Triumph Over Tragedy – Lessons Learned from Loss

by Maryanne Pope

When my husband, Constable John Petropoulos, died in the line of duty on September 29th, 2000 it felt as if my life had ended, too. And in a way, it did. Because the moment John’s heart was removed for organ transplant, our life together as a couple was over. I could kick and scream and cry all I wanted (and I did) but at the end of the day, I had two choices: 1) I could spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself or; 2) I could learn how to transform loss into positive change.

I chose the latter. And although the path has not been easy, I wouldn’t change a thing – because of all the powerful life lessons I’ve learned. Perhaps my Dad said it best when he told me, about a month after John died: “How you choose to proceed is what will determine whether John’s death was a tragedy or not.

This is the sixth in a series of ten articles.
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So in honour of the 14th anniversary of his death, here are 14 lessons I’ve learned from him, his life, his death and all the incredible people I’ve shared my journey with since:

1. Have Courage
It takes courage to go into an unfamiliar building to search for an intruder in the dark.
It takes courage to die as the result of a preventable fall at an unsafe workplace.
It takes courage to give one’s life protecting a premise that didn’t need protecting.
It takes courage to create a new life without the one you love.
It takes courage to love.
It takes courage to fall in love…and be in love.

2. Face Your Fears
Your biggest fears likely hold the greatest potential for growth and change…and not just for you.

3. Stand Up For What You Believe In
If you don’t, who will?
And when you do, you will find you are not alone…you will find your pack.
We can achieve far more by working with others than we can on our own.

John receiving his badge from Chief Silverberg
John receiving his badge from Chief Silverberg

4. There Is No Substitute for Hard Work
I watched John work towards his dream of becoming a police officer for eight years.
I watched him face rejection after rejection from police services across Canada.
I saw how each rejection only made him stronger.
I watched him further his education and actively work to better himself.
I watched how hard he worked at jobs he disliked.
I watched him graduate from police recruit class; a dream fulfilled.
Once he was on the job, I watched him work even harder to become the best officer he could.
Little did I know that all those years, I was also watching a preview of what it would take for me to achieve my dream of becoming a writer…and that was just the beginning.

5. Persevere
As Robert Frost said, the best way out is always through.
As Winston Churchill said, never give up.
As John told me hours before he fell, if I never become a writer…that will have been my choice.
Keep the faith.
The more I fail, the more I learn.

6. Believe in Yourself
Believe in yourself, your purpose, your dreams and your abilities to make the world a better place…because if you don’t, nobody else will.

7. Say No
It’s a powerful word…the more you use it now, the less you’ll need to down the road.

8. Choose Wisely Who You Surround Yourself With
There are energy-givers and energy-takers…you get to choose who to spend your time with.

John Petropoulos
John Petropoulos

9. Have Integrity
Be true to yourself.
Let your actions reflect that which you stand for.

10. Be Strong
True strength is not about having power over another.
True strength is not about putting on a brave face in the midst of tragedy.
True strength means vulnerability.
True strength means compassion.
True strength means forgiveness.
True strength entails picking up the pieces of a shattered situation and putting them back together in the best way you know how.
True strength means knowing when to ask for help…and how to receive it.

11. Honour
It is better to give your life doing something you believe in…than to live your life doing something you don’t.
If you care enough to try and make the world a better place, whether or not you succeed doesn’t matter. What matters is that you care enough to try.

12. Have Patience

Anything worthwhile achieving in this life takes time, effort, patience…and probably a great deal of money ☺
If you show up and do your part, each and every day, the Universe/Powers That Be will meet you halfway and provide you with everything you need – it just might not be on your timeline.
Be patient with yourself.
Be patient with others.
Patience requires accepting that perhaps there is a greater wisdom that knows, far better than you, when the time is right for things to happen.

13. Never Stop Learning
“Grow!” whispered the angel to the blade of grass.
Learning is a life-long process.
The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

14. Sometimes Tough Love is the Answer
I used to think the worst thing was telling someone a difficult truth. Now I know better.
Tough love means being honest with someone because you care about them. If John hadn’t cared enough to practice tough love on me, I wouldn’t have become a writer.

John & Sable at Emerald Lake