While this is the last post in the “Tragedy that Changed My Life” series, as the title says, I’m forever changed. The lasting effects my family’s loss will have on my life will continue — probably forever — and bring up feelings, questions and major life decisions, many of which I will share here. I could never sum up in six parts what impact my family’s loss has had on me, my husband and children, and will probably never truly grasp it myself. But I can share the insight, wisdom and clarity I feel I have been given, maybe helping others who struggle in certain areas of their own lives.
5 Life Lessons I Learned from Loss
Teach by Example Since July, I put myself and my work on hold. For a while there, I felt paralyzed, having no clue how to move forward in that arena while being the best possible wife and mother to those who needed me most. But I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and my needs during that time. In fact, I’ve learned over the past six months that to be the best I can possibly be and to teach my children everything I can, I need to lead by example — not by words. And you know what… that example sometimes means prioritizing my own needs whether they’re physical, emotional, spiritual or intellectual. I’ve learned that I need to just say no when necessary and I am working on taking time to live in the moment (and breathe). I may make mistakes (many, many mistakes), lose my temper or temporarily forget to focus on what’s really important, but I am human. It’s not about the mistakes I make, but how I respond to those mistakes, learn from them and grow as a human being.
Stop Focusing on the Shell For one day, stop and count how many times you negatively refer to your own body. Think about all the things you do trying to keep yourself looking young and how much time, effort and money you spend to get there. As a society, we are so focused on a person’s “shell” and so often miss the beauty within. Spend time fostering your inner spirit, finding the people, activities and choices that make your heart sing. Instead of an hour at the gym, take a hike with friends… commit to taking a couple of hours on the weekend to do something you’ve never done before… or choose to let go of that person you think everyone else expects you to be and just be yourself. In my opinion, we could eradicate obesity, disease and depression if we let go of focusing so much attention on our shell and, instead, spend time everyday feeding our heart and soul.
Simplify This has been one of the biggest life lessons for me and has created some major change in our family. Since July, we have decided to up the ante on the quality of life and do away with anything that keeps us from achieving it. I no longer dream of the day I can unload my mom car (the ever-sexy “Hotyssey“), have cut down on unnecessary spending (like those five billion channel TV packages when we hardly watch live TV) and have cleaned out closets, drawers and those baby items we will never (yes, I mean never, ever, ever) need again. Life is too short to live among the clutter.
But the biggest step in simplifying, hands down, is the huge undertaking that is downsizing our home. When we bought in 2005 — with a 14 month old and 7 months pregnant with our second — we could never have imagined how different our life would look just a few years later. I always figured I’d be working full time, bringing in a hefty second income and living the dream with our two elementary-school-aged mini men. Adoption, autism and asthma weren’t even a consideration — all of which require more money, energy and effort than I could have ever imagined. We moved over the holidays and now live comfortably (as soon as we’re entirely unpacked, that is) in a home that’s in walking distance of the boys’ school — giving me an extra 20 minutes of walking exercise each day (woot!) — and cutting down our living expenses by approximately 35%. We have absolutely no need to keep up with the Joneses and even less interest in being friends with them.
Let Go People can be mean. You know it’s true. And sometimes, no matter what you do, they’re just not going to like you (sometimes even your own family). Does that mean you should bend over backwards and try to change who you are? Hell no. Accept that they have their own things going on and let go of trying to please them. Often times, those who judge others the harshest are the ones who aren’t happy with their own choices and behavior. Smile and move on.
Create Your Own Legacy Every one of us will die some day. While I hope to have several decades ahead of me, we really never know when our time will come. One thing I learned from my niece’s death is that it’s all about how you touch others’ hearts and lives and what you choose to do with your time on earth that will live on forever. Kristen, who worked tirelessly to earn the title of paramedic just months before she died, spent her days doing for others, whether it was saving a life, holding a hand, or just smiling at a frightened patient. She never hung up without saying “I love you” and was the first to cross a room and make a person — whether it was a cousin, her grandparents or someone she had just met — feel like the most important person in the world. Her legacy continues to inspire others to be the best they possibly can with our short time here, something the rest of us can learn from and aspire to achieve as well.
Words can’t express how grateful I am for all of the comments, emails and words of support and encouragement I have received from writing this series. It has allowed me to re-connect with family friends I haven’t seen in decades, meet new friends and talk with those who have shared similar experiences.
While I write for myself, I keep writing for all of you. For that, I thank you.