I think it’s important to pay attention to what the people in our lives are teaching us. God brought them into our lives and connected us for a reason. It’s not always clear, initially, why these people are so important to our journey or even what it is that we are supposed to learn from them. I have been blessed enough to have amazing people in my life. I had amazing parents who taught me so many life lessons. They taught me how to love and care for others and they also taught me how to accept and love people who weren’t blood related but can be your family. Growing up a military brat really instills that in you and becomes a way of life. I have also been blessed to have amazing spiritual parents, aunts and uncles brought into my life via the military as well as a slew of amazing friends who are family to me. I’ve learned something from each and every relationship and it has blessed me in ways I will always remember. I think my first real big lesson in gratefulness came from my mom. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met. I am so grateful for the strength and guidance she instilled in me and my siblings.
When I was 14 years old my mom got diagnosed with cancer. She hadn’t been feeling well for a while. She had been to several doctors, at one point being diagnosed with high blood pressure. She knew that diagnosis was incorrect and later was diagnosed at Emory hospital in Atlanta with a rare form of cancer called POEM. At the time, it was most common in Asians. We later learned that it was contracted through a blood transfusion when my dad was stationed in Fort Knox, KY and she had gallstone surgery. Being 14 and learning that my mom had cancer was scary. That is the only emotion I felt during that time, fear. She went through treatment and had to stay in the hospital. I believe her and my dad shielded us from as much as they could of what she was going through. At the time it was just me and my two younger brothers at home. I remember seeing her when she lost her hair, which she hid that too for a long time and she had a lot of hair so seeing her with none was definitely emotional. The only way that I saw the loss was I accidentally walked in on her in the bathroom taking her wig off. She asked me not to tell my brother. I didn’t but once again there was fear there—seeing my mom weak, throwing up, unable to eat. I can’t imagine the strength it took for her to get up every day and to try to be present.
During that time frame I took on all the additional duties around the house. I washed clothes, ironed for my dad and brothers, attempted to cook meals, got my little brother off to school each morning, went to school each day to include my extra curricular activities and still maintained A’s and B’s. I think mentally to keep from focusing on what was going on I went into like helper mode. All I remember thinking about is what I could do to help. I know my parents appreciated it especially my dad. He was still trying to work on top of taking care of my mom, taking her to appointments or being with her on times she had to stay in the hospital, and trying to care for three kids at home. My oldest sisters lived in Atlanta.
Finally, my mom went into remission. She was cancer free! It was the best feeling. What was even better was watching her get back to doing things that she loved doing, like taking care of us, cooking, taking care of home, DRIVING. Oh my goodness. She hadn’t been able to drive for so long. She was so excited to get behind the wheel of the car and go to the grocery store. She had lost a lot of weight and never really quite gained that back but she was a small person anyway. Her hair grew back as well and it was healthier and longer than it had ever been. What I was seeing with my mom but didn’t immediately realize was gratefulness. She had been through a horrendous ordeal. I am sure there were moments when she was downright terrified and uncertain of the future. She always read her Bible. Both her and my dad believed in, prayed to and served God with all of their hearts. But I saw her reading her Bible more and more and relying on God’s word to keep her strong. I look back on that time frame and I don’t remember hearing my mom complain a lot and she had every right to! But she didn’t. She just took each day as it came.
Watching her journey first hand taught me that one, life will get hard. There will be things thrown at us that we cannot anticipate and it can be brutal. But we chose how to respond to that situation. We can make excuses. We can cry every day and be angry (and those are natural responses sometimes) but we can also choose to try to be positive. In the end, when we make it through that difficult experience we will realize we are stronger than we thought we were and that God will truly keep us. The second thing I learned watching my mom was gratefulness. There are so many basic things in life we take for granted such as cooking, cleaning, driving and being in good health. She taught me to appreciate those things and to appreciate the people in your life. Share in moments with them, spend time talking and laughing with them. I have so many memories sitting on her bed after being in remission watching tv and laughing. When she would ask me to do things for her like put this cream on her feet (her feet hurt after treatments and there was a cream that helped with that-she would ask me and only me to do it because I had soft hands LOL) I would be so happy to do that small thing for her. That small act of kindness taught me how important small acts of kindness are.
Although she’s no longer us, she was in remission for several years but passed in 2004, I carry the memories of her and the lessons learned in my heart. I am grateful for the short time I had with her and I am humbled and blessed by how she lead by example to appreciate life- to enjoy life’s experiences no matter how big or how small. I’ve heard people say so many times that we all have something to be grateful for. It’s so true. No matter how bad of a day, week, month or year we are having there is always something in those moments that we can look at and appreciate. I learned if my mom could learn to smile and be grateful through hard days of radiation and chemo, I can certainly learn to smile through bad days at work and crazy kids. How can you change your perspective? What can you be grateful for today? Tomorrow isn’t promised so start today looking at your world and your life a bit differently.