My mom sends me about twenty text messages every day. Most of them are pictures of our French bulldog, Stewart, who has now become her certified best friend while I'm away at college. Almost every morning, I can rely on getting a text from her, wishing me a great day with a bitmoji she thinks looks like her.
College is a hectic time, and my mom understands that. With four jobs and running a club on campus, my free time is scarce. But my mom takes pride in the effort I put in while I'm away, plastering our fridge with the papers I have written and certificates I have earned.
I've always counted on my mom being there, no matter what. Whether it's a face-to-face chat or a simple morning text, I can't imagine a day without her.
During winter break of my sophomore year in college, I learned just how naive that assumption was. It became very clear that expressing love and appreciation to those around you is crucial, even when you are overwhelmed with all the responsibilities at college.
In December 2022, I returned to California during winter break to look after my mom following a knee surgery. In the initial days of taking care of her, I'll admit I was preoccupied with the long list of tasks I needed to accomplish before heading back to school. The sheer volume of scholarships, fellowships and responsibilities felt daunting. I made sure to bring my mom her ice and meals. But most of the time, I kept to my room in our apartment to get some work done.
After my first week home, my mom called me into her room and let me know that she was experiencing some chest pain. After driving from our rural town to the nearest hospital forty-minutes away, I dropped her off at the front entrance, gave her a big hug and told her I loved her.
The next morning, I woke up and was surprised that I hadn’t received a text from her yet. I had assumed that the chest pain was just heartburn and that she would have texted me to let me know that she was okay.
Without hesitation, I drove back into town, rushing into the hospital to check on her.
After speaking with a few nurses and her doctor, I learned that my mom had experienced a large pulmonary embolism and went into cardiac arrest. They managed to resuscitate her, but she would need to stay in the hospital for a few weeks while the doctors investigated the cause of the embolism.
I stood in the hospital, utterly stunned. As far as I was concerned, there was no one in the world stronger than my mom.
My mom juggled two jobs while taking 21 credits per semester in college to earn her degree as a special education therapist.
At 33 years old, my mom faced the heart-wrenching task of deciding to withdraw life-sustaining care from her mother who had been battling illness for several years. It was a painful responsibility, but my mom knew it was time to let her rest.
After my parents' divorce, she took on the full responsibility of assisting me with college expenses, all on a teacher's salary. As a single parent, she supported me and my older sister through some of the most challenging times in our lives, constantly affirming our value as human beings. Her unwavering love and strength have been my rock.
She never missed a softball game, an awards assembly or a chance to capture the moments of my prom in high school on her phone. She's been my constant support, my ultimate cheerleader and her strength is something I deeply admire.
Walking into her hospital room and seeing tears in her eyes because she feared she had frightened me was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. It was at that moment I realized that I had been taking her presence and support in my life for granted – and I never wanted to do it again.
My mom spent nearly a month in the hospital, which meant she was there for Christmas. I took it upon myself to deck out her room with holiday spirit and even brought along some presents for us to open together. Since we typically make koulourakia, a Greek Easter cookie, every year, I made a batch and brought them to her in the hospital.
All I wanted was for my mom to be better again. I wanted the chance to let her know that I was, and am, so proud to be her daughter.
When it was time to return to school, my mom was still in the hospital. I asked her multiple times if she wanted me to stay and help take care of her – but she wouldn’t let me. She told me that nothing was as important as my education that I had worked so hard for. She even playfully suggested I send her some of my political science papers, joking that it would help pass the time in the hospital.
A few weeks after I went back to school, my mom was able to come home with a temporary oxygen machine due to her damaged lung. I kept in close touch with her and our family throughout the semester, ensuring she was looking after herself. After months of rest and a break from work, my mom started on the path to recovery.
At the end of my spring semester, my mom surprised me with the news that she had saved up enough money to buy a townhouse, fulfilling one of her biggest dreams. When I arrived that summer, I saw her nervously waving from our new driveway. Despite everything she'd been through in the past few months, all my mom cared about was whether I'd like the place she'd chosen for us to start our new lives.
During that summer, my mom and I immersed ourselves in our new town, often taking walks on the trail near our home to see the deer in our neighborhood. We indulged in our love for books, perhaps spending a bit too much at Barnes and Noble. And of course, we made sure to bake cookies together, cherishing the moments we missed out on before.
These experiences allowed us to make up for lost time, a gift I will forever value – and one that I wasn’t sure I would get.
As college students, we're undeniably overwhelmed and busy. We might forget to call or text – that's just part of being human in a stressful world. However, amidst it all, it's essential not to overlook expressing love and appreciation for those who matter most to you.
You can rewrite a paper, you can miss a meeting and you can even fail a test. But what you can’t do is get more time with those you love.
It might sound cliché, but there is nothing more important than expressing appreciation for those around you.
It can make all the difference.
Julianna Pedone is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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