“You are a strong lady, Mama,” Blais said as I handed him his heavy school backpack with one hand. While driving.

“Yes, I am” I replied, even though I haven’t always thought of myself that way.

It’s been exactly a year since my husband Matthew passed away. Today, a year ago, the strength I never thought I’d had was put to the test: I had to make the decision to take Matthew off life support. I had to look into his beautiful eyes and ask him if he was ready. I had to be strong to see his tiredness and his pain and hope that what’s next for him was better than what he had left here on Earth. I had to find strength to hold myself together when I wanted to fall apart. I had to hold my kids and cry and somehow let them know that all will be well. Even when it wasn’t.

In the past year I learned I was strong. I did things I never had to do before – from dealing with appliances and moisture in the crawl space of my house, to juggling school activities for my three sons (Why do they all seem to happen at the same time?), and carrying heavy boxes and loading up my own equipment for gigs.

But my strength wasn’t in being able to carry the heavy load. It was in knowing that the load had become too heavy and asking for help.

My strength wasn’t in carrying on with a smile when I knew I was breaking from sadness and grief,
but in accepting love and open arms that held me as I crumbled.

If my strength was my pride, I would have ended up cold and brittle. Unable and unwilling to bend, I’d truly break. The very desire to be strong would have led me to loneliness from which no amount of my own strength would ever lift me up.

My strength is in knowing that I don’t have to be strong. That in being weak lies grace and new life. My strength is in admitting I don’t want to go on alone but want to rely on friends, family and those who love me and my sons.

My strength is not in taking control over raising my kids as a single parent but in surrendering that control and trusting that each of them is guided by God, supported by the whole creation and given their own strength. My strength is in believing that Life is resilient, ever renewing and beautiful.  

In this past year, I was strong to take on new projects and push outside of my comfort zones even at the risk of failing. And I failed at times.

My strength didn’t come from holding my head high but in hitting the ground too many times and getting up again. Trying different things. Rolling up my sleeves each day and starting over.

It’s also in staying in bed on days when I simply couldn’t move. Staying still while Life went on without me and knowing that that was OK.

My strength is in taking one day at a time, letting Love — the very force behind Life — carry me and replenish my energy, my hope, and the love I need to survive.

Yes, for years, I had relied on Matthew for strength. Especially when I was not well. When depression and anxiety sat like a five-ton truck on my chest. I needed him to do the simplest daily tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

And when he knew he might not make it, Matthew looked at me and said: “You can do it. You are one of the strongest people I know.”

Then he smiled and reminded me how, when he first met me, I reminded him of his Polish grandmother who was a very, very strong and courageous survivor.

I wish things were different. I wish he were still here. Not to be my strength, but to enjoy life a little longer. He loved life. He loved people and was passionate about helping others – especially the weak and the forgotten.

I learned so much about strength from him when he was around… Most knew him for his tremendous endurance, courage, sense of adventure and incredible faith.

But I saw his strength through the dark times – when he cried, doubted, got angry and discouraged, when he felt like he was trapped in life’s circumstances and when he had no answers. When he couldn’t fix our problems, my depression, or kids’ aches and pains.

I saw his strength when he had to say goodbye to his family he loved so much – and when he did it without an ounce of burden, encouraging us to find joy despite the grief of losing him.

“Yes, I’m strong,” I said again to Blais after all these thoughts ran through my head. “And so are you.”