Every day was a struggle for Terri McCaffrey as she raised four daughters as a young, single mom for most of their childhoods.
She sometimes held several jobs at once — cleaning churches, waiting tables and making lampshades — and even received public assistance at one point. Still, she managed to attend all her daughters’ activities and made sure they had what they needed.
“It’s just what you do,” McCaffrey, 52, told TODAY Style. “When you have children, it’s not about you anymore, it’s about them. It’s not about your needs anymore. They eat before you eat.”
There’s no doubt the four sisters are grateful. At Christmastime, McCaffrey’s adoring daughters brought tears to her eyes when they surprised her with a large, framed portrait of the four of them in their wedding gowns, a gift she first asked for when Amber Patterson, her eldest daughter, tied the knot back in 2005.
McCaffrey was shocked when she unwrapped the picture, thankful that the daughters she lauds as kind, generous and successful had remembered her longtime wish.
“Crying is an understatement,” said McCaffrey, of Albertville, Alabama. “My heart skipped a beat. I feel like I quit breathing for just a second.”
Twelve years in the making, the stunning photo became a reality when the last of McCaffrey’s daughters got married in December. The sisters donned their gowns for a photo shoot in late November.
“We did it to honor her and all her years of sacrificing for us,” Patterson said, adding: “She’s the most selfless creature in this world.”
McCaffrey praises her daughters as her biggest accomplishment. While she dropped out of high school, all four of her daughters finished college. Patterson, 33, is a teacher; Kasey Culbert, 31, works for a bank chain; Nikki Palacios, 29, is a missionary and works with special needs students; and Skylar Cahill, 27, is a mom of three and an art teacher now working at a store.
The bridal photos, McCaffrey said, are a symbol “that I did do good. I was there for them. I did raise them."
Adding, “I made a lot of mistakes, I’d be the first to tell you. But when I see them, I see an accomplishment by me.”
But don’t think that marriage was the only goal she had for her daughters.
“It’s not just that they’re married,” McCaffrey said. “It’s their accomplishments and their heart. I see good, young, kind, smart, educated girls.”
The framed photo now hanging over her couch represents everything to McCaffrey.
“The photo means that I did well,” said McCaffrey, who has since remarried. “Their heart is just as beautiful as their face.”
And her daughters appreciate everything she gave them along the way.
Patterson remembers her mom attending their soccer and basketball games, cheerleading and other activities. Her mom, she said, is a loving, selfless, compassionate woman who was “there for us constantly, even through our mistakes.”
“She just had a way of teaching us how to learn from our mistakes and how to keep going forward because she had to learn from her mistakes,” Patterson said. “She didn’t want that life for us.”
Patterson and her sisters thrived “because of how well she raised us.”
“We didn’t have the best of everything, and we still pushed through and made sure we had the education she wanted us to have and just overcame our circumstances,” Patterson said. “The older we got, the more we appreciated Mom because we saw how hard it is to make it.
“She is everything good in the world,” Patterson added. “She is the mom we would all want to be.”
McCaffrey sees her sentimental Christmas gift just as it was intended.
“That’s a thank you to me for sacrificing,” she said. “It was such a sweet thing to do.”