Finding Inspiration for the Future After the Hardest Moments of My Life

I was there for her last breath, but there’s nowhere else I would have rather been.

In the very earliest hours of September 5, 2021, my mom passed away after a valiant battle with cancer. She fought with every fiber in her body despite the overwhelming odds stacked against her. Where most people would have given up, Mom persevered until the very end. She went through every treatment and trial under the sun, plus all the physical, mental, and emotional anguish that goes along with trying to cure the incurable.

Me & Mom

We had hope — not to mention tremendous support from world-class doctors, family, and friends — but sadly, she could never catch a break. Not even a small one.

During her final weeks, my dad, brother, sister, aunt, and I took shifts around the clock to care for Mom and keep her as comfortable as possible. It’s challenging to find the words to describe exactly what we went through, but exhausting and heart-wrenching are a good starting point. I’m incredibly proud of how my family pulled together and stepped up to help her and emotionally support each other.

Family First

“Family First” is Rule #1 that Mom established in a love letter she wrote to our immediate family. She was so intent on us remembering that she declared Rule #2 as “Don’t break Rule #1.”

This deeply-engrained motto of “Family First” is what led us to be there for her (and each other) during those arduous days. It was second nature, with never a doubt in our minds: we would do anything to support her, just like she had done for us throughout our entire lives.

Family First

Rule #1 is about true, unconditional love.

The hours leading up to and following Mom’s passing will go down as some of the worst moments in our lives, capping off a month of difficult moments, preceded by two years of adversity and heartache.

So, why put family first if only to be subjected to such traumatic pain? Because we all need people we can depend on during these inevitable worst moments. And we wouldn’t let her, or each other, go through them alone.

“Family First” is the promise to be there for each other through thick and thin. The heaviest burdens can be made lighter when we carry them together. It’s a magnificent thing to be able to rely on each other when the world feels like it’s falling apart.

Mom’s Last Moment

It was the middle of the night and I was laying down near Mom, wide awake and ready to spring into action if needed. With so much darkness surrounding the last couple days, I badly wished to be transported back to lighter, happier times.

A photo from our moment “Jay’s Birthday / Fleet Week”

I opened Reel You and filtered my Reel to all the moments her and I shared together.

One of the first moments I looked at was “Jay’s Birthday / Fleet Week” from October 2019. We had gathered on the rooftop of my sister’s San Francisco apartment to celebrate my birthday and watch the Blue Angels (and other spectacular aircraft) roar directly overhead. My brother also popped the question to me: would I be his best man for his wedding?

It was a fantastic day.

I flipped through all the photos from the moment and then read through all the stories: first mine, then everyone else’s, and finally my mom’s perspective. As I read the last words of her story, I could almost hear her voice:

“… One happy Momma here ❤️❤️”

The very second my eyes finished flickering across those words was the same instant she took her final breath. It was hauntingly horrific and poetically beautiful, all at the same time.

It was almost like, in some cosmic way, she had delicately chosen that as her final moment to let me know she was dying happy after living a fulfilling life.

Her Inspiration Lives On

Mom was enormously influential in the creation of Reel You. Only now, I realize it’s even more than I originally thought.

She was our family historian, meticulously documenting our first years in baby books, high school years in scrapbooks, family vacations in travel journals, and general life through photo albums neatly organized into chronological order. Part of Mom’s legacy will be the love she put into cherishing each of these life moments. The hours — more likely days or weeks — she spent documenting our time together will allow me, my siblings, and her future grandchildren she’ll never meet to continue cherishing and reliving those experiences through her eyes.

I’m determined to take the torch from here.

Mom & Penny

I took some time off following Mom’s passing. Among other things, it gave me a chance to more deeply consider what I want Reel You to become and how Mom might continue to inspire our future. I kept coming back to three things: real joy, real community, and real life. Here’s what those mean to me:

  • Real joy: appreciating your journey and the in-between moments that matter, living presently and purposefully
  • Real community: spending time with your inner circle of people, actively participating in your community and supporting the causes you care about
  • Real life: staying grounded in the real world, remaining true to yourself

I’m convinced this is not only how my mom lived her life, but how I want to live the rest of mine. I suspect it’s how you want to live yours, too.

These common values are at the core of Reel You and the central philosophies guiding the continual evolution of our product and marketing. With this focus, I see an opportunity for Reel You to become the first social network with a social conscience and an unstoppable force for good in the lives of people around the world.

Mom might not have approved of me posting this photo, but I can’t stop coming back to it. She was always up for adventure and never afraid to be silly.

Over the coming weeks you’ll see us lean even more into these themes and real community in particular. Reel Yousers are already familiar with the regular contest we run: someone who creates a moment during a designated time period is randomly selected and Reel You donates in their honor to the non-profit of their choice. Today, I’m happy to announce a major expansion to these philanthropic efforts.

From now on, Reel You will donate 5 cents towards a charity of your choice for every single moment you make in the app. Together, Reel Yousers will uplift others by making important moments possible in their communities through the simple act of documenting their own.

Mom was an avid volunteer, most recently spending her free time helping seniors and animal shelters, and I know she would have been proud of this initiative and the impact Reel Yousers will make around the globe.

She Was The Best of Us

Mom made new friends everywhere she went.

There is peace in knowing Mom is no longer suffering, but there’s no denying her passing has left a pink and heart-shaped hole in the lives of many.

I could spend an eternity gushing over how irreplaceably special Mom was. She’s the only person I’ll ever know to have so many people genuinely consider her their best friend. Over the years, she’s been called “Mom” by many more than just her three biological kids. She never hesitated to compliment or help out a stranger. Mom had so much love to give, it spilled out in every direction.

I just feel grateful to be one of the lucky ones on the receiving end.

Per Mom’s request, there will not be a memorial service. If you’d like to honor her somehow, please consider remembering her fondly the next time you’re on a beach at sunset (one of her favorite places) or by making a donation to your favorite charity.

Reel You is available on the App Store.

Founder of Reel You