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Living with an unbearable loss

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Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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Rejoining The World

The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up. Aaron Sorkin

When the kids were little, we spent most Thanksgiving holidays in Hawaii, drawn like moths to the light and warmth from chilly Sacramento (it really does get cold here …) or icy Portland. After Dad died, Mom joined us, eager to spend time with her treasured grandchildren.

One year, on a packed flight back to the mainland, United split our seats into two groups. Mom volunteered to sit with Jimmy so Molly could be with me and Dan.

I wish our vacation could go on longer, Jimmy said, as he dug through his navy backpack, looking for a well-worn copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Mom smiled. All good things come to an end, she replied, thinking she was comforting him.

Bad things, too, replied our eleven-year-old philosopher.

Mom captured this exchange in her daybook and again on a small pastel yellow sticky note that has been sitting on my desk since she died. On my worst days, I stare at it, reminding myself of the promise of Jimmy’s wisdom that this, too, shall pass.

Jimmy emerged from the womb loving the world, spending his days with his arms wide open, venturing out again and again even after getting bonked on the head by a cruel comment or a friend who turned out not to be. He believed people were inherently good and trusted his ability to detect when they weren’t.

It takes courage to live in this world. To face everything that comes your way. To witness the way adversity, bad luck and callousness can devastate a life or an entire family. To trust that the pain will end, the wound will heal, that life will go on. Like Jimmy, I grew up embracing this world, but his death shattered my faith for a long time, making me wonder if the ride was worth the price of admission.

In the heavy gray days after Jimmy left this earth, I clung hard to Dan, Molly and our loyal pup, Buster. To walking and the way its hydraulic wave calmed and cleared my mind, allowing me to focus on nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other on the narrow horse trails near our house. To distancing myself from who was missing. To losing track of time as Buster and I trudged along, following Dan for as long as he wanted to stay out there, the need to retrieve Molly from school or ferry her to softball practice the only things triggering our return.

Over time, I reawakened to the beauty all around me. The purple lupines carpeting the spring green hills. The red-tailed hawk circling overhead. The whirr of the hummingbirds dancing in our garden. The call of the foxes late at night. The tropical scent of the gardenia soap in my bathroom, sent out of the blue by my grief sister Jen, inspired by the gardenia hand lotion Jimmy had given her long ago when she was one of his favorite high school teachers. The warmth radiating from Dan’s body as he wrapped his arms around me after yet another nightmare. The glimpses of Molly’s inner thoughts on a late night FaceTime call from her freshman dorm room.

Invitations to re-enter the world. Proof that the center was holding. Reminders that even with the bad things, life was still worth living. Promises that despite the ache inside me, there was still reason to get up and rejoin the dance.

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