The summer before my senior year of college, I had an extraordinary opportunity. I spent the summer in Los Angeles interning for Leeza Gibbons, talk show host and television personality. During those few months, I got to know Leeza as a kind, genuine, smart, funny, gracious and compassionate human being.
Recently, I asked Leeza if she would participate in the book I am working on. She delivered a heartwarming, inspirational story about using personal pain and loss to help those in need. In recognition of her recent win on Celebrity Apprentice, I am honored to share with you Leeza’s story.
|The Day Change Came for Me (abridged)
by: Leeza GibbonsHave you ever had a moment when you knew you were standing in the threshold of change but you weren’t really sure when it was coming or how? For me, it happened like a hurricane threatening to rip out my heart and yet I was numbed by inertia that lulled me into believing that if I just did nothing, it would just lose power and go away. Change never loses power, but we do, the minute we ignore it.My moment of truth came as I said goodbye to my grandmother at her funeral in South Carolina. The day we buried her, her daughter, my mom had just been diagnosed with the same disease that had taken her life – Alzheimer’s. The thief of memories had broken into her beautiful world and robbed her of all the things that were safe and sweet; the moments she had saved to replay in her Golden Years to keep her company as the sun set on her life.
I watched my mother walk up to the open casket to say goodbye to the one who had given birth to her. Mom was in the early stages of the disease so she had dressed herself that day and her blouse was unevenly buttoned, her lipstick slightly smeared and her usually perfect accessories were missing altogether. I watched the one who’d given birth to me walk up to the starting line of change and stare it down.
She seemed so courageous as she was looking into her destiny. The line-up was: my granny, my mother, me. I instinctively looked over my shoulder thinking of the next link in this chain, my children. That was my moment. I was standing in the ring of fire and I knew there was no way out. How high would the blaze get? Would it engulf me and if so, when? “Scratch the track” was all I could think of and I kept repeating it in my mind over and over.
Not long after that, a reporter called and wanted verification that my mother had Alzheimer’s disease. I was being asked for a comment. That’s when my destiny moment began to take shape and when I saw my mother’s legacy unfold. “Honey, you’re a storyteller,” my mother said. “Now this is your story. Go tell it and make it count.”
We had no idea at that time what I believe my mother always knew. Sharing our story and our pain was salve to our scorched souls and as our path became darker, it was the light that led us home.
Along the way as caregivers for mom, we learned what so many others discover; it can be an isolating, frustrating, depressing, stressful experience. Many friends and some family members can’t make the journey with you. You unravel spiritually, financially, emotionally and physically. My mother had made us promise her “not to hide it” and so we created what we wished we had during our journey and that’s now called Leeza’s Care Connection.
Over a dozen years later, mom’s legacy lives on as communities of courageous caregivers who today have her spirit. We help them call on their courage and summon their strength, as they become Warriors of their own Wellness while they care for a loved one who is sick or dying. We connect people to each other, to the experts and to the resources and programs they need to navigate their ever-changing lives.
My mother taught me that we get to write the endings to our own stories. We can’t go back to the beginning, but when we listen and connect with each other, the next chapters are always more meaningful. Because of my mom’s sickness, I now take full ownership of my life.
Leeza’s full story, as well as many more stories of personal growth through service, will appear in my upcoming book Soul Serving. I am so thankful to Leeza and others who are contributing to Soul Serving.