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That Which Does Not Kill Us Will Only Make Us Stronger
It was late October and she wore a navy windbreaker over her black dress. Her short dark hair was curled, and pinned back from her eyes. In her late forties, she had more wrinkles than most women her age. After two children struggling to become adults, another rowdy teen in the process, and a troublesome tween boy, (not to mention the large quantities of alcohol she consumed on a daily basis), I couldn’t blame her. I bet she had a grey hair or two. She wasn’t crying, but her face was like stone, somber. She leaned against the brick wall with one hand deep in the pocket of her jacket, and a cigarette in the other. She took long, heavy drags, like the nicotine was the only thing keeping her alive.
An elderly couple emerged from the double doors and approached her. Her parents, I assumed. The older woman reached out to touch her arm, in hopes to provide some comfort, but as their eyes met, she recoiled. Perhaps you can’t always fix what’s been broken.
I kept my distance, secretly terrified of conversation. My voice was weak and my eyes were shrink-wrapped in tears. If I spoke a word, I feared I would melt. My arms and legs would turn to mush and I’d be nothing but a heap of something that used to be on the cold, cement ground. I knew I should hug her and love her, but I had to protect myself. I was weak enough, without her baggage on my back.
He was 15 at the time of his death. It was a death of the most unnecessary deaths, as most are. It was preventable. It was tragic. It was before graduation, before college, before marriage, before children, before grandchildren… He was sad a lot, but somehow, no one saw this coming. He locked his door that night and tied a belt around his neck. Two weeks in the hospital with serious brain damage. Connected to every machine imaginable, never regaining consciousness… And we lost him.
His appearance is still clear as crystal in my mind and I fear it always will be. His face was all shades of blacks, and blues, and pinks, and purples. The explosion of a supernova colliding with the sun in a night sky. Bruises upon bruises due to lack of blood flow. A thick welt around his throat. Such a terrible sight is not appropriate for a young girl’s eyes.
A few weeks subsequently to the funeral, I went to see her. I was falling apart and longing for some reassurance or a shoulder to cry on. I expected to see the emotionally worn woman who had just lost her son to suicide I had seen at the funeral, sitting calmly without a tear in her eye. Remorseful, but strong. As I opened the door to the house that I had grown so fondly of over the years, my heart sunk. Before my eyes was a ragged old woman who was barely recognizable. Her stench was strong and putrid, of pure filth and booze. Her hair was matted and messy and she held a half empty bottle of Vodka in her left hand. She was shaking violently and her face was tear-stained.
She ignored my presence and collapsed on the floor.
My heart was heavy and lonely – I missed my best friend. There were days I felt like I couldn’t go on any longer myself. I cried, I slept, and I ate more than I should have. I experienced denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, and longed for the day I could great acceptance with a welcoming hand.
As the months progressed, I saw her less and less. Occasionally I’d still think of her in her navy windbreaker when the air was chilly and the wind was calm. There were colored leaves falling to the ground, indicating that it was late October once again. My acceptance had yet to come.
One year since the death of her son and her hair was pulled back from her eyes as she stood before the headstone. She wore clean clothes and she reeked of nothing but perfume. She spoke to her husband without an ounce of stutter or hesitation in her voice. There was no cigarette or bottle in her hands; instead, she held her daughter’s hand with her left, and her mother’s with her right. I approached her and she smiled. Her smile grew as she noticed my mouth hanging open slightly, in awe.
After a brief amount of small talk, I gathered the nerve to ask how she had done it. How she got better. How she was standing in front of me, clean and smiling, not a tear in her eye. She then spoke the words that I will never forget; “I lost my son. But through God, I found the strength to live.” Its strange how the simplest explanations can make a world of sense, and how just a few words can stick with you for the rest of your life.
Perhaps even the most painful things happen to us for a reason. Whether it be to teach us a lesson or to make us stronger along the way. In a moment of despair, we can become weak and withered, if we allow ourselves to. Life throws us curve balls every now and again, but even in the deepest and darkest situations, we will find a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, or a woman to give us strength. When Deloris Gordon lost her son to suicide, she thought her life was over. She became a lonely woman in a navy windbreaker, holding a cigarette and drinking to numb the pain. But somehow along the way, she found strength in God. I found my strength in her. And through this, I had my acceptance.