Living with loss - emphasis on the Living.

Taken in the desert near Flagstaff, shortly after I moved there.

Taken in the desert near Flagstaff, shortly after I moved there.

A church near my home has a sign out front that keeps catching my eye: "Live like someone died for you". 

The first time I passed the sign I cried. It was too true; my grief over losing my mom was fresh.

The second time I passed the sign, I got upset. My mom didn't die *for* me. It was cancer. Not a gift. How dare some church make me feel guilty - more than I already did - by implying that there was a debt placed on me by the fact of her death? It was a cruel thing to say, when I saw it that way.

The third time, I read the sign differently, and this is the interpretation I haven't been able to get out of my head. I read it as support -- and a surprisingly effective push to do exactly the best I can do, no less. Bear with me, and I'll try to explain what that means.

The fact that people die doesn't impose a debt on those who haven't died yet. Being alive, though... well. Living is precious, and it doesn't last forever. I don't have a choice about living with loss. But I do have a choice, some days, to live well and fully with my loss, and to let the memories of my mom give me strength, and remind me that she wanted me, quite simply, to be happy.

Every single one of us had parents. Grandparents, great-grandparents, ancestors, going back to the birth of humankind. We'll never know most of those people. Some of us don't know any of them. But one thing I suspect almost all of our ancestors had in common is a desire to see their children content and fulfilled in their lives. And most of them have now died. For us? Not exactly. But they are gone, and we are here, and one way we can honor their memory and that intention - paradoxically? - is to find the life that fulfills each of us, and live it.

When my mom passed away, my life changed. I don't know all the ways it's changed yet, but I do know that I value gardens more, and that the urge to teach people about the sky and the seasons is getting stronger. I've started drinking tea more. But more than taking on aspects of a dear absent person, in the past few months I've found the impetus to follow my own dreams. I've moved to the Southwest, where I've wanted to live for ten years. When I'm here, I go out to meet the high desert or write most days. 

I think I've finally actually understood that time is short, and precious, and if I don't work towards the world I want to live in now, I never will. I wish I'd worked up the gumption to make this move to the desert years ago. I wish I could share what I'm thinking and doing and seeing now with my mom. I hate that it took someone close to me dying for me to actually live in a way that fulfills me, to live in a way that doesn't feel like putting off what I need until it's convenient. (Hint: it will never be convenient to put off what you need.) 

So that sign on the church near me? Now, when I pass it, it's a blazing reminder that if I'm not challenging myself, if I'm not doing the things that really fulfill me - making art, writing, having good conversations, supporting people I care about, going adventuring and entangling myself fully with the world - I'm not doing the best I can, for my mom, for all the other people who aren't alive any more, and for myself. That's on a good day.

There are other days, and they're just as important. I don't know how to talk about this, but I know it belongs here, somewhere. Hours before my mom passed away, after she had stopped talking, the last time she moved under her own power - she sat up in her hospital bed to give me a hug. For an hour. Just me and her, until my arms were asleep and my back was cramping from supporting her weight and I didn't have any tears left. I don't remember what I thought about during that hour. What I remember is love. Just love. Maybe that's more important than all the rest of these words put together, because that hour was the greatest gift I've ever received. It's a gift that clamors to be passed on, to grow in the sharing. It will take my entire life to do justice to that gift, and doing justice to that gift is already remaking my entire life. 

I'll leave you with that, for now. Not with any obligation, but with the slender beam of a flashlight shining on a path that I'm trying to walk. Maybe it's a path near your own, maybe it's one you saw years ago but said, "not yet". Figure out what that path is, for you... and don't wait too long to step onto it.