Be hopeful, be strong

On New Year’s Eve this year I held a big (metaphorical) candle of hope for the coming year. It was a feeling of hope for peace for one’s loved ones. Peace for the world would be great too – but that’s a bigger stretch. I mean, now as 2013 starts, don’t we all always have lots of hope? Hope that the pains of last year whether felt directly ourselves, or indirectly through those we love are far behind.

Last year we started the year with my Uncle having passed away just prior to Christmas in the year previous, and this was crushing for my father and his other brother, not to mention my Aunty who was left to face life without her beloved husband. But out of the bad came some rays of sunshine – some bonds on my father’s side of the family that had been broken for some time were restored. That directly affected me and as such I was extremely grateful and happy. However, later in the year, another blow came when Mr OC lost his brother-in-law who passed away on his son’s 21st birthday in NZ. It was an incredibly sad time and is still a daily struggle for the family he left behind: his daughters – two young girls, his wife -Mr OC’s sister and his sons – two young men. But they seem to just take it a day at a time – sometimes they flourish and grow, and sometimes they seem to need to just rest and grieve a little. It’s a journey to someplace better. Hope.

So it was a blow to begin this year with the news I have lost a friend to cancer already – she was not a friend I saw much of anymore due to distance and that it just wasn’t possible to do so. But I still cared a great deal about her, and I still have very many memories of great times we spent together and little things in my home that were given to me by her. So you might say that part of her has always been here with me.

And part of her is still here, as it is in the hearts, minds and lives of her closest family and friends. She was a battler and an inspiration – she fought cancer since before I met her (and I met her in 2003). It got me to chatting with a friend who lost her own mother to that terrible disease just two years ago – we ended up talking about this: don’t these strong people really make you understand the gift of life a bit better every day? People often speak about how those who are terminally ill, even the youngest terminally ill child, give off this sense of assured self or fearlessness rarely seen by those untouched by other such traumas. Certainly I think with my friend who died, I had seen her sadness overcome and strength shine through. I don’t know how she was at the end but it is my belief she would have grown stronger in mind as her body grew weaker.

Following the news of this lady’s death I came across a blog – read it here - in which a young woman describes why she has decided to shave off her head in support of a young girl she met who is battling severe cancer. She said something within her blog which  summed-up how I felt my friend’s battle had been “When cancer hits, it has the way of stripping off things we cling too tightly too.” Whilst my friend didn’t lose her hair she lost a lot of weight, and I know she had a lot of sickness, but in all this she still had a wicked sense of humour. It seems that who we are once you take away our physical appearance will remain in those of us who are most strong, even when facing insurmountable pain. And strength comes in those around us too, like pillars standing strong and reaching tall. Families of the sick are just as inspirational in many cases as the sick themselves.

I remember several years ago one of my very best friends losing her dad and then her mum within about a year of one another and quite suddenly. She was around the same age I am now, and me in my mid-twenties at the time, I watched her go through that, holding her hand as best I could and never quite being able to imagine how she must have been feeling. Since then she has grown and found happiness and life is good, sometimes still a struggle but not like it was when she was grieving for that double loss. And for me, again as a spectator I know I grew stronger too because it was probably my first real understanding of how even when really shocking things happen we must keep going, because that is the only thing there is to do. Even in the lesser traumas and losses I’ve had to feel in my life the one thing I take with me coming out the other side of each one is – well I feel a bit stronger now, I felt terrible and weak there for a time… but NOW I want to fight and I’ll fight again.

My final observation of inspirational strength actually took place this weekend and gave me a perfect way to round this blog off – when I started writing it I wasn’t even sure what my main objective was, what my main theme was, or what I wanted to conclude. At the time I started writing this blog last week I just wanted to record the strength I’ve seen around me in various capacities of late and talk about the sad things versus the hope I felt so strongly at the start of the year. I guess my hope felt a little, tiny bit crushed and the sad news of my friend from the UK passing away had left me feeling strangely at odds about being in such a good place in my own life.

Anyway, on the weekend Mr OC and I went to visit one of his cousins who lives here and I had not yet met. We had invited her and her partner to our engagement party and it was good to know we would get some exclusive time with them prior to that. Before we went over I said to Mr OC – “We must remember to let them know they can stay with us when they come over for the engagement party. ” Mr OC – “Oh they probably won’t be able to because [he] is in a wheelchair” – he being his cousin’s partner (I don’t do proper names on here for privacy). “Oh” says me “I didn’t know” and that was about all I could say because that was the truth – it had never come up before. And btw the reason they probably can’t stay is because we’re 2nd floor in a building without a lift/elevator. Yah. Sucky. Love our apartment and block but it is a pain to move into and out of AND easy access it certainly isn’t for those loved ones who require it.

So off we went for the dinner and to stay with the cuzzies and we had an absolutely great evening – amazing seafood, good conversations, good times. Talking to Mr OC’s cousin and her partner I came to feel quite humbled and incredibly inspired. Unsurprisingly, being of similar age and with similar backgrounds, living in the same city I guess they could just as easily be us – except for one life-changing moment in which one of them got slammed into a sandbank when messing around in the waves at the beach one day. He damaged part of the spinal chord quite high up which has basically cut off most of his mobility from the chest down. Now with limited arm movement he must rely on his partner and other carers to do a great deal for him. When you watch the routines of their life it almost seems like there is little effect on them  – but then you think about it, talk to them about trying to find an accessible/wheelchair-friendly apartment in an expensive city, especially when all you want is to get in your home together because one of you has been living in care/hospital/rehabilitation centres for nine months or more. And even once the practicalities and the daily changes to life have become the norm, there is surely the emotional impact to overcome.

Never have I met a couple who are so young, and have gone through something so life-changing together, who are so down-to-earth, so generous, so sorted. I felt like a fool as I gushed to them (through my several glasses of prosecco) how amazing and inspiring I thought they were. And they acknowledge that it was tough and how it makes you put things in perspective. But mostly they just talk about everything matter-of-factly and it struck me that is because if Mr OC and I were to ever face something like that, if we were a strong enough couple whose vision was aligned (as I believe we would be) we would be in the same boat as them – that you just learn to cope until it isn’t coping it’s just normality. After all, they have each other and they know they got through this – they can face life right sqaure in the face.

Strength matters, in hope there is strength, and overall love will bind it all together. I do feel hope and I hope you do too. You will feel stronger if you look around you and deep into yourself. I feel strength and if you don’t I will be strong for you. 

being strong

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