There is a quote from a popular young adult book, “Grief does not change you. […] It reveals you.”* Each one of us who intimately knew Ashley, has been significantly impacted by her death. As I reflect on the past 20 months, I begin to see the shift in each of our lives. (This is where my mind says, “I cannot believe it has been 20 months.”) Back to the shift. The shift is a natural part of losing someone so entangled in your life that they become in sync with it. Every choice you make is taken with them in mind- even if subconsciously. For me, this meant taking into account my day-to-day activities. Something as simple as stopping by the grocery store for food often entailed a quick text to Brady, Ashley, and Emma to see what they needed or wanted from the store. No longer. Everything changed. The most profound effects are seen in the significant choices we make- the ones that will forever alter our course in this life. The ones which may have such a butterfly effect that it takes a great amount of courage to jump into them. I am simply a bystander in the lives of those who were closest to Ashley, but I silently wish for them to take the leap- to make hard choices- to have courage. While I encourage and cheer for them in their successes and strength, I ask myself if I am willing to do the same. Rewind nearly 10 months ago in Arizona. I was visiting family in Arizona, as we always do, during the holidays. A conversation with my sister-in-law turned into her giving me a cheer session like I had tried to do for so many others in the months prior. “You can do this.” “You are capable.” “You are worthy.” These words didn’t ring true. In my mind, I had failed in the most devastatingly major way- I did not protect my child. (This will be addressed in a future post someday.) How could I believe these things she was saying to me? She worked on me all break, and before I left to Colorado, I had submitted an application for a job for which I was not qualified. (FYI-I made it to the final round of interviews). I started to journal each morning, and meditate. I started to follow positive social media accounts. I started to focus on me. Some realizations reached their way to the surface- “I am capable.” “I am worthy.” “I WAS UNHAPPY.” That last one surprised me. I knew I was not fully satisfied with my life, but I would have never said, “I am unhappy.” In fact, I was miserable in my life as it was. Grief added an entirely new layer to the miserableness. As I peeled back the layers, I started to challenge myself to new risks. I read books on vulnerability. The fact I started reading for pleasure is huge in itself. I committed to finally finishing one of the graduate programs I started after graduating ten years ago. I committed to working on my marriage. I committed to a better work-life balance. I committed to putting family first. I took the seismic shift we did not choose and made some shifts of my own. All of this culminated in a place, a fork in the road, options. It is hard to explain without being in the position, but there was a force in the background working while I moved through my daily routine. It was like an App running in the background of my phone and every once in awhile I would get a notification reminding me of my commitments. Last summer, I was encouraged to take a leap of faith and change direction- to identify what it is I really wanted. I knew what I wanted- I wanted to be near family. I wanted my evenings and weekends free to take care of me. I signed up with a military spouse employment service. We updated my resume and biography. As I looked through my resume, I didn’t recognize the person described on paper. It was me, but it wasn’t at the same time. Brady stumbled into a potential job opportunity for me in Arizona. I brushed it off at first, but one Saturday morning in late August I felt strongly that I should apply. The doubts entered my head again. “I am not worthy.” “I am not capable.” “I cannot do this.” I pressed submit, not realizing that this would lead to our “forever altered” state. Things kept progressing. I surprised myself with how naturally the interview process felt. I was surprised at my own knowledge and expertise. All of these things others had been saying to me over the last year started to be realized in my thoughts. “I am worthy.” “I am capable.” “I can do this.” When I got the job offer, the path was revealed for us. Our goal to be closer to family had been realized. We are now living closer to family in the Phoenix area. In just two weeks, we have attended numerous events with nieces, nephews, sisters, and brothers. The holidays will be less stressful as we know it is not our only time seeing everyone. Ironically, we feel closer to Emma as it is only a short flight and not a long drive. Everything is falling into place. I haven’t experienced anything like this in my life before. It is a mix of hard work, answered prayers, and love of others. While some doubts still run through my mind, one thing I know for sure- I am where I need to be.
*John Green, The Fault in Our Stars