Fearless Thoughts: Part 2

[Editor’s note: this two-part debut series for Anna O’Keefe’s column “Redefining Superheroes” began yesterday with Part 1.]

My great-great-grandmother, Anna O’Keefe, came to the US, an Irish immigrant, with nearly nothing. We have no record of her life except for a few personal items and a couple of lines in census records. I hold tight to the tangible proof that there was a real person as it’s easy enough to shroud her in a mist bigger than life. But I cling to her finding a way to make a good but hard life for herself, her husband Frank, and their children; to me, this is the meaning of a true superhero.

She became the only solid thing in my life after my mom died when I was 12. Over the years I have constructed a life for her. I see her as brave and strong and able to move through sadness, heartbreak, and deep longing for her homeland and family. My grandmother told me once she never heard her grandmother ever speak of Ireland. It simply was not her life any longer. I like to think in her new life there was also love, happiness, and joy.

My mom’s death ripped our family apart. The pain it brought to all of us blew us into a thousand little pieces. Today there would be support staff and counselors to help a child get through such a loss. But not back then. In a matter of months I was alone with my dad. A lifelong alcoholic who allowed his grief to take him into the same grave we laid mom in, it just took him another six years to die.

During those long, dark, scary years I had one place I could go to find soothing and peace. I would take Anna’s bible or cross and sit with it. And even at that age I would tell myself that I could make it through another day. If Anna could do it all those years ago, I could too. And somehow that would get me through the next day, and the next, never thinking of an end to that hard part of my life. When dad died I found myself on my own. But I still had Anna with me. I would cry to her when someone hurt my feelings. I would whisper to her when I began to feel like a woman and had no one else to talk to. I would imagine us having these wonderful conversations. She had been a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother during her lifetime. She would certainly know how to soothe a scared, worried child and later an equally scared and worried young women.

Years have passed. I no longer find I need to cling to her bible or cross for solace, but she is always with me. And I would like to think she would be proud of who I am and what I have made of my life and how I continue to grow and find the enjoyment and enchantment that life can hold. I can still hear her whisper in my ear when I am scared or facing a new challenge and how I tell her story in the stories I write: “You can do this. You are my daughter. And my blood is yours. So there is nothing we have not already overcome together. Now go show the world who you are.”

And afterwards, when things are settled or I have more control of them, I know the wind brings me her voice: “I always knew you could do this. I am proud of you. I love you.”

She is my superhero. No comic book character or Hollywood invention could ever be more powerful.

That is why when I first contemplated writing this blog I knew I would use her name to sign off each posting. She and I hope to explore many wonderful topics in this blog.

I would love to hear who your superhero is and what she has meant to your life. If you have not thought about a superhero lately, I hope you take a few moments to thank them for what they have given to you. If you are lucky enough to still do it in person then add a deep long hug.

Listen to the stars; the words they speak might just change your life

With love,

Anna O’Keefe