What Death Taught Me About Life, part 2 of 3

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As I mentioned last time, about 2 years ago, my family experienced death over and over and over. Three loved ones in one year. And it woke me up. How?

I set a broken clock to 11:59 and carried around a note that said ‘this is all you have’. I roll my eyes reading this, it seems so cliché. And at the time, with the earth falling away below my feet, even if it was adolescent, it was also steadying.

I began to build the life I wanted.

1.      I took an honest inventory of all my hard emotions and the behaviors I wasn’t proud of. I didn’t like how hard I was making parenting and how poorly I was partnering. I didn’t like how I had shoved my friendships and extended family into the rearview. I looked at all my safe choices, the ones I chose that protected me from being vulnerable or scared or looking silly or stupid. And I saw that none of those choices protected me from the very worst fear…the brutal reality that we are not in control, we all die. There is no way out.

And in turn, these small, petty choices seemed to cheapen my life. Because if my moments were so few, was I really spending them hiding? Was my biggest goal to have a tombstone that said “Here lies Kerry. She tried really hard not to ever look stupid or silly.” Ugh, my stomach turns just typing that.

2.      I dug into my values. I started making lists of when I was happiest or proudest. I started paying attention to the moments in my day when I felt truly relaxed, open, and real. Guess what? Some of my favorite moments were the silly, stupid ones. When I broke out into a Taylor Swift ballad at work to connect with someone; when I unabashedly invited everyone I knew to each presidential debate (my own dorky love)...and the only one who came was a stranger who became my husband. 

I looked for themes between all these moments and boiled it down to 4 words describing what I wanted my whole life to be about: love, connection, compassion, growth.

3.      I led my life, starting with my feet. In deep grief came deep freedom. I fantasized about what I wanted my life to look like, all the behaviors and actions that exemplified those 4 value words. But then I didn’t stop at fantasizing. I started saying ‘no’ to all the things that weren’t my fantasy.

And saying yes…big crazy reckless leap-and-maybe-the-net-will-appear yes’s. Because finally….finally I realized…those wouldn’t kill me. And these moments, the moments rich in your values? They’re all we have.

So that must be the end right? I got it all figured out and lived happily ever after? Maybe not…. More to come next time.

Written by Kerry Makin-Byrd, PhD