This was going to be another post entirely, about the hurt Mama J inflicted about our new house and about my sweet husband’s defense of me, my heart stinging with pain and bitterness. But then something wonderful happened — two somethings, actually — and I decided to write this story instead.

“It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.” — Dalai Lama

About a year and a half ago, my stepmom Denise was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, which had reached some lymph nodes as well. Shortly after Denise’s diagnosis, Mama J began crocheting a prayer shawl for her. If you don’t know about prayer shawls, the individual making one prays while she is crocheting or knitting, so that the prayers are “stitched” into the shawl, with the idea that the recipient is then covered in prayers when she wears the shawl.

Then, Mama J’s life was turned upside-down with a life-altering move to Baton Rouge. In the midst of these changes, she naturally stopped working on the shawl as she got settled into her new surroundings. And then, after decades of crocheting experience, the unthinkable happened: She couldn’t remember how to crochet.

Mama J with the prayer shawl she crocheted for my stepmom

Meanwhile, Denise soldiered on, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery, with a beautiful, determined spirit, purpose, and will to survive.

Mama J floundered. She stitched and ripped. Her health diminished and plateaued. Cognitive ability faltered and resumed. She tried again. She failed. At her wits’ end, she bought a crochet book for beginners, enlisted some assistance from my dear friend Ginger, and retaught herself to crochet.

At nearly 77 years old, in failing health, Mama J retaught herself to crochet so that she could finish this prayer shawl for my stepmom. This beautiful creation (pictured with Mama J above) went in the mail last week and arrived safely at its destination to a grateful recipient. And, with her re-found talents, Mama J has begun crocheting cancer caps for St. Aloysius Church and will join their prayer shawl ministry later this month.

Meanwhile, yesterday I received an e-mail from Denise. My stepmom is likewise a woman possessed of many talents, one of which is crafting beautiful handmade rosaries. “I have made a couple dozen rosaries,” she wrote. “Do you think that there are any flood victims who need rosaries? I would love to donate them to someone who could distribute to Catholics who need them.”

I immediately reached out to Fr. Michael Alello, a beloved local priest and fellow runner, to see if he could help, and he agreed to distribute the rosaries if Denise would send them to his church.

My stepmom Denise, recovering from reconstructive surgery


It wasn’t until later in the evening, my meager role in connecting Denise and Fr. Alello accomplished, that a revelation came over me. Denise didn’t just whip out a “couple dozen” rosaries overnight. I am the honored recipient of two of her rosaries, and they are beautiful, painstakingly crafted pieces. She made these rosaries while she was undergoing chemo, radiation, and surgery, sometimes in isolation because of a compromised immune system.

I was struck by the connection between these two important women in my life, their lives unavoidably and inextricably woven together by my parents’ divorce and my dad’s subsequent remarriage nearly 40 years ago. And what they have in common is far beyond their connection to me and the love for the daughter they both share.

You see, both Mama J and Denise possess the quality of selflessness — my mom, reaching out from her own suffering to provide comfort to my stepmom, the woman who had married her children’s father, in a time of need, and my stepmom, recovering from the trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, to aid flood victims with a gift to help them spiritually in the recovery process.

These two beautiful women have given me many gifts over the years. The gift of life. Monetary and physical gifts. Their unfaltering love and friendship. Mother Teresa — Saint Teresa now — says that “A life not lived for others is not a life,” and I am thankful to both my moms for this lesson, as they unknowingly gave me yet another gift today … that of a full and grateful heart.

To read the story of our Adventures With Mama J from the beginning, click hereAnd Mama J makes 3

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