When I was six years-old my parents signed me up for the swim team. I was the smallest and youngest kid there, and unsurprisingly during one of my first practices, every kid cut in front of me to go off the diving block. After practice, my mom having witnessed the whole thing said, “Shug (my lifelong nickname), don’t let those kids cut in front of you. It doesn’t matter that they’re older than you or bigger than you. Never let anyone push you around.”

And boy did I take this advice to heart, sometimes to the chagrin of my (slightly embarrassed) loved ones. I’ve spent 31 years making sure no one pushes me around, for being small, opinionated, a woman, or otherwise. It was solid advice for a growth-stunted kid with developing self-esteem. And it was the first of about a million life lessons from my mom.

Six weeks ago we lost my mom to an aggressive cancer. The experience of losing my mom was wholly devastating. And perhaps it takes being a mom to truly understand the sacrifice of motherhood; as you struggle, and plow through long days, you gain an increased appreciation for all that your mom gave of herself, and gives of herself until the very end.

Sure, there are the observable sacrifices as your kids grow: becoming a vessel for human life, surviving the glorious and horrible newborn stage, caring for toddlers on a mission to injure themselves, dealing with hurt feelings of school-aged kids, high school first failures and heartbreak… then after all of that tremendous hard work and worry, you send them off into the world and hope you did enough.

But the inner voice guiding motherhood is much more complex. Elizabeth Stone said that having a child is to “decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I haven’t found a better description; the ultimate sacrifice of motherhood is exactly that: an all-encompassing, unconditional, forever love. It’s worry and hope and pride all wrapped up in a package that sorta looks like you (but of course, looks mostly like your husband). I know this is how my mom felt about each of her kids, and it’s how I feel about my own kids.

My mom’s passing means the loss of a great friend, a teacher, a mentor, a purveyor of tough love and honesty. I will miss out on the joy of seeing her with my kids, and when our new baby comes in June there will be an unfillable void in that waiting room and forever afterwards. Mostly, I will miss her advice. But don’t worry about me, Mom – no one’s pushing this gal around.

In loving & grateful memory of Kathy Sandella.