Tag Archives: losing a loved one

Lessons Learned: 2013 Edition


This year, I slow danced to the rhythm of two eulogies and shimmied into black lace dresses and bow-topped heels.

I passed easy on the Interstate and headed straight for arduous. I dipped my knees into rough carpet when being new felt like a curse.

It was hard. It was painful. It was unexpected almost every week.

Nobody sashayed up to me with a roadmap and said, “You are here. Where do you want to be?” I had to ask myself that question: Where did I want to be?

Happy. I wanted to be happy.

The weight of loss will drown you if you let it. Sorrow will envelop you. Wonder will destroy you.

He might’ve come storming into my kitchen with a shy apology and laugh thick with missing me, but he never did. She might have learned to smile under dull streetlamps but she hasn’t. They might’ve stopped pushing piles of guilt my way for moving too far from home but they haven’t.

I had to step outside and grab onto my own little slice of happiness. I had to build a life that felt good inside first, then outside.

I lost a lot. I don’t know if we think we’ll win just because we want it badly enough, but we don’t. We were set up to find the things we most fear losing, and then, eventually, setting them free.

Last October, I shared 32 lessons from 2012. And then, as so often happens, my life unraveled dramatically in November and December. I spent Thanksgiving giving thanks to timing. Because if you’re going to lose somebody you once loved like fresh cut grass and mint chocolate chip ice cream, it’s better you’re with family. It’s better to have a warm fleece blanket and pay-per-view and frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles.

It doesn’t hurt any less. But the loneliness is not just yours.

In these last months, I’ve learned so much. So in honor of last October’s tradition, here is the 2013 edition:

  1. Surprise yourself every day by taking well-deserved risks. The risk is in doing what frightens you. The reward is in realizing it wasn’t quite so deserving of your fear.
  2. If you want to make a change, make it. Don’t wait for someone else to take your hand and pull you forward. Do it today and commit to it wholly. I spent too many months wavering over major decisions that, once I jumped, didn’t feel so major.
  3. Justify your time only to yourself. If you have to tell your friends and family why you do what you do, either they don’t understand or you need to reevaluate your decisions.
  4. Hold close old friends. You will stretch your heart across this country like a canvas. And it won’t always feel good. But when you find your feet in front of familiar territory, remember how to say hello and embrace the people you’ve always loved. They’re waiting for your hand on their doorknob, even if they haven’t said so.
  5. Balance your life. It’s not easy. There is no guidebook. You’ll wonder if you’re doing it right. But with any luck, you’ll get better at it each year. Find time for work and play and don’t worry about one in the midst of another. Get to that point and treasure it.

What has 2013 taught you?

She would beg you to learn how to light the sky.

I can see her out there, fingertips wrapped around a red metal bucket, waiting in the February cold for a generous stranger to believe in her grandchildren the way she does.

Cissy. The woman for whom Ester was not enough.

Cissy. The woman for whom vegetables were just in the way of chocolate.

Cissy. The woman for whom the front row of the dance recital was too far away.

Cissy. The woman named after Christ.

But only after this world realized she deserved a little recognition for the blood, sweat and tears she poured into her dedication to people who drove her wild.

You see, her first name was Ester.

Ester like the star. The light guiding home. The twinkle in the night sky that reminds us she’s gone, so far gone, but still standing in my bedroom in Virginia, making me cry on a wild Wednesday morning.

The story goes she risked her life to save her people.

But she is more than a story. She is more than a name in a Bible we forget to dig up sometimes.

Oh, how much more she is.

She is standing in front of Virginia, hands on her hips, telling her that these tears falling from her eyes are just signs she cares about this little old world with problems too big to be tackled by a small girl.

She is standing in front of Virginia. Standing in Virginia. In Virginia’s smile and Virginia’s passion and Virginia’s loud personality.

She stands Elsewhere, too.

If this world could hand us light bulbs and tie them to strings and wait for them to fly into the sky and illuminate it, she would stand at the front of the line, wrapping electricity in her palms.

She would beg you to learn how to light the sky. Teach you to yell from the front of the auditorium. Coax you into believing in the power of tough, unapologetic love.

She would teach you about the world you thought you knew well. Would show you a thing or two about miracles, about bread turned into food for thousands, about freckles that paint pictures on your eyelids when you go to sleep at night.

She would teach you all of this from Elsewhere.

The Elsewhere we all wait for, hope to find at the end of a long life.

The end of a short one, too.

We stand in the shadow of her light. Her expiration date on earth means nothing but a little more time for everything she deserved after giving all she had.

She is up there. In Elsewhere. Stringing light bulbs atop our broken hearts, painting the glass in our church windows, illuminating paths we can’t yet see.

She is in so many places. In Virginia. By my side. On the street corners with a red bucket for donations. In the blue house. In the back of the cul-de-sac.

She is in the whispers that it will be OK. More than OK, baby, if you can’t find everyone an Elsewhere they’re happy with. If you can’t be there to save the world.

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