To say that 2018 has not, thus far, gone as I’d planned would be an understatement. I could not have imagined the course my life would take as a mother and that our life would take as a family. If you have not followed my story up until now, I’ll give you an abbreviated recap. My ex-husband walked out on our family in July of 2014, leaving me on my own with two boys, then ages 11 and 6. Admittedly, our marriage was a challenging one, but nonetheless, his sudden and unannounced departure left my sons and me in a tailspin. It was challenging, to say the least, but we survived and thrived. Over time, we got used to our new normal. Our divorce, a contentious and far too bitter battle, was finalized in March 2017, and it seemed a new grieving process began then, even though we were, by that time, used to being a family of three. Then recently, in June of this year, just five months ago, my ex-husband died of a sudden, massive heart attack at the age of 53, leaving the three of to grieve once more, in different ways. The multiple traumas have been difficult and they have taken a toll. When I consider all of this, I cannot help but reflect on my life, and at this time of the year, it seems many of us begin to take inventory.
For me, taking inventory comes in the form of four very important questions that help me reflect on and honor my experiences, regardless of whether they are positive or negative ones.
What were the memorable and pivotal points this year?
It’s so easy to get focus on a negative or tragic memory. They seem to stop time. For me, it would be the death of my ex-husband and the father of my sons. There was life before that moment and life after that moment. It literally divides our lives. But that wasn’t all of 2018. While it was a critical point in our lives, it was one of several events, that to me, mark my journey in 2018. And not all were bad. Some were fun, such as my younger sons and I flying to Florida to watch my older son march in Epcot Center with his high school marching band and vacation with longtime family friends. If you’d asked me in February or March, I would have told you that that fun adventure would have been the highlight of my year.
When I force myself to think about all of the moments that mattered, my narrative takes on a new shape. My life becomes bigger. It is not simply defined by that one awful thing. I think it’s important to experience and acknowledge the fullness and expansiveness of our existence on this earth.
What lessons have I learned this year?
I am not who I was at the start of this year. I have grown and evolved in ways that I would have thought I would. I have surprised even myself, as my family and I continue to thrive. In fact, it seems like our love has grown even deeper, the love between my sons and I, the love the two of them have for each other, and the love I have for each of them when I didn’t think I could love them any more than I already did. As I look back now on all that I’ve experienced in my past, things that made me so very angry and that hurt me so deeply, I recognize the fragility of all of us as human beings. We are all flawed, and recognizing those flaws allows me to not point a finger or try to lay blame in personal crises, but rather to learn from those experiences. That’s just one lesson, but there are so many poignant lessons that I’ve learned and messages that have been delivered to my heart by way of my experiences this year. If we take a moment to reflect on our experiences with the intentions of extrapolating the lessons, then our life becomes the most amazing classroom.
For whom can I be thankful?
I have an amazing network and circle of friends, family, and community that have gathered around us and supported us in countless ways throughout all of our challenges and hardships. Even in my darkest hours, I’d sit and write thank you notes to those who’d helped us. And now that life seems to have finally, at least for now, become a lot easier and more positive, I work hard to find ways to pay forward the things that were done to help us when our lives were so very difficult. I love to think about the things for which I can be grateful. Those are important as well, but the positive relationships that each of us has in our lives are so crucial to our wellbeing.
I think it’s great to acknowledge the things that we are grateful for. It has been shown that doing so can make people feel more satisfied with their lives. But connecting that gratitude to the human element in our lives really strengthens that connections that I have to others, and those strong social connections are so important to who we are.
As the leaves turn colors and the weather becomes colder, in these parts, we prepare to batten down the hatches for the winter, which this year is supposed to be harsh. It is the perfect time for reflection, as well as for preparation to survive the winter months. I like to think that wisdom and knowledge from lessons learned, as well as the embrace of community remind us of the richness of life.