What I Wish I Had Known: The Hard Years Make You Strong

What I Wish I Had Known: The Hard Years Make You Strong

Generally speaking, it’s a good thing we can’t see into the future. But if I were required to know in advance what the wilderness years would hold for me—that season of profound loss—then here’s what I’d say to a younger version of myself:

Dear younger me,

This is to let you know there are some hard things ahead. But much good will come of it. Trust me.

First, the bad news: Your husband will be unemployed for two years when the company he works for is sold. You will eventually deplete your savings, cash out your investments against retirement, and sell your home, using up the equity to make ends meet.

Your mother will move in with you for a few years, sinking into Alzheimer’s. During that time, your husband will receive a terminal cancer diagnosis. He won’t survive.

Brutal, right?

Now that we have the bad news out of the way, here’s what you need to know: There are dozens of good things that will come from those desert years.

What Can You Learn from Your Loss?The Hard Years Make You Strong

Financial setbacks
Let’s start with the financial losses. Because of your husband’s unemployment, you’ll need to quit your job at the nonprofit and find work with better pay and benefits. You’re going to end up on staff at the St. Charles Cancer Center, working alongside and serving some of the most amazing people on the planet.

And so many of those co-workers and cancer community friends will later stand on the frontlines of cancer with you and your husband, surrounding you with love and support at a time when your heart is being pummeled.

Live-in elderly parent
After your father passes away, your mother will live with you for four-and-a-half years. Because of your husband’s unemployment and cancer, you’ll have no choice but to get a job with healthcare benefits. And so you’ll carry large amounts of guilt, feeling like a neglectful daughter.

It will be impossible to hold down a full-time job, be everything your mom wants you to be for her, and care for your husband with cancer—including weekend hikes and snowshoe treks as part of your cancer battle plan. Doubt and accusations will come from all sides, and at times, the most critical of them all will be from you. So don’t pick up the guilt. You are a good daughter.

It’s a scary word, isn’t it? But after you get over the initial devastation, you and your husband will establish a nonprofit and speak in all regions of the country about what you are doing to live well with late-stage disease, including at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Hard to imagine, right, especially given that your husband would pay to not have to speak in front of a crowd.

You’ll coordinate some fabulously vibrant survivorship programs in your work at the cancer center that will benefit many survivors and their caregivers.

You will be amazed at what God accomplishes in and through you during the cancer years as your life expands into something richer and fuller.

Death and dying
On the whole, we humans don’t like to talk about death. But one of the good things to come out of this season will be the knowledge that walking beside the dying can be a sacred and sweetly sorrowful experience.


Our daughter Summer will stand watch with you as her father dies. Your home and the Hospice House room will be saturated in unexplainable peace. And many people watching how you manage the grief and loss will be encouraged in the process.

Even though peace will pervade during the daylight hours, in those final months of your husband’s life, you’ll wake up often in the middle of the night with anxiety over the thought of being widowed.

But widowhood won’t be as horrific as you imagine. Widowhood will provide you with some amazing brave-making opportunities. As you say “yes” to unexpected invitations that come your way, you’ll hike in Switzerland, conquer stand-up paddle boarding in Puerto Rico, and meet long-lost Mallory relatives in Wisconsin. You’ll hike all the favorite trails in central Oregon’s Cascade Mountains that you and your husband hiked together. Only, you’ll brave them alone.

And with each “yes,” you’ll grow stronger, more resilient, more tenacious.

Spiritual growth
You’ll struggle with every piece of bad news as it hits—we’re talking self-pity, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, hopelessness—but in the long run your faith and dependency upon God will deepen.

You’ll come to understand more deeply in your heart what your head has known for a while: You are the beloved daughter of your heavenly Father, and he is able to bring good out of your hard places.

Well, Marlys, that’s all I want to say for now. Yes, there are some hard things ahead, but much good will come of it.

One day you’ll say, “I would never wish this on anyone, but I’m grateful for the wilderness years because they gave me a deeper trust in my heavenly Father. They directed my path to where I am today … and where I am today is a good, good place.”

Wishing you a hope-filled life, with love,
From an older, more experienced, more compassionate version of you

Sometimes, hard-earned wisdom from other, experienced women we trust can help us navigate the complexities of life with a little more ease. Here’s some of our favorite advice submitted by the writers here at Grit and Grace Life: Change Your Life with These Tips for Smart Living – 212

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