Last night I scrolled through my Instagram feed reading so many stories of the great decade people had for their 2010’s. I loved looking at the pictures of great successes, life milestones, vacations, etc. I tried to think of what I would reflect on and all I could think about as a theme for the last ten years of my life was loss. Since 2009, I lost my dad, my uncle, both of my grandmothers, five close friends, my dog, and three relationships that really meant something to me with men who I cared for truly and deeply. I struggled with medical issues that required specialists, tests, scans, medications, physical therapy, more tests, surgery, and finally a diagnosis of an incurable chronic disease. I battled depression, isolation, profound loneliness, and addiction. All of this in just 10 years of my life. How could I create a happy post from that?
Then, today I spent a few hours with Bella helping her make the slime from a slime kit she got for Christmas. I felt the gooey slime in my fingers and started playing with it. Bella looked at me and said, “This slime is changing you.” I smirked and said, “Oh really? How is it changing me?” And her whole face smiled as she said, “It’s making you giggle and smile.” Surprised I responded, “What do you mean? I laugh and smile.” “No you don’t, mommy. You really don’t ever laugh or smile.” Now I was fighting back tears. This is how my 6 year old sees me? I thought about it and said, “I used to laugh and smile all the time. I guess I’ll have to work on that.”
I tried to think about what happened to that giggly smiling girl I used to be. I’ve let my grief take over so much that my own child, the only person who lives with me and sees me everyday, doesn’t think of me as someone who giggles or smiles. I’ve been so focused on all the bad things that have happened that I forgot to really appreciate the good. That includes the good of the last 10 years.
Between 2009 and 2019, I ran 2 full marathons, 2 Broad Street Runs, 5 half marathons, and dozens of shorter races. Sometimes I cried or walked to get there, but I still crossed. Every. Finishline. I got my Master’s Degree and a job in the field I always dreamed of working in. I bought a house. I bought my first car without a cosigner. I travelled to Alaska four times, Montana twice, New Orleans, Nashville, Little Rock, Asheville, Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, Mississippi, Florida, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Kenya. I saw the Lion King, Wicked, and Hamilton on Broadway. I saw John Butler Trio twice, once up close and personal in the VIP section. I saw the Lumineers twice, Dave Matthews twice, Billy Joel and Ed Sheeran. I saw The Philadelphia Symphony, dozens of Shakespeare plays, went to my first Opera and my first Eagles game. I saw the Phillies win and lose several times over while I drank cold beer and baked in the sun at The Bank. I reconnected with old friends. I met new friends who became family. I adopted a new puppy. I gardened. I cooked. I wrote. I practiced yoga. I painted. I sang. I performed publicly. I successfully put IKEA furniture together by myself.
And last, but most important, I created, carried, and gave birth to my first and only child. She came into the darkness of my life like a ray of sunshine covered in glitter. I sang her to sleep every night. I went treasure hunting on the beach with her. I danced in the living room with her. I celebrated her every accomplishment. I saw her first steps, heard her
first words, and fed her her first food. I walked her to school each day and blew a kiss to her before watching her go off on her own. I listened to her say, “I love you” everyday. She taught me how to be a solo parent. For the last seven years of this decade, she has been my first thought every morning and my last thought every night.
I’ve had my head so far up my grief’s butt that I haven’t fully allowed myself to enjoy all of the life-giving moments in the last decade. I’m so stressed about all the little unimportant things that I haven’t relaxed and let my daughter see me truly giggle and smile. When I really think about it, even those losses all taught me something. I carry pieces of those loved ones with me everyday. They became part of who I am. Even the broken relationships taught me so many new and wonderful things and helped me see myself more clearly. I have wonderful memories of each of those men and have learned to forgive and wish each of them happiness and success in life. They each added goodness to my life. I harbor no ill will or grudges against them and that is a lightness I never understood or felt before this decade.
My medical problems have taught me to be empathetic towards people with chronic pain and illness. They have taught me that it’s ok to ask for help. They’ve taught me to speak up when something doesn’t feel right. They’ve taught me to be gentle with myself and to rest. And, though my diagnosis was not what I was hoping for, it was finally an answer for years of questions and doctors literally shrugging their shoulders. It brought me new hope and a clear path for moving forward.
So, as I sit here on the first day of the new decade, my plan is clear. I will spend it laughing with my daughter. I will smile and soak in all the goodness around me and celebrate my successes and my travels and my experiences. I will smile even if my bank account is empty or I have a bad day because there is life in everything and every day we can find joy in something. When I think of my dad, I picture him smiling. Always smiling. Even when he was battling an incurable cancer, the picture I took of him in the hospital shows him smiling ear to ear while being pumped full of chemo. He found joy in everyday. He found a reason to be thankful in everything. It is a challenge for me to do this. When I am gone and my daughter only sees me in her mind, I don’t want her memory of me to be the me with the cloud over my head all the time. I want her to see the me who is laughing and smiling without the use of a slime kit.