The start of a new year offers opportunity for reflection and goal setting. This week in class, my friend Madison presented on “The Value of Vulnerability” paraphrasing France’s suggestion that we want teachers to feel empowered to embrace uncertainty in order to continue to learn. Although the text was specific to education, it resonated with my goals for 2023.
2022 challenged me emotionally, socially, and physically. I ran a marathon, Court was injured, I started grad school, and it was a year of first withouts. In some ways, for me, the first year of grief is about making it through the moments without feeling broken. Our first year after Josh died each holiday and special moment was another emotional reminder of our loss. On special days, birthdays, and holidays, Courtney and I were gentle with ourselves and allowed ourselves grace to take the days and our grief as it came. Our community was supportive and even when left unspoken, empathetic. My mom understood and remind me to focus on the good memories even when my heart was breaking.
I am well aware it makes no sense to compare grief or to try to prepare for hard days, just as it is unreasonable to expect others to know how I am feeling. Yet, for some reason, I fooled myself into thinking this year would somehow be easier than that year. Since I had survived that loss, I could make it through this loss not untouched, but that I would be better able to manage it.
This year of firsts without Mom I wavered between sad, spacey, and preoccupied. I struggled to stay focused and often found myself forgetful mid-task. When sadness felt overwhelming, I thought of Mom’s smile, her laugh, or a specific memory – focusing on her life instead of that it was now missing. Mom was a teacher to her core and was a constant source of guidance and positivity. Parkinson’s took pieces of her from us, but when I remember Mom, healthy and happy is how I remember her. To me, she was never broken. She worked harder than most, but never drew attention to herself or asked for others to help when she could do something herself. Some would call this stubborn, but she was strong willed and determined. Who knows maybe those are the same thing.
Mom loved holidays and strived to make them special. She would sew homemade gifts, cook a homemade meal, but most of all, she made it – home. Everyone was invited and we could always add another plate to the table. This Thanksgiving, I hosted. My in-laws smoked the turkey, Courtney made two apple pies, Papa drove down, and I attempted to make all the usual sides. Yet, it just didn’t feel right. All day, I refused help from others – insisting to do things myself to prove that I could do it. My friend, Sandi, who recently lost her father, and I exchanged texts over the course of the day. She too hosted dinner and was doing all the things her father had done. She said her father must be laughing in Heaven because she started the marshmallows on top of the potato casserole on fire. I told her I was proud of her for both saving the potatoes and starting a fire.
Too often I forget that even if I can “do it” it doesn’t mean it is easier or I should do it alone. My mom lived her life for others and I am selfish for not being better able to be more fully with her. There has not been a day that I don’t think of her and smile when I see clouds, a sunset, hear a song, see Emma being silly, play in the water, or have a gardening question. She filled her life with the things she loved and didn’t focus on the negative or the challenges. She saw them as obstacles to overcome that would make her stronger.
As we start 2023, I do so with the hope to be able to not only accept challenges, but also learn and grow from them. I am easily caught up in the illusion of busy, the “what next”, and the “what should I”s. Courtney is my rock. He holds me in the present and reminds me to embrace each day. The other day he pointed out I keep using the phrase “next year,” but somehow that year never seems to arrive. We talked about how when Josh was diagnosed, we focused everything into the days we were given with him. He shared his concern that I am so focused on the what’s next and may be missing the now of Emma’s life, our life. It was hard to hear, but I love that he is courageous and graceful when he sees me misstepping. I have no regrets for the days we had with Josh. Yet, there are days I wish I could redo for Emma. Days I worry she went to bed not knowing how much she means to me or how proud I am of her.
As I think about my mom, I have never questioned that she loved or was proud of me. True, I disappointed her from time to time, but her love was unwavering. I turn forty this month and I hope when Emma is forty, whether I am here to celebrate with her or not, that she knows how much I love her.
One of my professors, Dr. Jeril Hehn, shared in her message to our cohort the hope for the legacy of leadership to be that those who follow are better versions of themselves. I am broken, but better because of those who have gone before me. Josh taught me to appreciate simple moments – leaves falling from trees, sunshine, hugs, puppy kisses, rocking chairs, and the joy of hearing “Mom.” My mom taught me to see the best in others and to never stop believing in the ability and capacity for change.
My goal for 2023 is to be the better version of myself that Emma deserves, Josh helped shape, and my mom continues to influence.