Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Special Kind of Mother's Day Reflection with guest blogger Heather Von St. James

Today in celebration of Mother's Day, I am celebrating the spirit of mothers with a guest blogger, my friend Heather Von St. James. Heather and I had become friends through our blogging and had the opportunity to meet in person last summer, when I traveled to Minneapolis. It was a very special visit I enjoyed with her that day. 

This is a special kind of letter Heather wrote to her young daughter Lily as once my late mother wrote me, which I treasure. Heather's letter to her daughter touched my heart to the core, so I want to share it with you today. It is a letter Heather describes as, "The Mother's Day letter I never thought I'd write".

In November of 2005, Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, and in her words the doctor said the word, “cancer”, but what she heard was that she might not be able to raise her three month old daughter, and her husband might become a widower after just six and a half years of marriage. She fought to live, to survive and is celebrating 10 years of receiving the amazing words every person diagnosed with cancer hopes to hear. She chooses to celebrate on the designated day each year in an amazing way, and I will have her share another guest blog post about this special way of celebrating.

The following picture and letter is re-printed from Heather's original post on her blog with her permission to share with you on this day celebrating the special women in our lives. Thank you, Heather, for being an inspiration in my life.

My Dearest Lily,

Every day, as I watch you play and grow into a big girl, I can’t help but think: this isn’t the life we had imagined for you. I can’t say we had everything planned out, but any plans we did have went out the window the minute I was handed a cancer diagnosis.

We planned on raising you and being there for you every step of the way, day after day, month after month — cancer changed that.  We had to make so many sacrifices when you were a baby, hoping our actions would save my life so I could be here to raise you. It wasn’t fair. You were so tiny, so serious. All you needed was your family to love you and take care of you.

You didn’t know that our lives were in turmoil — we made sure of that. When I held and nursed you, I would study every detail of your face, your pudgy little hands. Tears would slip down my cheeks as I silently begged God to not take me away from you.

I was so afraid I might not get to raise you, nurture you, teach you. It’s why we had to make the hard choices we made.  I’m so thankful for our families, who so selflessly stepped up when everything came crashing down. They dropped everything to come to our aid. Your Mae Mae and Papa took you in and raised you while your dad and I had to go to Boston so I could fight the cancer that was growing in my body.

You were just 6 months old when I had my surgery. I still remember the day we left for Boston. Our flight left at 11a.m.  Your flight with my mom left an hour later. Before we boarded, I held you close, not knowing if that would be the last time we would see each other. My heart broke that day, but we knew it had to be this way.

The surgery was a success, and as I healed in the hospital, your Mae Mae sent me emails every day with pictures of you. I watched your 6th month of life from a hospital bed. You looked so happy. Everyone loved you. How could they not? I know you don’t remember it, but you made a lifelong impact on many people.

I will never forget our reunion. After a month of being away from you, you looked at me like you didn’t know who I was. I was heartbroken. I put you on my lap and watched you watch me. I started to sing the song I used to sing to you to help you sleep, and suddenly your eyes widened, you smiled, and rested your head against my chest. It felt like you were telling me, mommy, it’s you! Everyone in the room cried tears of joy.

The rest of that year was a blur. You were the reason I had the courage and strength to get through the chemotherapy that left me bedridden for a week. When I didn’t feel well, it was as though you knew. You didn’t complain when different people would come take care of you while I had my treatment. You brought joy to your daddy while he watched me struggle. You were the bright spot in a very dark time.

When I tell you that you saved my life, I mean it. Your laughter, your smile — everything about you got us through.

We’ve never hidden the fact that I had cancer. It’s a part of our lives , it has shaped you and us as a family. You never knew me as anything other than what you see today. Sometimes, I wish you had known the old me, the me who worked hard and had endless amounts of energy to do things. But that isn’t the case.  Instead, you have a mom who was able to be with you, raise you, do things at your school with you. I’m the mom who gets phone calls from patients all over the world. Who cries because someone she was talking to passed away. I’m the mom with the crazy hair who just wants more than anything for you to live your life to the fullest and become all you want to be. I’m the mom who loves you fiercely and whose heart hurts when you hurt. But more than anything, I’m the mom who was saved by this impossibly tiny baby 10 years ago, who has turned into the coolest kid I know. I’m so proud to be your mom, and so proud of who you are.

I still see glimpses of that serious baby from 10 years ago, but mostly I see an amazing kid who loves animals and has a heart as big as the world. I’m so happy that I’m here for you, to be with you, to raise you. You make my life complete. I just need you to know on this 10th Mother’s Day of being your mom, I can’t thank God enough for giving you to me, and me to you. You are my everything and it’s my honor to be your mom.