Today at a team building activity, I was able to create new memories and, most importantly, celebrate my late mother’s birthday on a sweet note by doing one of her favorite things, indulging in chocolate and learning about artisan chocolate making! Throughout my life I have been enrolled in various therapies. Chemo therapy, art therapy, infusion therapy, exposure therapy– you name it, I’ve probably done it. While I work through my uphills and downhills of medical, emotional, and trauma struggles each week with specialists, today I had the best therapy of all– chocolate therapy! There was no better way that I could have celebrated my late mother’s birthday.
For those short five years that I was blessed enough to know my mother, I was attached at her hip. We spoke in sign language most of the time, as I was fairly mute, but she was the only person who completely understood me. When you are diagnosed with GERD and Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at less than a year old, I’d only assume that it would be natural to be glued to one of your parents and I chose my mom from an early age. My dad worked three jobs to support us so that my mom could be home with us girls. I would throw tantrums when she wasn’t there to comfort me during my pain. The only other person that could watch me without me crying was my grandfather, “Poppy”.
So, each year on my mother’s birthday, Poppy and my father would watch my sister and I so that my nana and mother could go to Newport, Rhode Island for shopping. It was a tradition that they carried for 20 years. Every year, they’d spend a few hours at the chocolate factory and would pick out my poppy a Newport dark chocolate soldier.
They’d plan for this trip every year, marking the day off in the calendars that were always warn from filling out appointments and notes. That was Mom’s day and my nana always made sure it was extra special for someone who was so selfless. My mother was one of those people who genuinely did what was the best for society. She stuck up for disability rights, helped to form new vocational programs to give inner city kids early childhood educational hands on experience, stayed after school to help high schoolers work on projects, tutored mentally disabled students who never were understood, and fought for each individual child’s needs– no matter the cost of her time or money. She would put parents in their place when they weren’t being supportive of their child’s disability needs and would educate communities about handicaps. She was THAT teacher– the one you were terrified of, but the one that you would go to before anyone else on this Earth.
She was also that parent who stayed up late leaving voicemails on doctor’s office phones, riding the train in the freezing cold to take me to Boston’s best pediatric Rheumatologists and Gastroenterologists, and the first one to tell a doctor that they weren’t doing a good job. She was point and blank and it makes me laugh.
What I love about hearing stories about her is that I am so much like her– I have her gumption, her determination, her brave spirit and independence, her compassion for disability rights, and her laugh. She was one tough cookie, but always did best for the world. Every single day, I aspire to be like her. This blog has a lot to do with her work and I know that I must continue to raise awareness and support for all of us. Much of my work is in her honor and while I don’t talk about her much, she is always with me, egging me on to be the boisterous one for our rights.
While I may not have her thick Rhode Island accent, I was able to enjoy a piece of what felt like home tonight. They say home is where the heart is and while Rhode Island was our home, so many of the traditions can be carried out throughout the world to make you feel like you are continuing those traditions and living through those wonderful memories she once cherished.
I don’t have many memories of my mom and often, I watch home videos to try and remember who she was. The only memory I have of her voice is of her saying, “bye-bye”. We were in a school parking lot near her van, talking with someone. It was sunny. Though tears fell the day she died, if my last memory of my mom was on a sunny day, I think it’s only fitting that I look on the bright side. Today I chose to be happy.
I celebrated the good times with her and her legacy in Rhode Island’s early education department by creating a new memory of my mom. While she wasn’t with me physically, she was completely with me spiritually while I learned about the chocolate making process and decorated my own chocolate bar. She always filled a room with laughter and today my laugh bounced off each wall in the chocolate shop. I was surrounded by people who I am incredibly blessed to call my Oregon family. While I see them every day, sometimes we forget how much love and support they give to us. Today, I soaked it all up. She led me to these kind, loving people, and today I enjoyed their wonderful spirit.
No words can express how blessed I am to have my coworkers in my life through both the good and bad times. This year has been one of the toughest years of my life, perhaps even the toughest yet. Tonight, though, I chose to create memories that are fun and bright for her and for me because I know that is what she would want. I left the chocolate shop happy on what used to be a sad day every year and I know that my mom is looking down, overjoyed, to see me so well supported, loved, and happy.
To my co-workers who made such an important day in my life so special, thank you. You are my rock and I am incredibly blessed and fortunate to be on your team.