My 40th Diabetes Anniversary: Thank You, Mom

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • This Easter makes 40 years of living with type 1 diabetes.  My five year old memories of being in the hospital that Easter Sunday included a foot of snow and my family stuck at home.  I remember very positive things from the hospital, my beloved pediatrician taking me by the hand as he took me for a walk around the hospital, waving to my family from the hospital window when they arrived.  I can also remember the heartbreak of the call from my mom explaining that they couldn't make it Easter Sunday because of the snow and the big tears and the lump in my throat.  I was unable to speak and, instead, I nodded my head "yes" that I was ok and understood I would see her tomorrow.  What I remember about my first few years living with diabetes was the compassion and steady guidance my mother offered me.  She made Easter just another holiday.

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    For many parents, the emotions of such a diagnosis is difficult and the thought of how to protect your child while fostering their strengths as a person must be a daunting task!  For my mom, it was an immediate conversation with my pediatrician about how to create my sense of independence while living with diabetes.  While she learned about managing diabetes, she was crafting her parenting skills to help me be just another person celebrating Easter. In fact, I've never recognized a diabetes anniversary, not because I was ignoring it, but diabetes simply is just another part of me, like an eye, or an ear.  Diabetes needed care, not glaring attention, and this was how I was raised.


    If there is such a thing as fate, I feel my life was fated to be with my mother and that my diabetes was part of the plan.  Her social work degree allowed her to invest her intellect and emotional strength into developing an incredible journey through the unique mother-daughter bond. 


    My brothers were 6.5, 8 and 9 years older than myself. With three boys and a house full of testosterone, I was a surprise.  From the beginning, I pushed my mother to look at our relationship with a different eye. She had struggled to be recognized as an independent woman with her own mind during her youth in the 30s and 40s when it was not popular to be a career woman.  When I was diagnosed with diabetes, my mother's education and experience became vital to my learning to be independent and to live with diabetes. While helping me construct the boundaries for success, she had to figure out when to stand back and let me try, or when it was time for her to help strengthen my resolve to meet the challenge in front of me. 


    With the boys, encouraging them to reach beyond their personal expectations was easy.  But for me, she developed a carefully constructed message that included caring for my body, while encouraging me to take some risks.  My brothers all left home and traveled the world and my wide blue eyes were set upon having that same experience.  Raising a daughter to travel would take thinking outside the box, and, with diabetes, that requires an even bigger box!


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    Mom's ability for thinking outside the box was not only forward thinking, but sometimes humorous. For example, she read that high protein meals were healthier than high carb (circa 1968). So, in a rushed morning, she once offered me hot dogs for breakfast! And, my Christmas stocking had pickles in the toe instead of candy.


    To help me learn to be independent in the real world, I went to a summer camp for six weeks that was not associated with diabetes management.  It allowed me to stretch my legs under carefully selected boundaries. At home, I was encouraged to be athletic, which set up situations for me to test my limits.  If I wanted to compete, I needed to train with my diabetes like it was a partner. The goals I set for myself were always my focus and managing my diabetes was a part of those goals. My mom knew if I wanted something badly, that I would find success if I included my diabetes in the plan. To me, diabetes was noise in the background.  If I did not handle things well, the noise was blaring!


    Even in my roughest teen moments, my mother was always the calm in my storm. She listened, talked through options and worked to help me develop a strategy. I was never afraid to tell her my deepest secrets or my strangest moments.


    A year ago, my mother was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's disease. She has handled the process with grace and dignity, moving from her cottage to an assisted living home with a positive, forward thinking attitude. But with each passing month, I see loss of vocabulary, loss of friend's names, loss of memories, emotional frustration and sadness.  I have opened up my compassion and intelligence to develop creative ways to help mom stay connected to help become the calm in her storm. 


    About a month ago, I realized she could remember phone conversations for only a couple of hours and she often feels separated from her children's lives. Using her well embedded "out of the box thinking," I sent her a small bouquet of flowers with a card that read, "Just thinking of you all the time, Mom!" I called her after the flowers had arrived and there was the moment I knew so well: she couldn't speak through her tears. I am my mother's daughter.


    Perhaps that one Easter 40 years ago was about a different kind of gift. I now have this amazing relationship with my mom that without the diabetes, might not have been so revealing of the unique relationship between a mother and daughter.


    Happy Easter, Mom!  Make David read it twice.




Published On: April 02, 2010