I mostly blog about my experience in the Martial Arts but this post will be just a little different. In the Martial Arts we often talk about attitude. There is an old saying: your attitude will determine your altitude. In my life I have a person that is the perfect example of this. My most lovely wife, Donna, is one of the bravest and strongest people I know. Her story is a shinning example of how going forward and never giving up in the face of adversity is how to succeed.
My wife’s success in life was raising her son and simply surviving. She had obstacles that would have crushed the average person. Even her start in life was a challenge. She was raised by alcoholic parents who divorced. Her father left the seven children and her mother with nothing. They ended up living in places where they only had chairs and couches to sleep on. They often times had nothing or very little to eat. When her mother would leave for days on end Donna would stay home from school and take care of the younger children. This eventually led to her expulsion from school at the age of 16. Donna never gave up and eventually went back to start to earn her GED. She was never able to complete that goal and this tragedy is where her real life struggle began.
In 1971 Donna married her first husband. By 1973 she was pregnant with her first and what would be her only child. She had been working at Hoffman’s (making hot dogs, sausages etc.) She knew that she needed to improve her income to help support the child she was carrying. She applied for and was hired by a local insurance agency as a secretary by scoring higher than all other applicants on an employment test. They decided to pay for her GED schooling since this bright young woman showed exceptional promise. This is when tragedy struck.
The Saturday after Thanksgiving of 1973 when Donna was about 5 months pregnant she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage caused by an aneurysm. She had some signs something was going on but the symptoms were dismissed as part of the pregnancy and/or “morning sickness”. It was luck that her ex-husband decided this was not the case when she could no longer speak or walk. He took her to the hospital and by that time the only thing she could say was “baby”.
By a miracle, especially by 1970’s medical standards, Donna survived. Her case is even listed in medical books. Her survival was only the beginning of the miracle that became my wife’s life. The stroke’s damage was severe. Donna would never again be able to work. She could not finish her GED. She did try only to be frustrated by the reality she could no longer read or comprehend written words. She was also left with expressive aphasia and a seizure disorder. Her husband who had never paid the bills or balanced the check book failed to now pay the bills or take care of other household finances. He also started an affair. By 1976 they divorced. So here was a young woman left alone with a two year old baby, unable to work, unable to read, or effectively express herself struggling to get by. When most people complain about day to day challenges, this young lady forged ahead with her disability in tow, alone.
Donna also endured fights to keep her son with her. There were some people who decided she was not capable of bringing up her son. She fought these efforts and won. She had good family that helped her along the way too. She had friends that helped her relearn how to keep a check book and would help her when she needed it. Donna brought up her son kept a household on meager SSI means and did so very well. Donna’s disability also prevents her from holding a driver's license. Still, she managed to go get groceries, take her son and herself to the doctor when necessary. She took help from others when needed but for the most part her day to day needs were met by one person, herself.
The most amazing part of my wife’s story is her never ending laughter and smile and positive outlook. She always kept a positive communication open with her ex-husband for her son’s sake. She remained friends with her mother in-law, for her son’s sake. She enjoys life and brings smiles and brings a positive atmosphere to everyone she meets. With everything against her she moved forward never pausing to wallow in self pity and negative attitudes. With 15% of her brain missing she gives 200%. She sews and does cross stitch keeping in mind she cannot read.
I met her in 1990 and in 1991 I married her. She is still the most positive and driven person I know. Her strength shows like a bright light in the darkness. Here is a person that could have easily given up and used her life’s adversity as a justification for doing so. Instead she used fortitude and indomitable spirit to relearn life survival skills. When doctors suspected she would never walk again, she did walk. When they said she might never talk again, she spoke. When people declared she was not capable of raising her son she did raise him to be a fine young man and a wonderful father to his own children now.
Donna still shows her strength today. She is now also a breast cancer survivor. She faced that disease with the same positive attitude she applies to everything. When first diagnosed her biggest concern was who was going to babysit the grandchildren while she went through cancer treatments. She held my Mother’s hand when she faced breast cancer following the year after her own recovery. She now gives comfort to my Father as he faces terminal bladder cancer. My wife’s energy, smiles, and laughter is never ending. When I think of heroes in the world she ranks amongst the highest. More than a sports hero, or movie hero she is a real life hero.
A positive attitude is one of life’s most important tools. My spouse’s story is proof that with the proper attitude you can survive and thrive through what ever life throws into your path. You choose your attitude. Anyone can choose to “cave in” to challenges or stand up and face them. You can choose to climb over obstacles or give up and never recover from adversity. It is your attitude that determines your altitude.