Saturday, December 30, 2017

What Matters

The purpose of life is not to be happy
but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, 
to have it make some difference that you lived at all.

- Leo Rosten

We are crossing the threshold to the start of a new year.

I am welcoming the year with faith and I am welcoming the year with love.

It isn't easy.

It's not possible to sidestep messages that contain wishes for happy new beginnings. If I were to say that the inference were difficult, that would be an understatement. I have had a year that has contained one of the most heart breaking endings I have ever experienced. The expectation that I move forward with hope seems insensitive. I did not want this ending. I don't want the new beginning that is now required of me.

And yet, here I am.

Recently, I posted a picture of myself on Facebook. Someone responded with a comment. 'You look happy,' they said. But, what they saw didn't reflect how I felt.

I remember what being happy was, before the loss of John. My memories are wistful. They speak to a time when I didn't truly understand how deep grief could be. And from here on, I know, I am changed. Happiness will always be cloaked in the shadow of knowing that it is fleeting.

If you ask me how one finds hope from there, the answer is - I don't know. It seems that with each passing day, I know even less than the day before. Love, forgiveness, grief, and healing. The mysteries have only become larger. But this is ok with me.

Where I once thought I needed rules, I now only need grace. It is the only thing that carries us through, anyway - sitting in the miracle of another day is the only way I know to heal. And in order to do that, another day must come.

I don't have answers. If I did, I would have applied them to questions that were being asked long ago. I have learned no secrets over the past year. I know for some, there are miracles that keep us alive. And for most, it is love that keeps us here. And yet - neither is a given. We do not get to dictate or assign miracles. And I have learned that love can only do so much when it comes to healing a pain that we did not inflict.

Someone in one of my grief groups noted that the heartbreak of a new year includes knowing that we are entering a year in which our loved one never lived. Just writing that brings tears. It would be so easy to bemoan the injustice there.

But I don't think justice works that way in this world. At least not when it comes to who leaves and who gets to stay. So I can sit in the pain of self proclaimed injustice, or I can rise up and walk towards the miracle. The miracle that John was ever here at all. The miracle that I had him in my life. And the miracle that I am still here and that I am afforded another day.

I once heard that there is nothing like grief to make a person reconsider their faith in God. My considerations have always brought me back to believing that there is a power greater than myself that is at whatever helm there may be, and I am so incredibly glad for that. I believe in a God who is forgiving and all knowing. As for why I am still here and why John left the world this past year, I allow that mystery to be solved by God alone.

If I could whisper to the hearts of every person who has lost someone they loved this year, I would say this ~ no matter how dark our days, I believe that the grace of God is the only true source of light, and it is our choice whether we let that light shine upon us or not. I am thankful every single day that I believe in angels that hold us until we are ready, and a God who welcomes us home when it is our time.

And so, while it may not be happiness, I will tell you this - I enter this new year with something more important.


Nothing is guaranteed. John was not the only person who I started out the year with, who is now gone. I lost family members, friends from childhood, people I work with, and other close friends, too. With each loss, the world shifted. It was no longer complete in the way it once had been. The soft edges of having good people in my life were worn down. But I would be leaving out such a big part of the story if I suggested that I walked around with loss permeating my every move. I did not. And the reason is this, there was always someone at my side. There were many many someones at my side.


Because of the the advocacy work I now do, I often speak to new survivors of suicide loss. In the first days and weeks after their loss, the pain they describe is so intense and poignant. I ache with empathy. "How am I going to make it through this?" They ask. I know the question well. I know the precipice that we stand on, questioning our own desire to live. Questioning our own right to live.

I give the only advice I have to give. I tell them what held onto my heart and spirit and what kept my own body from taking leave:

Let people love you.

Moving into this new year, I don't have much to offer and I have even fewer promises to make. For all of us who now hold such deep heartbreak alongside our efforts to step into a new day, I wish my words could soothe us all. The most I can do though, is to tell you this. You are not alone. Not the person whose loss was two days ago. Not the person whose loss was twenty years ago. No matter how empty you may feel without your loved one beside you - you are not alone.

I want to offer this too. My convictions since the first days and weeks after John died, have changed. My point of view is no longer pointed in the same direction. Surviving has meant learning to pick up things I believed would forever be too heavy, and it has meant laying down many things that served me no longer. In your first days of grief, know this ~ things will change. Perhaps God is a master physicist. I do not know, but I can assure you, nothing stays the same.

I cannot lie. My heartbreak has not lessened. Grief is so incredibly heavy and it has not left me. But the muscles with which I hold the heartbreak and grief have gotten stronger, and that is enough for me right now.

So for those of you whose hurt is fresh and whose loss feels unbearable - I urge you all to believe in the immeasurable capacity for the human heart and spirit to heal. It is in that capacity that we will find a balm for our grief. There, finally, is where I can make a promise.

Yes, we are crossing the threshold to a new year. I choose to walk beside those who love me, and I choose to stand in the light cast not only by the spirits of loved ones who are no longer here, but also in the light of that which carries us all from one threshold to another.

I am welcoming the new year with faith and with love, and for that, I am blessed.