Thursday, July 13, 2017

     She said, “I don’t know if I’m strong. I’ve never been tested.” I will never forget those words, as they came from a source that was totally unexpected.

     Many years ago, when I was dealing with an ugly divorce and custody battle, a colleague came up to me and said those words. She said, “You always have a smile on your face, and I am sure you are struggling inside.” I didn’t particularly care for this person, as she was always bragging.  When she expressed sympathy, I was shocked. But to this day, I realize that those words were comforting more than she may have intended them.

     I have several close friends who are dealing with serious health and emotional issues. As they are being tested, I watch them and how they deal with their crises. I, too, am starting to have aging issues which could potentially be life-threatening, but so far I’m just in the “limping along” stage. (I don’t limp yet, and that’s a good thing. Limping in 4 inch stilettos would be too weird.)  

     These friends are amazing to me, and I look at them as role models of strength. Bob Marley once said, “We don’t know how strong we are until we have no other choice.” Well, to me, there are other choices. We can drink ourselves silly. We can drug ourselves to sleep. We can be mean. We can withdraw. We can whine and complain all the time so people don’t want to be around us. We can be angry at the world and lash out at all those around us. There are many negative choices, but my friends aren’t going there. They are walking with dignity facing each new day with its new pain, its new complications, its new disappointments. I don’t know how they do it, as I am struggling just thinking about the “what ifs?” 

     I listen to each of them. I hear strength in their voices when we talk on the phone. I hear them relate funny stories and talk about things they do on the way to chemo or how they liked their latest read while waiting in the third doctor’s office of the week. I take mental notes so I can refer to them when I need them. I listen to those who are strong in their faith and I am happy that they have such strong religious convictions. I praise their attitudes and their small successes as they journey along with their illnesses. 

     It doesn’t matter how old you are; illness doesn’t just strike the elderly. I know plenty of young people dealing with serious conditions—even young children. We all need strength to endure such events in our lives, so having a support stash can be very useful.

     I have been tested many times in my life—both physically and emotionally, but somehow I’ve survived. My friends have been tested in different ways, but they have each found their own way to cope. If you have never been tested, consider yourself very fortunate. If you have been tested and have survived, remember the steps you took so when a friend or loved one faces a crisis, you can share what you’ve learned. We must each find our own way, but sometimes we are so desperate for answers, we will listen to any suggestions no matter how seemingly ridiculous. When you know a loved one is in pain, listen with empathy. Imagine how you would feel in their shoes, and while comforting them, remember the steps they took to endure. Some of the best life lessons come from enduring pain and suffering, even when it’s not our own.