Strong Beautiful Women Series: Joanne, My Baby Sister
Where does strength come from?
What makes a person resilient to life’s challenges?
It’s inherent in human beings. We have an undeniable will to survive. History proves that out across the ages. There’s also the environment we grow up in. If a person is loved and encouraged, they have a better opportunity to develop strong self-esteem, and hence, will more likely be able to find inner strength when it’s needed.
But ultimately a large part of it comes down to choices. A person who faces challenges must make choices about the path ahead of them. My younger sister, Joanne, is one of those people who has always inspired me with her choices.
We’re almost Irish Twins. We’re only thirteen months apart. When you’re that close in age growing up you have the opportunity to share a lot of common experiences. There’s a lot time spent playing together and simply living as siblings in the same house. You get to know each other well and love each other—despite the fact that you’re brother and sister.
My baby sister was a teenager when she was put into a life situation that would demand all her strength. She started dating her future husband, Frank, when they were teens. What first seemed like an unfortunate pregnancy has proven to be a fortunate event. I now have a strong beautiful niece who is an amazing mother of two.
Teenage pregnancies have been around since the beginning of time. However, in the mid-seventies there was still a big stigma around it. Joanne was faced with the decision to keep her child or have an abortion. She had support to make either choice. At a young age she chose to move forward with her pregnancy—that is strength. I don’t want to downplay the strength it might take for a person to make the opposite choice, I’m merely pointing out the strength in her choice.
Even though she made the decision to have the baby, Joanne still had to deal with being an unwed teenage mother. She had to deal with the looks and gossip from fellow students and adults in her school, the judgments from women and men in the community, not to mention her own embarrassment at first. Over time she learned to deal with the negative noise and embraced motherhood. She completed the final four months of her school year. That in and of itself is enough for me to consider her a strong beautiful woman.
The summer after her daughter was born Joanne married Frank. Even though he had wanted to marry her as soon as he found out she was pregnant, Joanne chose to wait a bit, to have her baby and continue the courtship a while longer.
They had three beautiful girls and were a happy family when tragedy struck. Frank was an electrician and was killed in an electrocution accident on the job just before Christmas. Joanne was left with three girls, fourteen, eleven, and eight years old.
As I pointed out above, those who face difficult challenges have choices to make about how they respond. Some of life’s twists and turns can be enough to make many crumble. That wasn’t the case with Joanne. Despite losing a husband she loved dearly, she carried on. I don’t want to pretend it was easy just because she was strong. In fact, the reason I say she is strong and beautiful is because I know it wasn’t easy. Parenting with two is hard. A true single parent faces these challenges on their own.
She made sure her girls were cared for, were loved. They wouldn’t have their father, but they wouldn’t be denied love. I witnessed her dedication and love for her children for years as they managed the everyday challenges of a family that was forever marked by the tragic loss.
As the girls grew older and finished high school Joanne went back to complete a university degree and become a teacher. She dedicated herself to being a committed, loving, and caring teacher, all the while continuing to be a great mother, and eventually a grandmother.
About a decade after Frank’s death she met her current husband, Vince. I think this is where I discovered Joanne’s true strength. He’s a long-distance runner. By long-distance I mean, crazy long, as in ONE HUNDRED-mile races long. She has to be a strong person to live with someone with that kind of hobby in his life. I say that in jest. Vince is an awesome man. I’m thrilled they found each other.
I’m blessed to have been surrounded by many strong beautiful women in my life. My baby sister has always been a great example of strength and beauty. She’s been a great role model for her three daughters, her grandchildren, friends and family, and to many students over the years.
I’m proud to say I’m her big brother.
If you haven’t already read the intro blog to the series to know why I’m writing this Strong Beautiful Women series you can do so by clicking here, or go here to read about the other Strong Beautiful Women I’ve had the privilege to honour.