My mother grew up in a small New Hampshire town during the Great Depression. She was one of four girls, raised in an environment of hard work, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. That foundation served and supported her as an adult, particularly when she was diagnosed with scleroderma at the age of 42. Her doctor explained that this autoimmune disease was progressive and degenerative, that there was no known cause and no cure. He offered no solutions and no hope, so she stepped into an ominous unknown and got busy doing her own research. She decided then and there, and throughout her journey, that she would not be defined by her diagnosis. She chose a path of empowerment.

Although she didn’t tell her teenage children of her illness until we were in our early 20’s, we noticed some symptoms developing and changes taking place in the kitchen. She started shopping at the health food store, grinding her own flour for homemade bread, and making nasty-tasting nutrition drinks in the blender. She became a student of holistic health and nutrition and shared what she was learning with us at the dinner table. We didn’t realize it at the time, but she was taking charge of her life and her health and setting a powerful example for us.

With no help available from traditional medicine, she pursued alternative and holistic therapies while continuing to see her primary care doctor annually.  Although her disease was progressing, he marveled at her condition, saying, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it, because all I can offer you is steroids for the pain.” In addition to bolstering her physical health, my mother fortified her spirit and her faith through reading, writing, prayer, and praise. She used affirmations regularly, proclaiming strength, healing, and vitality. She came to understand the powerful mind-body connection, and refused to think, speak, or act like a victim. She rose above her circumstances, even in the midst of struggle and pain. She persisted as her disease became more debilitating, pressing on with courage. At one point, my sister said, “I think she is staying alive through sheer will and determination.” That was evident to the very end, which came 40 years after her diagnosis – well beyond what the doctors predicted for her.

My mother stuck to that path of empowerment in the thick of adversity. She was intentional about living from a larger reality and uplifting those around her. Even as daily life became more challenging for her, she continued to serve in any way she could. She made food and sent notes of encouragement to others who were ill. She remained active in the women’s circle at church, delivered Meals on Wheels with my dad, and participated in community activities until she became homebound. Even then, she continued to share her love and light. She exchanged daily jokes via email with a family friend who was battling cancer. When my dad was diagnosed with dementia in her last few years, she fought to stay sharp and strong for him, helping him to stay on track as her condition worsened. Her life was a shining example of selfless service and profound empathy.

When I became a mother, she showed me another path of empowerment through her wise, loving counsel and support. She marveled at how being a grandparent exceeded all of her expectations. Her ability to see each child’s unique beauty and wholeness served to enrich and empower them. She used her gifts as an artist and a writer to encourage their innate creativity and curiosity. For example, she noticed Alec’s love of exploring in the woods and catching crawdads. She nurtured an appreciation for nature which she herself cherished. She embraced Taylor’s intensity and energy by engaging her in artistic projects or the word games she enjoyed.  She recognized Lauren’s love of puzzles, painting, and poetry and shared those activities with her. With each child she listened and loved with deep interest and intuition, affirming who they were and building a legacy for them along the way.

When we choose a path of empowerment, we step out of the small, safe corners of what we know and dare to break through barriers of fear and doubt. It starts with a decision, as my mother made at the start. Even with no idea of what lay ahead, she faced her future with a brave and grateful spirit. She used to say, “When you have your health, you have everything,” reminding us to never take our health for granted. I believe her willingness to forge a new path to overall wellness changed the trajectory for our family for generations. Learning how to care for the body, mind and spirit is essential for living fully and freely. She was determined to leave this legacy for her children and grandchildren by planting seeds of wellness and wholeness. These seeds have taken root and continue to produce rich fruit.

My mother knew that her power came from within, and that she was enfolded in God’s Light and Love. This awareness strengthened her resolve to live joyfully, to squeeze every drop of juice from life and savor it. It also motivated her to delve deeply into spiritual principles and build an expansive and unshakable faith. She was intentional in her work, her relationships, and her health choices. She believed that life was all about service and didn’t want to leave this earth until she was sure her work here was done. She has been gone for over five years now, but her abundant love and gratitude still glow within each of our hearts. By living and giving from a deep sense of passion and purpose, she forged that path of empowerment for all of us.