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Charlene

Happy birthday to me! On August 3rd, 30 years ago, in the late afternoon, I made my entrance into the world a few weeks earlier than expected. I like to joke and say that I arrived precisely when I meant to, but there is actually some truth to this. My uncle, my mother's brother, passed away unexpectedly a month after I was born. My family has always told me that having a newborn to care for helped them to get through such an awful time. Not that I could ever replace my uncle, but I believe that I made my early entrance so that he could hold me before he made his exit, and so that I could be here for my family. There is such a precious balance between birth and death.

In any case, today's Woman of Empowerment is a very special one. Charlene is my mama, the very reason that I am here today. She gave me her brown eyes, her huge heart, and her sense of humor (I like to think). Without her, I wouldn't be here as the exact human being on the exact path that I am now.

The oldest of three children, she was born on January 22, 1959, in Viking, Alberta to Shirley and Ron Atchison. Her life is difficult for me to write about. It was full of ups and downs. She was a survivor of domestic violence and struggled off and on with alcoholism. She did not have good self-esteem, a common side effect of being abused. Sadly, I didn't get to learn her full story, as her life was cut short. She passed away unexpectedly at 45 years old.

Although much of my mom's life was a struggle, I want to share some of the positivity that she left me.

1. Memories- my mom and I laughed. We laughed so hard sometimes that pop shot out of our noses. We had fun folding laundry together, baking Christmas cookies, watching ridiculous movies, grocery shopping, camping, and dancing in the car. We found enjoyment in the smallest things. She never let me walk past her without giving her a hug. I acted annoyed at the time but now I am grateful that I was able to squeeze in those extra hugs.

2. Strength- my mom went through hell. The hell that she experienced was mostly brought to her by men. Because of this, she taught me that before anything, I needed to love myself and that I didn't need anyone to take care of me. She never wanted me to be alone but she wanted me to be comfortable in my own skin before giving my heart to someone. She showed me that no matter what life hands you, you get up in the morning and find something that brings you joy.

3. Humility- my mom was by far the most humble person I know. She drove a beater car, used the same cheap purse for my whole life, shopped secondhand when she needed to, only ever had used furniture (except the one time she bought a big purple couch, brand new), and did not have a care in the world what people thought of her. Reputation meant nothing to her. She lived her life, stayed out of people's business, and turned away from gossip. I never once heard her judge another person. She knew who she was and she knew what was truly important in life.

4. Acceptance- my mom had friends from all walks of life. She could and would befriend anyone regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. She just loved people and saw everyone as being the same. She wanted to know more about people. She genuinely wanted to know everyone's story. I guess we are the same that way. My mom was well-liked. Hundreds of people showed up at her funeral, many of whom I had no idea who they were. She touched the lives of many, and I remember feeling so proud that my little 5'0" mom with funny glasses made so many people feel loved.

5. Perseverance- as mentioned, my mom survived domestic abuse. Yet, she never saw herself as a victim. She acknowledged what she had been through, shed tears as needed, and then picked herself back up to raise her kids, go to her full-time job, cook meals, do laundry, and incessantly clean the house. She never skipped nights of helping me with my spelling words or tucking me into bed as a child. Yes, she struggled with alcoholism, but that wasn't who she was. That was the medicine that she chose to help her cope with years of built-up sadness and anger. It wasn't the right medicine, but it is what she thought could help her at the time. As an adult who has experienced more sadness at a young age than I ever thought I would have to, I don't judge her one little bit. Life is hard. We don't always choose right, but it doesn't make us wrong.

6. Love- my mom showed me love. She showed me more love in 13 years than some people experience in a lifetime. She told me she loved me every day and carried my report cards in her purse. She rubbed my back when I felt sick and she always made sure that I was taken care of. I could tell my mom anything without fear of her being angry or upset. She was so calm. As an adult, I understand that she had her struggles. She made mistakes. However, I would never ever want to come from someone else. She was an imperfect person, but to me she was everything.

Mama, I miss you every day. You've been gone from my life longer than you were in it. I often wonder what our relationship would have been like. Would you have trusted me enough as a teenager to drive with me? Would you have shouted and whistled as I crossed the stage to graduate high school? Would you have cried like a baby when I picked out my wedding dress? I already know the answer is 'yes'; I get my instant crying from you. Would we have taken random girls' trips together? What would you have thought about being a grandma, and how would you feel that my daughter's middle name is yours? Would you be so proud that your grandson has your eyes, expressions, and hair color? It's hard for me to think about these things because I feel an unbelievable amount of pain that I've lived most of my life without my mom. At the same time, my intuition allows me to feel your presence without you physically being here. I can feel your love and your warmth, always. 

So, Mom, happy birthday to me, but happy birthday to us. It's our day, not just mine. We worked as a team to bring me into the world. You were a strong, courageous, intelligent, and beautiful human being. Thank you for teaching me how to be the same. I will speak fondly of you to my children, which I already do. When I ask Ava "who likes pigs", she says, "Grandma Charlene". I'll love you every day of my life and beyond.