Friday, November 18, 2016

Strong Wise Women

"Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them."

On Thursday evening, I joined author Kelly Buckley and Tracey Hennessey in celebrating the resilience of strong wise women. 

Strong Wise Women is a community inspired by conversations Kelly Buckley had with thousands of women who were navigating some of the most challenging life situations. Coming back to her home province of Newfoundland, Kelly was excited to share her own story and the resulting groundswell that spurred a global conversation with women about finding balance and purpose in the darkest of times. 

Kelly's own personal journey is one of healing after the unexpected loss of her son transformed her life. She says, "In the darkest of moments I rediscovered the simple truth of happiness, and living a joyful grateful life. So often, we wait for our circumstances to be perfect, "and then" we will be happy. But happiness is there for the taking for each one of us. We find it by giving thanks for the simple joys of life, even as you navigate through difficult times. I've dedicated my life to helping others rediscover their own unbreakable self, and realize that they can embrace a beautiful life in an imperfect world, one little thing at a time."

Kelly eloquently spoke of life, gratitude, compassion and resilience. She touched the audience in a way that only a strong wise woman can, and let me tell you, there were tears.

Kelly's definition of a strong wise woman continues to evolve, but it rests on these four pillars - We are perfectly imperfect. We are open-hearted. We are grateful. We are change makers.

Perfectly Imperfect: We see the beauty in our imperfections. Truly accepting and loving ourselves no matter what difficult decisions we’ve faced, questionable choices we’ve made or defeats that have broken us. Even with cracks in our armour, we know the heart, soul and spirit of who we are is still very much intact and deserving of love.

Open-Hearted: We know that love is all that matters. No matter how difficult the circumstances, we recognize that a closed heart prolongs the hurt and we understand that there’s always room for love.

Grateful: We choose to feel the goodness that surrounds us. We understand that no matter what we face, being grateful for even the smallest of things is the foundation to a happy life.

Change Makers: We make our little piece of the world a better place. As natural nurturers, we support one another in our daily lives; our families, our neighbours, our communities. We share our life experiences to help ease those around us and lift each other up.

It was a very moving experience connecting with these women, each with their own unique stories of hurt, courage and resilience. The room was filled with a tremendous sense of community, of belonging, and of understanding. It was beautiful.

Kelly described how she first started writing after her son's death. She wrote in order to process her loss and to transform her grief into gratitude. She wrote for self-discovery and for personal inspiration. She wrote to turn her thoughts into something concrete, and she wrote to share her perspective with other women who might be grieving in some way.

She says, "By writing about my experience, I was lucky enough to connect with thousands of other people who were looking, as I was, for a positive way to shift their perspective on life, even in the toughest of circumstances. Some had lost loved ones; some endured a painful divorce, or debilitating illness. So many I connected with had lost jobs, homes and stability. We all have our stories of pain, and we all just need something to hang on to, to let us know tomorrow may be a better day."

Kelly has since published two books, Gratitude in Grief and Just One Little Thing, and she has an incredible online community - Just One Little Thing - that encourages readers to take a moment each day to focus on one little thing you are thankful for, no matter what your life circumstances. Kelly says, "The idea of “Just One Little Thing” gently grew following the unexpected death of my son Stephen on July 4th, 2009. In desperate need of something to hold onto following the loss, I told myself that if I could find just one little thing to be thankful for, I would make it through the day. With each passing day, I was able to see that even though my heart was breaking, much goodness still surrounded me."

None of us are immune to loss, and we will all face challenges and adversity at some point in our lives. I recently went through an exercise where I completed a 'loss history chart', reflecting on losses I have experienced in my life, and how I grieved some of these losses. As you can imagine, this was a very emotional process. I find it hard to talk about, and I feel so much guilt in saying that the greatest loss of my life - greater than the death of a loved one, or the break-up of my marriage - the greatest loss for me occurred when my son, Brennen was born. You see what I mean? Oh My God. So much guilt. What a terrible, horrible thing to say. To clarify, I don't mean that Brennen is or was ever a loss - he is the greatest joy of my life. He is my sun, moon, and stars. He is my everything. The fact is, however, that when he was born and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, I grieved the loss of the child I thought I was going to have. I grieved the loss of the mother I thought I was going to be. It was a tremendous sense of loss at the time, and it was very difficult to come to terms with both being happy for the child that I had, and at the same time grieving the loss of the dream that I had for my family.

Kelly spoke of a similar struggle when her son, Stephen was first born as one of a twin - Stephen and Matthew. Stephen survived. Matthew did not. She says that from the very moment she became a mother, she learned that life is a balance of happy and sad, and that the key to living life to the fullest is in learning how to coexist between those two things. Kelly, you are a strong wise woman indeed.

Kelly is right when she says that happy and sad can co-exist, and when we allow ourselves to learn from pain and loss, we evolve into more compassionate human beings.

I am learning, always. I am learning every day about grace and hope and love and the power of community and togetherness. I am learning that the messiest parts of our lives are also the best parts of our lives. Relationships, marriage, parenthood - they are all messy and beautiful, both, never either or. I am learning to love better. I am learning to accept challenges and adversity.

I am a strong wise woman. I am.

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