This time of year, it is hard not to think about the past 12 months and how the events of the last 365 days have shaped, sculpted, and molded our lives. Anticipation of what the next year will bring is on everyone’s mind these days. The holidays are winding down and the bitter cold fills the air. The New Year brings a chance to reflect, forgive, hope, anticipate, and perhaps an opportunity to move on to a brighter future. It is a time for renewal, remembrance, and a reinvigoration of the soul. We write down our goals for the year ahead, we reflect on what we are thankful for, and we yearn for a better year than this year offered. In essence, we hope that life will continue to get better.
As we begin to craft our resolutions, we offer many that sound so familiar: get into better shape; eat healthier; take care of ourselves; spend more time with our family and friends; find a better job; be a nicer person; and the list goes on. Over the past several weeks, I have given much thought to 2013. Of course, I want next year to be a wonderful year, but I am not ready to say goodbye to 2012 quite yet. I guess it would be acceptable to view 2012 as the worst year of my life so far: my brothers and I lost our sister, Josie lost her Momma, and my parents lost their baby girl. The loss is still raw, and the pain so enormous. But somehow, I know in my heart that I will always look back on this year as the most meaningful and special year of my life. This is how I have to look at it in order to make any sense of it at all.
I know that Kass’s journey to Heaven forever changed my life. I am also quite certain that I will not know the true extent of the change for many years to come. But for now, I take comfort in knowing that I was truly blessed to have spent 40 amazing years surrounded by her sweet love and kindness.
January 2, 2013 marks the 6-month anniversary of Kass’s passing. I have no words to describe the depth of the emotions that I still feel every day. I continue to feel inspired by Kass’s daunting courage yet saddened with the acceptance that she is really gone. Each day that I have been in town since that fateful day in July when we laid her to rest, I journey to the cemetery to be with her. Sometimes, I sing to her. Sometimes, I tell her stories. Sometimes, I ask her for advice. And sometimes, I just breathe in the stillness and the soft breeze and say nothing at all. So often, I think of her strength to fight, her resolve to live, her passion for her baby, and her love of her family and I am easily moved to tears. Even in moments of laughter and light-heartedness, she is always near.
As I think about the journey of the past 17 months, I have written a lot about Kass, our family, our love, and our memories of Kass’s last magical year. But, it truly wasn’t just our family that Kass inspired. Just this past week, my parents received a letter in the mail from one of Kass’s former co-workers. Kass had only worked there less than a year before she became sick. Less than a year of knowing someone and yet the words are so profound! I share some of it with you below:
Dear Parents of Kathleen,
Although I only knew Kathleen a very brief time, it felt as though I had known her always. I am thankful for the bond that we had – a true friend. She was a good daughter, wife and friend. But mostly, she was a wonderful mother. When she was diagnosed, her first and foremost thoughts and fears were leaving Josie. My heart ached for her and had I been able, I would have gladly traded places with her, as my daughter is grown, successful and happy with a family of her own.
It seemed so unfair, but our loss is the angels gain. And I know she is waiting for us in Heaven. It was pure joy knowing her.
What a gift for my parents! When my Mom read the card to me over the phone yesterday, I smiled through my tears and thought simply, “Yes. That was Kass. Pure joy.”
I will forever look at 2012 as the year that changed me for the better. Everything, I mean everything that happened during this past year has shifted my thinking, strengthened my heart, and helped me to grow. As I glance towards the future, I cannot help but first reflect on the most significant lessons from this past year, the year of never-ending love.
1. As much as we think we are – we are not in control.
I have always been proud of my ability to have everything in my life just as I wanted it. Just the right job, the right house, the right surroundings, the right friends, the right workout, the right vacations, the right books, and the list goes on. I was a control freak of sorts. I admit it. You know the kind: it was all “right” according to my own high standards for me. And, of course my “right” was not necessarily your “right”, but I was very content with the world I had created for myself. Perfect in its own imperfect way. What I have learned in this past year is that none of it matters….none of it….and it can all go away in the blink of an eye. Life is just rolling along, perfectly happy, steadily controlled, just as it should be when, BAM! out of nowhere it all changes. It changes so fast that any semblance of having control seems like a dream from a life that isn’t yours. You quickly move from having complete control to having no control at all. Allow me to be clear on this point: control is an illusion. This is a hard lesson to learn. It was not only hard for me to learn but even harder for me to accept. And, this loss of control can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Be ready for it! Or, my better advice…..stop controlling everything around you, take a deep breath, and let it all go! Love. That is all that matters. Just love. And, the best news is that love does not cost anything, and the less you control it, the more freely it flows.
2. Life should be lived in the small moments.
Seemingly similar to my first lesson, this one just seems more obvious and easier to achieve. However, it may just be harder. You see, as a society we are wired to celebrate our happiness based on those big moments of achievement: engagements, weddings, births, graduations, new jobs, new homes, milestone birthdays, etc. Please do not misunderstand: these are very important moments and they should all be celebrated and celebrated with enthusiasm! But, life is what really happens outside of those big moments. It happens with a hug between two friends; as a flower is picked from the garden; as you read a story to your child; as you hold the door open for a stranger; as you sip your favorite wine; or as you call on an old friend. It happens as you watch the sunrise or look at the moon, and it happens sometimes while you are all alone simply standing still.
This past year has taught me to celebrate the big moments, but to not miss the little ones that happen in between those big bookends….for this is where our stories are written. This is where life happens. The insignificant moments become significant when you are facing the end of your life. This I know to be true. I watched intently and listened carefully to Kass in her final months of life. I heard her words soften. I saw her face become more at ease. I realized the significance of these small and simple moments and what they came to mean to her. I watched her as she found tremendous joy in just sitting on her porch and watching the birds play in the hanging baskets or listening to the wind blow across her fields. I am more aware of these moments now and understand that my sense of purpose and meaning in my life increases in direct correlation to these small events.
3. Love is eternal.
Ahh, my favorite lesson from this past year, and the one that keeps me moving forward. It may be true that with any big loss comes questioning and uncertainty and denial. I know this was true for me. At first, I could not believe that Kass was gone. (Did this really happen?) Then, my disbelief became denial (This did not really happen.), which was quickly followed by anger. (How did this happen? How is this fair?) But, through a lot of work, I have come to accept this most unacceptable outcome. With this acceptance has also come a genuine belief that nothing has really changed between Kass and me. Our sisterly love is eternal. Love is strong. It knows no concept of time or space or distance. Love transcends our human comprehensions. Love is not the spoken word, but rather it is a truth that cannot be spoken, only lived. As the bible says “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7)
This I know for sure: Kass loved us and she knew how much we all loved her. There were no words left unspoken between us. But, the true gift of our love was the way that we all lived. How we were as a family growing up and how we loved one another over the years was best expressed through our actions, not just our words. We didn’t just decide to start loving once Kass became sick. We loved and we loved and we loved! And now Kass’s love for me will carry me through the difficult times. And, my love for her will be my motivation to keep moving forward….to continue to shine her light in this world and to let her life be an example to us all that love is eternal.
If 2012 was the year of never-ending love, then I hope that 2013 will be the year of enormous gratitude. There is so much to anticipate about the next 12 months. Life can be profound. If anyone had asked me last New Year’s Eve what I would be thinking and feeling just one year later, I can tell you that it would not be all of this. Kass was still alive last New Year’s Eve. I spent time with her at her house that night. I called her at midnight. I have a voice mail from her from January 1, 2012. She wished me a happy new year and told me that she hoped for a good year for all of us. Just twelve months ago.
Life can be profound but it can also be fleeting. So, please don’t miss a moment! It is all right there for you. And, it is all good. May your 2013 bring you one step closer to your dreams! No control. Just love. One small moment at a time….