I've lost track of how many times in the past four years someone has told me how strong I am. I'm not talking about physical strength. I'm talking about inner strength.
But I want to set the record straight – I am not that strong. Lucky for me, there is strength in numbers.
So where does this misconstrued notion about my personal strength come from? In 2007, my husband died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 35. That left me, also 35, an only parent of two preschool children.
I spent the first year after his death trying to maintain some routine amid the chaos and slowly establishing a new normal in our day-to-day lives. I spent the next year figuring out how to actually start moving our lives forward again. And today, I am proud to say that my family is doing well, we've adjusted and life is good.
But we did not get to this point simply because of my personal fortitude.
It is the people in my life, my wonderful support network, who are strong. And it is from them that I have found, and continue to find, strength.
I know that had it not been for the people who supported me through my crisis, I could not sit here today and write these words. I could not say that we are doing well, that we've adjusted and certainly not that life is good.
I relied heavily on my friends, my family and my neighbours. And, to their great credit, each and every one of them was willing to turn their lives upside down to help me and my children. Let me tell you about their strength.
Before my husband died, and even after, he taught me to appreciate the differences in people and the importance of enjoying life. He had the ability to make everyone around him comfortable.
Without knowing it, he helped prepare me for the biggest challenge of my life. He was a strong man and being with him made me stronger.
My daughter was only six months old when he died. I don't remember her first word or her first steps – it's all a blur. In fact, a blur pretty much sums up that entire first year. But whether I wanted to move forward or not, I had no choice. I had two young children.
A crying baby keeps crying until she is taken out of her crib. A happy toddler finds you in bed and insists it's time to have breakfast. Smiles, giggles and cuddles are good therapy. My children are my strength.
I am blessed to live in a small and caring community. People in my neighbourhood set up a meal schedule. Every evening for weeks, a warm dinner was brought to my home, delivered with a smile and often a hug.
On snowy days my driveway was cleared, often before I was out of my pyjamas, and usually by a man I had never even met. I had an emergency phone list of people I could call at any hour of the day if I needed help quickly. My neighbours gave me strength.
My parents live five hours away on a farm, so there is always work for them to do. Even still, my mother stayed with me until I said I was ready to be on my own. And afterward, she came as often and for as long as I needed. My husband's parents did the same.
When he was old enough, my son wanted to play hockey. This was foreign territory for me – this was Dad stuff. But my husband's brothers patiently taught me how to get my son's equipment on, and they came to all his practices until I could confidently get him dressed myself. My family is also strong.
My best friend called me every night for months. Some nights we laughed, some nights we cried, but every night her voice was a constant when I needed a constant in my life.
Other friends took care of my kids and took care of me. When I told them how much I dreaded Fridays and the start of "weekend family time," not a weekend went by when we didn't have invitations for play dates or sleepovers. Other friends banded together and built a fence around our backyard to keep my children safe. My friends also gave me strength.
Today, I am happily married again. I never thought that would happen. Had it not been for the people I've mentioned, I don't think I would have been brave enough to try loving again.
My new husband married not only me but also my two gregarious children. We are not always an easy threesome and every day I admire him for seeing past our challenges.
They choose to call him Daddy – because he loves them and they love him, both unconditionally. I love him. He encourages me to try new things and live life differently than I might otherwise. My husband gives me strength.
I could not have arrived at this place alone. I could never have found the strength to get over so many hurdles by myself. After all, I am only one person.
If I am strong, it is not simply because of my own mettle. It is because every person who has helped me on this journey has contributed to my courage. So, again I say, lucky for me, there is strength in numbers.
Kim Goodwill Burns lives in Claremont, Ont.