Her Illness Taught Me How to Live

Her illness was my lesson. It was my wake up call.

Her illness nearly broke my family. It knocked us down harder and lower than we could have imagined.

There were days we wanted to run away from it, and so did she. In fact, a few times she tried. She was tired of feeling as if she was a burden to us.

No wife and mother wants to live her life stuck in a hospital bed, watching her children grow and live their lives from the inside of a house. No wife wants to depend on her husband each evening to feed her and her daughter to get her ready for bed.

No mother wants to sit idle as her children experience the world and then come home to briefly report those lessons to her.

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My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis not long after my brother was born. She was told not to have more children because it may make her symptoms worse; it could shorten her span of life.

But she wanted a girl, too, so her and my father didn't listen, and hoped for the best.

I began taking care of my mother at age eleven. I spent my childhood watching her body fail her.

I was the daughter of a very ill mother with a disease that I knew would take her from us one day.

I remember when her walking became fragile and she began using a cane. I remember the transition from the cane to the walker, and the walker to the wheelchair. She relapsed like clockwork, always after an illness as simple as common cold.

I remember when she could no longer walk up the stairs to her bedroom, so she crawled, and I followed her. And then when she had no more strength to pull herself up those stairs, we installed a chair lift and we helped her onto it each night.

And when that was too much for her to do, we removed the couch from our humble living room, replacing it with a hospital bed where she would spend more than a decade of her life.

I remember when her meals had to be pureed for her to be able to eat them, as she lost her ability to swallow. When she tried and tried, but could no longer lift her own legs. I remember her constant apologies when she asked for help for simple tasks, like a drink of water or to adjust her head because her neck felt strained from being in the same position for too long.

I vividly recall her last attempt at driving. She loaded both my bother and me up into our old Monte Carlo parked in the garage. She was wearing her old, ratty green coat that had too many tissues stuffed in the pockets. She sat at the steering wheel as we waited in the backseat for her to start the car and back out of the driveway. But instead turning the key, she just sat there, hands trembling on the wheel (not due to nerves, that was just another symptom of the MS) and sobbed. She knew she would never drive again. She knew she could no longer safely transport her own children to a place as common as the grocery store.

I don't even remember how old I was or what we did that day, but I do remember going back in the house wondering what my mother was feeling. I honestly can't remember much about my childhood, but what I do recall is all centered around my mother.

I can't remember my favorite books or television shows, my favorite outdoor activity or even my favorite outfit.

But I can remember when my mother melted a plastic spoon on top of the stove, her lumpy mashed potatoes and her too-large purse with a million receipts and loads of tissues.

I can't remember the last time she brushed my hair or the last time she helped me pick out my clothes, but I can remember how her struggles made me feel.

As angry as I was at God for many years for giving us this life, for stripping my mother of her motherhood, for stealing my able-bodied mother from me, I now know that he gave us so much more.

We had to become broken in order to find out who we could be.

My brother is now 30, a wonderful husband and avid cyclist who's sense of humor could light up the skies. He got that from our mother, who despite her physical position, always greeted you with a smile and a goofy laugh.

My father, now a wonderful grandfather, took longer to bounce back, but has turned into a man who gives with his whole heart and who is no longer angry. His family had to fall apart for him to piece himself back together.

And I'm now a wife and mother myself. To say that I'm an advocate for health and wellness is an understatement. And I try very hard to raise my children with the lessons my mother taught me, the lessons she doesn't know she instilled...

...Everything can change in an instant.

...Your body is a gift.

...You, well, you can emotionally and mentally overcome anything.

...Keep God as your center no matter what you're going through.

...And most importantly, the legacy you leave behind can be greater than you ever imagined.

To follow Whitney on her journey through motherhood, visit her Facebook page.