The Pieces

“Did your heart get put back together?”

My four-year-old daughter tilted her head, looked at me and cupped her hands to make a heart. She had apologized for calling me stupid, and when I told her that her apology made me feel better, she asked if my heart got put back together. She thought she had broken my heart, literally.

How beautiful. She not only understood that words could hurt a person, but she believed that a broken heart could be mended. It could “get put back together.” In her world, you can make things right. Sadness can be overcome with kindness, and hearts mend.

I’ve had a reoccurring dream lately. I run a hand through my hair and I pull clumps of it out into my clenched fist. As I panic and drop the blonde locks into a pile on the floor more of it falls out around me. I startle awake and I am scared and then I am mad at myself for feeling scared.

All throughout this cancer treatment, and through any trying time really, people have told me that I am strong. “You got this. You’re a fighter.”

I don’t feel strong when I have the dream.

I don’t feel strong when I’m tired, and I don’t feel like a fighter when I momentarily contemplate forgoing radiation or shutting myself away and hiding from the question “is Sara ok?”

Yet, I watch my daughter and she is amazing. She falls and cries and then gets up to brush herself off and go right back to whatever slightly dangerous, probably messy thing she probably should not have been doing in the first place. She’s resilient. As I thought about her today, I thought about how I would never judge her worries as weaknesses.

I have come to believe that strength is not the avoidance or omission of tears and fists and hurt. Strength is feeling what we are, vulnerable and human. Strength is coping.

Even in the most difficult of times, my heart always mended and my heart is no where near broken in this.

Yes. Sara is ok.

Maybe people are right. Maybe I am strong. Maybe I will allow myself to be scared sometimes. I will allow myself to feel tired and I will remember that my heart will always get put back together.

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Sara Dorner is a labor representative and community activist living and working in her hometown of Rockford, Illinois. Her two young children keep her busy and make life fun!

10 thoughts on “The Pieces”

  1. Sara, believe them, your people, who can see your strength when you can’t. I think our biggest weaknesses can also be our biggest strengths, it all depends on how we use them. But inside ourselves it’s hard to make the distinction. I went through something terribly hard recently and told a group of my closest friends how weak I felt because of the way I chose to handle it. They disagreed vehemently and told me the exact opposite was true, that my choice signified huge strength on my part. I believed them. And I see it their way now. I’m glad you’re coming around too.

  2. I really admire this story. It opens minds on how even as children our spirits is aways working. There’s a door of knowing right from wrong. And no matter the age we know when we’re hurting someone. Your daughter was allowed to express a momentary anger, than allowed how she truely feel about to supercede her previous statement. Her feelings are more important than yours at this tender age. We should respect it- to it’s limits, and do things differently. You go Girl….
    Please check out mine.

  3. Sara, of course you’re strong! and going through this hard period is going to make you stronger than you thought, in any sense. you’re a fighter that means a winner, even if you sometime can’t see that because of the weakness moments you have to experience. You’re so right when say that strength means coping our issues. That dream is related to your fears but you’re going to overcome those too, because you’ve been already facing them, trust me. Moreover, don’t underestimate the positive energy coming from your daughter next to you. Apart from being so sweet, she’s so wise!

  4. Sara, again I love your writing. May I quote you when you said, ‘I have come to believe that strength is not the avoidance or omission of tears and fists and hurt. Strength is feeling what we are, vulnerable and human. Strength is coping.’
    I would like to quote you in my blog but way more importantly I’m gonna quote you on my bathroom mirror and the whiteboard on the fridge. Everyone in my home is struggling with something and wishes they were stronger, including me. You have some wicked insight sister!

  5. I ❤️ this post, I’ve really struggled with some of the language used around cancer and what it means. I think sometime people very sincerely say you are strong and inspiring and truly mean it. But sometimes I think it’s an automatic response when people don’t know what to say and it can feel rather meaningless. But I agree with your views on what strength really is! 🙏

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