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This is a ribbon chain that I helped my Granny make when I was maybe five years old. It hangs on my tree and is one of my most cherished Christmas decorations.

I grip the steering wheel, keep my weary eyes on the road, and smile as my four year old belts out a pretty decent attempt of “A Holly Jolly Christmas” from the back seat. We had just embarked on our 600 mile journey when I hear a sniff next to me. I look over at my sobbing mother and my heart clenches. Trying to lighten the mood, I ask her, “Are you going to cry the whole way…?” She replies that she might. (And she pretty much does.)

This time around our trip to see family in Missouri wasn’t likely to be very holly or jolly. Even so, I pointed out that we still needed to be positive. Yes, Granny was still in bad shape and in a recovery facility, but she had really come a long way (literally and figuratively) since she fell and broke her hip while visiting us in West Virginia. She was finally out of the hospital and back “home” – or at least in Missouri again. And thank the Lord above she made it out alive after three weeks in an awful hospital (with a clearly less than competent staff). Things were hopefully starting to look up, and being optimistic and cheerful could only help. Of course, this sort of pep talk does little to soothe any real worries, and certainly doesn’t keep me from crying either…

All positivity aside, the past month and a half has been just terrible (to put it mildly). However, through it all there is something that has done a great deal to warm my heart. I have been astounded by the immense love and support Granny has received from not only her immediate family, but from extended relatives as well. Her family has gathered to her in a most impressive way. When she was still here in the hospital, Mom and I had quite the influx of relatives that came to stay, some of which had never visited in the whole 23 years I’ve lived in West Virginia. (To be fair, we usually visit them since that’s where everyone is.) My cousin from Canada even flew in for a weeklong stint. My mom, aunts, and uncles are protectively hovering around Granny, visiting constantly, and making sure all is well in so very many tough ways. Family members I’ve never even met (or shamefully knew existed) are checking on her. Folks are coming from far and wide and stopping by to see her frequently. Her room is filled with flowers, cards, pictures, and handmade decorations by great grandchildren. Everyone is praying. Granny has a special place in all of their hearts; she is their Mom, Grandma, “Double G,” Aunt Mary, Godmother, Friend, etc. I have to say, I am truly very inspired by this beautiful outpouring of love. As an only child living 600 miles away from everyone, it’s amazing to see our big Italian/Irish family rallying around a loved one. (And I am especially grateful to them all, because it breaks my heart that I can’t visit Granny now that I’m home again, and I won’t be returning for another few weeks.)

Among other things, Granny’s hip replacement was the fifth major surgery that my immediate family has endured this year. 2017 has been a brutal reminder of something I already knew, but now appreciate even more than ever: family. Indeed; mine is one of my greatest blessings. Their love and support is beyond measure. In difficult times, no matter how dark and vast the depths of despair may be, family is a comforting beacon of light in such forlorn moments. They offer helping hands, hugs, shoulders to cry on, and perfectly timed sarcastic comments to keep you smiling. What on earth would we do without our family?

I am sincerely thankful to say that Granny is doing a bit better. She is working as best she can at physical therapy and dealing with her many other severe health issues. At 92 she still has a strong willed spirit that I firmly believe isn’t ready to be extinguished yet. A mere two years ago she and I were dancing to her favorite song at her 90th birthday party. I hope and pray to do that again next year. With, or without a walker, dancing or shuffling, I will hold her hand and join her in singing “Proud Mary.”

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A gentle reminder… Never get too busy is this chaotic, but uncertain world to tell your loved ones what they mean to you, to hug them, and hold them close.

Another food for thought: Keep smiling and stay positive, no matter how bad things may seem remember that they could ALWAYS be worse.

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How foolish I was to be so hopeful. I never even got to say goodbye. She passed away four days before I was supposed to be there. It turns out she was apparently slipping away as I was 600 miles across the country praying that if it was God’s will, and it wasn’t selfish, to please let me visit with her one last time. To say I’m not taking it well would be an understatement. My heart is broken.

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