How the Strongest Woman I Know Helped Me.

Crying doesn’t reveal weakness. It exposes vulnerability and humanity. Strong is the individual who cries… and continues.

To the Strongest Woman I Know:

I’ve been watching you since the day I entered this world.

I don’t remember a time when you said, “You’re not welcome,” not in your words, actions, or attitude. Not once.

When you were in high school, you invited me, your little sister, on your dates. You let me ride in the back of a blue Jeep CJ-5 while you rode in front with a boy named Paul who you liked better than them all.

You took me to high school football games and for some reason your friends fawned over me the way no one in my life (besides you) did.

I think mom and dad’s divorce hit you harder than me. Because you were five years older, you witnessed what was once a solid marriage, whereas when I arrived, it seemed the last straw fell upon their fantasies of forever. Like I entered a crack in time and stretched my legs into it. I never experienced our parents’ relationship as anything more than challenge.

I came to believe everything was or would be broken—especially marriages.

Not you! It takes strength to embark on marriage. You, my strong sister, trusted in the sanctity and opportunity being married offers. You didn’t let it deter you when our parents scoffed at you for running off for love at age 19.

Heck, I’m in awe of anyone who even coexists with another person for 33 years, as you and your husband Tommy did. More than that, you sincerely liked each other and were friends up until the day he died.

Not just friendly, not simply companions, but communicators, in good times and bad, agreements and arguments, raising two boys and facing cancer. You never backed down or lost your voice.

Nor did you give into the dark, controlling, win-at-all-costs power that our mother tended to evoke.

Oh sure, you tried that on for size a couple times, but you’ve always chosen to rise above—not just others, but your smaller self. You’ve elected to be full, authentic, and powerful from a place of love, dignity, and respect.

Your progress in life grew from your character and hard work, starting way back, flipping burgers and earning your way up from minimum wage.

If you and I embody the turtle and the hare, you’ve shuffled as quiet, steady, and tenacious as the turtle.

If the American dream is a staircase, you’ve placed your foot on every step and earned every opportunity you’ve given yourself to.

Many adults return to school decades later to earn degrees, as I did. But you diligently plugged away part time for decades, so consistently attending school it was like background noise.

But, wah-la! In 2013, you crossed the stage and simultaneously collected your BS and MBA, proving persistence pays. You started the process long before Tommy received his death diagnosis with the big C and continued while carrying your grief.

Psychologists say sometimes witnessing abuse can be just as psychologically challenging as being abused. I wonder if the same is true of cancer.

From the sidelines, you handled it like a champion, holding the hand of your friend and companion, the father of your children, the pillar of strength, as he shrunk into life’s finish line.

Working for a dysfunctional company, you focused on your gratitude for the great medical insurance that seemed to be the only reason for putting up with their crap.

You took Tommy to doctors, asked the important questions, and fought for medication and answers—not blindly, but realistically and optimistically, not an easy balance.

You asked the tough questions of your husband. You blogged about his battle. You worked full time, moved, navigated insurance and the medical establishment, as well as the emotions of a dying man, along with those around him who would do anything for him to live, especially your sons.

Most people tiptoe around the dying. Why wouldn’t they? You spoke truth and maintained your authenticity of feelings—love, anger, tears, sadness, and the seduction of hope.

You never resigned. Your husband and friend, the father and friend of your sons, your number one, died anyway—despite your strength.

If one’s never been broken, it’s easy to stay whole. When your heart shatters like glass and glues itself together time and time again for over a year, and upon death’s undeniability incinerates to ash, and then you become whole? This is strength.

Me? I was the hare—racing forward, certain I’d won the race, throwing money around like confetti, buying designer suits, dining in fine restaurants, and flying first class. I made my way through two marriages and landed flat on my ass, broke and broken.

How is it that you never judged me? Like the turtle still moving forward, you offered me a ride on your back, like “Hey, I’m headed that way anyhow.”

You opened your home to me as an adult and never attempted to induce guilt. Kindness and generosity at that level awaken humility and gratitude. Thank you.

If it was only me you treat with such respect and dignity, I’d bask in being the lottery winner. Instead, it’s everyone in your orbit—at work, as well as with friends and family.

You don’t offer syrupy sweetness, but business acumen and a way of carrying yourself which invites others to raise their standards and want to act in kind. Just the other day, a friend of ours said, “I’d do anything for Jayne.” I feel the same.

We also appreciate that you’re not afraid to speak your mind in the face of any challenge, including sexual harassment or outright lies (your kryptonite).

Although I’m your sister, not a coworker or employee, I know what an outstanding manager you are. Yes, from the daily stories you share about how you deal with people and situations, but also how those who work with, for, and above you speak to and about you when I’m with them.

Through diligence, resilience, continuing education, long hours, and adherence to high standards, you’ve earned (rather than lucking into, as some do) the respect you command and the salary you’re paid.

While many may be blind to the special challenges a female manager in a male-dominated industry faces, you’re fully aware without denial, pretty-pink paint, or over-the-top complaint. Part of your mission is to raise women up and mentor them where you can, honoring the gifts and talents inherent in women and acquired by them.

If you showed up awesome simply with your sister and at your place of business, you’d be winning, but like I said, I’ve been watching you.

When the love of your life died, you fell into an emotional sink hole, as anyone would. Still, you looked up and saw the light in the darkest chapter of your life.

You climbed and created a new life when you desperately longed for your old one.

You practiced serial dating in your search for a new mate. When you found out one of the men you were especially fond of was a player, you ended the game as smooth as closing a book.

You knew what you wanted and refused to settle, regardless of how you longed for the company of a man. It seems silly to say you soldiered on, but ask any widow; It’s a battle and you were brave.

You chose a man with whom you’re happy and didn’t let others’ opinions deter you.

That could be your motto: I will not be deterred. Not in work, integrity, or love.

There’s no greater love than that of a mother’s for her children. Yet, there are plenty of parents who blame their kids or turn their backs on them if, as parents, they don’t receive love in the form they believe they deserve.

When your husband and the father of your sons went to the other side, your solid family unit shattered. You loved patiently from the sidelines you seemed to be relegated to, as one son lived far away and the other found what felt like family for him elsewhere.

Your yearning for his presence and your place as priority in his life never wavered. Yet, you didn’t once play the guilt card, emotionally manipulate, or do anything other than make your love and open door undeniable.

In addition to how fiercely you love your sons, you consider your daughter-in-law as your own, giving her a safe place to share special joys like your future granddaughter.

Jayne, you’ve set the example of what it means to be a family—not just meals, laughter, games, and holidays, but connectedness, conversation, and unflinching loyalty.

The last few weekends, you’ve driven 16-20 hours to see a family member who’s battling his own brand of demons. You get just three hours with him and never question whether it’s worth it. You never complain about the drive, even when we went through the most treacherous storm of our lives—with one headlight!

Your strength is more than forging forward. It’s laughing, learning, being present, and allowing others the space to be themselves and travel their own journeys.

During and after Tommy’s cancer battle, people (when they weren’t busy dumping their sad stories in your lap) repeatedly told you how strong you are. You hated hearing that. You said, “Like I have a choice.”

You did, and you do. We all make choices, in our words, attitude, and actions.

A friend of ours told me when she has a dilemma—either at work or in her personal life—she thinks, “What would Jayne do?” I laughed when she admitted she often thinks this after she’s done the other thing in the moment.

Not all of us can be as strong as you are, sister. Sure, maybe in many ways, it’s because you had to be.

However, I never forget that when our mom was dying and needed the oxygen mask but fought to take it off, I left the room, while you stayed and said, “No, mom. You have to keep this on.”

Mom would be beaming if she could look into your eyes today. At one time, I called her the strongest woman I knew, a warrior.

Now, you’ve taken the title. Jayne, you’ve done hard things, but you haven’t become hard, bitter, or resigned.

You’ve taken the strength mom instilled in you and expanded it into hugs, I love yous, and laughter that lights me up, even when darkness feels like my destiny.

Not only are you the strongest woman I know, but because of you, I’m more determined than ever to be my strongest self.

2 thoughts on “How the Strongest Woman I Know Helped Me.

  1. What a wonderful tribute to your sister, Alice! It takes a lot of strength and humility to recognize what someone else in our life has done or exemplified for us. Whatever their warts, flaws and failings there might also be in that relationship, they are ours as well! In seeing their strength, we see ours,too, and in forgiving whatever we have to forgive, we can forgive ourselves as well. A very powerful piece, Alice! Thank you!

    Like

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