How My Mom's Terminal Illness Made Me Live The Life She Always Dreamed Of

by Katie Karambelas

Coming to terms with the fact that my mom is terminally ill has been the hardest thing I've ever done. There are days when she seems fine, and I forget for a minute that her days are numbered. But then, there are terrible days when she feels sick and is unable to get out of bed. These days are getting more and more frequent as time goes by. They are becoming the new normal in my life, and the only option I have now is to try to be as OK with this as possible.

But as I watch my mom get worse, I can't help but think I need to live harder. What does it mean to live harder? I think living harder means doing more, being more and wanting more. Living harder means getting out of your comfort zone as often as possible. Living harder means going out of the country to faraway places to learn more about the world and yourself. Living hard means loving with abandon. Living harder means saying yes, but also saying no when you've had too much.

Living harder means all of these things, and more. As a child of a former military officer, I have been bred to love travel. I grew up in Germany and spent a good portion of my childhood hopping into a maroon van with ugly blinds, racing toward a new locale each weekend. I'd been to more countries by the time I was 5 than most people have been in their lifetimes. But when my dad left the military, those trips slowed down. I was suddenly locked in the United States. It wasn't until my college years that I really started living again and traveling.

My mom has always had big travel dreams. She instilled this love in me when I was 2 years old. I can see it in her eyes when she talks about the mother-daughter trip to Greece we will never get to take. I know how important it was for her and how upset she feels for not getting that chance.

It was supposed to be our trip. We'd talked about it for as long as I can remember. We daydreamed about the white houses with blue shutters in Santorini. We talked about our love for Greek food. We searched endlessly for the best destinations in the Greece, hoping one day we'd get there.

But as the days run short, I realize we shouldn't have been daydreaming and talking and searching. We should have been doing. We should have been going. We should have been living.

My mom and I probably did our last mother-daughter trip back in September, when we went to Nashville for the first time. I rented a car for us, and as I was buckling myself into the driver's seat, my mom smiled at me and said, “This doesn't scare you, does it?”

I looked back at her, not quite understanding. “What do you mean?” I rolled into traffic, looking ahead at the road as she said, “Going somewhere new. You've never been afraid of it.”

“Why would I be?” I asked.

“I would be,” my mom answered, looking at me with awe.

It was in that moment, as I pulled onto a highway from the Nashville Airport, that I realized my mom admired me for my love of life and fearlessness. Even though I know she's sad she can't be next to me when I'm traveling, I can't help but think she's proud, too. I can't help but imagine she knows I'm doing it because of her, because of what she taught me.

So, I'll live harder every day. I'll be fearless. I'll be brave. I'll know I'm doing it for her. When the time comes and she's not longer with me, I'll know that's not the truth. Because she'll be watching me as I take on the next adventure, cheering me on along the way.