Tag Archives: loss

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?

You don't wake up one day and stop being a mother. It's forever and always.

Dear Mrs. Gasciogne,

In under an hour, you changed my life.

I am sitting on a cold metal bench, digital voice recorder in hand, and I’m yelling in my head for making a grown woman cry.

girl on bench

via weheartit.com

It’s the first week in October, but already the biting wind isn’t helping alleviate the sting in both our eyes as I listen, wanting desperately to help you. I watch the way you reach a hand up, brushing back a steady stream of tears, and I try to imagine what it must feel like to lose a child. I can’t.

Journalists interview a gamut of wildly different people. Eccentric people. Intellectuals. Creatives. Endearing people. Disheartened people. Oh, God. Did I just call myself a journalist?! But it’s true. I had a long list of choices to work with for this post.

And you’re the winner. You’re it.

You are the reason I fell in love with journalism. You are one of so many reasons I keep coming back to a world I never ever thought I would dare to enter.

I remember standing up, having to remind myself that yes, it was a production day. Yes, this was a time-sensitive piece. And yes, I still had yet to write it. I remember the way it felt to hear words spill from your mouth and believe them. Believe them because I couldn’t afford not to. Because I looked at you and knew that there was a certain unspoken code of conduct.

And that code was armed with a single word to bridge the gap between two strangers who knew each other for less than an hour in time on a blustery day last autumn — love.

L-O-V-E. That’s the million-dollar word.

“You’re going to change the world,” you told me.

And you hugged me the way only a mother can. The way only a mother knows how. You believed, and stated quite firmly, that my words would change things. That your son up in Heaven had told me to take this story assignment. That we were, in fact, meant to meet. And you were right.

I see now that you were right. I see now that a mother can lose her son and still wake up in the morning to share her love with the world. She can roll out of bed, taking each day in stride, and she can find comfort in the way love saves people. It really does. That maternal instinct doesn’t dissipate. It doesn’t waver.

You’re one of the hundreds of mothers I have met. And each time, I am struck by the supernatural ability mothers possess, exhausting themselves with love and devotion to their children.

So when I grow up, perhaps I will be a journalist. But I will definitely be a mother.


letter 27 – the friendliest person you only knew for one day

You taught an antsy group of girls in leotards how to one person can change the world.

day 11 – a deceased person you wish you could talk to

Dear Mr. Dave,

We both knew this letter was coming. As I’m sure most anyone who knows me did. The easiest part was deciding to write to you. The hardest part? What to say.

When I look back at my thirteen-year-old self, cataloging the series of events that encapsulate the last seven years of my life, I can’t imagine it without your influence. How did I go from spending 20 hours a week with someone to having trouble remembering his voice?

The worst part of grieving is watching it slip away. Watching the person slip away, as you grow farther and farther away from That Girl You Were When They Were Still Alive.

Now, I look back and wonder if she would be happy with who I’ve become. If you would be.

You were the first person I lost whose death really shook me up. Challenged my faith in God, gymnastics, and myself. In the cold winter that followed, I gave up on myself and let the voices in my head override yours.

How do you justify taking someone away, removing them from the hearts of thousands of people across the globe?

After I calmed down on Thursday and drove my car back onto the road, I continued to focus on driving, but occasionally slipped back to the past. With each passing ambulance, each car accident, I was transported back to that cold December afternoon, standing in line at practice, shivering. Knowing with each whispered phone call that something had gone terribly wrong. Then, though, I couldn’t yet imagine the worst.

The words black ice freak me out. My heart rate skyrockets and I have to reassure myself that thinking something doesn’t make it happen. That I have met my car spinning out on I-81 quota for the year (twice).

And then I remember how much you’ve done for me. How much you’ve taught a group of antsy girls in leotards, too energized to stand still and listen. Too young to appreciate the lesson that transcended the sport.

You taught us to believe in ourselves, to be better people. You taught us to compartmentalize, to focus on one thing at a time. You taught us how our love can change the world by showing us how yours already did.

As we sat huddled in a packed funeral home, staring up at those older than us reading testimonies of a life cut much too short, we learned you had already changed hundreds of lives. That you were passionate about just about everything — coaching, your wife, and the sport of gymnastics.

We cried for days straight, leaning on each other for support. In part, we feared we had lost someone so great we couldn’t even yet comprehend it. And when all was said and done, we shared your love and lessons with the world.