January, we meet again. Every January, for the past nine years, memories of my Gracie’s last days with us flood my mind. These days can bring on anxiety, worries, sadness, and immense grief. Anyone who has lost a child knows that these feelings are always there and can creep up on you at any time. It is how I choose to respond to these feelings that get me through each year, day, hour, and minute.
January 2012 held 17 days of Gracie’s last moments. We were painfully conscious of the lasts she was experiencing. Her last Christmas, her last visits with family, her last time walking, her last time playing with her brother, her last snack of chobani and chocolate, her last words, her last smile, her last breath. When the lasts were finished, we didn’t realize that there would be a world of agonizing firsts that carried with them the power to crush my soul.
The first time I went to bed without her by my side.
The first time I got in the car and looked at her empty car seat.
The first time I looked at her in her casket.
The first holiday, birthday, anniversary all come and go without my Gracie here to see or celebrate any of it.
The grief of that first year without her rolled into my life like a thick fog, and the only way I was going to get out of it was by seeing and believing in the good firsts. There were some good firsts- the first cardinal I saw on a cold, snowy winter day, the first time I played with Luke and heard his laugh again, the first sign I got from Gracie ( a slinky that she last played with just sitting on my bed). I had to choose whether to dwell in the sadness of the firsts or relish in the goodness of the firsts. I was totally blinded by the depth and intensity of my pain, hurt, sadness, and anger. Grief had overtaken me, preventing me from living and from seeing the good in anything.
This grief took over my life for quite a bit of time. I was unhealthy, I was sad, and I was lonely. My family, friends and community were nothing but supportive and kind, and I am so thankful for all the love they showed my family and me. That got us through some of the darkest days, but in order to start living again, I had to get out of this dark place on my own. I was angry that my daughter died. I was jealous of those who still had all their kids alive and well. I wanted to blame someone or something for Gracie’s cancer. Those were all thoughts in my head that were dragging me down and preventing me from living with any kind of joy, peace, or purpose. I had to accept that Gracie wasn’t coming back and that I needed to live my life by showing and giving love, by spreading and sharing hope in her memory. Ironically, I needed to have Grace back in my life. I had to stop being so angry and choose to relish in the good lasts and firsts. What does that mean? It means that I can now look back on those times and be thankful for all and any last moments I had with Gracie and be thankful for all the people in my life who got me through the firsts without her and turned a horrible tragedy into giving back to others through a foundation in Gracie’s name. I was able to start living again because I chose to let my anger go.
Lately, I have heard the phrases,“We are doomed,” “The world is falling apart,” “This is an awful time for our world,” and many more phrases that are so negative and scary. On January 17th, the anniversary of Gracie’s death, I challenge you to find the good. You see, Gracie taught me that all you need in life is love, kindness and respect. Nothing else matters. When Gracie died 9 years ago, the amount of love and support from everyone was felt. It didn’t matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, political stance, or view on anything in the world. Everyone came together to love and support a family and get them through the toughest time of their lives. Everyone did this with respect and kindness. My wish for today and all the days ahead is for all people to respect one another and treat one another with kindness. If you are angry, sad, insulted, or just plain mad at the world, I challenge you to change your outlook; look at the bright side of things and start living. Be kind, be generous, be hopeful, and be grateful that you are alive! Don’t live your life in anger. Trust me, I know that living in anger is no way to live.
January is a tough time for my family and me. The grief over losing Gracie never ends. Until the day I die, I will always wish the outcome was different. But, choosing to focus on kindness and helping her memory matter is healing for me. Spread kindness today- in memory of Gracie, in memory of someone you love, in honor of someone, or just because.
Today I will remember my sweet girl, all her firsts and lasts, and I will spread kindness to someone or something in need. Will you join me?