I believe that every experience in life is an opportunity to grow.
When I was young I thought that only the good experiences made life worth living and that happy events were the only ones that were important. I avoided pain and conflict and avoided people that caused me any discomfort. But just because I avoided them didn’t mean they avoided me, and I discovered that something could be learned from every experience.
My brother, Mike, died three years ago. He was only 31. It’s not hard to imagine the feelings of anger, pain and despair that came into my life. He was my daughter’s favorite uncle, and now he wouldn’t be here as she grew up. He was my younger brother and such a gentle man. I didn’t understand how he could be gone.
For many months I was in a state of sadness that caused me to question my own life and the value of living when we can experience loss so great. I worried every day whether my husband would come home, or if he would die on the road. I worried about losing my daughter. I found myself obsessed with the idea that I could lose any one of my loved ones at any time and I wouldn’t be prepared for it. It made me feel unbearably insecure.
The week that my brother died also included my 34th birthday, my nephew’s first birthday and Halloween. I had a 7 year old at the time, and all she could think about for weeks before was trick-or-treating. I didn’t want to celebrate anything. I wanted to pretend my birthday didn’t exist and I wanted to cancel Halloween. My mother insisted that I take a break from all the sadness I was around and take my daughter out for trick-or-treating. I took her advice and spent a couple of hours with some friends and all our kids, walking around our neighborhood, listening to the happy sounds of excited children dressed up as fairies, beetles and tigers. It was a moment of joy in the midst of my pain. For my birthday we had dinner with family friends who had known us all since we were kids. We talked about Mike, remembering the funny stories and experiences we all shared together. It was a welcome respite from the sadness.
During this time I experienced the deepest nature of friendship through the kindness and compassion of my friends; their thoughtfulness each time I saw them, their concern for my well being and their willingness to do anything for me-all I had to do was call. My relationships with my other siblings strengthened and empathy for my parents deepened. Losing Mike made me love everyone else so much more.
What I learned is that in the midst of pain we must still celebrate life. Living includes pain, and it’s important to embrace it and accept that it is one of those things we don’t have any control over. What we can control is how we take it, whether we accept it as part of living or rail against its unfairness. I choose to accept it and see what I can learn.