“I’m here for a week. We are going to eat, shop, laugh, and have fun and then I’m going home to die. I hope you’re OK with that because I’ve already made up my mind.” Three weeks later my mom was gone.
In the wee hours of the morning 48 hours before mom died, I agreed to fulfill two of her wishes. Both seemed almost impossible to accomplish after she passed. Wish # 1 was for me to stop smoking as soon as possible. Wish # 2 was for me and my sister to care for my step-dad after she passed. Both quickly became a blessing and a curse.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have understood that the moment my mom made her declaration and the moment I agreed to fulfill her deathbed wishes, life as I knew it had been transformed instantly, dramatically, and irrevocably.
For the first seven days after her proclamation my mom, my sister, and I ate, shopped, laughed, and enjoyed deep meaningful philosophical conversations about everything that mattered.
We cussed and discussed the fear of dying verses the fear of not living, the power of taking chances verses making a powerful choice, the power of unconditional love and acceptance verses loving with conditions, the power of trusting your heart and inner voice verses the consequence of living life from an inner space of fear and mistrust.
Two days after returning home mom was admitted to the hospital.
It was in those final 21 days, sitting at mom's bedside contemplating the real meaning of life and death, observing and discussing what it was like for her to transition from this life, that I uncovered and discovered so much about myself and my own survival pattern.
I began to notice and get insight into those unconscious beliefs, fears, values, life strategies, life stories, and behavioral patterns that had been modeled by mom, filed away and stored in my subconscious mind and running in the background of my life for more than 40+ years.
It became clear to me I’d been living on autopilot most of my adult life without even knowing it. The overachieving driven part of me determined to do more, be more, achieve more, earn more, and make a bigger difference in the world cared little, if at all, about doing anything except being present for mom and my family.
What I found so interesting, insightful, and simultaneously unsure of how to handle was the overwhelming fear and uncertainty I felt about who to be and how to show up in those last days and moments of mom’s life. Part of me wanted to be fully present and make sure mom had everything she wanted or needed. Another part of me just wanted to run away from the pain of losing someone I dearly loved. So I handled those moments the same way I’d done for 30+ years.
When a wave of fear or uncertainty rolled over me, I’d excuse myself, make my way to the elevator, head to the parking lot, light a cigarette, and smoke. It was my default pattern then, the default pattern my mom modeled for me, and her mom modeled for her.
It was a tribal pattern deeply embedded in the fabric and culture of my family. Our way to handle everything feeling we had good or bad.
What I didn’t know or understand then is the how, why, and when my autopilot survival program clicked on and hijacked my intention to be mentally, physically and emotionally present and resilient. My unconscious habit of smoking allowed me to unplug from my emotions, provided the needed distraction to avoid my fear and uncertainty, and prevented me from honoring my intentions.
I gave myself permission to keep smoking during mom’s transition and avoided facing and fulfilling mom’s stop smoking wish until after she passed.
There were four simple steps I used to shift out of fear, get it gear, and refocus on what mattered most in the last days with mom.
I made a conscious and intentional effort to connect and leverage what mattered most to me and why it mattered and remain laser focused on that. Next, I made sure my thoughts, words, and actions were laser focused and all aligned with my head and heart.
Additionally, I monitored my self-talk, my emotions, and my perspective constantly. If I discovered any of those three not supporting what mattered most to me, I worked on shifting any or all of them as quickly as I could to support my mission.
Finally, managing my emotions, tapping into, and engaging with mom and others utilizing emotional intelligence and emotional resilience strategies I’d been trained to use allowed me to stay in integrity with my commitment to be present for my mom, myself, and my family.
What I know now, that I didn’t know then is that I was conditioning a four step process that allowed me to be present, congruent, and intentional with what mattered to me most for a little more than 21 days until it became an autopilot program I mastered unconsciously. It’s the process I’m going to teach you to use to become a permanent non-smoker and create a smoke free habit.
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