"When we lose someone we love, we must learn not to live without them, but to live with the love they left behind" – Anonymous.
As I approach a year since losing my dad, I find myself anxious for how this last first milestone will hit me, but mostly I find myself reflecting. And I can think of no better way to honor his memory, my own heart and all that I've learned over this past year then by writing what is a very overdue article in my small but special little collection.
If I had to sum up the past year most simply, I'd say that through grief I've learned more about love than I ever knew before. I didn't expect that. But grief offers gifts if you allow it. A dear family mentor told us, "The bigger the love the bigger the grief" and that helped me look at grief as not something to be feared or dismissed, but as a different form of love. So, I did my best to honor that love, take notice and learn from what it was telling me. And it turned out, it had a lot to say....
It showed me how precious life is and what a gift our time on this earth with our loved ones is. And while it's not always easy, to be thankful for even the simplest of moments. During one of this winter's snowstorms, our family took a walk through the neighborhood. The streets were quiet, and it felt like we were the only people living inside a beautiful snow globe. Watching the big snowflakes fall and seeing the joy of our kids playing in the snow was one of those simple yet remarkable moments where I felt every ounce of joy, beauty and treasure that this life can hold.
It showed me how strong we really can be. That even when we feel broken and defeated, we can still show up, keep going and do hard things – while giving our best selves the time they need to stand tall again. I learned the importance of giving ourselves and others grace. Because while grief can make you feel weak, to embrace the emotions whatever they may be and not take the easy path of avoidances that exist everywhere we look, is where the real strength and wisdom comes from.
It showed me life is beautiful and there is always light even when the shadows lurk. It’s not lost on me that I experienced some of the most beautiful moments that touched deep within my soul during what otherwise were some of the darkest of days. Our family sleepover that lasted for days after losing my dad, wrapped my heart like a hug as I laid there each night knowing the people I loved most were surrounding me. The beautiful picture saying 'Smile' across it that my son made for me, shining his loving heart even during his own sadness. The long Spring walk with a dear friend who came on a moment’s notice when she knew it was what I needed and helped me find my way back to feeling like myself again. Our Pastor spending time with our kids offering such genuine love, comfort and hope that left an impression on their hearts that will guide them for years. The outpouring from so many friends and family who showed up in the most sincere and beautiful ways.... I don't know that I ever felt so genuinely loved by so many people at once. These moments that individually maybe took an hour or less will live on in our hearts and minds for years.
It showed me how to love stronger and live better. Creating a sense of urgency that we can't wait to be happy. If we are here, then this is the time we have to find joy, to live and celebrate this life we've been given.
It showed me how deeply profound the love and impact a parent has on a child. This one I thought I knew. While I've always had a deep appreciation and gratitude for my parents, until losing one I don't know that I was fully aware of all the ways they have shaped me to my very core. That knowledge gave me a new appreciation for the role I play in our children's lives. And it opened my eyes and heart even more widely to cherish the time I'm blessed to have with my parents. I'm a pretty lucky girl to have my mom and two stepparents (who are anything but 'step') by my side.
It showed me that even though we miss them, they are still present. It is in knowing this and feeling this that the sadness of grief can shift to comfort and even joy. This was only a concept to me before; something that sounded nice in a greeting card. But having now experienced this in a very tangible and real way, I see it's much more than comforting words written on paper or spoken to one another to provide temporary comfort. It's a realization that the love you were given now lives on in a new form providing a more permanent comfort if you let it. This love acts like a bold cheerleader inside you.... giving you that added spirit and pep when you need it, rooting you on no matter what the score and standing right beside you the whole way. Because just as my dad remained steadfast in his loyalty and love of his beloved Minnesota Gopher Basketball team, showing up to every game and not leaving a second early no matter what the score, I know he’s cheering on his family with even more passion from the best seat in the house. So, while missed, he remains present in a multitude of ways....
When I see my brown eyes and freckles, I'm reminded he had them too.
When my kids groan at my corny jokes, I know he's laughing along with me.
When we continue the traditions once started when I was a child, I see more deeply now how they continue to shape and support us and I smile, feeling him near.
When I take a walk through the woods, I can feel the comforting sense of calm and peace not just for myself but for him, knowing that's what he felt in nature too.
When I allow myself a rare moment to just be still...no matter what confusion may be circling my heart or mind, I can hear him telling me to be patient, have trust and to ask more questions. I still feel his steadfast love, support and belief in me, and it lifts me up today as it always did as I remember whose I am and who I am.
It is in all these moments and more that I realize that while I will always long to hear his voice and feel his arms around me, he is with me always.
We give a piece of ourselves to others when we love them and that is theirs to keep forever. We become intertwined. It makes the separating harder, but it is also what's brought the most comfort as I realize that we are truly all a part of each other in an even deeper way than I had fully appreciated before. Our loved ones live on in our hearts because they make up who we are, how we see the world, how we live and how we love. And they keep on living right along and inside of us with their spirit, memories and love lifting us up and reminding us that while missed, they are still present.