Oct 04, 2022

“How are you okay,” they ask. The truth is, I’m not okay. I’m living.

I took this picture right outside my house in July. The cornfield was harvested this weekend and what’s left is an empty field—a subtle sign of shifting seasons and time speeding on.

I have bad days and good days. In this moment, my hands are shaking, I’m freezing, I feel like I just ran a marathon, I ate a whole bag of chips, and I would prefer to crawl into a dark hole for a while.

What prompted the reaction was a well-intentioned request for my boys to visit a pumpkin patch. I love all things farm festival and normally would have very quickly and eagerly agreed to the request from their family. But this time I hesitated.


Simply because I’m angry. I am angry that the new terminology of “step-dad” has been introduced to my family when I was not in my children’s presence. I’m angry that the follow-up question to my son’s pondering of what dad would do if he won the lottery was, “No, your other husband.”

My oldest son is barely 9. His biological dad died by suicide seven years and two weeks ago. Someday my children will read this post and probably have more questions for me. And that’s okay. I’ve never lied to them about what happened to their old dad nor do I intend to start now.

I get asked the question of, “How are you okay?” often enough, that it made me question myself,  “Why do I look okay?”

So I sat out on a journey to find other people like me who survived great loss and appear to be doing quite well, thriving even. It is a project that is far from complete. In fact, I’m not sure if I will ever be finished.

As I reflect on my recent frustrations, I recognize that I am not alone. There’s a chance that someone reading this will connect to it and find hope and peace. My purpose in sharing a bit more about me and a bit more about the amazing people I’ve met on my journey is to discover an answer to, “How are you okay?”

Here is what I come to figure out so far.

1. People who survive believe in the greater good.

Survivors believe they are part of a larger system and that they can make an impact on the people around them. Making an impact is not dependent on an overt action or recognition. They see a need, they consider how they can be a positive influence, and they do something that changes the trajectory of a person’s life. How awesome is that?

I suspect this ability to imagine another’s needs and provide timely support has something to do with their life of resiliency. Among all the people I have interviewed, I asked to interview them about a single event that I knew about. What transpired was a story of many more events—big and small—throughout their lives that contributed to their ability to see another’s struggles and imagine what might help them.

How this has played out for me:

Believing in the greater good requires a very purposeful, and sometimes difficult, shift in perspective. I’m not sure when it became a “thing”, but National Daughter’s Day in September is always a challenge. My mind immediately goes to, “Why can’t I have a mom like that who posts lovely hugging pictures, shares coffee dates and laughter, and who shares stories with one another?”

And within the same minute, I make the shift to, “I have a daughter! I can’t wait to create these memories with her.”

I am not in a position to change the past, but I am in a position to create the life I desire! I can make a meaningful impact, not only on my daughter, but also on my sons and my husband and other people who have no idea that I was the person who said a prayer when I heard the sirens, sent in the anonymous donation, or provided guidance to the person who ultimately helped them.

2. People who survive can remove themselves and imagine multiple perspectives.

Of all of the people I’ve interviewed, the ability to think through and have an internal conversation about how others would react is a shared characteristic. This is more than just empathy. This is the ability to remove oneself from the situation, and with complete rationality, be able to imagine a different conversation from multiple perspectives. I’m not really sure what the characteristics of a genius are, but this creative ability has got to be on the list.

How this has played out for me:

I let a lot of things slide. Meaning, I don’t hang onto off-hand remarks, questioning if I am making the best decision for me and my family. Instead,  I try to imagine the hurt that must have prompted such a comment. I only know the hurt that I felt by Josh’s suicide. Grief is not comparable. So, while I cannot know for sure, I can imagine the hurt others felt by the same death.

I can’t let myself stay there very long, but I can recognize the pain of losing one’s child. It is too painful a place to stay. I can understand the feelings of hurt that get redirected at me, are not really about me.

I also recognize the feelings of my own mother, who questioned if I felt responsible for Josh’s death. She was hurting and needed someone to blame. I was willing to let it slide.

What I was not willing to let slide is watching my children literally get pushed away from my mother’s husband. Nor, am I willing to let slide how she literally turned her back on me at my wedding to my current husband, Dylan, in 2017. The hurt was too much to bear and I understand that she is grieving in a way that she needs to deal with and I cannot help her.

I do not know what causes my mother so much grief, but I know it is not my problem to solve. I forgive her and I will not put myself in a position to get hurt again. I know that her hurtful actions are not about me, but about her. And they are hers to heal. So, I am doing what’s best for me by letting go.

3. People who survive do what’s best for them.

Survivors are not making life choices or career decisions based on how they imagine other people will react, but they’re making their choices for themselves. Most of the time they don’t even share their rationale with anybody else. They simply do what’s best for them. I didn’t ask about any of my interviewees’ incomes, but an educated guess puts them in a vast range of $20,000-$200,000. And, they are all living their best lives because they are doing what’s best for them.

How this has played out for me:

I’ve walked away from one very prestigious job that could have turned into one of the top-ranking positions at a major university. I walked away from another well-paying job that demanded very little from me.


I wanted to make a big difference in the world. I wanted to be able to share stories that change lives. Before now, I was making decisions based off of what was best for somebody else or looked right from the outside. I was able to make a difference, but not in the way that was uniquely me.

There’s so much more to the stories, but here’s a start. If you find yourself in a position of feeling lost, perhaps these themes can play out in your life too.

As to the pumpkin patch?

The boys will go on this fall tradition with their aunts, cousins, and grandma and I’m sure they will have a very lovely time. For the first time, I expressed my need to protect my children. I am more directly, without shame, vocalizing the language we use in my house, which is old dad and new dad.

And I have but one husband. The man I am married to today and love dearly. For some, my viewpoint and preferred words feel hurtful or cruel. That makes writing this so difficult. I am putting my needs out there. I can imagine the feelings of hurt and confusion that others may have. I’m going to let that go.

I feel the need to be uniquely me, as more and more people vulnerably share their stories with me and allow me to retell their stories to maybe positively impact another’s life.

Loss does not define me. It is possible to survive and thrive.

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