Thanks to this four year old photo which popped up in my “Facebook memories”, I got to reflect on some significant life lessons that I have sadly had to learn since it was taken.
Four years ago today, wow. What a roller coaster we’ve been on since that snapshot was taken and what a flood of emotions came rushing back when I saw it.
If you don’t know me well, you’d see this image and smile, thinking we were having fun at Disneyland on a summer vacay. You’d be right. For that moment in time, we forgot our troubles and made the best out of a screwed up vacation. A vacation that we had planned and saved for months, and was supposed to be full of celebration and triumph but actually turned into the beginning of a very, long, exhausting road to our lives today.
When we landed in Anaheim, we were bright with excitement for a week in SoCal: three days at Disney, a celebration with my Uncle as he threw out the first pitch at the 50th Anniversary season for the California Angels — which included field-level access (we even had official jerseys!), and at least a day at the beach, golf, In-And-Out (before it was a “thing” in Texas) and anything else full of sunshine and oceans that we could possibly squeeze in.
Literally within minutes of our check-in to the hotel we got the phone call. My father-in-law had passed. He had been in and out of the hospital through recent months but he always rebounded. We thought we could make this trip because he ALWAYS got better. This was so not happening. He could not really be gone. We had not said good-bye.
The next 12 hours were spent on the phone with family, on the phone with Travelocity, rebooking flights, cancelling reservations, coordinating a change of clothes for a pivot in Dallas and funeral obligations one state away. For the sake of the Princess Cupcake, the next 48 hours were devoted to cramming that whole week of vacation into a blitzkrieg of Disneyland, Newport Beach, Angels stadium – all the while pushing back the sadness and allowing ourselves to forget about what we were headed back to – even if it was just for a moment.
We didn’t know that it was just the first of the dominoes to fall so quickly.
In the four years since, our lives are completely different. In that time span, we also lost my brother-in-law, and my mother-in-law and an aunt. We’ve spent countless hours driving back and forth on I-20 to sort through and relocate what can only be described as an antique collector on steroids’ entire estate. We’ve sold our house and much of the furniture in it. We built a new house 45 minutes away. We moved into the house. We left our old school, teachers, and daycare since nursery, and took a leap of faith to enroll at a brand new school that teaches in a completely different way. I left a career in Mergers & Acquisitions to focus on a growing marketing business. We’ve got a new peer group and new neighbors. We continue to unpack and sort through belongings of people we dearly miss. It’s been a complete roller coaster of good and bad: just like in that photo, a yin and yang of life all happening in a shutter click of a second.
In those 4 years, we’ve had more than our share of life experiences that gratefully most of our friends won’t experience until they’re much older – not that we’d ever wish it upon them even with a seasoned life under their belt. For us, the losses of the last four years was just the crescendo of our time as a married couple already. Before this photo, we’d also lost Big Daddy’s father and my mother, plus a beloved dog and cat. Seriously, enough with the dying already!
So like that photo – smiling on the outside, aching on the inside – grabbing a moment of joy during a stressful time of our lives is what we do. What we did. For so many years. A friend once described me as the duck you see floating on the water. On the surface, it looks like a nice little afternoon glide across the water, but underneath, I’m paddling furiously to keep swimming forward.
We don’t miss the long hours of travelling for visits to MD Anderson. We don’t miss the late night phone calls about another trip to ICU. We don’t miss the guilt and unfinished business in another state that has to be attended to. For that we are grateful and can rest easier when we lay our head down on the pillow at night.
It’s a trade off though. With that peace comes a longing we can’t shake. We miss our family dearly. It’s as if a whole part of our lives have been erased and put into the stacks of boxes in our garage. And while we cannot surround ourselves with our loved ones anymore, we have many of their belongings they’ve left behind. Sorting through those and parting with what’s not realistic to keep is another tug of the heart as you feel like you’re giving away a precious memory – so on any given Saturday we may be cheering at soccer goals and sobbing over a Chinese foot bath all in one afternoon.
Slowly we try to put that balance back in our lives and that feels good. Life will not be put on hold so that when new neighbors come in, they don’t snigger at our mess when they leave. The stuff will still be there when we’re ready to go through it and at our own pace. Our real friends don’t judge that we still have boxes orbiting around our home, or that we take a rain check from a party so we can be grown ups for a day and actually go through them. Those are the friends we cherish the most during this short life.
So thank you to Facebook for that glimpse of one well-chosen photo from 4 years ago with those duck faces on, while our minds paddled furiously about the days to come. It’s a bittersweet reminder of times when I honestly wondered if we’d get through all the stress and sadness, and the lessons learned from actually doing it.
I’m like you probably, in that I put our best photos on Facebook. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’m especially glad I did 4 years ago because this photo reminds me that yes, life handed us a stack of crap we didn’t ask for, but we did survive. We did laugh through it. We’re stronger and wiser because of it, and we thank God for the life on this side of it because it’s pretty great. So the next time we have a curveball of epic proportions sent our way – -and there will be a next time — I’ll remember this photo, tell myself to live in the moment, and get my flippers out for a good swim to the other side.