Living a life of gratitude is something I strive to do every day and something I try to raise my children to do. I have found that there is always something to be grateful for. Every night, when we say our bedtime prayers with the boys, I ask them for three things that they are thankful to God for. Some nights they only have three, most nights they have much more than three things to be thankful for. It is truly beautiful to hear what they are thankful for.
My husband and I have been married for 27 years. We have four children — two girls ages 26 and 25, and two boys, ages 10 and 9. Each of our children have medical disabilities. Our oldest has lupus and has struggled with an eating disorder, severe anxiety and depression. Our second child suffered with arthritis since she was very little and there were days she could not go to school because the pain would just be too much. Our oldest son has autism and was diagnosed when he was two and a half. We knew he was different, but were surprised when he was labeled. Our youngest son has an entire list of disabilities — he has epilepsy with blue grand mal seizures, severe asthma, arthritis, a partially paralyzed voice box that collapses when he cries or gets stressed and shuts his airway so he cannot breathe. When he was a baby, he passed out all of the time from crying and, more often than not, he would go into a seizure.
I have always found a way to see the bright side of things and point out to my husband all the things we have to be thankful for. As you can imagine, life was pretty stressful around our house most days. I will always remember a time when things were not going very well and my poor husband was having a moment about how hard life was. I was telling him it wasn’t that bad, he started going through the list of everything we had going on and I looked at him and said, at least we are all healthy. He scoffed at me and asked me which one of the kids was healthy, my response was very serious and genuine…I said, well, not one of them has cancer. He said, “You want me to be thankful because none of the kids have cancer?” I simply said, “Yes, we are truly blessed.” He couldn’t argue with me on that one. My mother oftentimes called me Pollyanna because I always had so much I was thankful for. I guess I am good at playing the glad game.
In March of 2011, our younger daughter was in a horrific car accident and was not expected to survive the helicopter ride to the hospital from Cokato to HCMC. She had slid into oncoming traffic on Highway 12 on her way to school one morning. It was about 35 degrees below zero and very windy. The snow was blowing across the road and made for treacherous conditions. She was just a junior in high school. She suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. We were new in the area. We had only lived in Cokato about a year when the accident happened. The outpouring of love and support from so many strangers seriously overwhelmed my husband and me both. My husband changed so much after we experienced such unconditional love and support from so many people. The school started my autistic son in preschool, a few teachers bought him a backpack and school supplies, the dad of a friend of my daughter’s put on a fundraiser for gift cards for gas money and food while I stayed at the hospital to be with my daughter and to help with the driving back and forth for my husband. She almost died a few times during those first few days, but she is strong and she is a fighter. She ended up making a full recovery and defied all odds! We are so very thankful and blessed.
In times of struggle and hardship, it can be so easy to only see the storm we are in and forget to see all the beautiful blessings around us. This past year has been one of the hardest years my family has ever endured. My daughter, who was a 25-year-old single mother of a beautiful and vibrant 4-year-old daughter, was in a terrible accident Labor Day weekend in 2017. She was relaxing in a hammock with her daughter and her boyfriend when she became overwhelmed with anxiety. She asked my granddaughter to go play on the playground and give mommy a break for a little while. As my granddaughter ran to the playground, about 20 feet away, the tree that the hammock was tethered to uprooted and came crashing down onto my daughter’s head, shattering her C5 vertebrae and paralyzing her instantly from the neck down. She was airlifted to HCMC from Bemidji Hospital and underwent emergency surgery to try to repair her spinal cord.
You cannot know how thankful we all are that my granddaughter was not in that hammock when the tree fell, how thankful that our daughter did not lose consciousness when the tree landed on her head, that she was able to communicate with her boyfriend to get her help, that she was able to keep her young daughter calm while the paramedics came and had to take her mommy away. In such a tragic event, there we were, being surrounded by so many blessings. My daughter knew she broke her neck. She was able to tell her boyfriend not to move her as he wanted to pick her up and put her in his truck to get her to the hospital. Had he moved her, he may have killed her.
My daughter spent seven months in hospitals and rehabilitation in the metro while she fought to recover enough to be able to go home and continue to work on therapy to try to gain strength and movement. This time of our daughter being in the hospital so far away with two young boys at home and my granddaughter to care for, were the darkest days of my life to this day. However, during this time, my family received so many blessings from so many people. Our school had a fundraiser for our family and gave us gift cards for fuel, groceries and various restaurants in town. A mom from school brought our family a meal every week for months, another mom from school who works for a lumber yard told her boss of our story and her employer donated all the lumber for us to build a handicap ramp so we could bring my daughter home for the day for Thanksgiving. Our principal put an email out requesting help with the assembly of the ramp and a few amazing families showed up and helped us put the ramp together in just a few hours on a very bitterly cold November Saturday. The list of things people did for us could go on and on. What I focused on during this hard time was all the things I had to be thankful for. The laughter of our children, the sunset, the sunrise, birds chirping, the deer passing through our backyard, the love we have for one another, the gift of belonging to such an amazing school family like St. Katherine Drexel, the outpouring of prayers from so many incredible people.
In reading my story, it seems unreal, like it has been so much, but the truth is, it is just life. We all have hardships, struggles and just plain terrible days. We also have a choice. We can choose to go through life looking at all we have to be unhappy about, or we can see the joy and blessings in every day. Even the days we wish were over are full of blessings all around us. The smile of a stranger, the laughter of a child, the smell of the rain, the sun shining in through the window, the birds singing, the frost on the trees, the fact that you are alive…you are so truly blessed by God. Cherish life and love every moment.