Death, Love, and a Rebirth


I have come to know Becky Robinson as a smart, insightful woman who also writes inspiring posts for Mountain State University’s LeaderTalk  . When I said I was celebrating seven years in business this month, she asked, “What moments in the past seven years have been your favorite?” A great question, because it made me stop and think about past “moments” when my tendency is to look to the future. This very personal post describes when I first knew I was embarking on doing my life’s work – my calling. Oddly, my mother’s death corresponded, in a way, with the beginning of my life’s work. This is what came to mind when Becky asked that question.

Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer before I left a long career in the corporate world and at the same time that I was dreaming about what I would do when I left. They gave her six months to live, but she managed to beat the odds and continue in relative good health for almost two years after the diagnosis.

The final days

When it came time for Mom to die, her normal crankiness ratcheted up to its peak, with good reason. Mom’s pain was not physical; it was a blessing that she didn’t suffer that kind of pain in her final days. Her fight with her illness caused her great emotional pain that was expressed in rage – at everyone and every thing.

Mom had insisted on staying and dying in her home (and I worked hard to honor that), but toward the end of her life, all of the “in home” help options had been exhausted; caregivers  either refused to work with her because of her verbal abuse, or she had “fired” them.

Two years after her diagnosis, I was called by the people who delivered oxygen to her. They told me her lungs and body were filling up with fluids; this likely meant she was in the final stages of her life. They wanted to take her to the hospital but she refused. I drove the 90 miles to her home as fast as I could and somehow managed to get her in the car and into the  hospital.

Once she was settled in the hospital during her final days, her anger became even greater. I would often ask, “Mom, what would you like?”. She would reply, “I want to die”. When I said that God would decide when it was her time, and asked what I could do for her now, she would say (quite seriously, and without a hint of humor), “Kill me”. I could sometimes hear her yell, “kill me” when I was stepping off the elevator to go to her room. She repeatedly asked orderlies, doctors and nurses to put her out of her misery.

Sharon the nurse

Sharon, was a nurse on the night shift at the hospital. She was able to get my mom to smile and agree that some things were okay after all. Sharon did all the awful, smelly things that nurses do, all the while taking Mom’s verbal abuse and constant requests to help her die with firm kindness and uplifting humor. She did not call my mom “hon” and talk baby talk to her like the other nurses did; she allowed Mom the dignity of being a person with a real name in her final days.

That’s when I learned what it meant to have a “calling”. I had an opportunity to speak with Sharon on some evenings when things were slow on the ward. She told me that she completely understood that she had been “called” to do the work she does, and that she had “jobs” and “careers” in the past. This was different; it was truly her life’s work. Her calling was evident in every loving interaction she had with my dying, cranky mom. She told me stories about the dying patients she had cared for in the past. Sharon was a woman imbued with grace and love.


I understand Sharon’s love for her work now. I’ve owned and operated a business for seven years this month, and although the outward expression of my passion has calmed, I am still in love with what I do. It is a calling. I discovered my calling late in life, but in retrospect, it picked me at the perfect time. I now know that I was being led to it gracefully and gently by every past experience I’d ever had in my life. At the time of my mom’s death, it tapped me on the shoulder and said “it’s time”.

My mother’s dying and my getting to know Sharon the nurse were the catalysts that helped me to realize that it was possible to be in love with what you do for a living. I started my work  full throttle after mom’s death. 

I know the series of events I’ve described are an odd juxtaposition of death, love, and even a rebirth, but it’s how I see things now; its all connected for me. The moments I’ve described here were only the beginning; there have been many special ones that followed. Perhaps I’ll write more about them.

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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