Monday, February 7, 2011

Last week, Lisa promised a favorite photo and the story behind it. Here it is:

In 1958, my mother developed an unquenchable thirst. She and my father had been married for only a few years when she was diagnosed with diabetes, but this photo was taken a year before that diagnosis. They were living in Baltimore, Maryland in a garage apartment. My parents were small town kids, transplanted from Kibler, Arkansas where they had grown up only a half-mile from one another. She was 20 years old in this photo, newly released from the edges of impoverished backwoods Arkansas and still a bit dazed by the world. I love this photo without reason. She doesn't look particularly happy or unhappy, but it's not her face that captures me in this photo. It's her leg.

The disease that she was diagnosed with about 11 months after this photo took her life, but first it took her legs. She battled diabetes from the age of 21, but it was the last ten years of her life that it landed its cruelest blows. Her kidneys stopped working and she was kept alive by dialysis. About the time her body seemed to have gone its distance with the dialysis, she noticed an odd blister on her foot. That was August of 2007. By March of the following year, doctors had amputated both of her legs. Along with breaking apart and killing vital organs, diabetes causes neuropathy - nerve damage that decreases blood flow. Her lower limbs were literally starved to death of life-giving blood and they became an enemy that had to be separated from the rest of her body. In two separate surgeries that were shockingly quick and simple, my mother's legs were removed.

When I look at this photo, I remember a statement she delivered a few days before she died. "I have been blessed every day of my life," she said with absolute sincerity. And on her face was that same expression that I see in this photo. She faced life with determination, her jaw set with it and a look in her eyes that meant business. She was tough to the end - never bitter, always grateful. She felt blessed, and in proclaiming it, even when her beautiful legs were gone, she was showing us all how to live above the difficult circumstances of our lives, and in the end, defeat them.

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