Parenting is hard work on a good day, but add a disabled child in the mix and it can become arduous and easily overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, parenting is one of the biggest blessings and most fulfilling things I have ever done in my life. But, let’s be honest, some days it is just plain hard work.
Faced with the challenges of raising a large family and a disabled child in the 1960’s when resources for the disabled were pretty much non-existent, my mother could have given in to depression and despair. Oh, I am sure she had her moments. But, for the most part, my mother chose to move forward in life with hope for the future while finding joy in the little things in life. She did the best that she could for her family, and especially my disabled sister. It wasn’t easy, but she just kept moving forward. Every time life knocked her down, she got back up and tried again.
If you asked my mom, she would say that she didn’t do anything special. She thinks her life hasn’t had much of an impact outside her own family, but I am here to tell you that she is wrong.
Last summer, my sister’s and I gathered at my mom’s house for a weekend garage sale. It was really just an excuse to spend time with my mom, and sit around and visit all day. We sold very little, but we had a great time all weekend. One of the few people who stopped by the garage sale, was a close friend from high-school, Carol Collister.
Carol and I didn’t get to see one another very often, but we kept in touch and she still lived in the old neighborhood. When she stopped at the garage sale that day Carol did something extraordinary. Carol told my mother that it was because of her example working with my disabled sister that Carol chose to work with autistic children. She said my mom was her inspiration. I get tears in my eyes just thinking about how special that moment was for my mother. The words Carol spoke gave validation to my mother that only before had she heard from her family.
A little over a week ago, I learned that Carol was in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. I was shocked and thought she must have been in a car accident. I later learned that the cancer she had fought for so many years had come back again. There was nothing more the doctors could do for her.
When I called to share the sad news with my mother, she told me she already knew. A few weeks prior, mom was outside working in her garden and she heard a car horn toot and turned to see Carol smiling from her car. She sang “Happy Birthday” to my mom and they visited for awhile. They laughed together because it wasn’t my mom’s birthday after all. Carol told my mom that her cancer had returned and she had been forced to quit her job that she loved so much working with autistic children. She advised my mom she didn’t want anyone to know about the cancer as she didn’t want people to pity her.
Carol Collister passed away on Friday. She was an amazing woman. She had the most beautiful smile and I do not exaggerate when I say she was always smiling. She had a gentle, quiet spirit and was a sweet, sweet soul. Though she had fought cancer for years, she didn’t feel sorry for herself or give in to despair. She lived a life that mattered and her life was rich in relationships. She touched the lives of countless autistic children and also many international students whom she welcomed into her home.
Carol’s loving spirit will go on in the lives of those she touched and impacted with her love and graciousness. I can’t wait to see how Carol’s example changes the world through the lives of her friends and students.
Never forget that your life matters. You are setting an example every day for the world around you. If you are lucky, one day someone like Carol will come and let you know what an impact you have made in their life.