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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Nearly 10,000 people have sent us essays for our Monday series, This I Believe. One of them was Mary Cook, who lives 60 miles west of Juneau, Alaska. This is a town of 400, reachable only by boat or plane. Cook works on the ground crew of an air taxi company. We have more from our series curator, Jay Ellison.

JAY ALLISON reporting:

In 1988, Mary Cook was taking hospice training in Alaska with the intent of helping her fiancé's mother who had ovarian cancer. Two weeks after she finished her training, events took a tragic turn, which instructed her more vividly in matters of grief. Here is Mary Cook with her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. MARY COOK (Listener): (Reading) The day my fiancé fell to his death, it started to snow. Just like any November day, just like the bottom hadn't fallen out of my world when he free-fell off the roof. His body, when I found it, was lightly covered with snow. It snowed almost every day for the next four months, while I sat on the couch and watched it pile up.

One morning, I shuffled downstairs and was startled to see a snowplow clearing my driveway, and the bent back of a woman shoveling my walk. I dropped to my knees, crawled through the living room and back upstairs, so those good Samaritans wouldn't see me. I was mortified. My first thought was, how would I ever repay them? I didn't have the strength to brush my hair, let alone shovel someone's walk.

Before John's death, I took pride in the fact that I rarely asked for help or favors. I defined myself by my competence and independence. So who was I if I was no longer capable and busy? How could I respect myself if all I did was sit on the couch every day and watch the snow fall?

Learning how to receive the love and support that came my way wasn't easy. Friends cooked for me, and I cried, because I couldn't even help them set the table. I'm not usually this lazy, I wailed. Finally, my friend Kathy sat down with me and said, Mary, cooking for you is not a chore. I love you, and I want to do it. It makes me feel good to be able to do something for you. Over and over, I heard similar sentiments from the people who supported me during those dark days. One very wise man told me, you are not doing nothing. Being fully open to your grief may be the hardest work you'll ever do.

I am not the person I once was, but in many ways, I have changed for the better. The fabric of my life is now woven with gratitude and humility. I had been surprised to learn that there is an incredible amount of freedom that comes from facing one's worst fear and walking away whole. I believe there is strength in surrender.

ALLISON: Mary Cook, of Gustavus, Alaska, with her essay for THIS I BELIEVE. About a year after her fiancé died, Cook began her work as a volunteer for Hospice, and she says that John's death taught her things that help her in that role.

If you have had a moment in your life that confirmed your beliefs, we hope you will tell us about it. To submit an essay, please visit our website, npr.org, or call 202-408-0300. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

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