“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein
That is exactly how my mother in law, Kathy, lived her life.
I keep waiting to do this post because I just don't feel ready to do it. I'm afraid I'll never be ready so here it goes...
Kathy, died on Friday December 30. She has battled cancer for five years. She fought like a warrior. But she did it with such humility, giving the glory of every success to God. There were many times I wanted to blog in more depth about her fight but she was a very private person. I had to respect that, but I felt like the world was missing out on knowing such an amazing woman. Those who knew her closely and knew how hard she fought, could only be inspired by her. So today I paint you the picture of who she was so that you to can be inspired by a woman who truly shaped me and blessed my life.
She loved country music. She loved shopping and finding the best deals. She loved cooking for her family. She loved books. She loved the color red and hated the color yellow. She loved to exercise. She saw the beauty in nature and enjoyed being outside...when it was warm. She loved going to concerts. She stayed true to her beloved Minnesota Vikings even though they didn't deserve her devotion. She loved football. She loved playing cards and games. She loved her sons, Aric is oldest and his brother Micah is four years younger.
She adored her grandchildren Maya, Eden, Camden and Kohen who is 8 months old. She loved feeling the sunshine...spending almost all of her life in North Dakota she truly appreciated that warmth when it came.
I have loved her for over 13 years. We got to know each other quickly. Shortly after Aric and I were engaged I actually lived with Aric's parents during our engagement. I know this sounds weird, it was weird! But when we found the apartment would live in after we got married, we decided that it would be better for Aric to live there alone instead of me. So to save money I lived with his parents.
After we were married, Kathy and I taught at the same school. She taught first grade and I worked with Special Ed students.
I spent most of my time in her classroom with one of her students who was autistic. I got to see her teach first hand. Besides her children/grandchildren, teaching was her passion. It was her gift. For thirty years she taught children how to read and that was a great legacy she left.
When I got pregnant with Maya she was so thrilled. I remember her crying when I told her. I had a very strict birth plan in place when Maya was born...no one in the room but me, Aric and my mom. Well that plan was pretty much shot to hell when Maya decided to come out of me. Thankfully I had a big birthing room because my grandparents, along with my mother and father in law, ended up joining the three of us. Like I said it was a big room and people were respectful and didn't go where they needn't go. What I remember most vividly was Kathy, standing a respectful distance behind me, praying out loud and then sobbing uncontrollably when I finally got Maya out. We named our baby girl Maya Kathryn, and I knew from that moment that part of that child wouldn't belong to me, because Grandma Kathy had claimed her too.
Watching Kathy with my children was like peeking into her soul. She loved children. Just under the surface her inner child was always waiting to come out and it did every time she was around her grandchildren. She has four grandchildren, three of them were mine so I got to witness her love for them over and over again. She lived and breathed for them. There will never be a question of the place they held in her heart. They know they are loved by her, from the moment she found out that they existed, even when they were only the size of a peanut in my belly or in my heart, she loved them too.
When Camden was born she was undergoing chemo in Florida but she insisted on driving 24 hours round trip just to be with us for a day so that she could get her hands on that baby boy that she had been praying for. She loved him instantly and was so so happy to finally have a grandson. Her love and support during that time was tangible. Her grandmother prayers reached a part of heaven that no one else could touch.
Her childhood was hard. She was definitely scarred by her experiences but she was bound and determined to rise above her situation...and she did. She was the only one in her family that graduated from college and made something of her life. She made a decision to not let her dysfunctional and abusive family define her. In fact, it pushed her to become a better person. She was more than a survivor, she was a warrior.
That warrior instinct came in handy when she got diagnosed with cancer. She had a five pound tumor on her uterus removed the weekend Maya was blessed. That tumor traveled the world as doctors tried to give it an official diagnosis. We never got one. A few years later a tumor the size of a 2 liter bottle was discovered in her left chest cavity. It had completely crushed her left lung. The doctors were baffled at how she could possibly be living a normal life...even going to Curves three times a week with that in her body. She was sent to the U of W to have the very intensive surgery where we were told she had a 50/50 chance of surviving the surgery. Thankfully she did. At that point she was given an official diagnosis. Some abdominal cancer that is in only 1% of the cancer population. It doesn't ever go away. It just keeps coming back.
Sure enough another tumor grew, this time it grew into her ribs and back. After a horrific two week round of chemo it still grew. She ended up at the Mayo clinic in Minnesota where a specialist there very reluctantly did the surgery that took out six of her ribs along with that tumor. After all three of these very invasive surgeries she recovered in record time. She continued on with her Curves, Bible Study, and she also volunteered during the week in a first grade classroom, teaching kids how to read.
The past two years have been the most trying. She had three tumors, one her stomach, one by her liver and the other by her heart. There was nothing left for her to do but start a trial drug. It was only offered in Florida and Post Falls, ID, a small town fifteen minutes from our house. So every four weeks she would come to our house and receive her treatment. Which was basically her getting hooked up to a bag of chemo that she wore for 24 hours and then when she was unhooked she had maybe a day before she would start puking and being sick. Sometimes she would have to have a cat scan which meant she had to drink nasty stuff that made her sick too. Her sickness after treatments would last a good week. For seven months she would come here for that, the other five months she would do it in Florida. My in-laws have two houses...one in North Dakota and one in Florida. So while in North Dakota my father in law would usually drive the 18-20 hours ONE WAY for her treatment. It was so awful for her, but a great blessing for us. We got to host her and love her while she was here.
Over the years of treatment...(treatment means: needles, barium, nausea, puking, aches, special diets, pains, fatigue, etc..) She was always an attentive grandma. She would play on the floor with Camden. She would play countless hours of cards and sorry with the girls. She would read book after book or listen to the girls read book after book. She would go on walks with them. The girls knew their grandma had cancer but they had know idea how sick she really was, because GK never let it on.
She was able to speak at Eden's baptism. She gave the spotlight on Eden, she did a great job. It is such a special memory that we will always cherish.
Kathy loved God. She loved him wholly and trusted him. We didn't practice the same religion, but our faith in God as our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as our Savior was the same. She never doubted. She put her trust in him and held his hand every minute of every day. That is the legacy she wanted to leave for me, Aric, our children, and all those that knew her...her faith. She didn't want the world to know her as a victim of cancer. Although she knew she was a fighter, she was very humble about it. She would shrug her shoulders, put her hands in the air and say "All I can do is pray and trust God, so that's what I do."
I love Kathy. I have always had a hard time figuring out what to call her. Just plain Kathy wasn't endearing enough but I had a hard time calling her mom because she wasn't my mom. She was the mother who raised an incredible son who I get to have as my husband. I felt like she belonged to Aric and Micah. She was their mom. I just wasn't sure that I was a daughter to her. She wasn't one for words, but if she loved you, you knew it. I knew that she loved me, and that was enough. She was the perfect grandmother to my children, she was my sister in faith. She was someone I admired and wanted approval from. So after awhile I ended up calling her GK...(Grandma Kathy). It sounds more like a street name than an affectionate name but that's what I came up with. I know now that she loved me like a daughter. I just wish I would have picked up on that sooner but I know we will see each other again and we will enjoy that relationship in a way we didn't while she was here.
I hope I have sufficiently painted the portrait of GK that she deserves. Because of this beautiful person I do not take my health for granted. I take my faith more seriously. I try harder not to let the little moments get lost in the busy-ness of my life. I love deeper and cherish more. I fight harder for what's right and don't waste my life, I use it. That is how she lived and that is how I want my children to know me, so that someday my legacy mirrors hers.
"Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it." -Harold S. Kushner
The world is a better place because you were in it GK...Especially my world. xoxo