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My parents had three children, an 8-year-old son and two daughters ages 13 and 14. All the baby items were a very distant memory, sold at a yard sale.

So to say that my impending arrival was a surprise is an understatement.

But growing up, I could not have been more loved or more spoiled. As a child and young adult, it was as if I had three mothers all watching out for me. My mother would always say she did not know what they would have done without me, but as I grew I would contemplate the fact that some families are given that extra child, the unplanned surprise. Why was I one of those children? What was, if any, the purpose of why I was given to my family? I figured that God must have something in mind for me, but it wasn’t until I was almost 40 that my purpose began to come clear.

My adulthood progressed normally, I married a wonderful man, and we had a son together. My 39th year brought a number of unpredictable things; my oldest sister was diagnosed with lung cancer but had a great prognosis. My other sister found a small lump on her breast but she too had a great prognosis. My mother began struggling to breathe, a result of a lung disease.

In January, three days before my 40th birthday, my mother died of complications from the illness. In March, still reeling from that loss, my oldest sister died from complications of lung cancer. The day she died, my brother-in-law had a major heart attack that required open heart surgery and we were left with her 17-year-old son to watch out for as his dad recovered.

I still had my father, and my sister, and also my brother, who had just started to show the beginnings of the same lung disease my mother had. I thanked God every day for my family that was left and for my wonderful husband and kids and I pressed on.

Just starting to breathe a little easier, the next April, my husband had a heart attack, which eventually would result in open heart surgery. I began to think that nothing else could possibly happen in my life.

In July, just a little over a year after my oldest sister died, my other sister passed away, leaving behind her beloved boyfriend and a daughter. And with that I went from having three “mothers” who would make me call when I got home just to make sure I made it OK, to being the matriarch of my family.

And now as I am on the brink of turning 50, I know why I was that surprise given to my family.

My role as godmother to both my niece and nephew has been enacted. I was the stand-in mother of the bride and the groom at both my niece and nephew’s weddings. I am “auntie Grandma” to my niece’s daughter. I am the grandmother of three beautiful grandchildren. I am my husband’s constant companion and he is truly my best friend. I will, as my brother puts it, give him his time if and when the COPD gets the best of him and make sure that I am at the hospital every day with him, as I was with the rest of my family.

I am here to keep the family memories alive, keep my whole family together and to worry about them and make sure that they call and let me know when they get home. I will carry on our families’ traditions and make new ones with my children and grandchildren.

And I will make sure that my 85-year-old father will never be placed in a nursing home (which he fears more than death). We are adding an addition on to our house and we will welcome him gladly into our home and make sure that his next years are happy and comfortable.

God gave me to my family so they would have someone to lean on, and I am embracing that role wholeheartedly.