Friends, I wrote this after one of my dearest friends lost her fiancé to cancer. It was one of those times when my fingers flew across the keyboard as the words poured out of my soul and the tears flowed from my eyes. I cried so hard I could barely see the words I was typing, and when I was done writing I closed my computer and walked away. I let the story sit for a while, not sure if I’d ever share it. The pain was too fresh and raw at the time. But it helped tremendously to write it all down. Time passed, as it always does, and the story stayed tucked away.
In light of the recent tragic events that have happened in our world, I felt the need to read these words again. They resonated with my soul, and I decided that it was time to share this story with you. Below is my heartfelt and loving tribute.
I was standing in the aisle of the grocery store surrounded by florescent lighting and busy shoppers, scanning my list while fighting back tears. I was emotionally exhausted, not only because of the demands of caring for two young children, but because life felt very heavy. I had recently attended the funeral for the fiancé of one of my dearest childhood friends. There is something utterly devastating about the loss of someone so young. My friend’s fiancé had fought a long, hard battle with cancer, and he’d fought bravely. They had been so happy together and had loved each other deeply. My friend was mourning not only the loss of the person she loved but also their hopes and dreams of a future together. They were supposed to have years and years to make memories, and all that potential and possibility was gone. It was senseless, tragic and devastating.
Throughout his battle with cancer he remained strong in spirit, and they made the most of the time they had together. The one thing he always said he was grateful for was more time. They knew the prognosis wasn’t good, yet they chose to love with all their hearts. My God, they were brave. Staring at the unknown future and committing to facing it together, they squeezed every last ounce of life and love out of his time on earth. They knew that the pain of separation was coming, but standing together, they vowed to love each other for as long as they had time. It was brave and beautiful.
How do you honor that kind of bravery? How do you pay tribute to a life lived to the fullest, even though it wasn’t as long as it should have been? How do you come to terms with the fact that this world can be incredibly unfair and unkind, separating two people who truly loved each other and inflicting unimaginable amounts of pain?
I contemplated all of this while scanning my shopping list. I really, really didn’t want to be standing in the middle of the grocery store with a fussy baby while fighting back tears. Life felt too heavy, too deep, too engulfing for the snack aisle of the grocery store. How does one grapple with the very real, very deep issues of life and also find the motivation to buy eggs and milk? I wanted to shake my fist at the heavens. I wondered how to come to terms with the fact that none of us are promised a long life. Not one of us will make it through this experience of life free from pain, loss, or worry. And because life can be cruel and unfair, some people are dealt a much harsher hand than others. Why, why, WHY?
And then it occurred to me, as I stood in the middle of the grocery aisle fighting back tears, that my friend’s fiancé would have loved to be grocery shopping at that very moment. Because it would mean that he was still alive. The significance of the simple act of grocery shopping literally took my breath away. I was buying food for my family, the people I loved the most. We were still here on earth, together. Something as simple as grocery shopping, so common and even at times boring, meant that I had not experienced great loss in my family. That, my friends, was a really big deal.
I knew that I must appreciate that incredible moment. I must treasure the sacredness that is caring for the needs of my loved ones. I must not take for granted the fact that we are still on this earth, together. I must not let the illusion of ordinary life blind me to the miracle that is life spent together with the people we care about.
So often when we lose people we love, especially when they are young, we want to honor them by seizing the day, following our dreams, and doing really big things. And we should. We absolutely should do that.
But we also have to keep doing the small day to day things like grocery shopping and paying the bills. And maybe in those smaller moments, the ones that aren’t exactly fun or that perhaps add stress to our lives, maybe those are also moments that need to be seized. To say to ourselves, “I’m buying groceries for my family because I love them,” and “I’m so lucky to be paying this utility bill because it means I’m alive and living in a warm house with my loved ones.” Instead of simply going through the motions or worrying about the future, we appreciate what we actually have. When we take a moment to recognize what we are doing and be grateful that this is our life, we honor those who are no longer with us in body, but who live on in spirit.
Do the big, grand things, yes. But also do the small, seemingly insignificant things with love and appreciation. It’s the only way I know how to keep moving forward while paying tribute to those who have gone before us.
Friends, I’m reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s quote in her book The Happiness Project where she states, “I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or after some great catastrophe, and think, “How happy I used to be then, if only I’d realized it.” We never know when something so significant will happen that it will divide our view of our life into a before and after. The phone call, the diagnosis, the great loss. Life is hard, it’s scary and brutal and relentless. But it is also so very beautiful, if we take the time to notice. And so now I take a moment at the beginning of each grocery trip to be grateful for the incredible significance within that seemingly simple task. Because by being grateful for this life we have, we honor the memory of those who taught us how to truly live and love.