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As I mentioned last time, about 2 years ago, my family experienced death over and over and over. Three loved ones in one year. And it woke me up. How?
I set a broken clock to 11:59 and carried around a note that said ‘this is all you have’. I roll my eyes reading this, it seems so cliché. And at the time, with the earth falling away below my feet, even if it was adolescent, it was also steadying.
I began to build the life I wanted.
1. I took an honest inventory of all my hard emotions and the behaviors I wasn’t proud of. I didn’t like how hard I was making parenting and how poorly I was partnering. I didn’t like how I had shoved my friendships and extended family into the rearview. I looked at all my safe choices, the ones I chose that protected me from being vulnerable or scared or looking silly or stupid. And I saw that none of those choices protected me from the very worst fear…the brutal reality that we are not in control, we all die. There is no way out.
And in turn, these small, petty choices seemed to cheapen my life. Because if my moments were so few, was I really spending them hiding? Was my biggest goal to have a tombstone that said “Here lies Kerry. She tried really hard not to ever look stupid or silly.” Ugh, my stomach turns just typing that.
2. I dug into my values. I started making lists of when I was happiest or proudest. I started paying attention to the moments in my day when I felt truly relaxed, open, and real. Guess what? Some of my favorite moments were the silly, stupid ones. When I broke out into a Taylor Swift ballad at work to connect with someone; when I unabashedly invited everyone I knew to each presidential debate (my own dorky love)...and the only one who came was a stranger who became my husband.
I looked for themes between all these moments and boiled it down to 4 words describing what I wanted my whole life to be about: love, connection, compassion, growth.
3. I led my life, starting with my feet. In deep grief came deep freedom. I fantasized about what I wanted my life to look like, all the behaviors and actions that exemplified those 4 value words. But then I didn’t stop at fantasizing. I started saying ‘no’ to all the things that weren’t my fantasy. And saying yes…big crazy reckless leap-and-maybe-the-net-will-appear yes’s. Because finally….finally I realized…those wouldn’t kill me. And these moments, the moments rich in your values? They’re all we have.
So that must be the end right? I got it all figured out and lived happily ever after? Maybe not…. More to come next time.
Two summers ago. We are tired, but relieved and happy. We think the worst is behind us.
We’re at a funeral. Celebrating the long life and gentle passing of a loved one. We don’t know it yet…but in two months we will say goodbye again, and it will be harder and crueler and much less timely.
This picture sits on my desk, a reminder of how quickly things change. Because if death teaches you one thing, it’s that you aren’t entitled to anything. And each day is its own gift:
3 deaths in quick succession. First came the shock, then the acute pain. Long silences and numb birthdays. Children’s books about death. Sleepless nights repeating their simple lines….”Where are you, now that you are gone?’
This picture is my ‘before’. Before I stopped the long stressful commute surrounded by cars worth more than my salary. Before I finally heard the way I was talking to my husband after a year of long hours and toxic stress. The short, clipped tone, bordering on annoyance and anger in response to any innocuous question or request. Before I recognized that normal parenting stress isn’t the same as fighting hopeless tears when my daughter exerted her extraordinary (and completely normal) toddler will.
Before I broke wide open. All illusions of ‘I’ll do better tomorrow’ washed away. Death made clear there are no guarantees on tomorrow.
So what then? Till next time….
Disclaimer: My blog posts are a mix of personal and professional reflections but are not professional advice. While I am thrilled and grateful you are reading the blog, it does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. I do not assume liability for any content on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your interaction with my website and the content therein. If you are seeking professional advice, I recommend seeking services via the websites on the Resources page or contacting me directly.