I’ve always known what strength a woman can have. I have a strong mother and I have strong grandmothers. I grew up learning from strong female teachers and have been blessed with strong female friends. They have all been role models to me, showing me the different forms strength can take, giving me a goal to set since I was only a toddler.
I had been a good little student with notebook and pen in hand, jotting notes on what strength looked like, yet with all the strong women I watched I did not possess genuine strength myself. I was a caterpillar in a cocoon, waiting for that all-consuming metamorphosis which would truly teach what strength was to me.
It was not until April 19, 2016 that I was taught what strength I carried myself.
Before 2016 I thought I was strong. I had been through relationship heartbreak and survived. I had suffered a bruised ego, a bruised body, and bruised self-esteem countless times and lived to tell the tales. Each is a terrible pain in its own right, yes?
In April 2016 I was taught what real pain feels like. Not just the pain of being scraped or dumped or cheated on or isolated.
In April 2016, I experienced extreme heartache. The type of heartache that can’t be repaired with a drunken text, a girls’ night out, a Band-aid, or months of vacation and/or self-care. I experienced the type of heartache where the person you lose is never coming back.
That person was beautiful. She was breathtaking. Someone that deserved to live a long, happy life free of hurt. But that person was ripped away from this world. She didn’t get enough time with her family, her friends, her community. She didn’t get to say everything she should have. Didn’t do everything she was meant to have done.
My strength stirred the day I found out the news — and every day since. I questioned myself. I questioned the meaning of Life and the purpose people play in it. I questioned God.
Because the entire situation was so incredibly unfair.
But God doesn’t play favorites.
My strength rippled deep in my heart and became a crashing wave. And before long the crash shifted to a roar as my eyes opened to how the world turns. It wasn’t the shadowed world where pain is felt then decreases with time. Instead, the world could be dark and dreary, slamming grief on a daily basis.
Yet here I am. I’m still breathing.
Death made me strong. Death gave my strength life.
I had never been forced to face Death before. So abrupt, so impacting. And it was either survive or drown.
So I decided to swim and I grew stronger with every stroke.
A strength that pushed me to persevere for a cause so dear to my friend. A strength that urged me to grow relationships with others close to her — women I now consider some of my closest friends. A strength that has grown into an adaptable hurricane and made me capable of weathering an unpredictable and uncontrollable Life. A strength that reminds me daily that Life is so worth the ride. A strength that carries me through all of the ups and downs cast my way.
Of course, I’m not done crying. Sometimes the tears arrive when I run across her picture or hear Uptown Funk play on the radio. Sometimes I cry when I feel overwhelmed planning an event or I see a flash of the color pink. Sometimes I cry when I catch a glimpse of blonde hair while on the elliptical or drink a sweet white wine. And the tears show up at this time of year in heavy force.
But those tears don’t make me weak. They make me strong. They make me a survivor.
I’m strong because I handled the biggest loss imaginable and I know what it feels like to miss someone that I can’t reach out to. I’m strong because I didn’t let Death turn me into a cynic. I understand Life’s insecurities and Life’s unfairness better now. I understand what it takes to get through pain and grief, along with a bit of prayer and the love and support of my friends and family.
Nothing can break me now.
Yes, my strength can ebb and flow, but like the mighty ocean it is ever-present. My strength refreshes my life, my dreams, and my goals. There is no pain greater than losing someone you love, but I now know I can overcome even that pain.
Thank you for being a mentor, role model, friend, and one of my biggest fans, Denise. I miss you every day…
But I miss you a little extra today.