Thursday, May 21, 2015

Life Goes On

On May 9, 2014, I kissed my husband goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time I would see him alive. Twelve days later he was gone, his life tragically interrupted in its prime as so many sadly are.

When he was deployed I was always waiting for the doorbell to ring but I never expected it when he was out in the field on exercise. When he left for Wainwright it never occurred to me that anything would happen to him, he was only going on an exercise after all. In fact those were the first words I said when they told me. "What are you talking about? He's only on an exercise."

I never thought it would happen to us, but really why not us? We were no more immune to tragedy then anyone else. That's the thing about tragedy it doesn't give a rat's ass about any of us. Tragedy didn't care how wonderful a man Dan was. It didn't care that he was a loving husband, father, son, brother, friend. Or that he was an outstanding soldier and leader. Tragedy doesn't discriminate, it's random and unfair. The doorbell rings and nothing is ever the same again.

Telling our three children that their father was gone will always be the worst moment of my life and it is indelibly etched on my heart. In that moment and every other since, my main priority has been them and making sure the loss of their father did not destroy their lives.

Before Dan left for Afghanistan I promised him if anything happened to him the kids and I would have good, happy lives. Real happy not pretend on the surface happy. I've never broken a promise to him (except for the time I promised him I'd keep the garage clean but come on that was such an unreasonable thing to expect) and there was no way in hell I was going to break this one. There are no rule books on how to move forward with your life after loss (although lots of people have an opinion on what you should do), and the military doesn't issue joining instructions on how to become a military widow.

And so I did the only thing I could. I accepted Dan was gone, and that nothing would ever bring him back.

I stood up and I did what I had to do. I didn't run from the grief or hide from it, I met it head on each and every day. I haven't always gotten everything right (but who ever does?) but I know at the end of each day I did the very best I could that day. It hasn't been easy, and there have been times that I have stumbled along the way. I have leaned on my friends when I couldn't carry the burden alone. I have learned not to listen to the (very few) people who say "if I were you" because (fortunately for them) they aren't me and it's not their journey, it's mine.

Shortly after Dan died a dear friend told me life would be good again, maybe not perfect but good. And he was right, life is good but it was never perfect to begin with. Nothing ever is. It's just imperfectly ours.

Happiness doesn't just knock on our door and ask to come in. It's a choice we make, and we have to work at it, every single day. We can choose to be miserable or we can choose to be happy. And being miserable is not who I am. Dan loved life and he lived it to the fullest. He always said life was for the living, and while it "was only natural I would pine for him (what woman wouldn't) don't waste so much time pining for me you forget to live." And I haven't forgotten.

I lost Dan but I have never lost myself. Sorrow has touched my life, but it doesn't own it. Dan took a part of my heart with him when he left, and I will always be sad that he is gone. But shattered hearts do eventually heal and life, well it goes on. Something awful happened to me but my life isn't awful.

I have so very much to be thankful for. I have three amazing, strong, resilient, healthy and happy children. Our home is still full of love and laughter (and bickering. Dear Lord). I have wonderfully supportive parents who thankfully didn't ever hear the expression you can never go home again because they let me move home twice this year. I have in laws who love me as if I'm their own. I have amazing friends who are always there for me no matter where they are or where I am. I have a beautiful (almost finished) house in a great neighbourhood with awesome neighbours (no flooded yards here). I have a very successful business that I (sometimes) love.

If anything, this last year has taught me to never take anything for granted. I know all too well how fickle life is, and that it can be gone in one heart shattering instant. I have no idea what the future has in store for me, none of us do. But I do know this: at the end of my life, I won't wish I'd spent more time grieving, I'll wish I'd spent more time living and loving. And that's what I intend to do. I will never get this moment or this day back again. I'm not going to waste one precious second of it.

Last month in Scotland I stood beside one of my dearest friends atop a rocky peak. Climbing a steep hill wasn't on the top of my list of things to do on a beautiful sunny morning in Edinburgh but she really wanted to go and I wasn't going to let her down. I hate heights, in fact the only thing I dislike more are snakes, and I can tell you emphatically that you will never ever see me cuddled up to a snake (even I have limits as to what I will do for my friends and I absolutely draw the line at snakes).

As I stood there looking down at the spectacular view of Edinburgh, I was happy and most importantly, I knew it was okay for me to be happy. Dan would have loved being on top of that rock pile, and he would especially love that we took the most difficult route up (a classic Dan move). I thought about how frigging proud he would be of me, not just for climbing that damn hill but for everything I'd accomplished this year. And I know how relieved he would be to see how well our kids are doing. He was so proud of the three of them, and he'd be even more so now. I know he would approve of every single decision I have made since he's been gone (well, he might raise his eyebrows at my choice of builders but besides that). I kept my promise, but he knew I would and I can almost hear him say, "See Mon, I told you, you've got this." And I do. I've got this.

Dan crammed more living into his 43 years than most people do in 100. He made the most of every single ordinary day. His was a life well lived. And that motivates me to live mine every single day. And I hope it will you too. The best way for us to honour his memory is to live life to it's absolute fullest. Now. Not tomorrow. Today.

Don't wait for the perfect time because there is no perfect time. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. 

This is not a dress rehearsal, it's the only life we get. Don't waste it on bitterness, anger and regret. Tell your people you love them, over and over again. They need to know. And if you're lucky enough to get a second chance at love, be brave enough to take it, it's so worth the price we some times have to pay for it. Take the time to enjoy all of those seemingly inconsequential little things. I know it's not always easy to find the time, but do it. Climb that damn hill (but for the love of God be careful, you know I worry about these things). Go for a run in the rain. Go for a walk off of the beaten path. Wear a ridiculously ugly shirt in public (seriously if I can wear cheetah print leggings in public you can so wear an ugly shirt out to dinner). Make up a crazy ditty and sing (badly) it out loud. Twirl (hurl) someone around the dance floor. Play a board game (fight in a box) with your kids. Enjoy drinks with friends.

In the end, it's love and all of the simple, ordinary moments woven together that make life extraordinary. And Dan's life was extraordinary of that there is no doubt. So tonight raise your glass to him. An incredible husband, father, son, brother, friend, soldier. Gone but never ever forgotten. Skål!

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life. It goes on."~Robert Frost
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