Saturday, February 13, 2016

I Could Never Be As Strong As You

"I could never be as strong as you. I could never do what you've done."

So many people have said that to me over the last almost two years. Often I hear it from people I think can handle anything. They seem so strong; they're so self-assured and confident, and yet they doubt they could make it through what I have.

Every single minute of every day someone is experiencing a tragedy; illness, abuse, rape, death. And every single day people rise in the face of these tragedies and not only survive but flourish. And we look at them in awe and say "Not me, I could never survive that. I could never be that strong." Perhaps it's human nature to underestimate what we are capable of.

I used to do the same thing.

Before I was widowed, I only knew one widow my own age. I met her several years ago when she just happened to move in beside us in military housing. In those days, a long time before the war in Afghanistan, there were mercifully few Canadian military casualties. My friend's husband was one of the exceptions. When I met her a few years after her husband's death, she was married to another soldier and moving forward with her life. We didn't talk about the loss of her first husband or her life as a widow. I didn't ask her any questions about it, partially because I didn't want to be intrusive, but also I suppose because I didn't really want to know, ignorance is bliss as they say and by discussing her husband's death, I'd have to acknowledge the possibility that it could happen to mine.

And I was young and naive. Of course, it wasn't going to happen to my husband, the mission he was on in Bosnia was SAFE. I marveled at her strength. She'd not only survived her husband's death but had married another soldier. There was no way I could do that.

I'd never be able to survive if anything happened to Dan, and I certainly would never be able to marry again, let alone to another soldier. I could never, ever be as strong as her.

And then one day my doorbell rang, and I was forced to learn just how strong I can be.

You never know how strong you can be until you have to be that strong.

As I stood at my front window that fateful afternoon, mentally preparing for what I was going to tell our children, I knew that this was NOT the end of my life. Our kids needed their mom, I couldn't let Dan's death take me away from them as well. And as I watched them walking into our driveway, knowing that I was about to break their hearts, I also knew it was up to me to help them put those hearts back together.

My path forward began that afternoon with the acknowledgement that my life was still worth living, even without Dan, as painful as that would be. I was so much more than just his wife and I AM so much more than just his widow. I wanted our children to know that life still had meaning, even without their father.

I knew that my actions would very much influence them. If I was negative, angry and bitter, they would be the same. And that's the last thing that I wanted for them.

I have tried to be a positive example to them since that day. Though there were plenty of times in the first weeks that I had to be stoic, I never wanted them to think being strong meant they always had to be tough and have a stiff upper lip. And for as many times as they saw me being stoic, there were many more times they saw me let the tears flow freely. I have never hidden my tears from them (Seriously what is it about commercials? They get me every time).

But strength isn't just about letting yourself express emotions. Strength is so much more than that.

Being strong means knowing when to ask for help, when to lean on others and also when to stand on your own.

It's not about having all of the answers (God knows I don't have them all, I'm good but I'm not that good).

It's about doing the best you possibly can, and knowing that sometimes you will make mistakes along the way.

Strength is knowing there will be times you fall and that's okay because it isn't really about the fall anyway, it's how you rise afterwards that's important.

And strength is knowing that happiness (or unhappiness) is a choice, no one can make us happy but ourselves.

Strength is owning your happiness.

I recently received a message from a young, newly married military wife. She wanted to let me know how much she admired my strength and courage. And in an echo of a young wife I knew so many years ago, she told me she didn't think that she could be as strong as me. She could never survive if she ever lost her husband, and she definitely didn't think she could get married again, especially not to another soldier.

When I read her message, I realized I had come full circle. And so I told her what I'm sure my friend would have told me all those years ago if I'd had the courage to voice my own fears to her, I told her the truth.

 I survived my husband's death because I made the choice to survive.

I made the choice to accept the unacceptable. I made the choice to move forward with my life. I made the choice to be happy.

And though I may have somehow made it appear easy (I've heard that one a couple of times lately) it's not easy. Life rarely is. Sometimes it's difficult, and stressful, and complicated. But it's also wonderful, amazing and incredibly rewarding.

I hope my young friend never has to learn just how strong she can be, but if she does, I hope she too can make the choice to survive, to accept the unacceptable and to move forward with her life.

I hope that she remembers, even as happiness may seem to forget her for a bit, that happiness is a choice.

Life should be lived, not endured.

Ultimately we are the ones who are responsible for how we respond in the face of tragedy. We can rise up and do our very best, or we can admit defeat.

If we admit defeat, tragedy wins. I refused to let tragedy win.

Something awful happened to my life but my life is far from awful.

Strength is letting go of the life you had planned and embracing the life you do have. And I have done just that.

I may not know how the rest of my life will go, but I do know this. I'm strong enough to live it.

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will."~Mahatma Gandhi

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