You say ‘I love you.’ But do you truly mean it?

I’ll be frank. I am beginning to loath my generation’s over-use of the word “love.” I see it all the time plastered all over social media. It’s even worse is when I see a boyfriend make a post about his girlfriend, saying how much he loves her, when I know he is cheating on her with someone else. At this point, I don’t know who or what I feel bad for: the girl who mistakenly believes her boyfriend actually loves her or the word ‘love’ itself. I thought that word used to have actual meaning. Wars were declared, individuals sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of equality, vows were made between man and wife, all in the name of love. These days, the statement ‘I love you’ has even been shortened to ‘love you!” (Sometimes it’s just that damn heart emoji.) So, my question is simple: who actually means it when they openly say ‘I love you” to another.

You might be thinking, “What does she even know about love?” Well that’s a very good question. I’ll tell you…

My theory on love is simple: one truly loves another when he or she unconditionally supports another through the highs in life, but more importantly loves even more deeply through the lows. The infamous lines “ To have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish all the days of my life. This is my solemn vow.” should not be taken lightly. It is simple to love someone through the upswings in life, but quite the opposite when life inevitably flips upside down. People get sick, they get angry, or they suffer from depression. The truth is that we as individuals change just as often as the climate does. Even more so, the bigger truth is that it is exhausting to love someone through these changes and emotions because it takes a constant influx of selflessness to do so.

I have my own experience of loving someone through difficulties, but I will instead tell you about the strength of my mother’s love.

My grand-mom was diagnosed with uterine cancer when I was a little girl. Supposedly this type of cancer was curable, unless you were in the unlucky 3% that developed the strain where death was completely inevitable. I think you can guess what percentile my grandmother’s cancer had fallen under.

Before I go any further I wanted to admit that I am a big believer in fate and that the experiences we go through and learn from will one day help us in the future. My mother had always wanted to be a nurse and after busting her ass through nursing school, she was accepted into Shock Trauma, the number one trauma center in the Baltimore area. At the time she more than likely never expected that all her dedication towards learning everything she could about the human body was a part of God’s intentional plan to prepare her for when her mother fell very ill, with cancer.

Now I don’t claim to know all of the details and understand the heartache my mother went through during this very trying time (I was too young to understand), but what I am claiming is that I know so much more about what love actually is because of her.

For those of you who have experienced a loved one develop cancer (or any disease for that matter), you know so much more about long lasting, drawn out disappointments while clinging onto the fading hope that the current treatment will prevail. It is exhausting for the patient and loved ones that have to stand by and watch as someone who has great meaning in their life wither away to almost nothing.

My mother had been given the nickname “mouse” when she was younger because she was always so quiet and never spoke up. One day, she wasn’t a “mouse” anymore when one day the oncologist called. He told her that she should go to the store and lay black towels all over my grand-mother’s bed, so that it wouldn’t have to be such a gory sight, when my grand-mother would undoubtedly bleed out to death sometime within the next three months.

For a second I had to pause here because I can only imagine how my mother was feeling standing in the kitchen on the phone listening to her mother’s predicted demise while watching her three young children running around playing outside. I think I was eight or nine when my mom received that horrific phone-call. What was one of the worst days of her life was just another school day to me.

It had already been a hard journey for my mother up to this point, especially when the radiology visit went askew. When my grand-mom was first diagnosed with uterine cancer, she received a total Hysterectomy, a removal of the uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries, and cervix. Two years later, her cancer returned in the vaginal cuff area, and before receiving chemotherapy, her oncologist persuaded her to first receive radiation treatment. Radiation seeds were to be positioned at the vaginal cuff and designed to pinpoint a very high dose of radiation in the exact location of her tumor. However, what her radiologist was not aware of was that the positioning of the radioactive seeds was incorrect and thus delivered radiation to healthy tissue over the course of 12 hours. (The correct medical procedure after insertion of the radioactive seeds is to verify correct placement and to readjust the location with additional x-rays until the correct placement is achieved.) In turn, my grand-mother had to have a colostomy, a surgical procedure in which one end of the large intestine is brought out through the abdominal wall and surgically attached with the bowel opening to the outside of the body, several months later, as a result of unintentional damage to her large colon from the incorrect placement of the radioactive seeds.

First, the radiation scenario, and now, bleeding to death. However, my mother did not give up; she did not want to accept that she would lose her mother in three months’ time. So, my mother did her nursing research and decided to throw everything she could at my grand-mother’s current condition to try to extend her life. She did so by feeding my grand-mother fresh fruits and vegetables through juicing on a strict schedule. Slowly over time, my grand-mother regained her strength. Her hair grew back, her eyes got brighter, and her nail-beds became stronger. She was close to being back to the healthy woman she was once before. However, death is inevitable, and one day that 3% strain took my grand-mother’s life. As hard as her death was on my family, and especially my mom, because of my mom’s dedication to my grand-mother’s health, her life was extended from three months, to nine. My mother was there for my grandmother on the day of her diagnosis all the way till the evening that she took her last breath.

This is the type of unconditional emotional support that I believe truly defines what love truly is. True love is selfless. It is fully putting yourself aside at the expense of another. So, forgive me if I don’t believe a cheating boyfriend’s Instagram post when he says he loves his girlfriend: oh so much.

But what the hell do I know? I’m only 22.

~ In dedication to my beloved mother. She is the best nurse that I’ve ever known.

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