RESILIENT WARRIOR STORY - Mary Beth Fanelli
The tendency to be judgmental is a human emotion. We are all guilty of creating perceptions about people without taking the time to consider what life events caused them to behave the way they do. Whether it’s a bad morning or a troubled upbringing, we are susceptible to jumping to conclusions; and as a result, miss out on seeing the good in many people. Along with Barbara Markway’s “10 Reasons to Stop Judging People” article on PsychologyToday.com, Mary Beth Fanelli’s story demonstrates why we should make a conscious effort not to judge, but reach out and get to know someone’s journey instead.
Mary Beth is a long-time colleague of mine that I met while working in the financial industry. While learning more about her adversity, I realized I never knew how much she’s overcome. After losing two children, experiencing two divorces and abuse, and financial difficulty, it’s amazing how she’s restructured her broken spirit.
Please read Mary Beth’s Resilient Warrior Story below and share with a loved one or peer who you think can relate. Also, stay tuned for the release of her new book, Leaving A Legacy Of Love—releasing on November 11, 2017. Click here to pre-order the book for $0.99 and visit Mary Beth’s website here.
Mary Beth—thank you for your honesty during this interview. I know some of these questions were a bit tough to answer, but I believe your experiences and ability to persevere will resonate with others. Your willingness to continue becoming the best version of yourself, despite discouraging times and hitting rock bottom, is an inspiration for us all.
STRENGTHS. INSPIRATIONS. SELF-APPRECIATION.
What qualities do you consider your strengths? What are you areas of improvement?
My faith is the source of my strength. I care deeply about people and want to see people succeed in life, not be defeated by it.
I am a work in progress so I always need improvement! I could use more patience in certain areas of my life and of course, my confidence could always grow.
Who inspires you to be a better person?
It’s not one person—it’s 4 people. I want to be a better person for my children.
I want them to look at me and see someone who has grown, taken responsibility for their mistakes and moved forward with their life in a positive way. Most of all, I want them to know that they, too, are a work in progress and everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect and I want my kids to know that I love them no matter what they do or don’t do.
In what ways are you feeling differently now, as compared to the past?
I am more secure in who I am. I don’t rely on what people think of me anymore. I was born a people pleaser. To me, that was my biggest weakness because I didn’t want to do or say anything that would cause confrontation. It made me a person people could walk over and take advantage of.
I’m not that way anymore. Oh, I still hate confrontation! Who likes it? But, I like who I am and where my life is going. I have faith in my future and I have no fear of what people think about me anymore.
FIFTEEN YEARS AT ROCK BOTTOM
Unfortunately, two of your children passed away. How old were they when they passed?
My daughter, Caitlin, was 12 days old. She was born with a genetic disorder that could have been treated. Her older brother has the same disorder and is perfectly healthy and thriving. After that, I lost my son, Patrick, when I was 4 months pregnant.
Can you walk us through the mental process, while dealing with the loss?
Was there a process? No. There was just survival. My thoughts were so negative and condemning that I thought I should no longer be on this earth and that I couldn’t be a good mother to my other 4 children. I held on to my faith, but what I was hearing in church was condemning me even more...that I had to be “good” first before God could forgive me…that I wasn't good enough to earn God's love…that all of my mistakes were causing God to turn away from me. So with that understanding, I felt I could never be forgiven and if I could never be forgiven, what was the point of even living? If I caused my daughter's death, which I believed, then I could never be forgiven.
I really didn’t have time to think about me because I wanted to make sure my children were alright. We had to eat. I had to take them to doctors and special hospital visits for my youngest son. I was a single mom, with 4 children, and no support from the father. I think I can honestly say that it has only been in the last 11 years that I have had time to actually reflect on the past. I was always seeking comfort and could never find it. I was restless and felt I had to pay for the loss of my children. Somehow it was my fault.
What I didn't hear was that God SO loved me he gave me His Son, His only Son; the Son that he loved, to die in my place. I had heard that before, but I didn't completely understand the true meaning of it. Without that revelation, I couldn't truly understand the depth of God's love for me. I had to believe “right,” which only began after I started learning the truth about God's love.
How has the loss affected (if at all) your parenting?
I had 3 children, before Caitlin passed, and I had one after I lost Patrick. Immediately after the losses, I became over protective. I wouldn't even let the kids go around the block on their bicycles! I needed them to be with me almost 100% of the time to make sure they were safe.
The loss caused guilt, which impacted my decisions in life, thus affecting my children. I married a second time to an abusive man. I felt guilty for so many things and that I needed to pay for all the wrong in my life. What better way (and this revelation only came recently) to pay than to marry an abusive man?! This was not a conscious decision and he wasn't initially abusive, but the guilt associated with the loss caused warped thinking.
This distorted perspective became such an intimate part of me that I didn't know any other way to think. My decision to marry that man affected my children, as they were abused as well. However, the deep love for my kids and the severity of that situation, eventually, “woke" me up and motivated me to move in a more positive direction.
You also experienced divorce. Did you see it coming?
The first time—no. Not really. I am a “marry for life” type of girl. The second time—yes. Under NO circumstances is abuse acceptable.
How did you cope with the process?
The first time was horrible and went on for at least 18 years. Custody battles, support battles…I felt like I was always in court. Thank God for my Dad. He was always there when I came out of court. He steadied me and let me vent so I could go back to my children.
The second time was a relief. My children were safe and that was all that mattered.
Did the divorce have anything to do with your house going into foreclosure or were these two separate events?
Divorce had everything to do with the foreclosure. I went to work but it wasn’t enough. I was stretched thin emotionally, mentally and financially.
With losing two kids, your house and a spouse do you often find yourself in fear of losing something else? If so, what?
In the beginning, after I lost Caitlin and Patrick, and I had “survived,” I always thought that if God thought I was strong enough to lose 2 children, he might take another. I was over protective to say the least! What I didn’t realize was that I was thinking wrong. God never takes anything away.
With the layering of these events, when (if at all) did you feel you hit rock bottom?
I lived in rock bottom for 15 years. On the outside people probably didn’t know. On the inside, I was always at war with myself.
FINDING SUPPORT AND BALANCING CHALLENGES
Who has been the most supportive to you, and in what ways were they helpful?
My husband Robert has been the most supportive. I was always hiding my true feelings. Robert allowed me to talk, and deal with all the fallout from my life. He just was there—loving me. When I discovered that I believed or held a negative mentality about so many things, I started to adjust my beliefs and my life changed. It is nothing short of miraculous that my life has had such a huge turn around.
What is still your biggest challenge?
Some of my children still struggle with their own issues from my bad decisions. The biggest challenge as a parent is not being able to help. Watching your child walk down the wrong road, making dumb decisions is and always will be my biggest challenge. When the best you can do isn’t enough, it can be frustrating; but I believe in the end, God has them in His hands so they will be fine.
What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?
There isn’t one thing. My decisions were made from a place of insecurity. I’m not insecure anymore. If I wasn’t insecure back in the day, my life would not have taken the twists and turns that it did.
AUTHOR ENDEAVORS AND LEGACY
You’re currently writing a book. Congrats! What inspired you to write the book? What is the book about?
I have always wanted to write a book but, just recently, it really took shape. It’s called Leaving a Legacy of Love. In my job, I often work with people who have lost a loved one. They have the challenge of dealing with grief while taking on a new financial role. I find great satisfaction in helping these people in both areas.
One day, I realized that all of my life experiences led up to the producing of my book, which is about coping with grief, overcoming a great personal loss and using legacy planning to create a safeguard so your family won’t fall apart when you’re gone. I don’t think people take legacy planning seriously enough so I wanted to show the importance of it and try to show why it’s important to those left behind.
It’s pre-launching on September 18th on Amazon. You will be able to purchase the kindle edition of the book for $0.99 on that day only. It will be released on November 11, 2017—Caitlin’s 25th birthday.
Are any of your personal experiences reflected in the book?
From all that you’ve been through, I would consider you a resilient individual but do you feel resilient?
Is resilience a feeling? I don’t know. I guess I don’t feel resilient. I do feel like I’ve been through a war though! So happy to be on the other side of it!
What lessons have you learned along the way that you would share with others?
The key factor I’ve learned is that what you believe affects your life. If you believe “wrong,” your life will turn out “wrong.” For example, I believed that God couldn’t possibly love me. I made so many mistakes in my life. But I was wrong. It took some time, but I had to change what I believed. If you believe everything’s negative, your life will be negative. We are the sum total of our beliefs. Believe “right” and live “right.”
I used to believe people, at their core, didn’t change. Losing children changes your core. Anyone who experiences the loss of a loved one can agree the grief drives you—for better or for worst. If you don’t deal with grief, it makes a home in your soul and taints everything you touch. I have learned that hurting people hurts people. It helps to know that, it’s easier to forgive others. Most people are hurting in one way or another. A simple smile or a kind word can go a long way.
What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?
My legacy? My children are my legacy. They are my heart and soul. I want to be remembered as someone who was a blessing to everyone that crossed my path in any way shape or form—whether it’s for a moment or a lifetime.
(You're never alone. Sharing your story can be therapeutic; in addition, to being a source of motivation to someone else. You're. Never. Alone. If you're interested in being interviewed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous submissions are welcome.)