eta: *warning - novel ahead. Sorry!*
*Big exhale* What a thinker this one is.
It is hard for any of us to answer with meaning without going into background to some extent I think.
I grew up in an abusive household. My father was a volatile, violent man prone to bursts of incongruous rage that had nothing to do with anything sensible. He was physically and emotionally violent. To this day I get stomach knots when the garage door goes up and find myself cataloguing my day to see what might be something that could set a man off. My self esteem was in the toilet. I believed I was fat (at 130 lbs), ugly, stupid, incapable of surviving on my own and deserving of every bad treatment I ever recieved.
This caused me to dream of being "rescued" a great deal. I put a lot of investment in religion and in finding a "soul mate" at an age where I really needed to be thinking about other things. Nothing wrong with religion mind you, but I processed it in a very dreamy, idealized way that lead to a harsh crash and burn of it later in my life. I fell in love at 17 and held onto that love long after it turned sour. In time, he turned back around and asked me to marry him, which I thought was my moment of shining glory. Big big wedding, moved far, far away with a guy who was a virtual stranger (He was active duty military all through our relationship and those were the days of expensive long distance calls and snail mail, no email, no Skype). Turned out the personality I created for him in my mind was not who he was. We had three children together and I died a slow emotional death suffocating under a relationship that just was not a good fit. He was not a bad person...he just was not good for me.
To make a long story short, my life changed drastically during what I call the 7 Years of Hell, which started around 1998. In a seven year timespan, I made peace with my father (who mellowed both with age and a mysterious, horrible illness), got a divorce, had my youngest child diagnosed with a brain tumor, lost my father to a drowning accident at his lake house, had my oldest son diagnosed with AML, had him go into remission eight months later, then relapse eight months after that. He had a successful BMT only to die from complications due to CMV. We had to make the decision to discontinue life support, disconnect the machines and let him go. It just doesn't get any more devastating than that.
Those 7 years are the axis on which my life changed direction, as you might imagine. I suffered from major depression most all my life and during those 7 years struggled with suicidal thoughts and deep despair early on, then just a grim, matter-of-fact, almost emotionless approach to the day to day existance of hospital, home, work, children that life required in order to survive it.
After Joseph died, things just got weird. Any religion I had was just.....gone. I could not believe in a God who didn't rescue any of us from all those things that happened in that 7 year period. I had no way to categorize that kind of a God. I was no longer suicidal - I was medicated adequately for my depression and, frankly, had gained a lot of self esteem from who I found myself to be through the crises of my sick children. But all the things I thought dictated who I was in any way, shape or form had shattered. I wasn't useless or stupid - that much was obvious. I wasn't weak. I felt very strong. But what I WAS.....was angry. And I didn't know what to do with that anger. It made me squirm inside with the intensity of it. If cancer was a person, I would have gladly put a gun to its head, pulled the trigger and taken great pleasure out of watching its brains splatter onto the wall behind it and then spent the rest of my life in prison for exacting my revenge. I was furious inside. Vindictive. And without an outlet. It was eating me alive.
Through much of that 7 year period, I had a boyfriend named Joe, 17 years my senior. He supported me, believed in me, loved me and did his best to understand. We were long distance, which worked well at the time. He didn't need the attention a full time relationship would require. We spoke on the phone at the end of the day, emailed, texted, and I got a lot of punctuation marks of support in that way and it held me up just enough to keep going. He came to visit every 3-6 weeks; during better times he would fly me up to visit him, which became a way for me to recharge my weary spirit. After Joseph died, he quit his executive job, packed up his whole life and moved here to start over with me. A leap of faith that I was, frankly, terrified to make. The relationship had worked long distance. I feared I would lose it completely if we attempted full time.
Four months after Joseph's death, I decided to go back to school. Part of my moment of private good-bye with my son before disconnecting life support was a promise. I always wanted to be a nurse, but had recieved the message loud and clear from a very young age that I was too stupid and worthless to achieve something so lofty. I was afraid to even try. But Joseph had done SO MANY things that he was afraid of, and did them with dignity and courage. It would be my tribute to what he went through. All his dreams were stolen from him before he even had a chance to pursue them. My excuses were gone. I would do it. As I began that journey, starting with remediated algebra that didn't even count for college credit because it was less than even high school level, I found an outlet for my anger. It boiled and simmered and bubbled inside me, almost a physical internal burn. By tackling things that seemed to have a vicious personality determined to beat me, things like statistical problems and critical thinking questions and subject matter in A&P and microbiology that churned my guts with memories of what my children have suffered, enabled me to focus and to in a sense fight that battle on a personal level. The mere idea of things was not going to win. Not this time. My sorrow and my promise gave each small victory a sweetness and a bitter triumph. It would not bring Joseph back, but it gave me a way to memorialize our incredible journey together. And as time has gone on, it has given me a sense of my soul returning in a new, changed way.
Joe and I were married in December of 2009. My other two sons are thriving, including my youngest, who lost his pituitary gland to his tumor and lives on a host of medications each day...but he LIVES...and lives well. He inspires me with his matter of fact acceptance of how his life is different from "regular" kids and his serene, philosophical approach. He has confidence in his own inner strength and that makes me feel like I can be okay too. Both of my boys are amazing - respectful, happy, wise beyond their years and possessing an appreciation for life that they should not have to have, but that seems to be helping them through their teen years in a way other teens cannot experience unless they too have been through something so intense.
So it comes down to the questions posted above. Am I where I thought I would be? No. Not even close. Honestly, I don't know where I thought I would be, but certainly not here. I never thought I was anything much worthwhile. I don't think I am all that, but I know I am not worthless, and I feel in my very guts what my strengths are and what I have to offer the world. I have a good self esteem. I am savoring my achievements. I am grieving every day. I have learned that sorrow and joy are not polar opposites. They exist completely in each other's company. I believe the expectation of most to never have sorrow is the cause of 99% of sorrow itself. It rolls in and it rolls back out, sometimes carrying me on a riptide of pain that tosses me breathless and battered back on the beach. But it is MY beach in MY world...and I have learned it may shake me up, but it will not kill me, not even when I have prayed it would.
I am happy. I am grieving. I can do and be and live both. I don't expect the pain of loss or those seven years of hell to ever leave me. Through not expecting it to leave, I have learned to carry it with me. In the movie Rabbit Hole, it is described as a rock in your pocket. Sometimes you aren't even really aware of it, but any time you slow down or reach in there, you feel it. Oh yeah. That. And you realize how heavy it is. At the same time though, you realize how strong you are, to have it there all the time.
My biggest challenge in my life remains fear. I fear loss more than I can describe. I fear failing in my endeavor to be a nurse and I fear forgetting things I want to remember about the years past with all three of my children together. I fear people will forget Joseph ever existed.
But I cherish the perspective the experience gave me. My life doesn't have the cozy blinders of "that can't happen to me" or "what are the odds?" that others get to enjoy. Having two kids struck with two completely unrelated kinds of cancer is like winning an unwanted, billion to one odds type of lottery. I no longer believe in the impossible. But somewhere in the journey the rage has tempered. It was fostered and fed by my helplessness. I have found I am not helpless to everything, and by focusing on what I CAN do, I counteract my fears of what I can't.
Fundamentally, life is good. None of us get an even playing field. It is how we feel about what we are doing that really matters. And I feel good about how I am living my life.