“Life seems sometimes like nothing more than a series of losses, from beginning to end. That’s the given. How you respond to those losses, what you make of what’s left, that’s the part you have to make up as you go.”
― Katharine Weber, The Music Lesson
In the past two years, I’ve lost more than I could have ever imagined. As the old cliche goes, when it rains it pours, and that has never seemed more true than this time in my life. Death, grief, and loss are interesting things. They impact us in a way that changes us forever, whether good or bad, and never really go away.
In the past three weeks, I’ve lost a baby, a dream, and a parent. As much as it hurts, as much as it fights to destroy you and leave you wondering whether anything is worth it, it also does so much more if you let it.
If you listen to the silence, to the pain, the loss, and the hurt, often it will have a lot to say to you.
In the loss of a loved one, it will whisper to you the greatest memories and happiest times. It will replay your last moments together, good or bad, leaving you grasping to ingrain their face, their voice, their entire persona in your memory forever. You fight to burn everything about them into your very being for the fear that one day you might forget.
Amidst those whispers, there is also something else. There is, floating within them like Winged Keys*, the kind of truth that can push you forward and into a better person.
We often talk about the kind of legacy people leave behind. No matter what kind of person they were, there is always a legacy. Mostly good, some bad, but in the end it’s still an imprint on the world.
Within that legacy, you can learn a lot about yourself, about your heart, and about the kind of person you want to become.
My father-in-law passed suddenly last week, and in the midst of the grief and loss, it has caused a deep level of introspection. He was one of those people that is leaving behind a powerful, positive legacy; the effects of which will ripple out into his community for years to come.
He was a man who embraced himself wholly and completely; he did not aim to change in order to impress people or be accepted. He sported the Bruce County tuxedo (denim, denim, and more denim) with pride, loved his cowboy boots and belt buckles, and didn’t really care whether people changed their opinion of him because of it.
Embracing every ounce of who he was, as family has said, gave him the ability to love deeply, to live passionately, and to act compassionately towards everyone. He was the kind of man we do not see often anymore, a man who lived his life by serving others wholeheartedly. His kindness knew no bounds.
He followed every one of his passions, and in every aspect of his life worked to support, encourage, and bless others.
I believe I’ve been fortunate–both fathers I’ve had in my life lead a life of community service, working to help others whenever they could. When I am able, I try to do the same.
But what struck me the most in my introspection was this man’s ability to be who he was without any fear of others’ opinions. Much of my life has been a struggle because of that. I desperately seek approval from everyone, hinging my self-worth and value on whether or not others see worth and value in me and in my work.
I let myself be pointed in directions based on where others think I should go, who they think I should be. But the problem with this is by not being my whole self, by not being my best self, I cannot allow myself to properly help, serve, or do for others. Instead, I stretch in many directions, trying to be who I feel like people want or need me to be. I stretch myself so far that I am divided amidst myself and incapable of fully giving 100% to anything or anyone.
There’s a reason the idea of self-care has become such a big thing, and it stretches so much further than mini-pampering sessions, or binge-watching, or taking “you” time.
Self-care reaches into your very being, into accepting who you are.
The biggest thing I am taking away from the life of an incredible man is that in order to be able to wholly, fully, and deeply pursue a life of helping others, you must first be able to wholly, fully, and deeply be true to yourself and your dreams. You must be certain in who you are so that you can be devoted to being something for others.
Death is hard. It’s painful, it’s exhausting, and often, it’s destructive. But in death, we have the opportunity to pick up what’s left behind and determine how we are going to use it to move forward.