Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Woman of Substance

I am humbled after spending a few hours today with a woman I met months ago in the Alzheimer's support group we attended, which turned out not to be very supportive. Her husband, like mine, is afflicted, but unlike mine, he is of the appropriate age, if such exists, for this miserable disease. He is in a nursing home now as caring for him became too much for her, despite having household help. I am mostly in denial that Flip and I will reach such a cruel pass, but that is not the point of this particular post.

I greatly admire my friend D's endurance as she has withstood multiple personal tragedies which would have completely destroyed most people. Her daughter, who suffered from depression, committed suicide three years ago, leaving a year old baby. Her son-in-law quickly remarried and moved far away, so she rarely sees her grandchild. I can't imagine anything worse than outliving ones own child as it is out of the natural order of things. When D was fifteen, her own mother was a suicide. An only child whose father was not in her life, her relatives declined to take her in so she has been on her own since then. And she has had to watch her husband disappear into Alzheimer's Dementia.

D lives in a Victorian house which is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and we are in a city noted for its stunning architecture of that period. She is an artist, and the light within her home is exquisite, as is her taste. Everything has been selected with love and an artist's eye, yet it is warm and comfortable. I could effuse endlessly, but I'm sure you get the idea.

I wonder why some people are able to withstand unspeakable pain with courage and grace, while others implode. D is a devout Catholic and her faith is an enormous comfort to her, yet I don't think it is necessary to be religious, or even to believe in God. I do believe it is important to find something larger than oneself which inspires passion and offers solace. Whether that is art, volunteer work, spiritual practice, a business, teaching, or something else is immaterial as long as it is fulfilling. D has a strong support system in her two remaining children, although one lives in Spain and she doesn't see him often enough. I'm sure she also has many friends as she is a lovely, kind and intelligent woman.

But maybe some people are just stronger than others, whether by nature or because they were nurtured. Strength derives from being comfortable within ourselves, and not needing others to validate our worth. It is important to resist defining ourselves by our tragedies. Since we never know the burdens another carries, envy is absurd as well as unworthy of anyone's higher self. It is also a careless waste of our brief time on earth and inevitably leads to a victim mentality which serves no one well, while spending time with people of strength and character can only help us to become more like them. At least, I'm counting on it.


the walking man said...

I am willing to place a sum of money to bet that your friend D feels just as humbled by you in your presence Susan.

You may not live in a finely appointed Victorian or have lived through half of the tragedies others have but to your credit and wonder you have and still continue to consume life and that, buddy, is a feat most people lose the ability for once they first feel life's grind on their shoulder.

You walk an easy pace and in that you manage to keep your wit about you and to me that is what makes you remarkable. I am certain others see in your writing the truth of you, light easy going, light.

Best to Skip.

Be Well


EsLocura said...

I too am in awe of people who can over come hurdles with grace and dignity. We become overwhelmed so easily these days, understandably so given the many hardships of surviving in today's world. Yet there is still such beauty to behold, such wonder and joy to be had, I think we just forget to look for it. Isn't it lovely when someone reminds us to stop " and smell the roses" even if we risk being stung by a bee : ) besos

@ly said...

I truly believe everyone has hurdles to overcome. No one "has it all" matter what you see or think. Every personality is different and every hurdle is different and some just have a totally amazing way of handling even the worst circumstances and from those people we learn.

nick said...

I also admire those who seem to cope with setback after setback with such stoicism and strength. I've never been hit by any major personal tragedy and I'm not sure I would cope very well if it happened. I think that sort of resilience is partly innate and partly the result of coping successfully with tragedies when you're young.

Jo said...

"Strength derives from being comfortable within ourselves, and not needing others to validate our worth." Brilliant! Yes!

I think some people are fortunate enough to be able to see the glass as half full, while others see it as half empty. I know people who are truly blessed, who have everything going for them, and they are depressed, anxious, angry... Others, like your friend D. are able to see the bright side of everything.

In fact, D. reminds me of you. I think you and D. have a lot in common in that you both see the glass as half full. :-)

Molly said...

I guess what's most telling is not so much what happens to us in life, but how we deal with what happens. Sooner or later we will have our mettle tested. You and your friend D are reminders to me to "quit my bitchin'" and try to face life's challenges with dignity and grace.

TechnoBabe said...

Here, here. Meeting people who are dealing with similar situations must be a few moments of breathing regularly. Why you and Flip are facing the horrors of Alzheimer's could turn you into a bitter person. The fact that you are living each day in a positive way and taking care of your health says so much about the kind of woman you are. You admire your friend D and rightly so. I admire you and also rightly so.

Anonymous said...

Amazing story and some people truly are so tough and resilient.
I have a friend who, in the period of two years lost her fiance to cancer, her son to a traffic accident and both her parents.
To meet her you'd have no idea of the grief she has undergone and surmounted and kept a positive outlook on her life. Sometimes people like that make me feel rather ashamed.

mischief said...

I am always awed by people. The more I know of each person in the world the more I realize that we, most of us, each carry all kinds of hurts and sorrows. And somehow most of us are able to live through them and still offer compassion and kindness to others. Maybe that's the secret, the key to recovery. This year I have watched J rise above the pain of her mother's descent into addiction and her eventual death, and am humbled by the way a fourteen year old child teaches me every day how to proceed. You do that too, and your appreciation of D is undoubtedly proof that you recognize and cultivate those same qualities in yourself.

secret agent woman said...

Some people do seem to be more resilient than others. In my work I've encountered people like your friend (and you) who manage to bear very difficult situations gracefully and other who start to crack under lesser pressures. A nature/nurture combo, I'm guessing. I suspect the benefit of spending time together will be quite mutual.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I appreciate your kindness so very much. I'm sure that I don't inspire humility in anyone, but I do try to be the best I can. Often, I fail.


I am usually attacked by thorns, not bees, but I keep returning for more because I do love the smell of roses.


I believe we are all here to help each other learn kindness.


You may be onto something when you suggest that those who deal with emotional pain at a young age become strong. But of course we try to protect children as much as possible from anything hurtful.


I battle constantly to see the glass as half-full when it would be so much easier to slink into negativity.


Some people seem able to withstand the most horrific events while others are utterly destroyed by relatively minor inconveniences. I've heard that we are never given more than we can handle, and do believe it's true.


I do struggle with the impulse to feel bitter because I don't want to be that person. It is always there, skulking around the edges, waiting for me to let my guard down.


Your friend sounds quite amazing. Rather than feeling ashamed, though, I think you should just enjoy knowing such a very special person.


Your J is obviously a highly developed spirit, but I'm so sorry that she has had to deal with so much heartbreak at such a tender age. While it's certainly true that everyone has hidden sorrows, she carries a particularly heavy burden.


Maybe, if we're very lucky, grace is what remains after we run out of rage.

Anonymous said...

I have left something for you on my blog. Please come over and collect.

Barb said...

Once, long ago, I read a book about resilience - it did not seem to matter if a person was rich or poor, educated or not, but rather depended on a self-worth that couldn't be destroyed. It also hinged on a positive outlook - a way of looking at the world that found a silver lining even on a cloudy day.

Maria said...

I, too, am fascinated by people and their strength. I have seen women who withstood far more than I ever could and known women who I thought were incredibly strong who crumpled at the first big obstacle.

I wonder how one can cultivate it?

Anonymous said...

I know you didn't write this blog post for responses like mine but. . . you are that woman to me -- a person of influence, a role model who constantly humbles me. You may see your frailties, your mistakes, your anger, but your story is one of great strength. I hope to have similar mind and body as I handle my small challenges in life.

I shall hold your nuggets of wisdom like, "Strength derives from being comfortable within ourselves, and not needing others to validate our worth."

Thanks you Heart.

Anonymous said...

Again I am in awe of you Susan.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Oh, goody! You're going to share your acorns with me. Thank you!


It's fascinating to observe that money and all the other "things" we are taught to pursue don't really make for happiness, that it is something we generate ourselves. I think that's wonderfully encouraging because we are not victims of fate; we create our own destiny. (Within limits, of course, but we never know what they are until we try our best.)


I wish I knew. There is much need for a widespread change in attitude which would benefit so many.


Nobody's challenges are "small;" They only seem that way to others. I think everyone is brave because it takes courage to endure a human life, even with all its enormous benefits and beauty.


Because I have awesome friends -- you would know since you're one of them.

Brown said...

I think that's a pretty safe bet. I work in a wellness center where people travel from around the globe to seek healing and balance. I am awed, humbled, and inspired on a daily basis by what people live with or have overcome. One of my deepest desires is that I may be able tap into their divine strength as I face my own path. Because frankly, I don't think I'm made of the same cloth that they are.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Of course you are. We all are. Like a piano - all the notes are there, but different ones are played, depending on what the circumstances require.

PeterAtLarge said...

I have been wandering around, today, picking up stories of grief and struggle everywhere I go. It's all a reminder of how vulnerable we humans are--or, as the Sting song says, how fragile. Sending metta to you and Skip...

Los Angelista said...

I often wonder if I would be able to have that level of endurance and the ability that your friend has--and that you have--I'd like to think that I would, but I really don't know. Hugs to you and Flip.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Struggle is everywhere, also grief. And quiet courage abounds, too, often in unlikely places. We are indeed fragile, but that doesn't preclude strength.


I'm sure you would do your best in any situation, and that is all any of us can do, really.

Endurance isn't always all it's cracked up to be, for the record.

joymanifest said...

That last paragraph was beautiful. Thank you for it, and for the inspiring post. Prayers and wishes for your friend D and for you. Peace be with you

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you so much for your kind wishes and prayers, and for visiting here today.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

(stands for ovation & offers thundering applause)


Well said, lady. Very, VERY well said. I do not believe that we are what our lives have been, but rather, we are what we have made of our lives.

Everyone has their own valleys and peaks and everyone deals with them differently - there is no life litmus test that could determine who might have gotten a worse hand and while we are able to sympathize and empathize with others when we know that their lot has been something we'd consider worse than our own, we have no way of knowing what that persons tolerance level is for hardship.
There is no scale.

The best we can do is give love and compassion - it is limitless and nothing is more powerful.

Those who let their lives diminish in a victim mentality are only victims by their own hand; self inflicted misery. It angers me some, and simultaneously makes me sick. There is a modicum of pity in there, somewhere, not for the 'victim', but for their faithless weakness. I've never understood it, and I have no tolerance for it.

I'm so glad that you have this beacon of light, this woman of strength and grace and beauty, who (in my opinion) is a mirror of the woman I know you to be inside; it is imperative to have a good support structure in any life, and you've just added another 'load bearing member' to yours.

Good girl. ;D

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Nearly everyone has been victimized at some point, but it's self-defeating to dwell on it beyond the time it takes to work it out in ones head. I have found that admiration is far more satisfying than pity. D is quite amazing, and I hope to see her often.

secret agent woman said...

Just noticed rage and grace are almost anagrams.