Big Gifts in Great Pain

09/30/2010 01:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Twenty years ago today I awoke to the ringing of the phone.

This day was my mother-laws retirement party and we had come from out of town to attend. But this one call changed everything. Funny how you always expect those calls to come in the middle of the night where you would be suddenly awaken afraid to answer the phone because you knew it was "one of those calls."

But this was simply the phone ringing in the morning -- not too early that you would even think anything was wrong. But unfortunately, something was seriously wrong.

My mother was being rushed to the intensive care unit in her home town suffering from a massive heart attack. Her fiancé had called to let us know that they were not sure at this point how serious it was but we may want to come.

It's funny how life throws you curve balls, isn't it. I was two hours away from home and two hours in a different direction away from the hospital my mother was being rushed to. And I had a six month old son.

I'm not sure you ever think clearly in situations like this. The way I saw it at the time, I had two options -- Plan A drive directly to the hospital with my husband and new son or Plan B drive them home where my son would have everything he needed and drive myself the additional two hours back to the hospital. Plan B it was.

As I arrived at the hospital I wondered how things like this happen to a 53 year old woman. I arrived on the ICU floor just as the alarm sounded and doctors and nurses went running into the ICU.

I knew it was Mom, I knew she was gone and I knew as the doctor explained that they had done everything they could that my choice of Plan B was not going to work out for me.

I didn't know how to live with my decision. For four years I grieved that I should have been there when she passed away -- that she would have needed me there to hold her hand and help her over. I was devastated. And I continually wished that I could go back and change my decision and drive directly to the hospital.

But we don't get those chances do we. So we have to do the next best thing. We have to find the gift in the chaos. What gift you say? That's exactly what I would have said too if someone had told me to "find the gift."

But I believe in miracles and my sister is a miracle for she saved me from myself. As we drove down the highway talking about Mom, I again started to cry because of my grievous decision, when she said to me "Cara I am glad you did not make it."

I was shocked. How could she say that. But what I heard next were the words that released me from my guilt forever. My sister told me how she was glad that I did not make it that day because Mom and I were so close that I would have moved right in and held Mom's hand and she and Mom, who were not so close over the last few years, would not have had the chance to say the things they both needed to say and to hear. She was able to hold Mom's hand and tell her how much she loved her -- words my Mother would cherish as she was preparing to leave this world.

As soon as I saw a gift in not making it to the hospital that day -- the pain disappeared -- gone like it had never existed. I couldn't believe it but it was true and what I realized was there are gifts in everything in our life- - good or bad. We see the gifts in the good because they are very clear -- the gifts in the bad -- not so much. But the rewards when you look and find them -- are amazing. Life altering.

I wish you many gifts.