Detroit Woman’s Strength Proves “When Life Happens” Growth is Nearby

I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just finished my shift at Northside Medical Supply Facility. I grabbed myself a bite to eat and made my way to the hospital to check on my son before heading home for the night. As strange as it may sound, I was used to this routine. Darius, my only son, was born with kidney disease and began taking dialysis treatments at the age of 10. Hospital stays for weeks at a time had become the norm for him — actually for us. After all, I am his mother. 

Head down, barely noticing the nurses and the other hospital workers, I made my way to Darius’s room.  I expected to see him propped up in his bed watching TV or reading a magazine, but to my horror, I found him on the floor in the throes of a full-blown seizure. I screamed for help, nurses came running and they were able to get him stabilized. As awful as that moment was to experience as a mother, looking back, I almost remember the episode as one of the times when we got lucky — YES, LUCKY! You see, I didn’t know it at the time but as Darius’s condition worsened over the years, he would eventually end up on life support at the brink of death seven times before his 21st birthday. 

Still, it was at that moment that I realized that I could no longer leave my son’s bedside. 

I made the difficult decision to leave a job that I loved to be with my son who I loved much more. Be clear — I wanted to work but I knew I had to take care of my child. 

Leaving my job was one of the hardest decisions I had ever made. I had considered it before but knowing I needed the income, I always talked myself out of it. Overnight, I became an unemployed, single mother raising three kids in inner-city Detroit. I went everywhere looking for help but I kept getting the runaround and doors slammed shut. I couldn’t even qualify for unemployment because I voluntarily quit my job. 

Administrators at the social service agency said that they sympathized with my family’s dilemma but ultimately, the rules are the rules. I felt embarrassed, hopeless and most of all, invisible. Where do you go when you want to work and want to earn money, but life happens? 

It became apparent rather quickly that my family was not going to be able to make it with the only income being my son’s social security disability check. I was grateful for the support of my mother who allowed me to bring my kids to live with her. She showed up for us and in her, I felt the depth of a mother’s love and commitment to her child. Still, over time, my body began to literally break down due to the stress and anxiety of my dire financial situation. And to make things worse, my daughter, Danielle, fell victim to the ills of drug abuse and addiction.  

I began to notice that she was losing weight, missing work and increasingly in the streets. Then I started noticing that Darius’s pain meds were disappearing from the medicine cabinet. So yeah, here I am unemployed, broke raising three kids — including one who was constantly sick and one who was struggling with addiction. 

Yeah, life happens. 

When people hear my story, they inevitably ask me, “Kathleen, how’d you make it?” The easy answer is that I am a mother and that is what mothers do. Beyond that, I really had to learn to lean on my faith and believe that whatever the trial or obstacle I was contending with, I knew God had a plan for my life.  

I honestly believe that everything I went through was preparing me to be able to help others. In short, my pain birthed my purpose.

It was hard to see for so long, but my trials and tribulations positioned me to be an asset for others in similar situations. Leaning into the responsibility I felt to help others.

I started a community nonprofit called Damsel, Take Your Crown. We are a support group focusing on inspiring women to gain the strength and tools to help lift themselves and their families from poverty, drugs, and insufficiency. 

I feel called to this work and even though it is never easy, it is the most rewarding experience of my life to help other women learn from the things I have experienced in life. I am excited to be planning a community baby shower for young women who need support and encouragement as they prepare to bring new life into the world. I am also raising money and organizing a movie night in the park next summer. This will be an awesome experience for kids in my neighborhood who desperately need positive activities to participate in.  

My community reaches beyond my city or neighborhood, it also includes UpTogether.

Connecting with UpTogether has been an amazing blessing. I used the money I received to purchase a vehicle. This allowed me to be more independent and better able to do the things I needed to do for myself and my family. 

I’m also able to support strangers through my participation in the UpTogether Builders group, which provides ideas and recommendations for how UpTogether can continuously improve and better serve members.

Even though the road I have traveled has not been an easy one, I am still proud of what I have been able to accomplish as a mother and a good citizen within my community. Through love and determination, Darius is doing much better and is finally able to live on his own and start a family. Also, Danielle, herself a mother now, is over five years clean and sober. I am so proud of them both! 

It took a little luck and a lot of prayer for me to make it to this point in life, but I am grateful for every lesson learned, every moment spent with my children and every opportunity to prove to the world that what we have is not the full measure of who we are. 

Life happens, but we keep pushing, keep growing and never stop believing that better days are ahead.

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