My Superheroes

The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes. Elizabeth Gilbert

From the time Jimmy was first diagnosed with cancer, people started telling me how strong I was. I found it puzzling because I didn’t feel particularly strong. It wasn’t as though I had made the decision to be strong and then the universe handed me an opportunity to prove it to my friends, family and people I didn’t know.

Instead, I found myself in a circumstance I could never have imagined, and I did what any loving momma would do — anything and everything I could think of to save my son’s life.

Until one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer and my son with brain cancer, I truly didn’t understand just how unfair life can be. But once you enter the world of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hospitals, doctors and endless waiting, you discover just how many people are in there with you.

I’ve met a lot of superheroes over the past fifteen years. Parents who’ve lived on after the death of their only child. Young people who’ve had to raise themselves after losing one or both parents in their teens or twenties. Siblings who’ve had to grow up or grow old without the brothers and sisters they expected to be there alongside them. Friends who wanted to find a lifelong partner and didn’t. Couples who wanted to have children and couldn’t get pregnant or carry a baby to term. Parents whose babies were born and didn’t survive. Loss is everywhere once you open your eyes.

After a beloved dies, your world becomes a series of “ands”. Before and after. Courage and fear. Sorrow and joy. It takes courage to get up and face the day, no matter how strong your support system or how well loved you are. And when one of your most important people is missing, the hole is deep and wide and dark.

Before my own world exploded, I used to think I had the power to make sure everything worked out .. by trying hard .. by paying attention .. by putting in the effort .. by willing life to be a certain way. Bad things happened to other people, or at least, that was the story I told myself. And then I learned the hard way that we are all just a phone call away from the ground crumbling under our feet.

There are moments that forever alter the course of your life. Moments when everything you believe in is shattered. Moments that make or break you. Moments that change you forever.

What’s remarkable to me is how often people step up and do what is necessary in those situations where they have no choice. Those times when, as Winston Churchill once said, “It is not enough that we do our best, sometimes we must do what is required.”

The people who “do what is required” are my superheroes. They move heaven and earth. They fight with everything they have. They don’t give up. They get shit done.

Even if they lose the battle, they find a way to keep living. To support others who are also grieving. To look for the beauty in life. To reach for joy and laughter and love and tears, despite their own pain. To acknowledge that nothing will change the outcome or bring back those who are lost. To stand in the ashes, heart broken, arms wide open, offering to comfort other broken souls and help carry the loss.

Mussel shell in the sand with sand and a white rock inside

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