10/07/2013 05:34 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

How I Ended Up Living Happily Ever After

Two wounded teens meet, fall in live, and live "happily ever after"... fairy-tale, coincidence, or serendipity?

My husband Barry and I were each born into families enjoying "fairy-tale" lives. Our parents were young and in love, and their lives were full of hopes and dreams for the future.

And then, sadly, those fairy-tale lives came to an abrupt end, with tragic deaths.

Barry and I were both 17 when we met. We had just finished high school. I was dealing with my tragedy -- the death of my mother and two younger sisters. Barry was an orphan, responsible for his older brother with special needs.

Barry was seven months old when his mother died suddenly, leaving his dad alone to care for him and his four-year-old brother who was developmentally delayed. After raising his boys alone for almost 17 years, Barry's dad died suddenly of a heart attack.

I didn't know too many other teens dealing with crazy and unusual lives filled with tragedy. How unbelievable to have met someone who, like me, was in foreign territory, an unrecognizable world, and uncertain about how to proceed. I suddenly felt as if I had met the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion, all rolled into one -- Barry was that incredible combination of brain, heart and courage.

And there we stood, in the "Land of Oz" at the start of the "Yellow Brick Road" -- the beginning of our journey together.

We were both in strange and desperate situations, faced with fear and distress, and the intense will to survive and to move forward. As in fairy-tales, we felt the need to be brave and strong, and determined to create a happy life together.

We focused on the present and chose to use our experiences, our pasts, as the springboard for our future.

Neither one of us took life for granted. We knew how precious life really is.

By the time we were 19, we were living together in a tiny, one room apartment. Even though none of our parents had gone to school beyond high school, we were both determined to complete university degrees, have meaningful careers, and make a difference in the lives of others.

We juggled full-time university, part-time jobs, food shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry. I waited tables and washed hair at a beauty salon. Barry pumped gas at a full-service gas station and spot welded cars at a General Motors plant. We did what we had to do. We looked for reasons to be grateful. We often talked about how lucky we were to have each other, and to have good part-time jobs so that we could pay our bills. We were grateful to have relatives and friends with whom we could visit and spend time.

Our lives were difficult, but we chose to stay positive and optimistic. We chose not to indulge in self-pity. We were determined that our past pain and suffering would not rob us of our present and future happiness.

Barry and I got married as soon as we graduated from university, and we had the traditional wedding that we wanted. While there were times during the planning of this milestone event that I ached for my mother and sisters, I did my best to keep busy and distracted. I reminded myself that while we can't always change the situation, we can control our attitude and our thoughts.

It has been over 34 years since our wedding and we consider ourselves extremely blessed. We have three terrific children, a great son-in-law, a delicious grandson, wonderful relatives and friends, and so much more.

We are wiser because of our experiences and because of what we have dealt with in our lives. We are proud to say that our tragic childhoods did not define us -- they refined us. We feel that we turned our wounds into wisdom. We are survivors, not victims. We are proof that people can survive, and thrive, after tragedy.

I completed a Masters Degree in Social Work and was a summer camp owner and director for almost 25 years.

Barry is the President and CEO of Teva Canada. Teva is the largest generic pharmaceutical company in the world.

Barry and I grew up together, leaning on each other, and continuously building our life based on common values and dreams. We feel that we were destined to be together. Was it a fairy-tale meeting, was it a coincidence, or was it serendipity?

Living happily ever after...