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I'm a Chronically Ill Mom. Here's What Happened When My Daughter Complimented My Smile.

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“Mommy, I like your smile better when you smile like that,” said my 5 year old, curly haired, bright-eyed daughter.

“Like, how?” I questioned.

“Like that, when daddy kisses you.” She is pointing to a photo of my husband and I pinned up on the board in our kitchen.

“Oh, thank you. I do too,” I replied.

I remember that day in the picture well. It was my older brother’s wedding. It was October and a beautiful sunny day. I enjoyed the day, the celebration and being there to witness their union. Why was my smile in the picture one that my daughter missed seeing. How do I smile now? Do I smile anymore? Really, this comment got me thinking — seriously thinking — and feeling a little guilty to be honest.

I don’t remember being in pain that day. I was smiling because I was happy, pain-free in the moment, maybe even the entire day. I was feeling loved by my husband and enjoyed being surrounded by my three children and my family while enjoying a wonderful occasion. We were outside, the temperature was perfect, the sun was shining and I was just plain ole happy.

I want to smile that way all the time, well at least more often realistically. I glanced at myself in the mirror just before I left the house for work today and I don’t look bright like in that photo. Mind you, it was 7:10 a.m. and I had a not so delightful sleep. But still, I look tired and drained — sad and defeated. I have great family and friends, a supportive husband and I work hard for my health for it to be the best it can be — but it is still daunting most days and hard to keep my chin up.

A couple years ago when this smile-filled moment was captured, I was suffering with all the same chronic illnesses I have now. What has changed? Well time for one. More time with pain and many doctor visits, tests and follow-ups. There has been more general life stress, more time with pain and finding some success, along with failures in my quest for health solutions.

So what do I do now? How do I get my smile back? I want all my girls to see the happy mommy in that moment more often. It is not realistic to pressure myself into wearing the smile from that day all the time, not even possible — but I can try to be more positive and in the moment. I can give myself permission to have the bad days and embrace those special ones where I feel good and just smile and appreciate that time for what it is. Love, play, laugh and embrace.

You can’t choose your illnesses and can’t control how they will affect your life. You can’t even force yourself to smile if you’re not feeling it and that’s OK. The genuine smile from that day will be a good memory for my daughter captured forever in the photo and I will strive to make more of those moments. I will live and smile as much as I can when I am feeling at my best.

I hope you can all enjoy and embrace your happy smiles that give joy to those around you too.

Originally published: December 4, 2019
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