Who’s your personal hero? Who’s protected you physically? Who inspires you to be a better version of yourself? One of my heroes has never been in a situation to do the former, although I’m sure she would. I can’t count the times my personal hero inspired me and taught me that love always wins.
I met Gail in 1998, on the day before my parents’ funeral. The daughter-in-law of my mom’s best friend, she didn’t know my parents well, but wanted to help. Her two boys were the same ages as my boys, two and four. She offered to provide childcare, whenever we needed it.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? A lot of people say things like that. The difference was, she meant it.
It started as an hour here, a couple of hours there. As time passed, when I had to do things like go through my parents’ papers or clean out the house, my kids would spend more and more time at Gail’s. Her offers morphed into an open-ended mi casa, su casa. Southern hospitality, as it were, except Gail hails from Minnesota.
“If you kids are still here when I feed my kids,” she said, “I’ll feed your kids. And, if they’re still here, when my kids go to bed, I’ll put them to bed. If they’re dirty, I’ll give them a bath.”
Better yet, when I arrived, usually physically and emotionally spent, to retrieve my wayward waifs, we’d talk. She’d listen, sympathize, and offer advice.
Friendship bloomed despite the 700-mile distance between us. I’d return to my home town of Spartanburg regularly. Each time, as the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina flattened out into red clay landscapes, an unseen vise tightened around my chest. Home didn’t feel like home with no parents. It felt like a void.
Gail’s friendship and easy companionship assuaged my grief. Whenever I was “home,” Gail would oversee play-dates between our boys. I started trailing along. She didn’t just offer me friendship, but the one thing that seems so elusive in the midst of unmitigated grief. Laughter.
She made me laugh. A lot.
Life isn’t always kind to my personal hero
Five years later, Gail’s little family of four met for dinner at a local restaurant. Afterwards, Gail’s nine-year-old son and husband went home in one car. Gail and her younger son, followed behind, allowing Gail a close and personal view of a car running a light and broadsiding her husband’s 1970s-era VW van.
It was two days before the doctors could get her son’s pain—and the related screaming—under control. Her husband spent over 100 days in the ICU.
Though I was too far away to offer much more than moral support during the aftermath of the accident, friends came out of the wood-work to help. All of Gail’s acts of kindness, came back to her. Financial stability, however, was harder to come by. Medical bills and her husband’s inability to work left them scraping month to month.
Tragically, her husband never truly recovered from the car accident, and, a couple of years later, died in another car accident.
My smart, generous, and vibrant friend, gathered her courage. She continued to raise her two boys, launched her own web-design company, and kept food on the table and a roof over the boys’ heads.
Of course, health insurance was hard to come by, but Gail, like many women, worried more about her kids than herself. It wasn’t until Obama-care came down the pike in 2014 that Gail started making long-overdue doctors’ appointments.
Gail hardly had time to collect her wits after the got her diagnosis of stage IV Pancreatic Cancer, before she suffered a series of strokes. The hospital told her boys, ages 18 and 20, to start planning her funeral. A few days later, Gail was moved to hospice.
Gail recovered despite the grim prognosis. (I know, right!), at least enough to return home, start chemo and work part-time (for my sister, another personal hero).
The Rest of the Story
Gail continues on chemotherapy (cancer reappears as soon as she stops), but it doesn’t stop her from grabbing life by the tail. Dying her hair purple. Being there for her boys. Laughing.
Gail’s my personal hero, not because of her fortitude, her perseverance, or her indomitable spirit. Or at least not only that. She’s my hero because she somehow humor triumphs over adversity. Love wins.
Who is your personal hero? Why? How has that person influenced your life? In what way would you like to be more like them? Do they know how much you appreciate them? Does the rest of the world?