Let me just start by saying it was a wonderful Mother’s Day surprise to see that the Open to Hope Foundation wanted me to write articles for them!  It made getting up at 4am today to catch my 5am bus all worth it.

My Mother’s Day was not one of the best, and therefore I told my husband I officially claim a “do-over”.  You see, my husband and I were serving wine at a winery in Northern Virginia.  It was a beautiful day, after what seemed like weeks of rain, and the winery had a great Mother’s Day event planned.  We were so busy, and at the end of the day, our feet were sore and we were exhausted.  That’s why a fun and relaxing “do-over” Mother’s Day is in my immediate future.  Yesterday did start, however, with loving Mother’s Day wishes from my husband, three children and their spouses, so that was a bonus too.

I remember one particular Mother’s Day that started with the worst possible news.  Twelve years ago today, my mother-in-law Nancy called and said Dino, my father-in-law, had had a heart attack and was in the hospital.  This was one of the many Sundays that my husband, Paul, had to work back then.  I remember calling him to tell him the news, and then leaving to the hospital as soon as he got home.  We didn’t know at the time that Dino actually had passed away in the early morning hours of Mother’s Day 2004.

I know Paul and his brother Mike miss “Big D,” and Nancy still struggles with the loss.   Dino was such a great dad and role model for Mike and Paul, wonderful grandfather to our 3 kids and grandpa “Poppy” to Mike’s 3 kids.  I still remember sitting alone, crying in front of his coffin at his gravesite.  He was taken away from us far too early, but I’m so blessed and thankful for the time he was in my life.

As a single mother raising 3 kids and dating Paul (the younger of 2 sons in an Italian family), I know that it was probably not what his mother wanted for her son, but Dino welcomed me into the family immediately along with Mike and his wife.  Dino loved me first, and recognized the love and commitment I felt and still have for Paul.  We’ve been married over 20 years now and I have a wonderful relationship with Nancy, but I know it took her a bit longer to see how deeply in love we were and still are.

As a mom, you want nothing but the best for your children.  The joy your children bring to your life is priceless.  The memories will never go away…. e.g. the time your 2nd daughter’s date shows up and you’re more nervous then she is, especially our first impression was of him wearing a tie-dyed shirt and saying he’s a roadie for the rock band Fish.

Or memories of when your son decides he’ll test out his new Chinese fighting stars on the basement walls (not sure how he got them).  Yes, he did spend a good bit of time spackling all of the little holes on the walls the stars created after he threw them at the walls.  And he was so proud that he was able to move the washing machine forward and back into its position after one of the stars fell behind it.  This movement, by the way, was also the reason I thought my washing machine was broken.  It wouldn’t drain due to a kink in the hose from him pushing it back too far.

Or the memories of watching your husband walk your 2nd daughter down the aisle arm-in-arm with her father to marry her high school love and then being with her to see your 1st granddaughter come into the world years later.

Or knowing your son is exactly like your husband, with all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful “guy” traits, and tearing up when your son say’s “I am who I am because of you and Paul”.  It was funny yesterday when our son said our 2nd granddaughter is never going to go out on a date with a boy.  I only hope our children are as lucky as we are when their children become adults and find their loves.

Let’s not forget…the not-so-fun memory of when your 1st daughter, who was 13 at the time, decides she would rather stay with her father and his family than move 2,000 miles away to the east coast with me, my then-fiancé (Paul), her sister and brother.  I unselfishly let her stay even though I didn’t want to.  But if it were not for her decision, she would never have met and married her high school sweetheart and given us two beautiful grandsons.

Or another not-so-fun memory of when your 2nd daughter is diagnosed at 29 with an aggressive mutation of breast cancer and she now has to undergo a double mastectomy, aggressive chemotherapy and finally a hysterectomy because medical studies had shown that the mutation of cancer she had also contributed to other types of cancer.  There was no doubt in her mind she would go forward with the hysterectomy as she and her husband were blessed with our 1st granddaughter and 3rd grandson.  Or finally, the terrible vision of your teenage son’s huge tears from the excruciating pain, as I helped him put his shirt on because he had broken his clavicle for a second time in his life while skiing.

Being a mom is the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had.

I know for many of my friends, they are mom and dad to their pets.  Just like being a parent to a child, it brings all of the same type of memories.  The joy of raising their family pets with the unconditional love and delight when you get home and the terrible pain of losing a pet suddenly or to an illness.  We’ve experienced that awful loss ourselves.  My friend just lost her pet to cancer on Mother’s Day and I know it’s just as painful for her as the loss of someone close to you.  My heart is aching for her.  I know someday she’ll smile as memories of her beloved pet fill her mind, but for now her heart is broken.

In the immediate pain of loss, it’s difficult to remember that loved ones stay with us well beyond their physical presence in our lives.

Carla Vagnini

I live outside Washington, DC with my husband Paul and two cats. I have been in public service for almost half of my life. I treasure spending time with my husband, family (both near and far) and two cats. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and share this belief with my loved ones...that every day is a gift, never go to bed angry with the ones you love and life is just too short. After helping family members through the devastating loss of their loved ones, I took the time write this short book. While dealing with the shock and devastation of death after an unexpected passing or a lingering cruel illness, my husband and I learned valuable information and insights with each experience that I wanted to sharing with others. I found that the help and support provided after the funeral, when all of the family and friends had returned to their homes, was equally as critical as the support provided both during the illnesses and at the funeral. I learned that no matter how much time you might have to “prepare”, there are just too many issues to address and calls to make. All of which are far too many for the grieving loved one to manage on their own. I hopes that when you are faced with providing support to a loved one who has sadly experienced their own devastating loss that the information in my book serves as a guide to help you weather the storm with a little more ease and comfort.

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