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A child praying

My mother wasn’t a big talker. She was too busy for idle chit chat—she was raising a small army of children. In my New Jersey hometown, Mom was a living legend, an incredible woman who spent her days raising 13 children. No, that’s not a typo—13!

From sun up to sundown, she was always working—baking five dozen of her famous chocolate chip cookies, finishing the lace hem of one of my sisters’ prom dresses, and juggling the daily carpools of after-school activities. Weeks would fly by in the daily flurry of activity. But no matter how busy life got, Mom always found time for God.

As a family, Mom had countless rituals to foster our faith. From saying grace before meals and requiring us to attend 7am Sunday mass to enrolling us in Catholic elementary and high school, she showed me and my 12 siblings that faith was the foundation of our family.

And with her steady stream of faith-based encouragement, Mom taught me to turn to prayer in any challenge I faced—no matter how trivial the challenge was.

On many occasions, as a young girl, I’d cry in desperation, “Mom, I’m going to fail my math test.”

“No, you’re not. Study some more and ask God for help—say some prayers ,” she’d reply.

As a moody 15-year old, I’d shriek, “Mom, I can’t find my necklace. I lost it. It’s gone forever. My life is over!”

“Say a few Hail Mary’s and don’t forget to pray to St. Anthony,” she’d suggest.

No matter what the situation was, Mom knew the answer, and most of the time that answer was found in faith. Through her lifelong encouragement of prayer, Mom taught me that God could fix all my “little problems,” and proved to me how faith could be a source of infinite strength.

When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer during my senior year of high school, Mom remained the steady rock for my unstable family. Six months later when Dad died, Mom leaned on her faith and was unbreakable.

As I felt my heart break into a million pieces, and as I cried bitter tears of regret for all that was left unsaid between my father and me, Mom refused to shed one tear. Instead, she picked up the pieces in my shattered family—attending daily mass, saying the rosary, and maintaining her life-must-go-on attitude.

During those dark days, Mom’s unflinching faith became the source light. I watched my mom and knew that if she could keep moving forward despite having just lost her husband of 35 years—then so could I. Mom knew that we needed to celebrate my father’s life—instead of crumbling in despair.

Mom’s lifelong example of faith has proven to be one of her greatest gifts to me. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago, I was devastated. I felt angry with God for “letting this” happen to her. But in time, I learned to follow Mom’s example—accept the things I can’t change, to let go of my fears, and to rely on my faith to cope with the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s—seeing someone you love slip away before your eyes.

Alzheimer’s isn’t an easy road for anyone. But by reflecting on my mother’s lesson of faith, I’ve learned to be present in her world and to savor the joyful moments I have with her.

Yes, it’s true—Alzheimer’s has stolen pieces of Mom from me. But I choose to focus on what remains, instead of what is missing. I treasure the gift of faith she bestowed on me. And I strive to pass this incredible gift along to my daughters.

~ Kerry Luksic