I wanted you to see what real courage is…. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
 ~ Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Robin Dance and Mom 1

I remember Mama’s king-sized bed, indoor playground for a child.

Its headboard, a garish marriage of gold leaf and carved pressboard, was a perfect balance beam for size one feet. My sister and I would mount it from the gray, four-drawer metal filing cabinet off to one side, scale its length with the wall as our never-miss “spotter”, then dismount by tip-toeing onto the bedside table, or in adventuresome moments, cannonballing onto the middle of the mattress. 

The bed was a slippery splash of polyester and pink roses, the embodiment of beauty and sophistication and style to my little girl eyes. Adult eyes recall 60’s synthetic delusion.

Atop her rose garden refuge one day, lying on her side and playing with my baby brother, her world stopped spinning: she discovered a lump in her breast. Some might have dismissed it or not noticed it at all. My mother didn’t have that luxury–breast cancer had taken the life of her mother when my mom was just a baby.

Her diagnosis was confirmed, and her prognosis? A death warrant. Given less than a year to live, she was now on borrowed time.

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms.  It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.”
~ G.K. Chesterton

Mama grew up in rural Georgia and circumstances early in life calloused her with determination and strength. She was stubborn and feisty and deliberate. A sweet friend of mine once said, “I had cancer but it didn’t have me.” That’s how mama faced it, too. Obstinately shaking clinched fist in the face of the demon, she vowed to live five more years so my brother…her baby…might capture memories of her, memories she never got to enjoy with own mother.

It horrifies me to think about what Mama endured; not long after her diagnosis, she and my father divorced and she retained custody of me and my sister and brother. Treatments were barbaric 35-40 years ago, and throughout her illness she had five major surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. 

I have vivid memories of standing at our apartment window that overlooked the parking lot, waiting on her return from the hospital where she often went when the pain was unbearable. She was addicted to pain medication and my father threatened to take us away if she didn’t undergo electric shock therapy, the recommended treatment at the time. 

And so, she did it…for us. 

Upon learning this only in recent years, I remembered that scene from “A Beautiful Mind” and I cried.

When we are afraid we ought not to occupy ourselves with endeavoring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger.”
~ Mark Rutherford
Robin Dance and Mom 2

I never recall Mama complaining. I don’t remember seeing her cry.

I do remember her telling my sister and me about the birds and the bees, and I remember the day she wrote her will; I think I was flipping over the sofa and my sister was sitting nearby (probably more cognizant of what we were doing) and somehow Mama managed to do this without falling apart. 

She did that for us, too.

Mama had nine years to train and teach me, shape and guide me; nine years to impress upon me the things most important to her; nine years to brand her legacy.

Watching her then and lingering over a backwards gaze through time, I marvel at her courage. I never knew if she was lonely or scared or angry at her circumstances, but I did know she loved us fiercely and her faith sustained her. One of my favorite gifts I received from Mama was my sterling charm bracelet; the most beloved charm, a glass-encased mustard seed reminding me that a little faith could move mountains.

The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.”
~ John F. Kennedy

Mama died months after my brother’s fifth birthday, fulfilling her vow and leaving him a collection of memories.

When I think of “courage”, glimpses of cowardly lions and military heroes come to mind for a moment; yet ultimately, the most courageous person I’ve ever known is the Steel Magnolia who gave me life and faced her own death with uncommon valor.

  • http://www.amberdusick.com Amber

    I’m in tear over your story that you shared. Thanks so much for sharing. I will hug my boy closer tonight. What a great reminder of how precious time is with our children. Every moment counts.

  • http://jeniallen.blogspot.com Jeni

    Robin, what a beautiful story of courage! I knew that your mother had died of breast cancer, but the lengths she went to in order to provide for you & your siblings…she was a remarkable woman. As are you.

  • http://www.becomingme.net Angela Nazworth

    Oh Robin…this took my breath away and has left me teary eyed and reflective. Thank you for sharing your mother with us.

  • http://www.undergraceovercoffee.com Andrea

    Oh, Robin, This was so incredibly beautiful. What an amazing legacy your mother has left you and your siblings.

  • http://www.mindymaywaters.blogspot.com Mindy

    That was truly beautiful! It astonishes me to think of the memories our minds hold. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • http://www.afamiliarpath.com melissa stover

    robin what a sad, but wonderful story. what a strong woman your mother was.

  • http://www.pensieve.me Robin ~ PENSIEVE

    Amber, minutes count, friend :). Hug tight!
    Jeni, thank you….
    Angela, I loved writing it; it’s one way of bringing her to life, ya know?
    Andrea, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts :).
    Mindy, I’ve forgotten so much, so I hold tight to those things I CAN remember!!
    Melissa, she really was a steel magnolia…and FULL of sass!

  • http://www.thewriterchic.com Monica @ The Writer Chic

    Robin, for reasons I hold deep in the recesses of my heart, your post touched me tonight. Thank you for sharing your story and your mama’s legacy with us all.

  • http://www.passionateperseverance.blogspot.com/ Mary @ Passionate Perseverance

    Robin, what a beautiful reflection on the courageous life your mother led. Thank you for sharing your Steel Magnolia with us. I am overwhelmed and humbled by your brave words. She loved you well my friend…

  • http://www.griefsanctuary.blogspot.com/ Misti

    A beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. Love truly is eternal. May her legacy allow you to feel her near.

  • http://www.theamicks-angela.blogspot.com Angela

    Wow, that was amazing. Especially the part where you never saw her complain or cry. Thank you for sharing that beautiful story with us.

  • http://www.cranberryteatime.blogspot.com Rachel

    Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story. I needed to hear this today.
    I have a chronic illness that my doctors believe is progressive. Just this morning I was noticing how my body has obviously been growing weaker. Today I was wondering how much longer I may have to live. 5 years? 10 years? I have a three year old son and a baby girl on the way. How can I teach them and train them in time? I want to be there for them as they grow up, but that may not be the Lord’s will. How encouraging it was to read about the faith and legacy of your mother, and the lessons she passed down to you even in only 9 short years.
    Thank you.

  • http://simplyhis.org Lisa B @ simply His

    Wow. What an amazing mom who raised an amazing daughter for as long as she could. I love your writing and I ache for your pain and your mom’s pain. Congratulations on being a part of this wonderful site! I know you will be (in)couraged while (in)couraging others ;) Love ya girl!

  • http://www.vanderbiltwife.com Vanderbilt Wife

    Crying over this..and especially over Rachel’s comment. Cannot even imagine.
    Thank you, sweet Robin, for sharing your soul. Always.

  • http://ashleywb.blogspot.com Ashley

    Robin, this is beautiful. I’m typing through tears and want to thank you for the reminder that each moment is a gift and that what my children will likely remember most about me is not what I say, whether I cook the best meal each night, or whether the house is clean, but rather how I love them. Thank you, thank you.

  • Susan Jackson

    My mother died just ten days or so after being told she had lung cancer and lymphoma. I was eight, my brother was thirteen. She didn’t really have time to talk to us about it. She didn’t want to, I don’t think. No words of wisdom, no goodbyes…But God gave her friends and family who loved her very much. Through them, I have been blessed to get to know my mother, and to find that I am like her.
    Robin, you look like your mother. Sometimes, someone will tell me that they can see my mom in me, and I feel so honored. Thanks for sharing this.

  • http://bellwhistlemoon.blogspot.com/ mary bailey

    What a beautiful story of courage. Thank you for sharing your mother and her strength with us.

  • http://headlessfamily5.blogspot.com Headless Mom

    Wow, Robin. I’ve never heard the whole story before. What an amazing story of faith, courage, and stubborn-ness! I’m glad that you have some memories to share with your children-and us!
    Bless you today!

  • http://www.givinguponperfect.com Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect

    Robin, wow. What a beautiful tribute to your sweet, brave mother. As a mom, I can’t imagine holding it together while facing what she did. I can’t imagine being so brave. She is an inspiration, and I’m so thankful you shared her with us today.

  • http://therunamuck.com Amber@theRunaMuck

    I love you. You drive deeper into my heart all the time.

  • http://www.mygardenhat.blogspot.com Janera

    Yes, that’s courage, and amazing love; we are so very blessed to recognize the strength of the women who have gone before us and around us.
    I’m proud to post today on my own blog, proud to join in this wonderful community of blogging women.
    Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  • http://www.studiojru.com Jennifer

    What a beautiful and touching story of courage. What an amazing woman you were blessed to have as a mother!

  • http://www.beyondgracedmg.blogspot.com Dawn

    it is a beautiful legacy she has left behind… and her courage ives on. thank you for sharing this beauty.

  • http://theinspiredroom.net melissa @ the inspired room

    Robin, this was a heart-wrenching but beautiful story of courage. I can see why you are the lovely woman you are! Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your heart with us, you definitely reminded me to treasure each moment…life on earth is so fleeting.

  • http://www.theothermama.com Hillary @ The Other Mama

    Robin, what a beautiful and amazing story. I feel like I know a small piece of your mom, now and I’m proud of her with you. What an awesome example of courage and a mother’s love. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  • http://dandeliondayz.com Janel

    Thank you for sharing that, Robin. What a beautiful story of courage, grace and love.

  • http://holley.dayspring.com Holley

    Robin, your words capture so much of your mother–her life, heart. The courage you wrote of in her lives in you. I see it, know it, am blessed by it. Thank you for sharing her, and you, with us.

  • http://forsakenforlent.blogspot.com deb @talk at the table

    What an honour to clutch at these words. Struck in my soul by such a woman… you changed this one , bless you Robin, and your heart for passing on pain and loss with dignity and inspiration.

  • http://www.chattingatthesky.com emily

    there are no words for this. only thank you.

  • http://groovewoman.blogspot.com Groovewoman

    Wow Robin. I was not prepared for this story when I clicked on your blog today, but THANK YOU! Thank you so much for sharing such a beautifully touching story with us today. Your mother is so proud of the woman & mother you have become. You took after her example, that is clear! :D I have the sudden urge to sneak into my little mans room right now & sweep him out of his bed and just hold him for a while.

  • http://www.aholyexperience.com Ann Voskamp@Holy Experience

    Real words leave you with no words.
    Only a quiet gasping…
    It has taken me days to find words and wander back here. For days, I have carried around the faces of you and your mother.
    Now to carry your story, her story, out into a life.
    You’re like her…
    You change lives…
    All’s grace,

  • http://www.forthebirds.blogspot.com Dawn Mulroney

    The pictures of your mom are beautiful. I see her in you. I’m watching her in your daughter.
    I bet she was counting on those verses that promise blessings to generations upon generations of those who are faithful.

  • Debbie Ginn Settle

    What a blessing to stumble across this web site and suddenly realize “I know you!” The tender words of tribute to your mother are much deserved. I have a sweet memory of her coming into the 3rd & 4th grade Sunday school class I was teaching to talk about the material her precious girls were learning from. She wanted you and Laura to be learning scripture and the truth about Jesus and she wanted a book that you could study from together at home. As you stated so beautifully, she knew her time was short to “impress upon you the things most important to her.” God clearly honored the desire of her heart.
    Blessings to you and Laura!
    Debbie Ginn Settle

  • http://krissy-mymusings.blogspot.com/ Evie

    I couldn’t help but think of my Mom and the countless ways she encouraged me over the years while savoring your post. I was lucky to have 39 instead of 9 years with my Mom, but I can assure you that when you lose a loved one, especially your Mom, there is no such thing as enough time. There is never enough time.

  • Blake McCrary

    Sadly, I don’t remember your Mom. I think we moved back to Athens near the time of her passing. But I’ve always considered you and Lora as sisters and being able to see and talk to both of you recently has truly meant the world to me. After reading this post and so many of the others in the last six months I feel confident in saying that I only need to look as far as you and Lora to truly see your Mom. As we’ve been known to say in the South..she marked both of you real good. Needless to say, she smiles daily at the results of her efforts. Love You Both! Blake

  • http://www.pensieve.me Robin ~ PENSIEVE

    Monica, well, hon…I hope it was a good thing {{hugs}}.
    Mary, she did…she really did :).
    Misti, love IS eternal; isn’t that beautiful??
    Angela, I was so thankful (in)courage prompted me to write it!
    Rachel, your comment pierced my heart; I’m praying for you.
    Lisa Beeee! You are such a source of encouragement for me! Thank you friend!! :)
    Jessie, girlieQ, you bless me to pieces, too! :)
    Ashley, you’re right, friend. Absolutely.
    Susan, your story touches me deeply, too. It’s not “normal” to grow up without your mom…I understand those repercussions. So thankful you had those who loved YOUR mom, bring her to life so you could know her better…:)
    Mary and Jennifer, thank YOU!
    Headless Mom, YOUR comment made me grin; Mama would love for others to “see” her stubbornness!!
    Mary, I guess God graces us with being able to handle difficult circumstances when we most NEED it…
    Dawn, oh, to leave that kind of legacy for MY children!
    Melissa, you strike me as a “treasure each moment” girl…and you’ve encouraged me in ways you might not ever know! ;)
    Hillary, thanks for sharing that; part of my reason for writing this was to bring my mom to life, to introduce her to others :).
    Amber, xo…always.
    Janera, good for you! It’s great blessing to encourage others; and to share each of our tales of courage!!

  • http://www.wearethatfamily.com We are THAT family

    Robin, this was stunning. You are beautiful.
    Your mother would be very proud.

  • Jess

    This is sooo sad! I’m really depressed now. My mom has been fighting breast cancer for 8 years. I’m gonna go cry myself to sleep…

  • http://iftheresonethingiknow.blogspot.com/ Kerry

    What a beautiful story Robin. Makes me realize what we leave for our children when times are tough.Reminds me to keep my courage in the daily fight…Thank you for sharing.

  • http://trafficsiphonreview1.blogspot.com/ traffic siphon review

    I agree your 100%! Motion can make unexpected things happen. No one actually learned just to walk if you don’t take step one.

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