Vulnerability is the greatest form of courage.
Why is it that vulnerability is often construed as weakness? Which is more often than not, considered a bad thing. a very bad thing.
I’ve never been one to show emotion. I’ve trained myself over the years to numb my pain and emotions in order to stay strong. I’ve programmed myself to shut down and go inside in the face of adversity or conflict or at the sight or thought of anything resembling pain. I’ve programmed my brain to reject pain and emotion in order to protect myself.
I wouldn’t say that my grandfather and I were super close, but we did have a decent bond. Over the last few years of his life, my kids and I had the opportunity to learn more about him, both through my mom and with their weekly visits to my house. He got sick a few years back, stomach cancer, and decided it was best to pass the family business along to my uncle and move in with my mom here in Niagara. The first round of chemo and surgery went well and we got the all clear and that he was cancer free, so life carried on, as it always does. Fast forward to Thanksgiving 2016, a wonderful family dinner at my house. It was here my Grandpa’s body decided it wasn’t going to accept food anymore. It was here that he had his last real meal. Over the course of the next few weeks, things declined rather quickly and within weeks he couldn’t eat at all and he was in constant pain. The doctors gave a resounding NO on surgery or chemo, there was no chance he’d make it through, especially after weeks of a liquid diet consisting of Ensure and black coffee.
During his final days, I did my best to visit him in his residence as often as I could, holding his hand, telling him stories and reminding him that I loved him. By this point, he was walking a fine line between life and death and we knew that any day could be his last.
In the final week during our visits he would lay in his bed, motionless and an empty shell of the man he once was. It was heartbreaking to see, but I wore that brave face to the best of my ability. Seeing him in this state broke my heart and eventually, it broke me down. I’d leave him and I’d be in pain, my heart heavy, anxious, confused and hurt. I cried. I cried a lot. I’d cry on those car rides home and my kids would comfort me and tell me everything was going to be ok, he will be home soon and that it is ok for me to cry (coming from a 4 and 6yr old, you can imagine how this felt <3). I told them I was trying so hard to be strong for them, but that I just couldn’t do it. I told them that I want to be the rock and foundation that they needed, but we were all going to go through this together as a family and in doing so would have to help support one another through this process. I’ve never experienced loss like this before, it hit me like a bullet through the heart. When he finally did pass, peacefully in his sleep, I felt like I lost a piece of my heart.
My mom asked me to say a few words at his funeral. As terrified and broken as I felt, I knew I had to take this opportunity to speak up and say my piece. It took me a long time to get through writing his eulogy. I’d write, break down and cry, write some more, cry, etc. The day of his funeral the air was heavy and thick with emotion. The feeling of emptiness and loss resonated through the corridor of the church and was visible on the face of each person in attendance. I felt numb. I felt empty. I felt sad and alone,even though I was surrounded by people. My best friend came to the funeral with me and sat on the opposite side of the church with my kids, keeping them busy, quiet and distracted. I’d look over at her and my kids with tears in my eyes and she would quietly assure me that everything was ok and that she loved me. When it was my time to speak, my 6yr old daughter and cousin came up on stage with me. In front of a room full of people, my daughter bravely stood at my side, held my hand tightly and looked up at me with love and encouragement in her eyes, reassuring me of her presence and lending me some of her incredible strength. I spoke the words of his eulogy with as much strength as I could muster. I felt vulnerable and exposed. As I stood up on that stage, my voice shaking, my heart heavy, it was in that moment of vulnerability where I felt IMMENSE feelings of love and strength and not just from those in the room, but from my very own heart, from within myself. It was in this moment of “weakness” where I found my strength. It was in this moment of vulnerability where I found my courage. It was in this moment where I decided that I needed to take action and follow my heart, regardless of how scared and exposed it made me feel.
Sometimes it is in great sadness and loss, when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable, that we experience the most learning and growth.
RIP Grandpa ❤ AKA Jack Tontegode
September 7, 1932 – December 30, 2016