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Highlight of the Month  



A Woman Is… 


A woman… is strong. We don’t ever go into our days intending to have that strength tested. 


There were plenty of bumps along the way once I moved back to Maryland after living in North Carolina for three years. I’d moved to North Carolina in 2016 to keep my mom company after her husband passed away suddenly. It should have been short, but her health had started to decline, and it became harder to move back. Returning home constantly worn out, I eventually moved back just in time for COVID to mix everything up for the world around us. I was fortunate to have moved in with a friend because we were able to keep each other company. 


Naturally, I’m a positive person. So, I channeled my frustration with the circumstances into finding a new job. The next year my mom moved back to Maryland as well, FINALLY! After years of my sister and I begging her to do it. My Mom said that she wanted to be closer to us with whatever time she had left. I had no idea that time was ticking— I was just glad to have her close again without feeling guilty for leaving NC. 


Bringing my mom back to MD, I ended up contracting Covid and giving it to her. I had to be hospitalized and was out of work for just about a month. Thankfully, the virus hit me way harder than it hit her. But while I was recovering, my stepmom was also falling ill with advanced liver disease. It was something that she had kept a secret for as long as she could. 


Once I was fully recovered from Covid, I immediately shifted towards helping and supporting my dad with caring for my stepmom. She wasn’t in the hospital as he would have preferred, instead he brought her home. They set up the hospital bed in the living room and nurses came in to monitor her daily. For months, I tried to juggle work, my mom’s care, my stepmom’s care, and a significant other. 


After making several phone calls, my dad (with family support) decided to throw a “Hail Mary” to get my stepmom better care. We had to get her to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. The tricky thing about health care and calling 911 is that the ambulance will only take you to the closest available hospital— not necessarily the BEST hospital. To get my stepmom where she NEEDED to be, we had to get her there ourselves. Because she was completely immobile by then, we wrapped her in blankets and 5 of us carried her out of the house— placed her as gently as we could into my aunt’s van. Once at Johns Hopkins, nurses immediately got to her so they could admit her. Once she was admitted she was kept comfortable. In May, sometime early in the morning, she transitioned with my father right beside her. 


I tried to keep being a support system for my dad, at the same time checking in on my mom. In October, when my relationship ended, I was so exhausted that underneath the hurt and lies, I was a little bit relieved. Grief will put things into perspective very quickly. 


In December, my mom went in for a somewhat routine procedure but because of her health conditions, putting her under anesthesia was always risky. Her caretaker stayed with her while I went to work but we got a call that although the procedure went through fine, she was no longer able to breathe on her own. For weeks, the doctors tried everything and continued to pump as much oxygen as they could. Their last resort was an oxygen mask that covered most of her face and made it almost impossible to speak. It afforded my mom enough time to make sure my sister and I knew her wishes. Even though they had been divorced most of my life, I brought my dad to the hospital so they could sit with each other privately. To this day, my dad says that it was like deja vu after having just lost my stepmom, but he still loved her and needed to say goodbye. Days later, more family and friends came to say goodbye while she was still aware and somewhat able to communicate. They prayed over her, sat with her, and even sang to her. 


That evening right after everyone was gone and when it was just the 2 of us, she coded for the final time and there was nothing I could do. My mom had signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) and had decided to donate her body to science. The nurses weren’t sure where they were supposed to take her because they hadn’t dealt with body donations before. I sat next to my mom’s hospital bed holding her hand for two hours until they figured it out. 


Exactly one year later, my oldest brother has had a stroke and has paralysis on his left side.  Physically, we aren’t close, he stays away and that makes actively being supportive that much harder, but my dad and I have gone to visit. We check in on him and show up in all the ways we can from a distance. My mind races all day about what things I can do to help and make a difference. Sometimes the strongest people need the most support. 


I always say that time is the highest currency: you can’t trade it, you can’t get it back once you waste it, and there are no do-overs. Be good to the people you love whether they are friends, family, or life partners. If you can repair a relationship with someone, do it. If you cannot repair it, make peace with knowing you tried your best. Treat people with the kindness and compassion that you’d want for yourself. I didn’t always have perfect relationships with my mom and stepmom, but we repaired those bonds. I loved them both and I wasn’t prepared to lose either of them— let alone in the same year. 


What has gotten me through the grief is staying constantly grateful. I am grateful to have come from such loving people. I am grateful that I got to make so many memories with two of the most fiery women I know. I am so grateful for the quiet moments I shared with them just talking about life. And however, I feel in the moment, I embrace that. If I need to cry, I do it. There’s been laughter, tears, screaming, silence— whatever that moment called for. We only owe ourselves patience to weather through what is washing over us at the time. 

- Natalie Guyton

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