My daughter Elli loved to laugh. Her smile brightened the earliest morning and the starkest exam room. With the help of her beloved Veggie Tales videos or favorite music, she would smile through injections, repeated attempts to place an I.V. into her veins, painful stretches, uncomfortable stints strapped into a stander, and the ripping-off of dressings.

Elli died in 2008, and I miss her joy the most.

The joy she chose taught me that your circumstances don’t have to dictate your mood.

She taught me that wallowing in what I don’t like is a recipe for disaster, but if I focus on something else, I can get through anything.

She taught me to be brave, to try things that formerly would make me faint (like giving shots and watching blood transfusions), and learn everything I could so that I could stay on top of our whole family’s health.

For love of her, and because of her attitude in the face of a brain injury, seizures, and multiple open-heart surgeries, I overcame my fear of needles, became a regular blood donor, and developed the skills I needed to be her primary caretaker…. even when she needed shots, in-home IV meds, tube-feedings, breathing treatments, administration of seizure-rescue medications, and other medical procedures.

I will always be proud to be Elli’s mom. I am a better woman, better wife, better mom, better daughter because of her example, and because of all the experiences we shared together.

Remembering Elli’s smiles, her belly-laugh, and the joy she clutched in spite of her difficulties brings me joy. And those memories challenge me to choose joy myself, despite my grief at her death, despite the hurt and struggles we face and will face in the future.

This post is part of SOYJOY‘s What Brings You Joy contest.