In my short 28 years of life, I have lost many relationships. Havenít we all? Either we drift apart from someone we once loved or, worse, we lose loved ones to an untimely or expected death. My first major loss was Papaw Jimmie when I was 12. He died by suicide in 2004, the day my summer break began.
Those three months went by like years. I was so excited to go back to school, probably more excited than anybody in my class. It took nearly a decade to cope with the shock and pain of losing a loved one like that. I used to think my papawís death would have been easier if it hadnít been such a shock or if I hadnít been so young, but thatís not true.
Whether you know it will happen or not, losing a loved one feels like your guts have spilled out onto the floor each and every time. You try to clean up the carnage, to shove it all back in ĖĖ†as if everything will go back to normal so long as you find a way to move on. Any time I have lost a loved one, Iíve felt a sense of urgency to return to business as usual. Thatís especially true around Christmas, when everyone is expected to be so cheerful.
Last week, I wrote about how the holidays can be difficult for those of us who are haunted by the memory of a late loved one. That column triggered a whole other train of thought, taking me down the rabbit hole of loss and the nagging grief thatís always just below the surface.
When I lost Papaw Jimmie, I couldnít stop thinking about my regrets. I regretted not telling him how much I loved him or how brave he was to fight cancer for so many years. I regretted being angry with him for the way he chose to leave this world. I regretted not giving him one last hug. I regretted not knowing what would happen, even though thereís no way I could have known.
Regret is a common theme when it comes to grief. Itís scary to think about the things we canít change, so we assign some sort of agency to ourselves instead. We blame ourselves for the silliest things. If someone is at fault, even if itís us, we can make some sense of the situation. But then we find ourselves emotionally stunted 10 years down the line, full of self-imposed guilt and fear.
I spent too many years living in fear, thinking all my loved ones would die and leave me alone. Today, I have accepted that we will all die. Itís just a fact of life. What we do with that fact is the important part. Thatís what defines us. So how can you live a meaningful life when your loved ones arenít with you anymore? How can you keep giving and loving despite the fear?
I think itís simpler than we think. Itís all about saying how you feel about your loved ones while they are still with you. When I lost a dear friend two years ago, I was devastated. I still miss her and always will. But I am thankful we didnít leave anything unsaid. She knew how much I loved her, and I knew how much she loved me.
Sometimes we get stuck in our heads and worry it might push people away if weíre honest about how much we love them. Donít let that fear stop you. Tell the people you love exactly how much you love them every chance you get. Take pictures. Make memories. Donít stop living because someone you love did. Donít stop loving because thatís what life is all about.
Over the past few years, Iíve made a concerted effort to tell people when I feel proud of them or happy to know them. I probably say, ďI love youĒ a little too much and I intend to keep doing that. After all, love is all weíve got.
Say it, today and every day. Share love and you will get it right back.