Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'm not really one for having heroes. I guess it depends on your edfinition, but "Hero" always sounds somehow above and beyond the rest of humanity, and the people I admire most are those who have done wonderful things, shown courage or kindness in the face of very human feelings of fear, pain, self-doubt, the need for conformity. There are many women that I admire, especially as I grew up through the 1960's and 70's Women's Lib movement era. People like Nellie McClung and Hilary Clinton.
But often women I admire the most are the unsung, the ones who lived their lives quietly but offer an example to all of us of the road to follow.
 I went to a memorial service for a lovely neighbour recently, let’s call her R.M. in order to respect her family's privacy. At the age of 25 she’d been diagnosed with a rare and disfiguring illness, and told that not only would her lifespan be very limited, but she would probably spend most of it in a wheelchair and in a nursing home. She was destined never to know the joys of motherhood, of independence, of a deep and lasting love or a sweetly fulfilled old age.
At the service we watched a slide show of her life, starting with the pretty little blonde girl with a big smile through to the beautiful and stylish young woman. Then we saw her with her husband and three delightful children…and as time progressed we began to see the terrible toll the illness took on her.
But only on her looks. R.M.’s spirit never flagged. She moved with her husband and young family to Canada at 35, leaving behind her support system of family & medical advisors to start a new life in a new land. She insisted on an active hand in her own treatment, because the disease was very rare and she was willing to do research and keep her ‘medical team’ informed of new developments. She worked full time, quilted, sewed, embroidered, travelled, raised her children, enjoyed her grandchildren, and got to cuddle her great-grandchildren. And she could be counted on to turn up at church and community events, and fundraisers when her neighbours needed help. Her song and dance and comedy routines were highlights of community concerts. And she remained close and loving with her husband to celebrate more than a half century of marriage. She loved her retirement home on a beautiful lake, and her home was often filled with family and guests.
Now, frequently when someone is gifted with beauty and then faced with its loss due to injury or disease, the response is to try to hide away. Not R.M. She was a beautiful woman, yet over the years her disease took its toll on her looks, with mouth cancer adding to her disfigurement. But you didn’t notice her looks, because she was so very much…well, she was so very there.
And when the disease finally took its toll – many years after her predicted demise – the whole community turned out for her memorial service, and it was a pretty colourful event because R.M. had insisted that no black be worn for her. We were all to celebrate her life by wearing bright colours. She wanted to be remembered with smiles and joy. Over and over again, we heard the words courageous, brave, joyful…but the phrase that stuck in my mind was “A woman who lived her time well.”
I’m glad you’ve stayed with me this long, because you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with writing romance. Well, here’s what I learned from R.M.: She discovered early in life that she had talents that brought joy to other people: dance, music, acting, comedy. She organised and took part in theatre, and even appeared on television. An extremely shy woman by nature, she took joy from the pleasure her talents brought other people, and so she put herself out there despite her illness and pain.
Now, as writers we complain bitterly about the need for promotion. I’m among the naturally shy and absolutely hate appearing for book signings or even discussing my work. And I’m now a bit ashamed of that attitude because, as R.M. taught me, surely if you have a talent that brings pleasure to other people you should get out there and demonstrate it? When you think about it in that light, ‘promotion’ takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes both an adventure and a gift that we use to offer our work for others to enjoy.
So thank you. R.M., and may we all become people “…who live our time well”.

Glenys O'Connell writes romantic suspense and cosy mysteries, and her work can be viewed on She also writes non-fiction books such as Depression: The Essential Guide and PTSD: The Essential Guide. She hopes to live her time well. 


Alison H. said...

She sounds like a lovely woman in every way that counts. You were lucky to have known her.

Jannine Gallant said...

Wow, what an inspiring story. Often it is the unsung heros (and heroines!) amoungst us who make the biggest impact on our lives.

Jerri Hines/Carrie James-Haynes said...

If we all could live with the courage, love and determination R.M. showed in her life...then we could say we truly lived. Lovely post,Glenys.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Glenys
What a wonderful inspiration your friend RM was. Now that is heroism in its most beautiful form.



Caroline Clemmons said...

Glenys, what a wonderful post and what a lovely friend RM was. Your post really put me in my place, because I am one who complains about promotion and would rather hide away at home. I'll try to do better. Best wishes to you and your husband and I hope his recovery is swift and complete.