Finding a light in the darkness

On Monday, February 8th, 2016, I woke up lacking the usual spring in my step. I’d just started a new job teaching Science and Physical Education at Rideau High School, and my classes were extremely challenging. To top it all off, I’d never taught Science before so I’d spent the entire weekend cramming as much information into my head as possible, and fretting, and hoping I wouldn’t show any signs of weakness. But teenagers can always smell fear. Somehow, by some miracle, I made it through the day.

I went back to my apartment that night and headed straight for the container of Christmas fudge in the freezer and paired it with a ziplock bag full of cinnamon hearts, planning to eat my troubles away. And then I got the phone call that changed my life.

My mom was gone.

Just like that, an already-bad day turned into the worst day in all my 34 years on this planet. I can’t believe it’s been 365 days since I lost my dearest friend. I honestly thought I couldn’t do it. That I’d never survive without her. There are still days when I wonder how I’ve made it this far. How I keep putting one foot in front of the other, how I accomplish things. How I keep breathing.

The firsts were the worst–Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas, my birthday…all those special occasions that weren’t quite so special because she wasn’t there. But she WAS there. She’s here now, her spirit. I believe that with all my heart.

I chose the above picture for so many reasons, the main one being that it’s my favourite of her. She looks so peaceful, so determined. Confident. Capable. So full of hope. Ready to take on the world. My mother may not have been a doctor or a paramedic, but she saved people’s lives just as surely as hers had been saved. In the late eighties, she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. She and Dad kept it quiet from us, never once letting us worry, but deep down we realized something wasn’t quite right.

Mom suffered from the lingering effects of the disease over the years, but she never once complained. If anything, it made her more intent on living her life to the fullest because she knew all too well how close she’d come to losing the chance.

In the late nineties, after spending more than a decade as a stay-at-home mother, she decided to go back to school and earned a college diploma in Employment Counselling. Mom studied hard, receiving top marks in all of her courses, landing on the Dean’s List every semester, and she did all this while still raising her children and caring for her family. She graduated with honours and was instantly offered a job in her desired field with the very college she graduated from.

I was too young to really appreciate how incredible an achievement it was, but as I grew older and began my own pursuits in higher education, I finally understood. There were times during my teenage years that I accompanied her to work. I met some of her colleagues and clients, and it was easy to see how much they admired her and valued her dedication, passion, and commitment. As an employment counsellor, she changed countless people’s lives, gave them a second chance to find their purpose in the world, the ability to provide for their own families. She lit the pathway toward prosperity during their darkest hours. She saved them.

I remember all the times I’d be out in public with Mom, and one of her clients would come rushing up to her and hug her and thank her for all that she’d done for them. One of those clients left a special message in the guest book at my mother’s funeral and I want to share it with all of you.

For anyone who walked through the doors of Northern Lights in Peterborough, this beautiful smile greeted you. For those of us who were lucky enough to work with her, her impact was significant. She took me on my first trip to Costco, gave me advice both personal and professional at a significant time in my life and many of her wise words still echo through the important decisions I’ve made and the tough times I’ve faced in my life. I am in shock that this vibrant, larger than life, kind-hearted, no-nonsense lady was taken from this earth far too soon. My heart breaks for Dennis, Jeff, Julie and her entire family, for if she had such an impact on me in the short time she was part of my life, I can’t even imagine the loss you are feeling. I wish I had had the opportunity to tell her…You are all in my thoughts and prayers and Joyce will always hold a very special place in my heart.

I can only hope that as I go on living my life, I will leave such a legacy behind as you, my gorgeous, courageous, giving, and genuinely good mother. Thank you for being my guiding light through the darkness. Thank you for being my friend, my hero, my heart and my soul. I miss you so much, today and every day. With love, always….

16 thoughts on “Finding a light in the darkness”

  1. Laurie says:

    Your mom is looking down and watching. I believe that too. (((Hugs)))

    1. Julie Evelyn Joyce says:

      Yep. I know it. Mom’s watching over all of us now, and she was so glad I found you girls. *hugs*

  2. Martha says:

    We are thinking of you, your dad, Jeff and his family today. Your mom is with you

    1. Julie Evelyn Joyce says:

      Thanks so much, Aunt Martha. Your thoughts are appreciated by all of us. Miss you and love you. xoxo

  3. Carol says:

    Read this out in the car, by myself – knew I couldn’t chance reading it with anyone else around. My dear girl, all I know is that the shine and beauty didn’t fall far from the tree. You are the best legacy your mother ever hoped for – and I know that for a fact, one mother to another. She’s up there watching you full time on the big screen, on the Julie channel, and she’s so, so proud. This was a beautiful, incredibly moving tribute to her.

    (For me, it’s been exactly one month today. I’m still mostly numb, tucking everything away in a far corner until I can get used to the idea. I suspect that the day the twins are born will tear me in two as I experience such extreme happiness mixed with our profound loss.)

    Love always.

    1. Julie Evelyn Joyce says:

      *hugs you tight* Thank you. Just…thank you. You always know exactly what to say, and you help me to feel whole again. I’m so lucky to have you in my life. You truly are like an almost-mommy to me in every way. I know my mom was so glad to have met you and comforted by the fact that you were always looking out for me too.

      The first month is almost a blur. It doesn’t really hit you until about three or four weeks in. I know it’s going to be so difficult for you to welcome the twins into the world without your mom, but you know that she is going to be tuned into Carol-vision that day. She’ll see it all. She’ll feel the joy through you. I believe the same thing every time I see my sweet nephew, Charlie. Mom is watching him grow up, just as we all are. There are little pieces of her in him. Hug those twins twice as hard. Love them enough for both of you.

      Thank you for everything. Love you madly. xoxo

  4. Christine says:

    Love you <3

  5. Lisa Westlake says:

    You are such a strong young lady Julie… Your Mom taught you some great lessons in life. She taught us ALL some great lessons….. Still can’t believe the days we experienced last year… I think about her SO much!! And miss her SO much!! But I do know she’d be watching over you, and she’d be with you… that’s just the kind of caring and loving Mother she was… Sending you a big hug and much love and comfort right now… May you and your Dad and Jeff and Krista be blessed with so many loving memories today… Love you! xox

    1. Julie Evelyn Joyce says:

      Thank you for taking the time to write this, Lisa. It means so much to me. You’ve been incredibly supportive to all of us this last year. I’ve really enjoyed our talks. We’ll have to do that more often. I think we’re all better people because of Mom.

      Love you too! xoxo

  6. Mahlet says:

    An amazing daughter from an amazing mother. *hugs*

    1. Julie Evelyn Joyce says:

      Aww, thank you so much, Mahlet. <3 Sending you love and hugs. xoxo

  7. Ed Hoornaert says:

    A very touching tribute. It reminds me of the day I went to visit my mother, only to find that she’d just had a heart attack and died. I missed my chance to say good-bye by five or ten minutes.

    1. Julie Evelyn Joyce says:

      🙁 That’s so sad, Ed. I’m really sorry you missed the chance to say goodbye to her. We were all so lucky that we had one final, wonderful day together as a family before we lost her, though ten thousand more days still wouldn’t be enough. It’s so difficult living without the ones we love the most, but we have to–for them and for us.

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