Better Because of Our 13 Days …

Geraldine Fay Lindquist Johnson

She’d been in my life for 43 years.  For much longer than my own mom … who died when I was 31.  I remember when she excitedly extended her hand to show me her rings. I had travelled 1195 kilometers to visit with her and my dad. Sick. I felt entirely sick. She never said a word, but her eyes were twinkling as brightly as the diamonds perched prominently on her left ring finger. It took everything within me to bite back the tears in order to feign ample and appropriate enthusiasm. Seriously … how could they get married without even telling me??  I never asked. Some things feel better left unsaid.

And so, I always spoke of her as “my dad’s wife”. However, some 15 or 20 years (!!) later, I actually came upon the truth. She had no idea I believed they were married. It was all a complete misunderstanding. The truth was that she had been working on him relentlessly … begging for matrimony … for years!  But for reasons known only to my very stalwart father … he steadfastly refused to remarry. I could sense the pain of rejection in her heart because as she said … for a woman of her generation … it would be particularly shameful for her to die an “old maid”or “spinster”.  And so, to spare herself any public embarrassment, she adopted his last name and wore her wedding rings very proudly.  I got it. 

All she ever wanted was to be a wife and mother.  But my dad died unexpectedly without ever officially saying “I do” to her.  And, although she had also pressed me to call her “mom” … I’m not sure I much embraced her as a parental figure. I guess the whole decades long belief that they had been ‘wedded without me’ had made her his ‘wife’ in my eyes, but certainly not my ‘stepmom’. Instead, I opted to affectionately call her“Ger” instead of Gerri … and … she fondly called me “Kar” instead of Karen.

In addition to my own little family, I was all Ger had left after my dad died.  And, at 82, she was still living on her own.  We had looked into alternate spaces, but it distressed her terribly to think of leaving the home she had shared with my dad.  I had finally convinced her that she needed to wear a Life Alert because she was getting less stable on her feet and had fallen a couple of times.

Celebrating her 82nd birthday …

Ger’s health had always been tentative … and she had regularly experienced days when she was laid up … feeling “punk”.  Usually it was because she had bitten off more than she could chew … trimming branches on trees, moving furniture, shampooing the carpets etc – by herself.  Yes.  I said by herself.  When she got an idea in her head, she had no patience to wait for help to arrive.  And so, she often overdid it and paid the price.

But, the malaise that preceded her landing in ER on July 31, 2017 had persisted for nearly three weeks.  When I got stern with her – questioning her reticence to call her doctor – she admitted she was scared about what he might have to say. She had a stint put in some years ago, carried nitroglycerin in her purse and took baby aspirin regularly. Perhaps her ticker was acting up again?

It appears that she was very intuitive indeed …  something was, in fact, very wrong. 

When she got out of bed the next morning … she took a few steps and collapsed.  Thank goodness for her Life Alert button!  And so … we found ourselves in the ER … utterly dumbfounded … staring at each other … in wide-eyed disbelief. The sun had barely peeked over the horizon on that fateful Monday and the day had already taken some very unexpected and unfavorable turns. There would be tests and more tests.

And may I say that for as long as Ger has been part of my life, she has always caught me up short by hastily forging head-first into foreboding territory.  She always dives in long before I am emotionally prepared to tackle any such precarious terrain.  I am far more tentative and reflective about everything in my life.  I prefer to tip-a-toe in tentatively and get a sense of things before I move forward with unfettered conviction. But not Ger … she has always preferred to swoop into action … immediately.

It was the same when my dad died very unexpectedly during a summer BBQ on July 12, 2009.  He had just filled his plate … and enthusiastically declared “This is great!”  And then … he was gone.

Ger needed to be ‘doing’ things to help her process her grief.  I, on the other hand, needed time to simply ‘be’ with the loss before I could think about making decisions or taking actions that could not be undone.  It definitely created some emotional tension for both of us as we mourned the loss of the same man. Nothing wrong with either approach … but … this particular Monday was proving to be no different.

She needed to know, right then and there … and … did not hesitate to ask the attending ER physician just how long she could expect to live. I expected him to defer by saying it would be premature to guess until the prognosis had been officially confirmed.  But, much to my chagrin, he responded:

“Maybe two months.” 

Whoa. What??  My mind frantically raced for some way to process this blindside.  Yesterday was just a normal Sunday.  We had a conversation on the phone.  I was looking forward to having this particular Monday off work so I could nibble away at my ‘to-do’ list. And, in all honesty, I was still trying to process the death of my father-in-law (who had died just two months prior) . And his passing was fairly hot on the heels of the death of his wife … my mother-in-law (just 7 months prior to that).  We were already knee deep … maybe chin deep … into the grieving process. I instinctively resisted.

“We can’t be certain Ger.  At this point, it’s all just speculation.” 

But she was already making plans.  I respected the gravity of her situation enough to know that if this was going to be the last leg of her journey … I needed to honor her desires to do it her way.  And so, in order to keep up, I opened a new tab in my Wunderlist  App … and labeled it “Gerri”.  I started making notes as she determined, discussed and directed what she wanted taken care of before she, too, departed this earthly plane.  I left the hospital late in the evening, in utter disbelief … hoping that ‘tomorrow’ would be a better day.

On Tuesday morning, August 1st, I returned bright and early … and … Ger was still making plans. I promised to take her cat, Scamper, home to live with me. She gave me her banking pass code and asked me to update her bank book.  I’m not sure why her finances were important in THAT moment, but she needed to be sure that OAS had given her the increase she was expecting. Can do.  And … she reckoned that one of the family best take and use the expensive silky cover off her built-in vacuum hose. She’d paid a pretty penny for it … no sense leaving that gem for a renter. Okay.  And … she wondered about how she would die … would she suffer? Would she suffocate, would she choke … would her heart take her? Gulp.

I compassionately searched deeply into her eyes and asked if she was scared. She confirmed that if she let herself think about it, she felt frightened. She looked down for a moment and then pensively uttered,“What if … what if I am denied entry at the pearly gates?”

For a split second, I could feel the weight of that worry hanging heavily in her heart. And then, with her next breath she moved quickly past that uncomfortable query and determined that her electric fireplace  would look great on a particular wall in the spacious bedroom of her grand-daughter’s new house. Agreed. She was delighted that another of her grand-daughters could use the stand up freezer. Excellent. And the desks … she wanted me to have her antique desk and tea cart. For sure.  I was squirming internally as she so casually discussed such things.

I told her it felt entirely awkward, inappropriate and insensitive to be discussing the dispersal of her belongings. Some things feel better left unsaid. She assured me that it pleased her so very deeply to know that her legacy would live on in the belongings that would be enjoyed by those she loved. And, she declared that she didn’t want a funeral. Okay. She wanted us to have a nice family dinner and just talk about her instead. Fair enough.  But, I found myself offering an alternate perspective:

“Ger, let’s wait until they do more tests.  They could be mistaken.  The mass they spotted in your lung might not be fatal.”

How does one even begin to integrate such news  when the big “C” was never ever … not for one moment … a prior concern in one’s eight decades of life.  They did more tests. And more scans.  They needed to consult with the oncologist and the lung specialist.  She reminded me to take her ashes, her mother’s ashes and my dad’s ashes to a specified place. We ordered her a TV so she could keep up with The Young and the Restless.  It occurred to me that we’d need a schedule so we could take turns watering her lawn and feeding Scamper while she was in hospital.

Wednesday, August 2nd … they did a biopsy on the tumor and were going to do a brain scan when her heart acted up again.  They ended up losing her at one point. Gone. Her room was empty when I arrived to visit. After a bit of panic … they sympathetically told me that my ‘mom’ had been moved to ICU. I never corrected them. They used the paddles to revive her. It was shortly after that they got the results of the biopsy and they discovered she also had MRSA.  It’s a super bug  … an infection that is highly resistant to treatment. It seemed prudent to get the Power of Attorney signed. It was entirely surreal … and … unraveling far too quickly for me.

Thursday, August 3rd … the doc came in to confirm the diagnosis. Yes. Cancer. Stage 4.  A small cell type that spreads quickly.  They believe it started in her lung about six to 12 months prior and confirmed that it had already spread to her adrenal glands and her liver. It had also metastasized into her lymph system and likely into her bones.

No emotion or tears on her part.  Just more action. She decided to sell us her car so it wouldn’t get caught up in probate. It occurred to me that I should probably take her purse home for safekeeping.  I reckoned I should bring her slippers. She thought maybe an ice cream would taste good. Funny where the mind goes in a moment like that.

When the oncologist arrived for rounds, she asked again: “how long”?  Perhaps two months … unless it was in her brain. She slipped up and later told someone she had two weeks.  I corrected her.  No Ger … the doc said two months. She second guessed me by asking if I was sure about that. Yep. I was sure. The tests had confirmed it was not in her brain.

Hmmm. She was sure she had about two weeks. The oncologist was gentle and kind and recommended palliative care. And she started planning again.

Because of the contagious nature of MRSA, visitation was counter-indicated for many.  We had to mask-up, glove-up and gown-up completely to be in her presence.  A few of the family came to visit, but for the better part of her hospitalization … it was mostly just me and Ger.

Monday, August 7th … Myrna (Ger’s late brother’s wife) made the long trip from Saskatchewan.  I could sense Ger’s delight with her arrival. They had remained very dear friends. And, she seemed tickled with our three-way conversation.  At one point … in true “Granny style” (as my girls would fondly suggest)  Ger looked at both Myrna and I and fervently exclaimed:

” After all of this … if I don’t die … I’m going to be really pissed off!”

We all burst into laughter at the paradoxical nature of her comment.  I suggested that maybe instead of having a dinner after she passed, maybe she could join us in a family feasting when she moved into Palliative Care whereby she could “eavesdrop” on our conversation about her.  Well, she thought that would be okay … but … could we have a dinner in her honor afterwards, too?  Of course. And we’ll be sure to serve Lucy’s famous chocolate cake!  Lucy is my son-in-law’s lovely mother … and … her chocolate cake recipe has become a family favorite!

Tuesday, August 8th … we talked about the things she could do to decorate her new home in palliative and make it feel like home.  The white shag carpet.  Perhaps an armchair … if there was space? Maybe we could sneak Scamper in for a final visit?  Maybe we could smuggle in a ‘go cup’  filled with her favorite Royal Red wine … aka “Granny’s swill” ?  She hastily put the brakes on that idea.  She was entirely averse to getting evicted from palliative care before she got settled in.  We laughed … and yet … there was something sobering about the absurdity of all that we were so casually discussing.

Her decline was rapid. The very next day, she unexpectedly lost some lucidity.  She told Myrna she was quite sure she had died at 2:17pm.  And, by the following day, she was unable to speak with any comprehensive coherence. And, it was becoming more and more difficult for her to breathe.  They cancelled her transfer to palliative.

And so, true to form, even in her dying … Ger wasted no time. Once again … her pace was far too fast for me to process comfortably.   And ultimately … she was right. It wasn’t two months. It wasn’t even two weeks.  It was 13 days …

At some point during our last 13 days together, Ger told me that she came into the world alone … lived most of her life alone … and … expected to die alone.  In that moment, my heart ached for her … because in so many ways … she was right.  Her father had been murdered. Her mother could be quite abusive.  My father – her spouse – was emotionally disconnected. She had limited contact with her brother before he died young of melanoma. She had endured a whole lot of trauma and abandonment in her life. The stories she recanted broke my heart.

And … I could not deny that I, too, had contributed to her sense of loneliness. I was often too busy to make her a priority. It takes 1.5 hours round trip to get to Ger and all our family from where I live … so a quick pop-in every now and again was just not possible.  I had gone back to school as a mature student to complete my BSW as well as my MSW … and …  was also employed  as a counselor in my community along with running a small private practice of my own on the side. I have one husband, three daughters and eight grandchildren …  so … the pulls for my attention are/were persistent and plentiful. In addition to that … within the last three years … the demands on my time had become increasingly intensified as my aging and ailing in-laws health deteriorated and their medical needs and chronic crises eclipsed any predictability in our lives. I am also a landlord with four rental properties. In all honesty … I had been struggling to keep all those balls in the air and had become entirely depleted trying to do so.

That said, I did my best to ‘be there’ for Ger … but … I always knew my best wasn’t nearly as much as she wanted and/or deserved in terms of my time and attention. And, in all honesty, it troubled my heart to know I was falling short of her expectations. And so, with an ache in my heart for my inability to make the days of her life less lonely … I committed myself to being there ‘with’ her and showing up fully ‘for’ her … during her final journey home. I let her know I was “all hers” for the duration.

I spent some long days with her at the hospital. I really didn’t want her to be alone when she passed. The staff knew me as her ‘daughter’ and referred to Ger as my ‘mom’.  I never corrected any of them. Some things feel better left unsaid.  In fact, I could feel Ger’s heart swell with these new terms of reference in the space. And, in all honesty … it felt really good to me too.

As it turned out … she waited until I had gone home for the night on Saturday, August 12th. The nurse called me, just a couple of hours after I left, to say that my mom had taken her last breath while they were making their rounds and tending to her comfort.  I was surprised by how hard it hit me. I thought I was prepared …

It was to be our 40th wedding anniversary the next day. I didn’t feel like celebrating. So we didn’t. And, although it does my heart good to know that she wasn’t actually ‘alone’ when she passed because she had the nursing staff with her … it still struck me that Ger was being a bit of a ‘stinker’ for not letting me be there when she transitioned. My daughter suggested that perhaps she waited until I was gone because she, in fact, didn’t want to leave me alone when she passed. Hmmmm … I still tear up when I think of it that way.

We hired a Life Celebrant  (thank you Shelly Bassett!)  who met with us in advance to gather our recollections … and … she composed a beautiful ‘life story’ honoring Ger/Granny. Shelly orated this meaningful tribute to her as we gathered in a large circle in our back yard on a very warm, sunny day.  Our celebration was complete with all of Ger’s very favorite things … including taco in a bag!  Her grand-daughters and I wore pieces of her favorite jewellery and we toasted her with her ‘swill’ and some Japanese ‘sake’ that she had liked to share with her grandsons.  It turned into far more than just the conversation she wanted us to have about her. I recorded it … and … we have a printed copy of the ‘story’ of Ger/Granny and all she meant to us.

Ger took great pride in her home and took such impeccable care of things.  I have updated my own space with so many beautiful things of hers.  Her energy is now present in each room of my house.  By the way, I discovered a number of ‘spreaders’ in her kitchen drawers.  I took three of them home with me and passed the others on to my daughters. I figured if she had more than one, they must be good.

Well … I am not sure how I lived almost 60 years without one!   Who knew they would make such a culinary difference!   I bought new ones for all my daughters!  I even bought one for my bestie!  If you don’t own one … or … haven’t tried one … I highly implore you to allow Gerri’s legacy to touch your life too, in this small way.

As I was going through her belongings, I came across something in her most precious memorabilia. Many years ago, one of the ways I attempted to combat the commercialization of  Christmas, was to have us make homemade gifts for one another and attach a meaningful affirmation to each other. I discovered she had saved them. And  … I share one year of our affirmations of her with you here because they offer a beautiful snapshot of just who she was to all of us:

And, I absolutely sobbed when I came across one she had kept that my dad  … the man who refused to marry her … had written:

THAT she was.  My dad’s life was irrefutably better because of my step-mom. His prior lived experience had carved some pretty sharp edges into him … but she loved him unconditionally … even during the times when he could be pretty darn difficult to love. And, she cared for him tenderly and compassionately during the most fragile and unbecoming moments of his own journey with cancer.  And, she tended to him with her whole heart … and … she never failed to make him her utmost priority in life.  Ever.

And, I must also add, that Ger’s life was undeniably better because of him.  He offered her more safety and security than she had ever experienced within her family of origin. And that doesn’t mean their relationship was all roses and sunshine. No.  A union of two wounded souls cannot be without its darkness. But, in all honestly … I could see that they were unarguably, the answer to each of their prayers.

Ger and I had eight years together after my dad passed, but … I can honestly say that our last 13 days became a cherished time of deeper connection for us.  We were able to  meet each other in that sacred place beyond the accidental hurts, misunderstandings and unmet expectations that sometimes prickled between us.  And instead … we embraced a felt sense of the unconditional parts of the love that we also held for one another.

With the deepest of reverence, I came to appreciate her idiosyncratic way of being in the world … not as my dad’s wife, but as my step-mom. Yes. It was truly a blessing to be gifted with that space and time … a divinely orchestrated opportunity to ‘be’ with each other in deep, unfettered and meaningful ways.

And so Ger …  I really want to “thank you” for launching promptly into action even before they could confirm your diagnosis. Were it not for that, I would never have been so aware of all your wishes.  And, I remain committed to honoring each and every one of them … except one.

Please accept my sincerest apologies  … but I didn’t bring Scamper home with me the day you died … as I had promised.  Through an amazing turn of events, I became aware of a youngster who really, really wanted to have him.  And I suspect you will forgive me, because as I look at this picture of the two of them together, it appears to be a match made in Heaven.  That said, I am wondering … if perhaps … you somehow had a hand in orchestrating this sublime alternative for your furry feline.

And ultimately … I need you to know Ger … I have been shifted and stretched to a better version of myself as a result of our precious 13 days together.  You taught me that there is something deeply transformational about sitting with the dying. I erroneously assumed that being with you was going to be my gift to you … but … I can see now that … the gift was mine.

I feel so very blessed to have shared that sacred space with you and I remain humbled by the love and energy in our final moments together. Thank you for loving me … like every good mother would do. Always. In your own special way. And thank you for caring so deeply about me … as your only daughter.

My home is filled with reminders of you … and … I will carry so much of your spirit in my heart as I greet all the days yet to come. I hope I can bring some of your feisty energy with me into our family celebrations.  Your generous heart will be missed in more ways than you can imagine.

Thank you again Ger … I am truly so much better because of your presence in my life … and especially … because of our precious last 13 days together,  ❤ Kar ❤

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Better Because I Got to Be Your Mom …

places in your heart

For quite some time now, I have been contemplating how to best honor the depth of my appreciation for the three precious people who, more than anyone or anything, have invited me to grow into the next best version of who I can be in the world … and … who continue to stretch me beyond my own beliefs of what is possible when you open up to those places in your heart that you didn’t even know existed.

And I should share that I have hesitated to write this (for a very long time).  I have been reluctant because I would hate to think that my best efforts to honor my daughters with this tribute failed to do them justice … that my attempt fell short, in any way, of what I needed and wanted and desired to acknowledge.  It feels like an entirely ineffable task because there is absolutely no way that the totality of these remarkable human beings can be reduced to a paragraph or two … and because … if I concede to highlight only a small smattering of the magic in our moments, I must step over and omit  countless other things that are equally significant! Hence, my resistance.

It’s a conundrum of the highest order!  Even though I know there are not words … not enough words … and certainly not the right words to possibly express what being a mother to these three impeccable women has stirred within me, it also feels downright dismissive to perpetually postpone my attempt to capture what is in my heart and post it on this page.

And so, on this special day when we publicly honor and acknowledge motherhood around the globe,  I am inspired to give voice (at least a small bloggable snippet) to just some of what being the mother of Tiana Terae, Sherisse Shandell and Brittany Brooke has meant to me.

Childhood sisters

But … where on earth do I start?  I could begin by sharing that during my first pregnancy, I found myself thinking: “How hard could it be? People do this all the time … and more than once! If they can do it, I can do it.”  In fact, it would probably be fair to depict my pre-motherhood self as an acorn laying dormant, invulnerable and completely safe in the forest.  I was so damn put together before she arrived.  Solid.  Capable. Self-assured. Determined. In control.  I was convinced I had it all figured out. Yes, I could start here … but then again, maybe I should cut right to  the chase and speak about how the birth of my first daughter cracked me wide open. W–I–D–E open. Should I share how her presence rocked my world in the most magnificent and terrifying ways?  I could … but … how does one even begin to describe that kind of ecstatic moment?

With her twinkling eyes and a mop of dark hair … Tiana Terae, was chubbins and chuckles and cuteness to the core.  My soul tickled with delight at the sheer majesty of her beingness … and then spontaneously … the frighteningly fragile seeds of vulnerability that were tucked safely beneath my nicely defended exterior became entirely unguarded and totally exposed.  VULNERABLE … an ‘all caps’ kind of vulnerable. Insecurity. Joy. Anguish. Immense gratitude. Unadulterated fear. Indescribable enchantment. Unmitigated exhaustion. I felt blessed beyond comprehension and stretched beyond human capacity.

My precious, cherished, darling first born daughter, broke me open to experiencing a kind of love I never even conceived could exist … mother love. I had never imagined such emotion was humanly possible. And it rattled me to the core. I fiercely attempted to hold it all together with some semblance of grace … I couldn’t bear the thought of failing her and falling short of being/doing all that she so richly and rightly deserved! I floundered miserably as I struggled to hold tight to that people-pleasing, high-achieving, perfectionist self that I knew myself to be.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never, ever, not in a million years be the same person again.  I thought, in those moments, that I was losing myself but in retrospect I can see that my daughter’s inner strength actually saved both of us.  I had no idea that I would only really, truly find my authentic Self after I felt like I had lost my precious first born in the teen years.  But, unbeknownst to me … the very best was yet to be!

And sweetie, through it all, you were so loving and forgiving and tender and true.  You were  strong, caring, capable, and competent.  You refused to let my mistakes mar the making of the magnificent, miraculous, munificent masterpiece that is you.  You brought such light to the dark.  And, you still do.  You are so thoughtful, supportive, conscientious … and … incredibly trustworthy.  Your loving loyalty and unwavering commitment is entirely incomparable. You speak straight from your good heart … you are candid and honest and refreshingly real. And people feel safe and secure with you … because they truly are!   Because of you sweetie, I was inspired to heal the pains of my past. Because of you, I started upon the most life-altering journey of my lifetime! I was so lost and you helped me find me.  I cannot begin to thank you enough. I am truly so much better because I got to be your mom. ❤

Yes, it seems sensible to start there … but then again … maybe it would serve better to start with the incredulous bliss I experienced with my second born. Sherisse Shandell arrived with much less turmoil and turbulence in my heart.  I was more familiar with the landscape of motherhood … more prepared for the pearls and pitfalls of parenting.  I was more savvy than the first time … except during the nights. Even though she would sleep, I would wake up and check on her … often. Ridiculously often.  It’s crazy how vulnerable you feel when you are gifted with such an entirely irreplaceable joy … such a precious and cherished miracle.

Her safe arrival was such welcome relief. I had gone into labor for a few hours in my seventh month of pregnancy, and as a result, my final trimester felt somewhat fragile. There had to be stress tests because the measurements didn’t add up. And, she didn’t move much.  And they warned me that she might very, very tiny.  I tried hard not to catastrophize, but it was difficult to calm myself when my anxious mind taunted me mercilessly about how I dared to hold out hope that we’d get another healthy child. I was gripping her so tightly in my heart as I yearned for the moment when I would be cradling her tenderly in my arms. And so, when I found myself holding her for real  … all 6lbs and 13 ounces of her … it pained me to let her go … to set her down. I was derailed by the fear of what might happen … if I left my post … if I turned my back …  if I actually dozed off …………………

And despite those incessant neurotic nigglings, she sweetly and gently invited me to simply bask in the many joys of motherhood. Less frantic. More assured. Deeply blessed. Dare I say more comfortable. Yes. More confident.  When her dad left to work away on the rigs for three weeks (just two months after she arrived), I remember the hours that I just sat there in solitude, during the dark of the night … swelling with gratitude as I watched her sleep. Or while she nursed … I would gaze into her eyes with absolute reverence for our seemingly clandestine, post-partum nocturnal tryst while she gripped my finger as though she would never ever let go. Surreal. Sublime. Entirely divine. Unmitigated bliss.

SSL - 6 mos

Sweetheart …. through the years, you inspired me to grow into a more humble and conscious parent … more responsive than reactive … more pensive than perfect. You were so reflective and considerate and open to seeing all sides of things.  Your benevolent being invited me to step into being much kinder to everyone … including myself. Because of your gracious, kind and magnanimous heart, I began to realize that despite my various shortcomings, maybe just maybe … I was enough.  Maybe, just maybe, I was worthy of your love.  You were such an exquisite embrace of all that is exceptional, heartfelt and true … the purest essence of empathy, compassion and integrity.  You would intuitively see the hearts beneath the faces and the tears behind the smiles.  You still do. And I thank you from the deepest place in my being for all that you are sweetheart. I am so much better because I got to be your mom. ❤

But, then again, maybe this tribute would be better served if I began by speaking about our  debate/decision to have a third child. Almost three years had quickly ticked by and although my husband was content parenting two adorable, ruffly, pony-tailed cherubs … I was not yet convinced our family was complete.  So, I tendered my best argument in favor of a third … not really sure how I would actually manage it, because it was around that time that my husband had started working construction by day and was farming by night. We decided that it would only be feasible to have a third child if (s)he could arrive between mid October and the end of February (when farming was not such a demanding part of the equation).  It seemed like a ridiculously short window  … and so … we agreed to let the Universe decide.

I had done the math in terms of maximizing conceptual probabilities, but life got in the way and I sadly suspected that we had missed the optimal moments to conceive.  So … I can assure you it felt like nothing short of sheer rapture and rhapsody when I began to feel the twinges of new little life stirring within my body. What??  Wait. No … don’t get excited. It just could not be. And when the pregnancy test came back negative, I chalked it up to wishful thinking. But … I still kept feeling pregnant.  And, low and behold over time … it was confirmed that our new little love was due to arrive on February 26th … just two days before the official ‘there will only be two’ deadline. So, although our little angel was so strategically planned, she was also a magical, miraculous and welcome surprise!

Once again … I am without words to describe the abundant glow of grace that circled my heart space and nourished my soul with the news!  And many asked if we were “trying for a boy”. No. Nope. Nada. Not for one little minute. The prospect of wrapping our third little cherub in pink ruffles and lace was not only practical (we had all the girly stuff) … but … deliciously delightful because we already had precious proof that we made really, really, adorable girls.  Yes we did!

And, much to my surprise, mothering my third daughter took me to a whole new vista … to brand new and completely uncharted ground. I found a stronger semblance of faith in the divine order of things. Trust. Surrender. Optimism. Confidence that although I still had so much to learn, I probably wouldn’t/couldn’t mess her up completely.  I trusted that she was going to soar despite me, not because of me. It was both humbling and liberating! Brittany Brooke tickled our hearts with her gregarious giggles, her enthusiastic charm and her highly determined “I do dat” chutzpah.  She wore her ‘joie de vivre’ as boldly as the unique color combinations that she picked out for herself by herself. She knew exactly what she wanted and zealously pursued all her dreams, desires and delights … with the most radiant sense of abandon.  And she still does.

BBL - 6 mosHoney, because of your eager, energetic and enthusiastic attitude, I was witness to how you claimed and embraced the juicy joys along your path.  I so admired your “all in” engagement with possibility and your persistent pursuit of whatever made your heart sing. You are the most picturesque portrayal of pure potentiality and passionate promise. With your sparkling spirit and affable attitude you adeptly demonstrated how one can proactively seek out and savor special moments rather than reactively just accepting what comes along. Because of you, I could no longer deny my own intrinsic pull towards resurrecting my dusty dreams. I allowed myself to pursue my own passions. Growing. Stretching. Blossoming. Becoming. Because of you, I continue to explore/evaluate who it is that I would most want to be and what it is that I would most love to do … thank you for that honey. I truly thank you.  I am so much better because I got to be your mom. ❤

And although these reflections represent merely a sliver of what lies within each of you … and offer just a wee glimpse of the space that we share with each other, I wanted to acknowledge, in some small way, the big difference you have made in my life. You have gifted me, in terms of my own growth and evolution, in such salient and significant ways. As children, you helped me make peace with my past, find the grace and goodness in the present and shape a future that honored my deepest dreams and desires.  As adults, you continue to nourish my soul and kindle my internal flame. The best parts of my being have been inspired because of you.  I honestly believe that our relationships go far beyond that of mother and daughter … they represent my deepest and most meaningful expressions, experiences and examples of LOVE.  

And so, on this day devoted to honoring motherhood … I am thanking my lucky stars that I got to be your mom. It remains an indescribable joy … a priceless gift that I deeply cherish.  And, I must also say that my heart skips a beat when I see your own mother love spilling so richly over my precious grandchildren. The radiant and reckless abandon reflected in that kind of love tickles treasured places that are tucked deep in my soul and it takes my breath away. Every. Single. Time.

Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful daughters … who are three of the most exceptional mothers on this planet!  I love you … from those places in my heart that I never knew existed until I got to be your mom!  ❤ ❤ ❤

             Tiana Terae       Sherisse Shandell       Brittany Brooke

 

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Because of You Dad … I Believe in Miracles!

This inspiring passage was my dad’s mantra for living life!

It’s my dad’s birthday today.  I’m celebrating this man even though he won’t be blowing out any candles today.  He was thoroughly enjoying an outdoor dinner five years ago … and just after he exclaimed“This is great!” … he was gone.  His enthusiasm aptly reflected his new found intention to live such ‘a radiant life’.  And he was really beginning to do so, but it certainly wasn’t always that way. His metamorphosis took the most unexpected path. In fact, it was nothing short of a miracle.

Although it’s a cultural faux pas to speak ill of the dead, my dad was a tough man to love for the first 70 to 75 years. Turbulent might be the best word to describe him.  He was a really deep thinker and felt most comfortable in the cerebral, cognitive, and intellectual domain. He was very well read and absolutely brilliant, but he had some really, really, really sharp edges.  In the blink of an unexpectant eye, his pent-up emotions could erupt viciously and bite right through you … yes, very turbulent.

At times, it was tempting to think him cold and hardhearted … except that he was so incredibly tender, loving and nurturing when it came to his pets. He would do anything for them! So much so that when push came to shove one year and he had to choose between spending time with me or leaving his dog behind … I lost. Truth. But we won’t get into the dismal details of that Thanksgiving occasion right now.

I inherited his propensity for living in my head and spent the first 30+ years of my life stuffing my own emotions too.  It worked pretty well to avoid uncomfortable feelings, but it seems you can only stuff so much before the body says no more. I ended up in the office of an Internal Specialist.  He had barely introduced himself and was still shaking my hand when he nonchalantly asked, “Did you have a happy childhood?”

What??  I was completely blindsided! This was not the line of questioning I was expecting while seated stiffly on the four foot gurney covered with the paper sheet.  I flushed bright crimson with embarrassment when I spontaneously started crying. He compassionately apologized for sparking my upset, but added that he was collecting mounting evidence to suggest that people with gastrointestinal issues have unresolved emotional wounds. His own informal research was confirming his suspicion that “the gut is the barometer of the soul”.  Hmmm …

He ordered all the necessary tests, but in the same breath, asked if I’d be open to seeking some counseling.  Yes. Yes I would.  And, just as the good doctor had suspected, the tests confirmed that physically, I was just fine.  That was the good news. The bad news was that I was booked with a counsellor and was going to have to move out of my head and into my heart.

And so began the best excavation of my life.  The hardest … but the best.  I didn’t have a clue what to do with all of the emotion that was percolating up inside of me, so as part of my own healing process, I put it on paper.  I wrote a long letter to my dad … calling a spade a spade … fastidiously acknowledging all the parts of my pain that were connected to him. I had no plans to send to him that tear stained letter … but in a moment of blind instinct, courage faith … I did.

I never received a direct response from him, but very shortly thereafter, I got a frantic call from my step-mother. An ambulance was en-route the hospital … with my father in it. Apparently, she and my dad had been talking about my ‘letter’ over lunch and right there and then, he had a heart attack.  A heart attack!  Had my letter inspired a heart attack??  I felt entirely sick.

As I sped to the hospital, I was fully intent on apologizing … determined to retract my ‘truth’ in favor of his well being … fully intent on re-burying the pain between us. I was beyond stunned to find my internist standing at the nursing station. What on earth was my internist doing in the ER room??  By some strange coincidence (or perhaps by divine design?), he was the ‘on call’ doctor and had just examined my father. He pointed back to my father and incredulously inquired: “Is that YOUR dad?”  My heart was heaving with regret that spilled more tears down my cheeks as I solemnly nodded and explained what had happened.

He re-aimed his pointed finger straight at me.  I inhaled deeply – emotionally bracing myself – but he blindsided me again!  Instead of blaming me for causing my father’s plight, he looked me square in the eyes and said: “Don’t you let him off the hook.” 

What??  I trembled at the thought. How on earth did he know what I was thinking?  He shook his head and very kindly but firmly repeated himself.  “Don’t you let him off the hook.”  My heart was pounding out of my chest. My mind was reeling … did I dare to heed his directive?

And so, I reached out to my dad, but did not retract my ‘truth’.  Ultimately, he survived … both the heart attack and my heart-aching honesty.  Ironically, by not retreating from that transparent space of truth, my dad gained an opportunity to apologize to me.  And, it turned out that he was finally able to trash a different letter that I had written when I was 14ish (also calling a spade a spade).  I had no plans to mail him that letter either, but I learned that without my knowledge, my mom had sent it to him.  I found out that he had been carrying it around with him for almost four decades –in his wallet – so he could pull it out and beat himself up on a regular basis. I never knew …

We were learning a lot about each other and healing some things when he got prostate cancer.  And the radiation treatments burned his intestinal track. He developed colitis.  It was so downright shitty for him (please excuse the tactless pun). He was relegated to wearing a diaper and made countless trips to the toilet around the clock. Between the endless runs to the toilet during those sleepless nights, he distracted himself with a book I had loaned him called A Course in Miracles.  It’s a deep and challenging text, but my dad was able to stick with it … and … things began to shift in a most miraculous way.

And so, for about the last five years of his life, he became the father I always longed to have. He lived his life ‘radiantly’ … in a profound state of grace that was both inspiring to experience and amazing to witness.  His sharp edges were replaced with a loving energy that infused his words and landed joyfully in the heart of whomever he engaged with.  He met each day with infinite love and gratitude.  He ‘radiated’ this joyful spirit and offered unlimited love and acceptance wherever he went.  It was entirely sublime … and … often seemed totally surreal.  We even took a trip to Phoenix (leaving the dog behind) to a Celebrate Your Life Conference so we could hear some of our favorite writers and spiritual leaders in person!  It was phenomenal to share that time together with him.  All in all, I found myself in a perpetual state of awe and wonder often questioning  “Where the heck did my dad go?” 

When we celebrated his 80th birthday, I decided it would be nice for all of us to pay tribute to him and let him know how much his new found ‘radiance’ had touched all of our lives.  When it was my turn to share, I read from the card I had written to him:

“So, Dad, I’m not sure where our story together began … but it seems that two very left-brained, intellectual souls made a commitment  to stretch one another to a greater level of love … to help each other learn through the joys and sorrows, trials and tribulations of this ambiguous journey we’ve been on.

One of the things you and I have enjoyed the most is our conversations and discussions … deeply reflecting upon the words and thoughts of other people. I want to acknowledge how much our relationship has grown and flourished over the past few years and how grateful I have been for the times you have been there to support me. 

You put no fences around my thinking and made no effort to direct my life for me. I always knew you would listen without judgement and stretch me to a new way of seeing things. You convinced me that whatever I could conceive of, and believe in, that I could achieve. I credit you with the resilient attitude I have developed over the years.  I always knew I could re-gain my own strength by connecting with you. 

And so, here we are … you are 80 and I am 50, and although there has been a lot of space in our togetherness over the years, we’ve made up for a lot of lost time.  Somehow , we have found a semblance of peace in the chaos … some sense of meaning in the meaningless … and a deep sense of love and loyalty has emerged from all our painful stories of the past …

Here’s to many more years … I love you Dad.

I had no way of knowing that I was only going to get a few more months with him, but I’m sure glad we took that opportunity to share our sentiments with him.  It seems that more often than not in life, we don’t make the effort to tell people how we feel about them while they are still alive to hear it. (One of the reasons for this blog.)

Ultimately, my dad fulfilled his intention of living a ‘radiant life’ … and … we were all witness to a real life miracle. I never would have believed the man I called dad for the first 75 years was the one I said good-bye to 5 years later.

A celestial benediction has been defined as ‘an invocation of a blessing’ and Longfellow contended that the trials and tribulations of our lives are really celestial benedictions in dark disguises sent not to try our souls but to enlarge them.  I can see that now.  We had no way of knowing that my ill health was actually the catalyst that would spark our reconnection.  Who could have guessed that my internist was placed in my life to invoke my emotional healing instead of my physical well-being. We could never have predicted that my dad’s heart attack would spark his emotional transformation either! And, we certainly couldn’t see at the time that my Dad’s nocturnal ‘suffering’ was the ultimate celestial benediction!  It turned out that his ‘radiation’  treatments really were the ultimate invocation to live a ‘radiant’ life!  We had no way of knowing that all those trials were actually the blessings in dark disguises that would lead us to the most miraculous moments we had ever shared as father and daughter.   We were truly witness to a miracle!  It seems crystal clear in retrospect …

And so, I am writing this letter and intentionally sending it out to the ether because I want you to know Dad that I am so much better because of your presence in my life!  And not just for those ‘radiant’ years.  I can see so clearly now that our life-long relationship was truly a beautiful miracle in the making!  I’m still unwrapping the blessings …

With a radiant glow in my heart, Karen

One of those miracle moments during last Christmas together ... 2008

One of those miracle moments during last Christmas together … 2008

 

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Aunt Mil … Better Because Your Eyes Lit Up!

Everyone needs someone in their life who enthusiastically invites them to exist in their presence. Thank you, Aunt Mil, for your warm welcome into the world.  You were holding my newborn self in this picture … and … little did I know, but you would continue to hold me in so many ways significant ways over the years to come.

Me and Aunti MilThank you Aunt Mil … for the light in your eyes and the love in your heart that eagerly rolled out to greet us when we traveled six hours to see you.  I will never forget how your arms were so enthusiastically out-stretched (as far as they could possibly reach!) to embrace us as quickly and tightly as humanly possible!  It makes my heart smile when I recall you saying … with heartfelt and joyous conviction “Get IN here!”  I really needed to hear that passionate invitation to exist in your presence and you offered it … over and over and over again. Thank you for inviting me to feel like it really mattered that I was on the planet.  

Thank you for all your unspoken understanding. Thank you for holding me, holding my heart and being the loving spirit I needed when my mom (your little sister) was simply not able to be there for me due to her mental, emotional and physical ill-health.  Thank you for seeing the ‘truth’ of my childhood experience despite my best efforts to conceal it … and … inspiring me to create something better (without ever  actually uttering a word to me about it).  I treasured how your eyes would always greet my heart with such exuberant energy.  Maybe you knew how much I needed that too. Thank you for giving the kind of hugs that made me feel like you really meant it!

Thank you for your energetic radiance … and for daring to live ‘bigger‘ than you were ever supposed to … especially as a woman – way back in those days.  Thank you for boldly setting the bar higher for who and what all women could actually consider doing and becoming.  You bravely traded the image of ‘poor widow’ in exchange for ‘brilliant, capable and competent business woman’.  And you did it with such panache … such bold, charismatic and elegant flair! Thank you for inspiring me to believe I could take whatever life dished out … and … transform it into something better!  Thank you for teaching me that we should never let life’s challenges dictate our outcomes.

Still Fabulous @70 years of age

Still Fabulous @70 years of age

Oh my … you brought so much light to the world!  My heart cherishes so many special memories of  you and with you … including:

  • Coffee persistently boiling over on the stove.  You said it wasn’t sufficiently “dee-lish” until it bubbled up and over onto the burner and left a big ole mess to wipe up … or not.
  • The numerous summers I spent with you … amusing myself while you worked your fingers to the bone at the Early Dawn Poultry Farm.  One of my favorite pass-times wast decorating your basement as if I were a bonafied  ‘interior decorator.’  And I remember my delight, when upon completion, you would nod your head slowly – while meticulously inspecting every nuance of my newest design with just the right measure of good-natured approval!
  • All the food in your fridge that had expired and was long past the  ‘best before-date‘.  I never understood why it took you so long to tend to such things.  Now I get it.  You had your priorities straight! There were things in your life that were infinitely more important. You got around to it when you got around to it.  When I find expired and furry items in my own fridge now … I am affectionately and fondly reminded of you  🙂
  • Devouring your delicious Christmas feasts … complete with Swedish Lutefisk (which stunk to high Heaven!) and turnips served on the sideboard.  ALWAYS with the good china and real silver candlestick holders!  And … with the warm ambiance created by the Christmas lights strung up behind the curtain rods so the light cast down the sheers in amazing beautiful cascades of color. I’m not sure how you did it, but you always left us feeling  we were worth all that extra effort …
  • And … for setting such an example of unconditional love as you cared for your brother – my disabled Uncle Art – who sometimes frightened me.  He was bedridden, brain-damaged and disabled by an accident.  I watched as you cared for him for countless years with such dignity and respect and you never asked for a speck of recognition.
  • Hosting my wedding … for the endless hours and limitless love you put into making my day meaningful and memorable.  Our budget was so meager, so you offered up your backyard. I had no idea how much I would appreciate all the little extra bits of love you wove into the tapestry of that day … including unexpectedly hiring the 2 piece band that played in the grass while the dancing heels aerated your grass.  I still laugh when I think of you being bold enough to ask the Town Council of your small, rural home town to close down the public pool (located directly behind your fence) for 30 minutes so our outdoor nuptials would not be interrupted by the wet and wild Saturday afternoon swimmers.
  • Discreetly paying for my mom’s cemetery plot because you knew I had no way of affording the cost myself.  Most people would never have even thought about it … but somehow you did.
  •  Somehow straddling the heart-breaking family divide and tragic triangulation that resulted over your parents estate.  You managed to provide a loving refuge for my mom … and for each and every other family member … despite the forever fractured family dynamics.
  • And, lest I forget, for teaching me the importance of moisturizer.  I don’t use Pond’s Cold Cream, but … because of you, I always smear on a whole schwack of moisturizer.  You’re right, things just seem smoother that way.  🙂

You truly were my rock … my stability in a world run a muck … and … I think you knew it.  But you never said a word.  You just loved me and unselfishly  filled in the gaps.  I miss you.  I really, really, really miss you.  And, I really, really, really thank you.  You were hundreds of miles away for most of my life … but … only inches from my heart.  You still are.  It’s been 24 years since you unexpectedly passed, and yet, you remain unmistakably ‘felt’ within every aspect of my beingness.

Aunt Mil, I am so much better because of you …  and your love … and the beautiful light in your eyes which invited me to embrace life and shine on and be courageous … regardless of the circumstances! Thank you for being a model of energetic potential and enthusiastic possibility.  Thank you for that.  Really. I really needed that … but, then again, somehow you always knew what I most needed.

Forever inspired  … Karen XO

 

Mama Knows Best … Better Because of What You Taught Me!

Something your mom said

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be nourishing, inspiring and downright heart-warming to open up a space for us to share some of the ‘nuggets’ that we remember from our mother’s guidance and wisdom!

I hope you will join me in honouring these special women by posting a ‘reply’ with one of the things you will never forget her saying!

I’ll go first …  I thought about sharing some of the things she said most often:

  • “A change is as good as a rest”
  • “There is no virtue in suffering”
  • “Your dad is a good man … the alcohol is the problem.”
  • “Never mind … I can do it” (this one was laced with a subtle splash of guilt)
  • “Always do your best.”

BUT … as I pondered the question for a moment … it occurred to me that one of the most meaningful messages I got from my mom did not come in words

I must have been about 8 years old … and … my mom wanted to take me to the movies in order to get out of the house.  After consuming more 5 Star Whiskey than he could handle –  my dad had, once again, passed out on the couch.  She could see it coming  and she had asked him (when he was still coherent) if she could have some money to take me.  He had refused.  I can’t remember his rationale … but …

Once he was snoring, my mom proceeded to put her hands down the cracks of the sofa around him, searching for coins that had dropped out of his pockets over time.  She kept searching … and counting … until she had collected enough pocket change to get us on the #2 trolley bus …  which would take us to the theater downtown.  I don’t remember the movie we saw that night, but … here is what I heard her saying:

If there is a will, there is a way.”

      • If you really want something, think outside the box.
      • Don’t let someone defeat your dreams and goals without first exhausting ALL possibilities
      • Don’t give up your power in the presence of limitation.
      • Be brave in the face of your dreams, delights and desires.

 Such sound advice mama … thank you. Resilience is born of messages like that one!  I had no idea how often I would draw upon the wisdom of those words – never uttered aloud – but deeply heard in my heart.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom … xoxo Karen

P.S. Please join me in honoring our moms most memorable words!  It’s no fun to celebrate alone.  Be sure to post a little something you remember your own mom saying so we can collectively revisit those memories.  It will be fun to see the messages we recall –  the most common ones, the most unique ones, and of course, the funny ones …  🙂

 

God, Heaven and Hell: Better because of you … Mom

light remains

It’s my mom’s birthday today. She would have been 89 today … well, unless you asked her. Then she would have been 87. I found out after she died that she had been fibbing about her age … but just for all of my life. I thought my aunt made a mistake when she cited her birth date in the obituary. I guess back in that day, you didn’t want your fiancé to know you were older than him, so she claimed the birth year of her baby brother who deceased at 8 days of age. I found out a lot about my mom after she died …

I am a bit ashamed to admit that much of the time, I didn’t really appreciate her. I was aching to be one of the girls with the ‘white-picket fence’ moms. You know … the ones who baked cookies, had ‘sit-down’ suppers, attended the PTA meetings and took their daughters shopping for grad dresses. I was so envious of the girls who had mowed lawns, and siblings (especially the ones with older brothers who watched out for them). I wanted to be one of the girls that didn’t get their winter boots with a welfare voucher. And … I desperately DID NOT want to be the girl who found out their mom had been picked up for shop lifting. I hated being her. I know ‘hate’ is a strong word … but it really fits right here. I also hated that I got the mom that was found wandering aimlessly on the other side of town, crying and confused and they had taken her to the psyche ward. I didn’t want to be the one going to foster care … again. I wanted to be the one feeling sorry for the one going to foster care …

As I got older, I wanted the mom who made you chicken soup when you were sick, quilted baby blankets and brought casseroles for your freezer to celebrate the arrival of your new little cherub. I think I would have given up chocolate to have a mom who babysat your kids for you. I wanted the mom who would ‘be there’ when you didn’t think you could be a mother for even one more minute without hurting someone. I didn’t want the mom in a wheelchair. I wanted to be the girl that received calls offering to help instead of requesting it.

I really do miss what I wish  it could have been. BUT …

If I step out of THAT pity party for long enough, I can only feel so deeply blessed for all that we DID have. I had a mom, who gave up the very little that she did have to make sure I got the 36” bell bottoms from Black Sheep Boutique that all the two parent kids were wearing. God only knows what she went without and/or had to finagle so that could happen …perhaps this is where the shoplifting comes in?  I had the mom who slept in the front seat at the drive-in so my friends and I could eat popcorn in the back seat. I had the mom who talked with me for endless hours (even on school nights!) about deep philosophical subjects.  I had the mom who read cutting-edge books on psychology, religion, and new-age spirituality. She invited me to read them too.  She never once judged me for reading The Happy Hooker either.

And … what about God, Heaven and Hell?  I had the mom who equated God with LOVE. She said you can’t find God in a moment devoid of LOVE. I believe her. She told me that Heaven isn’t a place you go when you die … it’s an energy you experience when you are serving the greater good. She said Hell was the opposite. Hell was when you were out of integrity with your soul. It was when your spirit was suffering. That is pure hell.  I believe her. 

I had a mom who agreed to let me smoke at the age of 13 so I wouldn’t have to lie, sneak or betray my integrity about it. With her permission, I bought my first pack of smokes with two girlfriends. It cost us 20 cents each. (I forget who got the one cent change).  We each got eight ‘Craven M’s and we smoked them over tea and peanut buttered toast in my friend’s upstairs bedroom. I had the mom who trusted me to set my own curfew. And I came home on time. I had the mom who would put a few dollars (that she didn’t have to spare) into my wallet.  I would find it later, when I was out with friends.  I had the mom who never chastised me for getting puking drunk on dark rum and coke at my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding … she let the consequences teach me instead. I had a mom who bought ‘abstainers’ insurance instead, explaining that it was the best option given our meager budget. If I wanted to drive, I had to promise I wouldn’t drink. She trusted me. I was worthy of it.  I had the mom who left that car with me for a summer college class five hours away from home. She, despite her disabilities, opted to take the bus herself instead.

I had a mom who adored me.   She made sure I believed in myself … and … she cheered me on the very best she could. I had a mom who I KNEW BEYOND A SHADOW OF A DOUBT that she LOVED ME to the depths of her being. I’m not sure who I would have become had it not been for her unfailing love of me. Despite all her challenges … and … all the ways she was unable to ‘be there’ for me, I always, always, always KNEW she loved me. And yes … LOVE bridges darkness.

I really am so very grateful for all that we DID have.  I’m not sure I ever told her.

So, today, I am celebrating my mom because the light of her soul is still etched into my heart. And … her undying love is probably responsible for inspiring the very best parts of my humanity. There is no doubt about it Mom … I am so much better because of you … XOXO

Happy 89th 87th Birthday Mom!   And … thank you.   I mean it.  XO Karen

messy-beautiful-450b

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity for this essay and I to be part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Better Because of You – Jan and Nell Lanser

Oma and Opa - 2006ish

Dearest Mom and Dad,
It felt a bit like a dream come true when John took me out to your farm in Vauxhall for the first time in January 1976. I was a naïve, 17 year old city girl who had so very much to learn about life, love, commitment, and the profound meaning of ‘family’. As an only child growing up in what seemed like such shameful dysfunction, I had always longed to part of the magical chaos and heartfelt connection I saw reflected in big families. I had always envied people with brothers and sisters, and imagined how great it would be to feel like you belonged somewhere! I always wondered what it would be like growing up with people you don’t have to explain yourself to because they already know you … maybe better than you know yourself. I always wanted to be part of the laughter and loud conversations around the dinner table where people playfully competed for the last scrumptious piece of chocolate cake.

I got my first taste of all that almost 40 years ago and I have been enjoying it ever since! I am so grateful that I landed in the lap of your family and give thanks on a regular basis for all the blessings I have received in being your daughter-in-law. You have been ‘my parents’ in so many significant ways! Although many people complain about their in-laws, I do not! I can say that my mother-in-law has been a true mom to me over the years. She has filled an important gap in my life (especially after my own mother died over 20 years ago) and I treasure all the times we have shared, all the conversations we have had … and …all that I have learned about life and love from her. I also learned so much about tenacity and commitment and riding the storms of life together as I have watched my father-in-law rise to all life’s challenges with his strong character and tender heart! I have always admired his kind and generous spirit and ready willingness to help anyone he believed was in need.

I have born witness to the way you two have met the enormous adversity in your life with grace and faith and strength and humility. I have been inspired by the loyalty and commitment you have shown to each other. I am sure there were times when you weren’t sure you could go on and I know you have been through more in your lives than I will ever understand. I also know that although the hardships could have made you bitter … they didn’t! You both just became better. You have proved to me that “things turn out the best for those who make the best of how things turn out”! I don’t know how you have done it, but I wanted to let you know what amazing role models you have been for me! Because of you, I trust that I, too, can get through whatever life puts on my path.

Your presence has been such a gift in my life and I wanted you to know that I am better because of you. Thank you for making room in your hearts for me, for loving me like one of your own, and for being ‘there’ for me when I needed it most. I will forever cherish who you are, who you have been for me and who I have been able to become because of you!
I love you both from the depths of my soul …

Your grateful daughter-in-law,
Karen