Monday, June 15, 2015

Challenges met make us stronger

My column from Saturday's Briefing:

It is the last day of school. A group of girls splash in a backyard pool, less than two hours after the final bell, all worries of fourth grade washed away.
One of the girls is leaving the party. She stands on the deck, wrapped in a towel, chlorinated water dripping from her hair, freckling her toes.
We talk about fifth grade, possibly at a different school. She’s endured change before, on top of some academic challenges. She is reluctant to change again.
I love this child, and I feel compelled to offer advice and comfort at the same time.
“You’ve broken a bone before, right?”
Yes. In kindergarten.
“Did you know that when that bone healed, it became stronger? As bone repairs, it becomes a little thicker. I think people are like that, too. When we feel broken, when we feel challenged, and then we overcome the challenge, we are stronger. You have already fought so many challenges. You are strong.”
She hears me, but I’m not sure how much she listens. I understand. Such words are often lost when you need them most.
It is the day after the last day of school. I am in Seattle with my family — my son, daughter, father-in-law, mother-in-law and brother-in-law. We are celebrating my in-laws and their 50 years of marriage.
The last time I was in this city, memories haunted me at every turn. This is the route Steve and I walked to the market. This is the restaurant where we ate dinner. This is the statue upon which he sat and posed for a silly photo.
The last time I was in this city, I still felt broken, still raw from Steve’s death. I was happy to introduce our children to a city that we had loved before there were children, yet I ached for what might have been — an intact family touring the city together, both of us sharing memories of our first Seattle trip not long after we were married.
Now I am less haunted.
As I walked through Pike Street Market, stopping to admire peonies and sniff sweet peas, enjoying the moments in the moment, not comparing them to memories, I recalled that poolside chat from the previous day and realized: I was broken, but now I am stronger.
Am I completely healed? Nope. I’ve given up on a timetable. There’s no schedule that dictates when — or if — I’ll ever fully recover from the emptiness created when Steve stopped breathing.
Am I stronger now than four summers ago? Thank God, yes. Are there still challenges to overcome? Every day, yes.
When Steve died, I received many loving, sincere notes about grief. About being kind to myself. About finding solace in warm memories. About the miraculous healing power found in the passage of time.
I read every word. I’m not sure how much soaked in at the time. The words were there when I needed them most, but I was ill-equipped to fully digest them.
A friend of a friend faces a battle I know well. Her husband has been diagnosed with brain cancer. They have two young children.
My friend asked me to reach out to this mom. I have offered to listen first, to provide advice if asked. I offer with sincerity and yet guarded hesitation. My family did not get the happy ending that we prayed for. Our story isn’t what new brain cancer patients and their families want to hear.
I can coach through logistics, schedules, providers, insurance battles and more.
Most importantly, what I want this family to know, what I want every struggling child to know, what I want to remember myself is this: Being broken isn’t the end. Being broken is the prelude to strength.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at tyradamm@
Cooper, Katie and Tyra at the Pink Door in Seattle, last week

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