One year ago today, my mom died.

I had been worried about the one-year anniversary of her passing, because many have warned me about how painful it would be. But it hasn’t been that bad. Having Christmas without her was far sadder. Not having her to call about my good dentist appointment or about something uniquely me – that’s been way harder than a regular day that happens to be January 21, 2017.

I woke up this morning and surveyed how I felt. The day was finally here. I wondered if I’d be overcome with sadness. But I checked in and I was still myself. I had a good cry in the morning and my husband hugged me, but then I felt solid. I went to the gym and worked out, listening to a comforting podcast about losing a loved one.

The date on the calendar doesn’t matter so much – it’s the hole she left in my heart and what I’ve done with it that matters.

The Worst and Best Year

In some ways, this past year was my worst ever. My mom and both of my dogs died. Each loss was different. Losing my mom was like getting run over by a car. Shortly after that, in my weakened state, unexpectedly losing my young, obsessed-with-me dog Henry was like getting run over by a semi. And losing my elderly, ailing dog Austin, was like a melancholy, rainy day with nothing to do and no one around.

But while there has been too much pain this year, it strangely has also been my best year ever too. I’m not scared of much these days. I understand what other people are going through better. I am closer to my family and friends. I feel a kinship with people I know and don’t know, a sense that we’re all in this together. I’m more able to “not sweat the small stuff.”

The Upside of Loss

In a strange way, I recommend loss. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, and personally, I’d like a break from it for a while, but it can lead to jungle-like growth. You can improve your life because of it. And if the only way to this growth is through loss, then maybe it’s not the worst thing ever.

But it doesn’t matter what I recommend because we’re not in charge of this sort of thing. If you live long enough, you will lose a person or a pet that you love dearly, sometimes in close succession and it will rock your world. You may not be able to sleep or eat. You may become temporarily stupid. You might cry when a store clerk asks you how you’re doing. The months after the loss may be a fog. Survival is an admirable goal at this time. You can get help from a therapist and/or a bereavement group.

As time passes, the clouds will start to part. Sometime you will see a sliver of sunshine. It might be a brief glimpse. But gradually those glimpses will become longer stretches. And when the sun returns, it might be the most warm and radiant sunshine you have ever felt because now you know it can go away. Because it’s temporary, it’s more precious.

Life is a Gift

“Life is a gift,” is a well-worn truism that has fallen deaf on my ears for years. It certainly hasn’t always felt like a gift, sometimes it’s been so hard. But now I pay attention to all of the people that are dying, many prematurely. And I feel deeply grateful that I get to be alive. I get to have a good night’s sleep, walk the dog, look at the sky, eat a good meal, and laugh with my husband. We get this chance to be on earth and do what it is we’re supposed to do. What a gift this truly is.

I wish my mom hadn’t died one year ago. But I appreciate what has come from it. In fact, if she were alive, I’d call her up and tell her about it. Her voice would sparkle with delight and amazement. Since she’s not alive, I don’t call her on the phone. But I do tell her all about it, each and every day.