When I think of a hero, the first thing that used to come to mind was a firefighter or a soldier — someone who laid their life on the line in order to save someone else. Heroes were taller, stronger, bolder than everyone else. But, I realized recently, that most of the heroes I know don’t fit that description.
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I do know a number of firefighters and soldiers who have saved lives and put their own in peril in the process. Some of them are taller and stronger than most, but it doesn’t really make a difference whether they are or not.
My friend, Jann, donated her right kidney to her 40-year-old nephew. She was 55 at the time and John had two daughters still in high school. Never once in the long, complicated series of medical tests, the three-week relocation to another state, the surgery and the recovery from it, did I hear Jann complain or rethink her decision. Her nephew’s life was at stake and she did what she could to help.
My brother-in-law died in October and I watched as his wife, my sister-in-law, struggled through her own grief to create a memorial service to give the rest of us closure; she met with banks, hospitals, insurances, utility companies, funeral homes, friends and family and the numerous agencies that clamour for attention once someone dies. Instead of pushing her grief aside, she made the decision to allow it a place in her life so she could move through it and care for her 17-year-old daughter. Then, in a freak accident, part of their house burned down. In a single month, my sister-in-law and niece lost their home and the primary person in both their lives. My sister-in-law now has the bills, the paperwork to deal with, a daughter to love and protect and a house and a life to rebuild — and she’s doing it, every day, a little at a time. She is another of my heroes, someone who is dealing with the worst day by day and trying to provide a loving home and a safe harbor for her child.
My mother, who has dementia, is now living in a memory care facility. She doesn’t remember why she can’t live at home; she’s lonely and misses her husband, her dog, her old life. But when I call her, she usually pretends to be OK, to like the people at her new home, to take her new life philosophically. I can tell that she’s protecting me. She doesn’t want me to worry about her. The courage it takes for her pretense is almost beyond my imagination.
In the course of my work as a reporter, I come into contact with heroes all the time — educators recognized for their above and beyond dedication; children with serious diseases who are reaching out to help other children; parents of children with those diseases who are keeping their families’ lives together and doing the research to find answers the medical community doesn’t have, and readers who call me offering to help a goose, a child, a community member in need.
Heroes are all around us; people walking through pain to provide for their families; people who have sent their children to college despite working minimum wage jobs; people who care for elderly parents and young children at the same time; and people who achieve their dreams despite crushing obstacles. Sometimes a hero rushes into a burning building to save a life; sometimes a hero is the person putting one foot in front of the other, doing what needs to be done in the only way they know how.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.