Almost nine years ago now, I woke up red-eyed on a Thursday morning wishing yesterday was a nightmare I would wake up from. But I woke up, in my childhood home, to something I couldn’t escape: my brother’s suicide.
We found out the night before that Mark wouldn’t be coming back home. We wouldn’t see him walking through that door with a grin on his face ever again. This was our new life now, without him.
With a leaden heart, feeling lost in the world, I woke up and I wrote.
I wrote the first poem I’d written in three years, the one I ended up reading at his funeral service ten days after his death. With my oldest brother standing at my side for strength, I read through my tears to a mass of still-shocked faces. To people whose lives were made brighter by knowing Mark.
Since then I’ve been stripped down to my most vulnerable self. I’ve processed feelings. I’ve worried that everyone I loved would leave me to grow old on my own. I’ve had hopes shattered and dreams come true.
Death has a way of making you come face-to-face with your life. I learned that all over again when my dad passed away suddenly after heart failure, 4 years ago this week.
For some things still, there are no words. Words can’t capture the entirety of how loss shapes us. But until then, these are the best words I have.
Here are six truths I’ve learned through my own personal experiences of love and loss, grief and growth, survival and surrender, and 5 years of writing on the topic.
(and if you need some extra strength right now, read my Healing Brave Manifesto... it's special, it's free, it might help you keep you going)
What Death Taught Me About Living
1. Life really is a gift.
It doesn’t seem like it all the time, but we take so much for granted.
There are still so many people to meet and love. The world is a colorful place. There’s more to learn than we'll ever learn, so much mystery to wonder about.
If you have any of your five senses, food on your plate, and the ability to give back, there’s something to be grateful for.
It’s a hard truth that the universe doesn’t owe you anything. Maybe that’s because you’ve already been given the greatest gift of all: the chance to experience the universe from your own unique vantage point.
Most of the time, most of us are looking forward or ruminating on the past. Death taught me that the only opportunity for connection is right here in the present moment.
2. Things will go wrong, but there are still "right" things in your life.
This one’s about perspective.
Danielle LaPorte wrote, “Anger can be creative, sorrow can bring us closer to Spirit.” I agree.
Loss can bring unexpected and invaluable blessings. Your heart breaks open so the soul can receive love from new sources; you can GIVE love in new ways. Nobody wants to hurt like this, but it’s still a riverbed for growth and wisdom to flow through your life.
The thing is, you never know how strong you can be until you endure the impossible.
From death I've learned: when things go wrong, which they will, something worthwhile is being planted. But until it blooms, don't discount what's going right in your life right now.
3. You're in charge of your own life.
Nobody else can change your life for you, can take the steps for you, can carry you through the rest of your life. Everyone you meet and love becomes part of your journey. The important thing to keep in mind is that this is YOUR journey.
This is your process. You go at your own pace, arrive on your own time. Along the way, you’re responsible for your perspective and the changes you make (or don’t make).
Don’t put your life on hold. Don’t put off making small changes because the big changes look too big. Don’t push yourself to change if you’re not ready. And stop expecting other people do your inner work for you -- that’s your work to do.
Find your place in the world and own it. People can’t love, appreciate or understand who you really are if you never show who you really are. It really is okay if not everyone likes you, too.
4. Invest in your relationships.
Love is the stuff of us. We place far too much value on achievement, money, possessions, and beauty. But what will people remember you by?
People will remember you by the way you made them feel.
So stop keeping score. Stop competing and start loving like it’s all that matters. Make people feel seen in your presence. Ask questions and listen for the story. Treasure every hello and savor every goodbye.
Leave people better than you found them.
5. Forgive, forgive, forgive.
To quote something my author friend Mary Davis wrote, "We can't change people, but we can plant seeds that may one day bloom in them."
Forgiveness is a shot at freedom for yourself, true, but it's also a way to role model the way you wish the world was.
Forgiving someone else, the past, your own self -- not so easy; very much worth a shot, every time.
Try to see the good in people, even if it's buried deep inside, and it'll awaken the goodness in your own heart.
We have such little time. We might as well try to forgive, so that we can better live all the days we're given.
Keep trying and there will come a time when forgiving others feels the same as being forgiven.
6. You belong here.
When the person you love dies, you don’t have to run away from life. It’s still your turn to be here, it’s still your time to breathe.
You belong here in the world until it’s your time to go. Until then, you carry the memory of your loved one in your heart. You honor them by how you live. You make this your sacred duty, in every big and small thing you do.
You breathe in their influence on you and you leave a new mark on the world.
In the end, they lived. In the end, let them say the same about you.
. . .
Which of these truths speaks to your experience? Would you add anything?
Tell me in the comments. I'd love to know what speaks to you, and what you've learned... so far.
P.S. If you're in a particularly hard season of grief, listen to my Healing Heart Space guided meditation. 27 minutes of solace could be everything.