to work out; ladies with a sick mother thousands of miles away smack in the middle the Lone Star State.

I lost my mother. She died on September 15th. My sister, father and I spent the last 24 hours of her life dosing her with morphine and stroking her forehead. We each cut a lock of her hair when she passed and could barely speak for grief for the first hour. There is no goodbye like goodbye to your mother. I don’t wish it on my worst enemy. Of all my goodbyes, this is the one that cuts the deepest. It is the one hole that will never be filled. I will have to learn to live around it.

And this how I do that: I remind myself that life is also full of hellos. Mercifully, thankfully, miraculously, perhaps when you need it the very most, you discover there is HELLO.

Hello to new nephews who clamor around my sister with their big blue eyes and sticky fingers; a dark-haired, smart young lady who is my step-daughter whose shy smile fills my belly. Hello to a fancy apartment that is bewilderingly new and frustratingly foreign but full of welcome. Hello to old friends who never, never left my side — with whom I have traveled the world and bared my soul who are — at this very moment — planning our next international adventure. Hello to a hero husband who asked me to marry him in the happiest of moments and filled my heart. (That same man moved heaven and earth to make the wedding happen before my mother passed away. I cried every day of the first three months of our marriage. And he kissed my forehead and said, “I got you” every night.)

This year I say hello to the unbreakable, unstoppable, warrior woman in me who will not be defeated, who will never be bitter, who will not live a life backwards; she who will trust, and love, and find joy. I say hello to this marvelous, unthinkably lucky opportunity I have. How extraordinary to be at this place in my life and be granted so many beginnings.

Not so many summers ago I was in the old stone house in the kitchen, with the bright blue cabinets watching my mother slice a peach. She was whistling. I could not have known then how limited our time was. How few days we had to share a grilled cheese, argue over what movie to watch, swan about in the pool. Ruthlessly you learn just how precious it all is. Mama: My most heart stoppingly final goodbye. There isn’t enough time. There is never enough time, and there are so many goodbyes. So when you are presented with a new beginning, say hello.

I look at 2018 and I say, HELLO.

Stephanie March, is an actor, philanthropist and entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of the makeup salon, Rouge, that she founded with her longtime Law & Order SVU makeup artist, Rebecca Perkins. Best known for her role as ADA Alex Cabot on TV’s hit series, Law & Order SVU and most recently starring on Adult Swim’s Neon Joe, Stephanie has also appeared in 30 Rock, Happy Endings, Rescue Me, Grey’s Anatomy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Treatment, Predisposed, and Innocence and has been seen onstage in the critically acclaimed revivals of Death of a Salesman, Talk Radio, and Boys’ Life. Stephanie spends a significant amount of time traveling globally in her capacity as an activist for causes benefiting women and education. She has served on a variety of boards including Planned Parenthood Global, the advisory board of OneKid OneWorld, and she served on the board of directors of Safe Horizon for five years. Stephanie is the celebrity ambassador for the World of Children Award and an advocate for Planned Parenthood. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and currently resides in Manhattan with her husband, Dan Benton and her Maine Coon, Taco Cat.

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