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Five years ago today, we celebrated my mom’s life; a very special day, that cold Saturday in January. Italian food, free-flowing wine, many dear friends and family members, love, laughter, and of course, tears. The gathering culminated in a balloon release that she would have loved.

The sight of those magnificent pearlescent purple and white balloons floating skyward literally took my breath away. It was a symbolic and bittersweet moment I’ll always remember. She had finally been released from the agonizing pain that plagued her in the final stage of Alzheimer’s, yet I had lost my beautiful mama.

Gratitude and the searing ache of loss intertwined in a way I never realized possible.

As the years go by, it almost feels like a dream. It’s hard to imagine that our decade-long journey was real, and that this disease – THIS brain ravaging monster – would take such a strong, intelligent, independent woman.

Here’s to you, Mom. There isn’t a day that goes by that you aren’t on my mind.