New Year’s Eve in 2003 was the saddest day of my life. It had been a couple months since my sister passed away, it was the first day I was not spending with my 2 month-old nephew, and it was the last day of the last year in which my sister was alive. I spent the day and evening alone in my sister’s house, while my bro-in-law took the baby to wherever he was going. It was a day that was symbolic of the end of anything that had to do with my sister—or so I thought at the time. Starting the next day, in 2004, everything seemed like it was moving forward, and Jen couldn’t be a part of it. I resented new things for a long time—new songs on the radio, new people in my life, changing seasons, events that I couldn’t call and tell her about…
I walked around her house in the semi-darkness that last evening in 2003, after having watched reruns of The Osbournes for most of the afternoon. My parents were somewhere dealing with their own sadnesses alone. We couldn’t comfort each other because when our sadnesses came together, it felt worse instead of better. This all sounds really sad, but it’s also a lesson on perspective—how things can change from feeling like the saddest thing ever to being overwhelmingly good.
I look back to the end of 2003, and it makes me sad to think about most of what happened then. But, on the other hand, because of the events of 2003, I moved home from Boston and reconnected with great friends and made new ones. I had the chance to be a mother without having to go through labor and childbirth 🙂
I got to spend years with my mother that I would not have spent with her under different circumstances, that morphed us from mother-daughter to more-than-best-friends. Back in 2003 and 2004, Mom and I talked at length about the meaning of life and death—we concluded nothing except that in order to make it through the tough times in life, it’s essential to try and do two things:
1. Be positive and find the positive in every situation — because there is positive in everything even if you can’t see it in the moment.
2. Take opportunities as they come, especially out of sadness—For me, it honors the memory of my sister every time I make something good happen in my life. I wouldn’t be here, having achieved and experienced the last 6 years this way if she hadn’t died.
No matter how obvious and simple it sounds, what I’ve learned experientially since 2003, is that people always matter more than “stuff.” I reflect on where I was 6 years ago, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I found out who my true friends are, and I also found new true friends. I learned who I am, and how not to be afraid to show it—-what I value, and how to stick up for what I want and what I believe in. I’ve laughed more and cried more in 6 years than I thought would happen in a lifetime. I’ve felt what it’s like to be depressed and not be able to get out of bed. I also learned to be thankful for little things that helped get me out of bed and fake that I was ok for even just a little while, because ultimately that helped me feel better for real. I realized how important my friends are, and how amazing the power of human connection can be when you need help, whether it’s unspoken or just listening or being a shoulder to cry on. At the same time, I learned how important friends are to share laughs and good things with.
Over time, coping changed to living. Time passing wasn’t always quite so sad. I stopped picking up the phone thinking I would call Jen to tell her about my day. Although that feels sad in itself, it also spurred my realization of connecting with the idea or existence of my sister in a different way. I won’t lie, having a real conversation and a hug would be just awesome…but having conversations with her in my head feels good sometimes too.
Six years later, I have everything I could ever ask for in life. My parents are both well, Matthew and I have a special relationship that is fun and meaningful beyond any expectation. I met Joey! I have all the formal education I could ever want, and I chose a career path that allows me to “follow my bliss.” Thanks to my Mom for that piece of advice that didn’t seem helpful back when I was trying to choose a college major, but now I can see that following bliss is really what it’s all about.
I think New Year’s Eve is often just looked at as a “beginning.” The start of a new year is also the end of an old one. Finding happiness in sadness may be one of the most gratifying and happy things I’ve ever done. It creates purpose and meaning—and in the end, we all have our own stories to find meaning in. Realizing what we have and feeling it, for real, deep down in the space between breaths and thoughts, is meaningful beyond any words.
What are you grateful for today? What is meaningful to you? When you begin to think about what you’d like to do in the New Year, don’t forget to reflect on how you got where you are now.
Happy New Year!