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“I have lived 30 years in these 30 days. I am 30 years sadder. I feel like I am 30 years wiser.” – Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook post 30 days after the death of her husband, Dave.
Can you be grateful for gifts you didn’t ask for?
Tomorrow it will be two years since my brother died. It feels as if these two years have been a compression chamber of sorts. Somehow more life, more emotion, more growth, and possibly more wisdom gained have been squeezed into these 730 days than in any other 730 days of my life.
Sitting here at my keyboard, on the brink of this anniversary that I will never celebrate, but will never not mark, I don’t know if I have anything helpful to share for your own current or future journeys through grief. I do know that I’m a different person now than I was on June 24, 2020. I’m different in ways for which I am so profoundly grateful that I would only trade them to have him back.
When you know life is fleeting, you don’t want to waste a single moment
Somehow (I think it has something to do with the stunning realization that life is finite), loss continues to teach me about priorities. Since my brother’s life ended, a new fierceness began in mine. To this day I am emphatically unwilling to invest my time and energy into things that seem “stupid” or wasteful. Knee-jerk yesses to things I really don’t want to do; old, exhausting, repetitive arguments (with myself and others); habits that suck precious time – such as delaying or forgoing fun to get chores done.
Speaking of fun, in an interview with Krista Tippet, Sheryl Sandberg describes the realization that she was waiting to feel better to do things that would make her happy. I am grateful that even early on somehow something in me kept stretching toward happiness. I tended my garden. I played corn hole. I took long walks with friends. I turned my face toward the sun. These are things I’d always done but doing them then and now I notice the happiness they give me. To quote blogger Tim Urban, I know now that what really, truly matters “is the joy that you find on hundreds of forgettable Wednesdays.”
It really is all about love
Losing my brother leaves me filled with gratitude for the relationships I have. They fill me in ways they didn’t before, I think because it is no longer possible for me to take a single one of them for granted. I have a deeper sense of being connected. I notice myself being more considerate, thoughtful, and generous – motivated solely by love that feels like it’s bursting out of me. I’m much more aware of being a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, aunt, friend, wife, and mother than I was before my heart was broken.
Taking care of yourself is a form of love
Loss, especially loss by suicide, continues to teach me about having the courage to take care of myself. 730 days ago, I had no choice but to take care of myself. It was quite literally all I could do to water my garden and practice a little “old lady” yoga each day. Despite so much healing, even today I rely on quiet, and need more space and a slower pace to feel like the person I want to be. Some people would say these changes are the results of aging. Maybe they are. For me, however, they are the fruits of grief.
I have learned viscerally over the last two years what I have known intellectually for the last two decades – mind, heart, and body are one. When my brother died, it felt like a cannonball ripped through my heart. My body responded to the loss as if this hole were really there – kind of caving in around it. My mind, thankfully, accepted that this physical response to heartbreak was real. Slowly, patiently, I continue to do the work of healing my body from an injury to my heart. It feels as if I am getting acquainted with a whole new body (what it can and cannot do, what feels good and what does not) – and in many ways I suppose this is true.
Grief offers you the resilience to live life in a whole new way
Loss is, I know, a part of life. It is the flipside of love. Grief has shown me that resilience is also a part of life. That grieving can lead you to a heart-space you never imagined possible. One where strength and vulnerability rub elbows. One where you love with more ferocity and honesty than ever before. One where you make time for things that the world says “don’t matter” because you now know they are all that matter. One where you are deeply forgiving and compassionate with yourself and others in times of weakness. One where you take better care of yourself, as you hope and pray others will do for themselves.
The choice is ours to make
But – here’s the thing – to get to this heart-space we must choose to dive into grief and that can be really scary and hard to do. We can absolutely get stuck in sorrow, wallow in life’s unfairness, or resolutely ignore that we are hurting. We would be 100% normal if we did. Sadly, however, none of these responses will lead to growth and wisdom. We must choose another way.
On this sad anniversary of mine, whether your loss is small or large, old or fresh, I send you the courage, gentle determination, and steady patience to take this journey. My prayer remains that you and I continue to have the courage to live, love, and find happiness in “a hundred forgettable Wednesdays.”