All The Things That Will Never Be

Life changes. Inevitably so. And when those changes occur – no matter
how big or small -the direction of our life can be irrevocably altered. Like
the butterfly effect, every single move we make has the potential for impact.
While incredibly empowering, that thought can also be really, really scary.

This time of year is a tough one for me. As the snow melts, I remember the very last spring my mom and I had together. It spread over the final weeks of her life, without us ever knowing it.

The weather warms up and the birds chirp cheerily, and I’m reminded of the little robin in our front yard we found that April. It had a broken wing, and together, we rescued him with a shoe box and a towel, bringing him to the local animal rescue for rehabilitation.

Easter comes, and I remember that for our last Easter with my mom here on this Earth, I traveled to spend the holiday with my then-boyfriend (now hubby-to-be) and his family in Newfoundland, and while it was a wonderful long weekend, my heart does hurt knowing I missed celebrating one last holiday with her.

When the spring unfolds further, the sun shines and the sky becomes bright blue, and suddenly I find myself thinking of her very last day. It was the first morning that truly felt like spring after a very long and snowy winter. That day, she decided to go out and embrace the moment, without knowing what was in store.

And of course, just days following the anniversary of her death will inevitably come Mother’s Day, a holiday I can never escape that comes as a harsh reminder of what this world lost the day my Mama died. Suffice it to say, that day is not fun.

Losing my Mom was the single most hardest thing I’ve ever faced in my life. But just a few years before that, I also lost my nuclear family when my parents separated in a way that felt sudden, unjust, and entirely unfounded for me. That loss felt unbearable, and without knowing what was to come, I couldn’t have imagined anything more life-altering than that at the time. The world shook beneath me, and in the spirit of honestly, I’ll wholeheartedly admit that I undeniably broke.

These moments of despair were deeply rooted in pain, largely because of the way I knew they’d impact the rest of my life. While the acute loss I faced in the moment was incomparably trying, the truth is that the hardest pill to swallow has been the realization that my highly-detailed and pre-imagined future would no longer be mine. So many of the things that I once knew for certain would be  part of my story that are no longer even a slight possibility. They are now nothing more than wisps of fantasy based upon a life that is no longer mine.

I know that this is sense of missing out on a lost future is something many of us can relate to. Whether it’s been through death, divorce, or something different altogether – life will inevitably throw each of us unexpected curve balls (I hope I used that sports analogy right?). Grieving the loss of the way we expect our life to turn out is incredibly hard and equally frustrating. It feels nonsensical at times when you find yourself desperately missing something that simply never was.

But this experience is an unavoidable reality when we live in a world that keeps on turning, no matter what. And while that perpetually spinning planet may feel dismissive or cruel at first when we are in the midst of pain, I’ve come to see it as a sign of incredible hope.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but let my mind wander as I recognize all the things that should have been, had the losses I’ve faced in my life not happened. Thinking this way can certainly be sad, however I strongly believe that sadness is as essential to the human experience as joy, and allowing ourselves to experience it will increase our compassion for others, our appreciation for the moment, and our gratitude for the blessings of today.

So … What Do I Imagine?

In this alternative reality, there are endless possibilities. In the world where my parents never separated, I imagine the way my Mom and Dad would become ‘Grammie and Grampie‘ to my future children. I imagine them hosting family barbecues in the backyard I grew up in, and and I imagine the way they’d welcome out-of-town guests into our family home on my upcoming wedding weekend. I can picture us taking family vacations  together, where they’d dote upon their grandkids, and I’d maybe even butt heads with them about ‘too much sugar‘ and ‘spoiling the kids dinner.’ I imagine my siblings and I celebrating Christmas Eve at our childhood home, with our partners / spouses by our side. My dad would get out the Crokinole Board, and my mom would put on one of her favourite Christmas Albums. We’d go to the church I grew up in as a family, and come home and feast upon the most delicious meal put together by my mama. It would be simple, and normal, and easy to take for granted … After all, it would have been what I’d always known.

It’s a life that I’d always assumed would fall into place. I couldn’t have imagined otherwise.

Then, there’s the life I imagine if my mom had never died. Even if my parents were still separated, my mom’s presence here on earth would impact so much. My mom would have been the first person I’d call when I got engaged, and she would have been by my side through all of the wedding planning. She’d have teared up when she saw me in my wedding gown, and I’d probably tease her relentlessly about it. I’d call her up ‘just to chat and catch up‘ in the way that mothers and daughters do, and she’d be my endless source of wisdom for life, career, family, and so much more. She’d brag about every single one of my minor little achievements to her friends, and she’d be beyond excited to visit me in my very first house of my own.  When I have a child one day, she’d be the person whom I’d call in the middle of the night when the baby won’t stop crying. She’d sit on our back deck with me and my soon-to-be-husband and pour into us with love and laughter, through the good times and the bad. We’d argue at times, no doubt, but she’d be here, and that’s what matters most.

Missing out on these future moments is arguably the hardest part of my loss. I believe that this is a part of why grief isn’t linear. We don’t ‘get over’ or ‘get past’ a pain that plays an imminent role in the design of the rest of our lives. It’s simply not possible. And though I am beyond endlessly grateful for all the good in my life, knowing that the future I’d once imagined is gone is tough. Especially this time of year when the loss seems ingrained in every element of the world around me.

My friends, if you are facing a tough loss, I’m sure your mind has wandered into these same types of patterns. When your life changes impermeably, it is inevitable. While some may suggest it’s unhealthy to think this way, or they may refer to this as ‘dwelling’ on the things you cannot change – I’d encourage you to listen to your heart and do what’s right for your soul.

The truth is, reflecting on all the things that will never be, has been a powerful part of my healing journey. Why? It’s simplistic and cliche, but as honest as it gets: It’s taught me gratitude. 

I am intensely thankful for the good things in my life in the moments they actually exist.  I’ve learned the hard way that moments are fleeting and permanence is never certain. By facing the loss of memories that have yet to be made, I’ve learned to cherish the ones that I do have, and embrace the ones I’m making in the present moment. I hope reflecting on life in this way will provide you with the same.

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