They always say it takes a village to raise a child. But who helps the kids that happen to be in their 20’s, ahem, or maybe their 40’s?
Adversity is a great teacher. It really brings out the best or worst parts of yourself. It also shows you who’s truly in your corner.
When I was 28, my beautiful, 33 year old sister was diagnosed with clear cell sarcoma. She was given a death sentence that day, in the form of a pamphlet that said the average life expectancy is 3 to 5 years. I was pregnant with my 2nd child and I remember feeling helpless. My sister made it 3 years before she lost her battle. The whole time she never lost her smile, she always treated people with kindness and she set out to experience as much as she could with my 6 yr old nephew before she passed away. After Katrina died, I became angry and withdrawn. I was thrust into the position of every other weekend “Aunty”, as my nephew would come from Brooklyn and stay with us. My childhood friends tried to reach out, but I was soley focused on making sure Joshua and my kids were alright. I let go many friendships that had meant the world to me before my sister became sick. When a family member has cancer, many people can relate to categorizing their life as BC (Before Cancer)and AC(After Cancer). There is no other way to shape things to me, as I know for my family, BC was an idyllic time, filled with lazy weekends at my parent’s home. The kids swimming, loud holidays, movies and weekend get togethers were the norm. AC was filled with leg amputations, surgeries, hospice, then death.
While my sister was battling cancer, my marriage started to fall apart. My once sweet husband was replaced with someone I barely recognized. He became abusive; to the point, we would have to leave our home when he was acting violent. One night when he came home and my kids started to shake before he even spoke, I knew it was time to change my life. I silently pledged to make sure serenity was a priority and that our home was a safe haven. I moved back home with my parents, finished college, then took a second job to buy my own home. During this time, I made amends with my village. I was blessed to be welcomed back with open arms.
As I got my life back on track, I finished college and bought a house for myself and my 2 kids. In the span of eight years, my life changed dramatically. I met my current spouse and we expanded our little family. We had a beautiful family with a home filled with friends, laughter, and love. Life was good. At 41, I delivered my fourth child. Within weeks of having the baby, my vision began to blur, I was dizzy all day long and had headaches that felt like electric shocks going through my brain. I was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation Stage 1. There is no cure. You can try to slow the progression of the symptoms with brain surgery. My symptoms became so debilitating that the best option was to have surgery. During this time, my little village of women stepped up and took the kids (the baby was only 6 months, we had a 3-year-old and my daughter was 13). My son was 17, so he worked and hung out with his friends to escape the reality of having a mom who just had a 7-hour brain surgery and could barely move. I had every muscle in my neck cut, and staples from the middle of my head to the bottom of my neck. Four inches of my skull was removed and I could barely hold my head up. I looked like Humpty Dumpty and was vacuuming food into my mouth like a Dyson. Fun fact: steroids had me eating like a contestant at a pie-eating contest. This wasn’t the same Mom he’s used to, I get it.
My village cooked, cleaned, took my babies to the park, made sure Kyle was getting rest, gave my mom a break, and still found time to visit me. This afforded me peace of mind to focus on recovery while I was in the hospital for a week. If I didn’t have this mighty army, I don’t know how well I would’ve fared. Even the hospital staff took notice of my crew. They called my room the “party room”. There wasn’t any time during my stay that my room didn’t have one of my friends making me laugh and bringing me my favorite cookies (again, steroids, lol). One of my girlfriends snuck into the ICU and slept next to me for days. She fed me like her baby since I couldn’t move my neck. I will always be grateful for her love. It’s pure love. With physical therapy and support, I started to begin my healing process. While I was recovering, my mom took a leave from her job to watch the baby every day.
A year after my surgery, my mom needed surgery to have a cyst removed from her ovary. It was finally my turn to spoil her and take care of her. I had already booked a surprise 70th birthday party for December to thank her for being an amazing mom and grandmother. During surgery, her doctor punctured her bowel. (I know, I cannot believe the trials I’ve been through either). As my mom lay on life support, I sent messages to the crew letting them know what was going on. One by one, they walked out of their jobs, and into the waiting room. One came with a bag of snacks, drinks, and blankets because she knew I wasn’t leaving. My other girlfriend (sneaky ICU mama) left her own hospital job to come hold my hand and just “lay eyes” on me. She was by my side when my mom took her last breath. While my mom was being taken off life support, I collapsed on the floor and sobbed my heart out. The memory is still raw as I type this. I always say this is the day my son became a man. Here’s this lanky 18-year-old kid who pushed through everyone trying to get me up. I remember hearing him say “Mommy, get up”, then feeling his arms around me. He picked me up off the floor and carried me to the waiting room. (Remember my foray into eating everything in sight? Yea, now imagine this kid effortlessly picking me up!). My body may have failed me, but not my village. They spent every day at our house after her passing, just watching me, trying to make sure I eat or taking the babies, yet again, so I could grieve.
That same village came to my rescue again, when I was diagnosed with Coronavirus this year. (At this point, I realize God has some twisted sense of humor). They risked their own health to make food or to come to my window and scream my name, usually at the top of their lungs (I didn’t say we’re always mature, *eyeroll*). They would text me daily for temp updates, remind me to walk, use steam, and “take your vitamin C”! I was extremely sick for almost 3 weeks. Hallucinations, tachycardia, 103 fever for six days straight. You name it, I had it. Kyle had to take on the role of Mommy and Daddy since I couldn’t be around the kids. This awesome, handsome man is my rock. I’ve definitely given this man more gray hairs then he can count. He’s the real MVP.
The women and men in my village are amazing. They know I would do the same things for them if the situation were reversed. I have. I will. We balance each other. We are connected enough to know when someone needs to be picked up. We’ll gather, cook, bring the wine, the brown liquor, the jokes, laughter, the rage. Whatever somebody needs in our village, someone else provides. We have all been through heartache, good times, bad times, marriages, divorces, babies, you name it. The one constant is the love and admiration we have for each other.
I refer to most of my friends as Phoenixes. We’ve all risen from the ashes and come out better. I know I have. Thanks to my village, I’ve been able to not only rise but soar.
Fierce Wifey and Mama to four feral children. Chiari Malformation Stage 1 butt kicker. Currently trying to figure out what life looks like after being diagnosed with a rare brain disorder. My super powers are: humor and the ability to make people feel like they’ve known me forever.