71: Turning Tragedy into Triumph

71: Turning Tragedy into Triumph

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Breathe. Listen for my footfall in your heart. I am not gone but merely walk within you.

~Nicholas Evans

It was the day after his funeral. I was sitting on a couch in a darkened living room that precisely mirrored my mood. Gloomily surveying the wreckage of what was once a beautiful life and paralyzed by the thought of facing the future without him, his words echoed within my grief-stricken heart: “Take our family’s experience and use it for good by helping others.”

All I could think was, “I can’t even help myself or our daughter. How am I supposed to help anyone else?”

A bigger-than-life man who filled a room just by entering it, Mike and I were best friends for almost fifteen years before we married. Ours was not a conventional marriage. His work as an undercover narcotics investigator meant that he was often working more than he was home. However, we always took advantage of the time that we had together and had an enormous amount of fun — both as a couple and a family. We worked hard, we played hard, we chased our young daughter from one activity to another. In short, we absolutely loved the life that we had created.

Then in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the life that we had so carefully crafted came to a screeching halt when Mike was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Although the doctor followed his heartbreaking diagnosis by gamely attempting optimism, we all knew what this devastating news meant: Mike was going to die and it was going to be sooner, rather than later.

Mike’s illness progressed rapidly. Only one year after the symptoms first appeared, he lost the use of his arms and hands. Six months later, he was in a wheelchair. The disease then viciously attacked his respiratory system. Shortly thereafter, he required a feeding tube.

One evening, Mike and I were discussing the sort of things that no couple wants to discuss. One of his most emphatic wishes was that after he was gone he wanted me to “take our family’s experience and use it for good by helping others.”

I had no idea what he meant, let alone how to fulfill such a wish. How on earth could this experience — watching my husband die bit by bit — be used in any way for the “good” of anyone else?

Two months after our discussion, in the midst of what should have been a beautiful holiday season, Mike passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his loved ones.

I quickly realized that while it was tempting, crawling into a metaphorical black hole was not the answer. A perpetual state of mourning was not what Mike wanted for us and it was not the behavior that I wished to model for my daughter. I wanted her to see that life could knock us down, but that we did not have to stay down. She needed to understand that while we could not control the circumstances that took her daddy away, we could control our reactions to those circumstances and actually design a life for ourselves. Most of all, I decided that remaining in mourning forever was not going to be my destiny.

My Healing Journey had begun.

My daughter went back to school and I returned to work, only to receive word that my father had been hospitalized. He was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and died nine weeks later. In a time span of only four months, I had lost the two most important men in my life. The grief was so overwhelming, it felt insurmountable.

Deeply grieving but determined nonetheless, I again picked myself up and resumed my Healing Journey.

Time passed. I endured and survived the “firsts” that everyone faces after the death of a loved one — the first birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and so forth. I helped my daughter with her grieving and rebuilding processes. Later, I learned how to go out and enjoy myself on my own. I rebuilt my business to its former success. We moved into a new home. Slowly but surely, I was getting to know the post-tragedy woman I had become.

Five years after Mike passed away, I was marveling at how far we had come in our recovery. I found myself thinking about how little there was in the way of guidance or support for the bereaved. I had read many books on the subject of loss and, while they were terrific, none had provided any solid, practical advice. No one was answering questions about things like post-loss dating and love, handling financial and legal matters, helping a grieving child, coping with not-so-supportive people — and much more.

I grabbed a pen and began making notes. When I finished, I had written what eventually became the Table of Contents for my first book. But in the process, something even bigger had occurred. I had discovered my new purpose.

Another journey had just begun.

Of course, naysayers and negativity abounded. While confident in my skills as a writer and with the subject matter, I was still an unknown author who had chosen to write in one of the least popular genres in the marketplace. After all, who really wants to talk about grief and bereavement? However, rather than give in to the negativity, I remained focused on the millions of people sitting in darkened living rooms while surrounded by their own particular life wreckages, each convinced that they were alone in their misery. It was time to fulfill Mike’s wish.

One year after scribbling notes onto a legal pad, I founded Widows Wear Stilettos. It was one of the first online support organizations of its kind and welcomed widows of all ages and walks of life. Three years later, Widows Wear Stilettos was published and two more books, Happily Even After and When Bad Things Happen to Good Women, have followed. I continue teaching those who have been touched by life-challenging situations to find their own triumph-after-tragedy paths to healing.

While tragedy will shape you, it does not have to define you. It remains my goal to help others in need on their healing journeys and teach as many as possible that there is indeed triumph after tragedy. While yours may not be the life that you originally anticipated, it is a life that you are entitled to lead in happiness, in abundance and most importantly, in peace.

“Take our family’s experience and use it for good by helping others.” I pray that I am doing just that… and I like to believe that somewhere, Mike is smiling.

~Carole Brody Fleet

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