I was six years old when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Six years old and the only thing I knew about cancer was that it started with a "k."
Just as I had mistaken the alphabet, I had mistaken the severity of this illness. My family was very protective of my brother and me, and as a result, shared little information with us about the status of my mother’s health.
On Thursday, April 25, 1991, my family, my life, my character would forever be changed. I was twelve years old, and in the middle of Ms. Kerewich’s Social Studies class when the fateful call came over the intercom from the office. I knew right away that it was over. For the night before, I had rushed home from my little league softball game to jump in my mom’s arms only to find an empty bed. I knew that moment sitting at that desk, looking at my friend Kyle in desperation, hesitating to move a bone in my body, that it was over.
And her life was over. She had struggled six long years with the deadly disease, fighting through treatment and remissions, fighting not for herself but for my brother and me. And as her struggle was ending, my life was beginning. Numb by the instant change in my life brought on by this loss, I was not able to assess the power of this tragic event on my surviving family. I turned one direction, my brother another direction, and my father another. Not because of the absence of love, but rather the presence of sadness and grief and guilt.
The direction I turned was toward sports and activities. I surrounded myself with friends and with activities, everything from basketball to band to school and community clubs. I was involved and that allowed me to find the hope and assurance I needed that I was a survivor. This activity, unfortunately, did not fill a spiritual void that I now realize was lost throughout most of my childhood.
My involvement with a bereavement camp in Virginia led me to discover this spiritual healing by bringing me comfort amongst others who had experienced this loss. Although I was a counselor at this camp, I was able to feel and see the benefit of bringing peers together that had shared this experience. I became aware of this vital element of support that I did not have as a child, and the need to bring it to children during the most influential time of their young life.
So now, years after the death of my mother, I find my passion in life lies deep in helping others grieving the loss of a loved one. Every corner in life is a new opportunity to have a positive, exciting experience; the wealth of those experiences is measured by the people who surround you during them. We all have our challenges, but it is us who strive for victories that flourish throughout life.