Today would have been my mom’s 69th birthday. It has almost been 4 years that she has been gone. In some ways, it feels just like yesterday. It other ways, it feels like it has been decades. Events such as birthdays, the anniversary of the death, etc. now often mark a reflection on my behalf on all that has changed in just a few short years. Reflections on how much they have missed seeing. About how much we have missed sharing with them. About how much things have changed.
There have been SO many changes in the past 4 years, none of which any of us foresaw back when my mom died and uncle died. One sister got married. Many of us have changed careers, bought new houses and taken new directions in our lives. Four more grandchildren have been born into the family, including a most recent grandson just this past June, which more than doubles the number who existed when my mom was alive (and gosh, she would have given anything to spoil each and every one of them!).
I am no longer the same person who I was before my mom and uncle were killed. My life today only bares somewhat of a resemblance to what life looked like back then. I sometimes wonder if my parents would even recognize the person I have become. What they would think of the life I have built. The majority of the changes in my life since the accident have been positive ones. They are changes that have brought me a heightened sense of wholeness. This is ironic, since the accident left me feeling anything but whole for a long time after its occurrence. But as I look back, I feel like a more complete person now than who I was back then.
My sense of appreciation for life back then was nothing like what it is today. I took each and every day of my life for granted up until I realized that it can all be taken away in an instant. I do my best nowadays to make decisions knowing that our time on earth is precious. This is true whether you are 20, 50 or 80 and whether you die at 20, 50 or 80. Things that used to preoccupy my mental space, such as dirty socks on the floor, fingerprints on the windows or making sure the dishes are done before bed have all taken a back seat in my life. Most days, they are barely a blip on the radar. There is only so much time in a day. And yes, these tasks need to be done. But not before we have taken time to enjoy our lives. And not at a cost of not enjoying our lives.
I do my best to focus on spending my time doing activities that replenish me and on finding true purpose in my life, based solely on a sense of fulfilment and happiness, letting go of external markers of success. This has been a shift for me over many years, but more drastically since the death of my mom, dad and uncle.
When we were planning our current camping trip, I hesitated on how long to go. I had been away 2 weeks in December, 3 weeks in March, a week in May, a week in June, not to mention many long weekends. I wanted to take a 3 1/2 week camping trip, but it felt indulgent. When we were away as a family in March, I saw how much fun we were all having, how relaxed everyone was. It was the first time we had taken a 3 week vacation since the kids were born. I noted how nice it was to disconnect from obligations for a full 3 weeks. I remembered that this is truly what life is all about. It was during this 3 week vacation that we scheduled our August vacation for 3 1/2 weeks. Now, almost 2 weeks in, I am so grateful that we are not on the verge of packing up and going home.
I see my kids’ sun kissed faces from all of the hours of playing in the sun. I listen to their giggles as they all pile onto our paddleboard and work together to paddle on the little lakes. I see their pride as they reach the top of mountains we have all worked hard to climb. I think of the memories that we are building together, as a family. And I know that, one day, when my husband and I are long gone, the kids will not remember and talk about how we picked up dirty socks, scrubbed fingerprints off of windows, or had the dishes done after every meal. What they will remember will be the stories from our time spent together, as a family. Building these memories, spending this time together, is what life is really all about. Yet we somehow lose sight of this, amongst the daily tasks that life brings us. Sadly, we sometimes lose sight of this right up until it is too late to do any differently.
If you want to get to the bottom of what you want to do in any given situation, ask yourself: If I was to die tomorrow, what would I decide? And then listen to what your gut is telling you. And do it! Let go of your fear and your ‘what ifs’ and do it. The only thing that is guaranteed in life is that, one day, there will not be a tomorrow. It may not be for another 50 years. But why not start living as if today might be your last day right now. Why not start making the most out of every single day of your life right now, and live each and every day of your life to its fullest?
I sometimes feel that I had to trade the lives of my parents and my uncle to uncover who I truly am. To uncover what is truly important in life, and what I truly want to prioritize for myself and my family. It feels like a terrible trade-in, even though I know that that is not exactly how it all works. In reality, it was learning how to take a really crappy set of cards, and play them in the only way that made sense. To play them in a way that brought something good out of all of the terrible, tragic events that have happened in the past few years. Deep down, I know as a parent myself, that if my children were to have to lose me at a young age, I would give anything to know that this would one day be their outcome. And I can only imagine that my parents are somewhere up there, watching down on the lives we are building with pride, thankful that their deaths have not crushed us, but rather, led us to appreciate the little things in life.
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