Sunday, May 11, 2014

Being driven comes naturally

 Good Morning and Happy Mother’s Day to all women in the group, regardless of whether or not you have children/grandchildren of your own. Today is a day to celebrate women and the ways in which we nurture those around us. Mother’s Day is not an easy day for me because my mom passed away when I was in my 20’s and both of my grandmothers have died as well. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has passed since their deaths; days like today always remind me that they are no longer “physically” with me each day…….and yet, I know that their spirit and tenacity are deeply rooted in my soul.
My mom Pat and Grandma Evelyn
When I finished speaking at the Ladies Day conference on Friday (it went great, by the way), there was a woman waiting in the lobby to speak to me. She had heard I was in town and wanted to talk to me about appearing on her radio show about corporate wellness. Wow…now cool!  In any case, we sat and spoke for a while and she asked me, “Theresa, have you always been this driven?”  I smiled, and said, “Absolutely, however, most of those close to me refer to me as stubborn and bull-headed.” Driven: I like that. Usually, I say, “determined,” but driven works.  I proceeded to tell her that I learned that trait from my parents and grandparents.
During the drive back north, I began to reflect on that conversation and the women who have helped make me strong and ‘driven”, mostly my mother and grandmothers. In the silence of the car, I thanked them. And on this Mother’s Day, I thank God for the ways that they continue to influence my life on a daily basis, even though they have been gone for many years.

My Grandma Brinkmeier, Evelyn, grew up on small farm in rural Michigan. She experienced grief at a very young age, losing a brother when he was nine years old. Her 16-year-old sister, along with two of her cousins, were killed in a trolley car accident while traveling to the church for the wedding rehearsal of another cousin. Her mother died when my Grandma was only 12 years old. She developed psoriasis early on in life, and for as long as I can remember, her body was scabbed with painful sores. And yet….she was kind, happy, generous, and full of faith. She was a woman of prayer and always trusted that God would see her through whatever trial or tragedy came her way. She taught me to be grateful for the blessings in my life….even when life was hard.  In spite of all the hardships she endured, she always put the needs of others first….and God blessed her with a happy adult life. She and my grandfather were happily married….and still deeply in love….for 58 years when she died at age 78.  Grandma was my biggest “cheerleader” and in her eyes, I shone like a star. I really miss her….and yet, I know that her generous spirit…and her faith….are deeply rooted in me. Unfortunately, so is her love of food!

My grandma Borawski, Florence, had a similar childhood. Growing up during the depression, one of six children, money was always tight and yet, they got somehow got by. She often spoke about wearing hand-me-downs as a child (hmmm….and here I am a Salvation Army Thrift store queen! J), but when I was growing up, I loved to go her in bathroom because the counter was COVERED with make-up, perfume, and lotions of all kinds and she loved clothes (hmmm….again! J).  Her grandparents owned some cabins up in Indian River, Michigan and she spent summers up there in the north woods. This is likely where my love of northern Michigan came from. Grandma was one of the “toughest” women I know, and would take on anyone….male or female….that challenged her. As a bartender for more than 20 years, she often told stories of picking up some drunk guy and “tossing” him out the door. All she had to do was look at us with “that look” and all of us grandchildren would straighten up in a minute.  And yet… I never remember her ever saying a cross word to me.  In her eyes….I could do no wrong.

Grandma Florence Borawski Forrest
Like Evelyn’s, my grandma’s life was filled with heartache. She lost my dad when he was only 34 years old. She never got over his death; how could you? Those of you that have lost children would understand; I cannot even begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose a child. She buried a second son when he was 47. Between that, she dealt with my grandfather, a man who struggled with alcohol issues, was often drunk, and ended up having a debilitating stroke in his early 50’s. I never remember grandpa being able to walk or talk….and yet, my grandma took care of him as long as she could while continuing to work full-time, maintain a house, and raising six children. I remember her telling me one time that my father was in the hospital in Detroit (35 miles in one direction), my grandfather was in the hospital in Toledo (35 miles the other direction), and my great-grandma was in the hospital in Trenton (in the middle) and EVERY DAY…even though she didn’t get home from work until 3 a.m., she would get up, take care of the household stuff, get things ready for dinner…and make the trip to see EACH OF THEM in the hospital….before going to work in the afternoon.  How did she do that?  How did she get through those years of struggle? How did she keep going and going and going?   She was strong….and stubborn….and determined….and just somehow found the strength to “do whatever she had to do.” And she had fun along the way. She was always the center of attention, well-liked, and the life of the party. She loved to sing, laugh, have a good time, and celebrate. And….in her eyes…. I could do no wrong! And even though she didn’t really acknowledge it fully until late in life when she had nothing but time on her hands, she was a woman of great faith. To this day, I maintain that my MIRACLE began the day she went to heaven and had a little chat with God….because her death was the beginning of my journey to a healthier life.  She died in 2011 at age 90….and I miss her deeply. And yet… I KNOW….that her determination, drive, and strength have been deeply rooted in me….and have been instrumental to me on my journey.

Finally, my mother…..the woman who gave me life. Another woman who endured hardship, grief and loss….and yet…was the kindest, most generous, and caring woman I know. She married the love of her life, my dad, at age 26, and gave birth to three of us; I am the oldest. I was only eight years old when mom lost my dad at age 34, leaving her a young widow with three small children. Although I knew the sting of grief, I never UNDERSTOOD the loss she must have felt until I grew up and fell in love myself. How do you go on when you lose the love of your life at such a young age and have to support and raise three children alone?  How do you make yourself get out of bed each day….go to work….put on a happy face…do what you have to do?  I never remember seeing her cry until later in life.  What I did see, is a woman who ALWAYS put the needs of others first….coming home exhausted from work…and yet going to visit the neighbor lady who was dying of cancer, baking something for the bake sale and church, sending a card to someone who was ill or lonely, or visiting the sick.

She was an amazing woman….one of GREAT FAITH. She married my step-dad in the late 1970’s and welcomed his six children into her brood and shortly after that, she developed cardio-myopathy, a serious heart disease that would eventually take her life at age 54. And yet….in spite of the crosses she was given….she always drew her strength from God….and taught me to do the same. She always believed that God would give her what she needed to handle whatever came her way. She was driven….she was strong….she was kind…she was loving….and above all……she was COMPASSIONATE.   I want to be like that when I grow up!
And so… these early hours of Mother’s Day, my heart is somewhat sad today because I miss these three women….and yet, mostly, I am eternally grateful to them…..and to GOD….for the blessing they were (and continue to be) in my life. They have taught me to love; to endure; to cherish each day; to be kind. Mostly, they have taught me to “KEEP ON keeping on” and to TRUST that no matter what….no matter how hard the road becomes….no matter how tough the journey is….that GOD will always be at my side; will always direct my steps; and will always give me what I need to carry on. 
So when asked….”Theresa, have you always been this determined”, I simply must say, “Absolutely, I was taught by the best!”   I will “keep on keeping on” because I know …that wherever they are this day….their spirit is alive and well in me….and that they are praying for me, supporting me, and giving me strength.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom…and Grandma’s.  I hope that each day of my life I live in a way that makes you proud….and brings honor to your name.

As you reflect on your own personal journey, try to find someone in your life…past or present…that will inspire you to keep going when you are weary and want to give up. Someone that will believe that you can do it, even when it appears impossible. Someone that will support you; pray for you; encourage, and always see goodness in you.  Surround yourself with those people; draw strength from them; and when all else fails….KNOW THAT I WILL DO THAT FOR YOU!  I believe in you….I am here for you…. I struggle with you….and I KNOW that with God….all things are possible!  Enjoy your day today….and be especially kind to those who are sad this day.