My mom was a badass. I was trying to think of a more eloquent word to describe her the night before I had to speak at her memorial service, but I kept coming back to that one. Objectively speaking, my mom was a total knockout: tiny (5'2"), athletic and with husky blue eyes that I still wish I had inherited (damn recessive gene). Even so, her beauty was the least impressive thing about her. You could literally feel her presence in a room; her energy was so strong it was impossible not to. She was visceral.

She once flew cross-country for work and stayed with her widowed grandmother, a tough nut who, at 93, insisted on driving herself to Mass every day because she had a guardian angel of parking spaces looking out for her. (Which is to say, she took no guff and had God on her side.) During my mom's stay, my great-grandma invited some of the cousins for dinner, and they soon noticed that every weird, leftover tinfoil packet in the fridge had not only been thrown out but also replaced with low-cal this and fat-free that (I can't even begin to explain, but, trust me, this was a groundbreaking change). The cheap gin for Gram's martinis had been replaced by a fancy, drinkable brand (even huger). And was that a new roof? Why, yes. Yes, it was. Somehow in the 59 hours my mom was in town, she had cleaned out a fridge, charmed (coerced?) a roofer into putting on a new roof and charmed (again, coerced?) her frugal grandmother into paying for it. While closing one of her biggest business deals. While also seven months pregnant with my little brother. When the cousins later asked their grandmother about all the changes, she replied with a shrug, and they understood because it was a truth universally acknowledged: Even having God on your side was no match for Meg Magee.

My mom did not care if you liked her. Her love was boundless, but only if you were sincere. It was authenticity or nothing; her basset hound of a nose could sniff out any b.s. If someone she knew was being mistreated, she fought back alongside them and without reservation (sometimes even without their consent). On more than one occasion, I got angry with her for overreacting (that poor telemarketer), but secretly I wished I had had her fearlessness. If you needed something, if you were hurting, she always showed up. Always. If she made a commitment, she kept it, no matter what it took. She didn't officially retire from her job until November 2014. That's exactly a year before she died. She worked from home, propped up in bed with her laptop while she healed from a back surgery in which two tumorous vertebrae were removed and replaced with a steel rod. Oh, all of this while she was simultaneously undergoing chemo for cancer that had spread to her liver. She was a full-time working mother of two who was also a frequent flier in the oncology department, but to the outside world, she made it look effortless with that bright, squinty smile and raspy laugh.

And, she did it for nearly two decades. She was first diagnosed 17 years ago when I was in the first grade. The cancer came back again and again and again. The most surprising fact is, if you can believe it, I didn't know what the inside of a treatment center looked like until a little over a year ago when she needed a ride after her chemotherapy. I followed her directions—what wing to go to, what floor to look for—and noticed that there were many people, likely family members, sitting with the patients. When I questioned her about who these people were and added that I hadn't known I was allowed to accompany her and would've been happy to have been at her appointments for, you know, the previous 10-plus years, she turned to me and replied in the most matter-of-fact way, "That was entirely on purpose—there was no way that this was going to affect your life more than it absolutely had to." One of the biggest compliments she said she ever received was from the mother of one of my high school classmates who'd heard about her health issues and remarked at a school event, "Looking at your girl, you would never know unless you knew."

My mom would often say to me, "I love and admire the person that you have become." I would like to take credit for being a person she was proud of, but it really was all because of her (and a little because of you too, Dad). Throughout my entire life, she always treated me as her equal. She made sure I felt that my opinions mattered. Even if she didn't necessarily agree or understand why I felt the way I did or was doing what I was doing, it was never a finite "no" or "you're wrong." Any subject was open to conversation, including a particularly lengthy discussion about a too-expensive, too-flamboyant coral snakeskin patent leather designer wallet with leopard-print interior—I was very specific—that she thought a 13-year-old had no business wanting. (After talking about it, though, my mother, who loathed shopping, spent an entire day trying to find it for me.) This isn't to say that she was a yes-man. Not at all. But because of her guidance, I was able to develop into a person who is confident and has conviction, and I couldn't be more grateful to her for instilling those two qualities in me.

I'm grateful for so much that my mom gave me, but most especially for a letter she wrote to me in which she said: "I love your acceptance of change. To hang back is safe, but safe is boring, boring is a waste of time, and time is precious." I think she was referring to things like when I was all set to go off to college with my friends...until my college decided to defer me until January. My mom thought I could take a few classes at home. I thought maybe farther away. (Paris, perhaps?) She laughed at the way I was going to try to make the change work for me.

However this change is one I do not want to accept. I'm in the throes of one of the biggest transitions in my life. I'm just out of college and in my first "big-girl" job. At 23, I need my mom's intellect, wisdom and thoughtfulness now more than ever. As crazy as it sounds, her death was not part of my plan—not now, not ever. The idea that I grew up with a "sick mom" never occurred to me, because she didn't think of herself that way. Her decision to never let a setback define her, and by extension our family, made it so. My mom didn’t deny the hard parts of her life; she simply wove them in.

My mom was my soul mate, the love of my life, my best friend, my go-to gal for everything. I have no interest in living a life without her, but I know how livid she would be if I didn't continue to be the daughter she loved so unconditionally. Although she didn't know it then, her belief in my ability to accept change is why I know that even despite her death, I will continue to carry on her incredible legacy of love—because hanging back is safe, safe is boring, boring is such a waste of time, and time is so, so precious.


Next Story