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Walter Anderson is quoted as saying, ““Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”

Losing the people we love is a painful and emotional experience.  I used to think that relationship demise or divorce were hard. But death is an experience that changes us to our very core.  And I understand losing the people we love happens to all of us, and it happens more than once in our lives, but it doesn’t mean that it ever gets easier.

We lost Dad when I was 19, my brother when I was about to turn 35 and Mom when I was 40.   The loss of these three very important people in my life threw my world into chaos and pain.  I never thought I could survive the pain, numbness and the aching.  But I did.

I have survived many losses in my life – and not just those related to death.  Each loss has made me stronger emotionally and more resistant. Often, when we are hurting, we cannot see past the pain.  It is when we start to heal that we start to understand what God’s doing and we allow ourselves to trust in the journey He’s laid out for us.

I lost someone very special to me this past weekend and while I understand she was suffering due to illness, I didn’t want her to leave us.  She was my mother’s cousin and her best friend.  I called her my aunt, so I am sad.  She fought a one and half year battle with cancer and it was time for her to be with my mother and her family that had passed before.  But I wasn’t ready to let her go. I wanted even just one more day to see her, to talk to her, to get be in her presence. Losing both my parents and my younger brother (also to cancer), I do know how precious life is.  This loss is yet another reminder that life is too short.  We have to embrace life, live it to its fullest, and make memories with the people we love. And yeah, loss hurts. It is the worst feeling in the world.  You’re angry and you don’t even know who or what you are angry at.  You may feel discouraged, sad, lost and even fearful about the future.

As I work through my own grief, I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  And I am trying to get through that dark tunnel.  It is a slow process, but I will get there.  If you are going through a similar situation, remember to be kind to yourself.  It took for a long time to learn to care for myself, look after myself, and share my pain rather than always trying to be strong.  These are lessons that could have made my past healing experiences so much easier.

None of us like losing people.   As I sit there letting the memories of my mother and my aunt sneak up on me, I remind myself life is an amazing journey.  It is full of both pain and beauty. The pain and the challenges help you get to where you need to go.  Everything in life happens for a reason, and even though we may not know those reasons, it is okay to embrace life, trust in the Almighty and make the most of every moment.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen”. Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

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I generally try to be positive despite the chaos living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia brings to my life.  But the fact is being chronically ill affects every part of my life.  I barely recall a time where I wasn’t in pain or “sickly.”  But I have to live my life no matter what it brings.  But the reality is, I used to be able to hide it better than this.

I write about chronic illness and I give advice.  I am an expert, at least that is my most recent writing title says.  And looking from the outside, you might see this Superwoman – she is a single mother with two jobs that keeps going even she has nothing life inside her.  Whether it is chronic illness or life’s adversities, she has got this.  You don’t know it is a facade. You don’t know the physical and emotional struggle that superwoman feels daily.

Sometimes, I wonder if people look at me and think I struggle to walk because of my weight.  Now granted, I have gained weight from all these years of life with RA and fibromyalgia from all the mediations I take and from not being as active as I once was.  But I am not that heavy, not enough for it to cause me problems moving.  But I wonder what is perceived when I struggle to walk – or use my hands, or when my brain feels foggy, or when I feel generally sick.  Do they think I am flakey or that I use drugs? Or that I am not smart?

I don’t know what others perceive.  I just know what I feel inside.  I generally try to be positive.  But I get depressed, severely and often.  This life isn’t easy.  Illness takes a part of your soul you can never get back.  You can hide behind a positive attitude for the world to see.  But deep inside, you have fears, like how long you will live or what your illnesses will do next. You worry about your loved ones – your children –who will care for them if you became disabled or if your illnesses end your life.

It is hard to not listen to those negative thoughts because in your case, there is a possibility they could one day be all to real.  I try hard to shut those negative voices but sometimes they get the better of me, especially when I am flaring, and it hurts to walk or when I can barely stay focused and awake because of the debilitating fatigue and brain fog.

Some days, it takes every I have to do one household chore or stay focused to get work done at the office.  And the people in my life – coworkers, friends, family and even my children – they are all oblivious to my inner struggle.  I smile through the pain or I simply stay quiet and never vocalize my physical or emotional ordeal.   I am sure many of them care but they don’t get it. Besides, there is nothing they can, and I don’t want to place that burden on them.

These diseases – mostly RA, I think – have taken 10 years of my life and there is many more years to come of my being “sickly.”   It is frustrating to be in control of a very important aspect of your life. Nothing anyone says or does can change that. This my reality – it is what it is, and there is nothing I can do about it either – other than fight for as I possibly can.

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We are going on two years since we lost Mom and I continue to miss her terribly. On the days when I miss her the most and I need to feel closest to her, I talk to her.  Sometimes, I know what she will say, and I offer a response. It’s kind of silly, but it gives me closure.

Losing your mother is one of the hardest losses you will experience, and trust me, I have lost a lot.  The days have turned into weeks, weeks into months and here we are two years later.  I wonder how I have been able to make it with her physically in my life.  But I know that even though she is gone, she lives in my heart, in my memories, and all the things she taught me and the strength she instilled in me.

The sadness and the missing her comes when events happen that she is not here to be a part of.   They also come when I need her the most.  That amazing woman was my rock and the place where I laid my head when things got tough.  She loved me and accepted me when no one else did.

I know that I will always miss her, but as we get close to the second anniversary of her death, I am missing her more.  I miss her when I am in a store shopping and I see other women with their mothers. I miss her when I try to cook some of her recipes and they don’t taste the same.  I miss her when someone else loses their mom.  I miss her when something amazing happens in my life and my children’s lives and I cannot pick up the phone to tell her.  I miss her when I am having a bad day or not feeling well because she always knew the right thing to say.  I miss her when everyone is celebrating with their mothers and I cannot celebrate with her.

I miss her when something reminds me of her.  I miss her when I need her advice the most.  I miss her when I see her number in my phone because I can’t find it in me to delete it.  I miss her when I see older women who are lucky enough to have long lives and she didn’t.  I miss her when my children miss her or when they say they wish Grandma was around. I miss her on her birthday and on my birthday.  She always came by with a cake even though she knew I hated celebrating my birthday.  I miss her when I think about how she would look in ten years or 20 years had she lived.

I miss her when I go to her favorite places alone like Amish county, a trip we always enjoyed together.  I miss her when I stare at the sky and wonder where she is.

And even though I continue to miss her, I remember how much she loved me and my children.  I remember that she didn’t want to leave us, and she would have done anything to have stayed and watched her grandchildren grow up and to share in their victories and celebrations.

When I miss Mom, I just take that extra step to live my life and be happy because I know that is what she would want for me.  Mostly, I try to remember what it was like to be around her and the way she would have done anything in the world for my children and me.

I will never stop missing Mom, but every day, I remind myself what Mom would want for me.  And it is not to continue to have an ache in my heart for her.   It is to live my life to the fullest, take care of my children and love them in the way she loved me, and mostly, she’d want me to move on and find my place in this world without her.

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I spent most last night twisting and turning. This chest cold was keeping me up.  My little guy (age 9) made his way into my bed and I ended up on the couch because I didn’t want to share this cold with him.  Moira, my two-year-old brown Tabby cat, spent most of the night at my feet.  When she heard me cough, sneeze or get up to get a drink of water to soothe my sore throat, she would come next to me and rub her nose towards my hand, so I would pet her.  When I ignored her, she would tap my chest with her paw.  She would purr once she got her way and got petted.

Moira isn’t a very cuddly cat.  She only wants attention on her own terms.  But she is very loving, especially when she sees her human mama struggling.  She has helped me get through many RA flares in past year and a half since she came into our lives.  She gives as much love as she is given.

She and my boys aren’t always on the best terms.  She may like them, but she mostly tolerates them.  The nine-year-old wants to carry her around and make her stay and cuddle.  She is no cuddler and she wants to run about, so he usually ends up being scratched.  And for my 18-year-old, the moment she hears his voice she hides behind her human mama. He is never done anything to make her fear him, but his size intimidates her.

Moira came into our lives two months after we lost Mom.  My kids had for years asked for a pet, but I never gave in because the responsibility of a pet would have fallen on me.  After many years of contemplation, I finally decided that a cat was easier to take care of when you live with chronic pain.

We met a nearly six-month-old Moira at our local pet rescue. You know how they say, “Who rescued who?” Well, I strongly believe Moira rescued us, especially me, with everything I was dealing with at the time.  Further, she picked us, we didn’t pick her.

We went to the pet rescue that day looking for an older, short haired cat.  And we looked at plenty of cats, all in cages.  Moira wasn’t in a cage. She was in a play area trying to get our attention, and I don’t want her because she was a long-haired cat. All my type A personality could think of is all the vacuuming I wouldn’t be able to keep up with.  But Moira wasn’t having it.  After all, her brother was adopted earlier in the day, and she was going to follow suit, so she put the charm on.  It took some time, but that girl got my attention and she came home with us that day, much to my children’s dismay because they wanted a male kitten who is was 2 or 3 months old.

Moira has gotten plenty of love, care and pampering, but she gets as much as a she gives, especially when it comes to her human mama.  She is also a bit of a snob.  Sometimes, I watch snubbing her food or us and I wonder if she was royalty in a previous life.  Or when I watch her stretching and staring at herself in the mirror, I wonder what she is thinking.  Is she thinking that she is as beautiful as I tell her she is?

Then there are those moments where she does the craziest things, like stare at a wall for no reason, or climb into the sink, push open the faucet, wet her head and then have a long drink.  Or when she tries to fit into a box that is way too small for her. Or maybe it is the fact that when it comes to her snacks, she knows how to manipulate the kids while I am freaking out that they are going to make her fat.

All I know is that 2-year-old cat (almost 26 in human years) has brought a lot of joy to our lives from the day she came home.  Not only does she make me laugh and feel needed, but she also is there when I am feeling my worst.  Someway, she has connected and bonded with me, and made my life so much happier and filled it with the kind of love I couldn’t have imagined.  And even if I am still not feeling well tonight, that beautiful feline will be by my side showing me the same TLC that I have shown her.  Pets can be such a blessing and joy and until you have one, you have no idea.

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Graduation day came and went, as do all the events that come and go. But it was an emotional day for me. Eighteen years of working hard, often two jobs, making every dollar count, while waiting on my son’s big day, it was worth it to see him in his cap and gown, beaming from ear to ear.

I was, of course, sad that Mom wasn’t there, but I know she would have been proud to see what an amazing young man he has become and all he has accomplished, despite the obstacles he has faced along the way.  And the obstacles I faced as I struggled to raise him on my own.   There were plenty of times, where I felt like I was failing miserably, both as a single mother and as my family’s only provider.  There are plenty of times where I lost my grip and fell and thought that I couldn’t get up.  But I did over and over, and that young man is proof that despite financial struggle, health worries, and parenting alone, that you can still get up even when it feels like you haven’t got the strength.

And life can be unfair. It can knock you down. So, can people, and I have had plenty of people in my life who have knocked me down, and were shocked when I still managed to get up.  There were plenty of times where I wanted to lie there, but I got up, even if I did it crawling.  And there have so many times where I had no one to lean on and I could only rely on myself. But again, it has been worth to see that smile on that young man’s face, and I’d do it again.  Because despite numerous obstacles, he turned out to be an amazing young man, and this momma should be prouder.

His graduation day also brought out some difficult emotions, ones I thought I had long overcome.  Turns out I am still angry at certain people in my life for putting so much responsibility on me and not being there for me when I needed them most.  That is something I have been thinking a lot about in recent days.  I am actually embarrassed about my anger.  I thought I was past it, but I guess I am not.  I have prayed on it and I prayed for the strength to forgive. I think I have held on to my anger because I am afraid to forget and make the same mistakes I previously made. I will keep praying for the strength to forgive, to be forgiven, but not to forget and repeat past mistakes.  After all, I set examples for my children, and the kind of people I want them to be. So, I need to be better than this.

As I think about what I want for my children, I want for them to experience everything I was never able to experience.  I want to choose dreams that mean the most to them, not me and not anyone else. I hope the roads they take lead them to where they want to go.  I hope that even when the world is cold that they choose smile and look for goodness and kindness.  I hope their dreams are big and their worries are small.  I hope they never have to bear more than they can handle.

Mostly I hope they know that I love them, and I am forever proud of them. I hope that they find love with people who want the same for them.  I hope they find God’s grace when times are good and even when they are rough.  I hope they never forget where they came from and that they can always come home.  Because being their mother, it is my honor and every struggle, it is worth it to see them succeed and become the adults I know they can be.

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When my oldest soon started senior year way back in September, I never imaged how fast senior year would go, but here we are, less than 3 weeks away from graduation day – the finish line.

It stills feels like yesterday that I was counting the days he was late for being born – he was 13 days late to be exact. And now I am counting the days to his high school graduation.

Eighteen and a half years ago, I was blessed with this bundle of joy and I never knew I could love a human being so much.   As I reflect back, it seems as if the time moved too fast from when he was a newborn to this amazing young man he has become.  He wanted to grow up so fast, and I wished he would slow down.

There were plenty of moments where I questioned whether I was doing anything right, especially as I did it alone.  I raised that little boy all on my own, without a father in his life, and if you ask that young man, he will tell you he never missed out, that I gave him more than both a mother and father could give. His little brother looks up to him and even though they aren’t always on the same page, my little one brags about how he wants to grow up to be just like him.   And even though he and I have had our moments, he is without a doubt the best son a mother could ask for.

Over the years, as I watched that boy grow from a baby to a toddler, a little boy, a teenager, and now a young man, and his compassion, kindness and loving heart show me what kind of person he was becoming.  He constantly goes out of his way for others, sometimes putting his own needs aside to help.  And even when adversity stared him in the face, in the form of anxiety and panic attacks, rather than dwelling, he took the experience to educate others.  And I thought to myself, “wow, this kid is amazing,” and every day, he continues surprising me.  So, I look forward to his pursuing his dreams after graduation and showing me and the world everything he has to offer and give with that big heart of his.

Graduation day will be a day of mixed emotions for me. I will be proud of him for all he has accomplished, but another part of me will be sad because he has grown up so fast.  More than anything, I wish his grandmother – my mother – were here to share this special day with us.  Mostly with me, because I am watching my little boy – who now hovers over me by at least a foot – starting a new chapter in his life, becoming the adult I always wanted him to be. And he is taking a piece of my heart with him.

As he closes one chapter in his life, and prepares to start a new one, I hope he remembers he will always be my little boy, the boy who stole my heart, who makes me laugh, who teaches me to be a better person, and who can never be replaced.  My love for that young man is unconditional.  I will always be his number 1 fan and his loudest cheerleader.

And my love for him is everlasting, starting from that day in January 2000 when he took my hand and didn’t let go.  Now, he is letting go and it is time, but he knows that even though the finish line is almost here, he knows where to find me now, after this graduation, after the next graduation, and with every milestone of his adult life. I will always be there in the sidelines cheering the loudest and beaming with pride.

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