When someone you love dies is when being non-religious gets tough. How can you possibly comfort yourself in the face of overwhelming grief without the certainty that the person you cared about your entire life isn’t sitting on a cloud somewhere smiling down? How can you drag yourself out of a trench of sadness when the alluring possibility of seeing the person you cherished someday when your breath escapes you does not exist? What is the sense of this accursed consciousness if it just stops someday as unceremoniously as an unwound watch? How can life just be tragically, finitely over.
When someone you love dies is when you make spiritual concessions. Although you have never been an adherent to any religion, or even given religion, god, the afterlife, heaven or the soul too much thought at all, you find your mind tweaking your previous convictions (or lack thereof). You begin to believe that if the person you valued believed themselves in a wonderful afterlife, then that must be where they have ended up. If you believe in something enough, who is to say that what you stand behind isn’t also true, at least to you? You begin talking to the sky, wishing the clouds good morning and hoping that they are soft under the gentle feet of the one you love.
When someone you love dies is when you realize that you are not immortal. You will age, your time on this planet will fade and one day, you will be gone just like everyone before and everyone after. You are the center of your own universe, but you do not possess that gift of eternal life. You are not the exception, you are the rule. And the rule dictates that no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much you bargain with your own mind, you will never be able to change this fact. The only thing you can do is be the best daughter, wife, mother, sister, son, husband, father, brother, relative or friend you can be. When you show people how much you love them when you’re alive, they will never allow your memory to die.
When someone you love dies is when you discover the depths of your own sorrow. The worst heartache, betrayal, injustice or pain cannot possibly compare to the loss of someone you truly love. When you were dumped by your boyfriend, you thought you knew heartbreak. Now you know that true heartbreak has nothing to do with teenage romance and everything to do with true love. Not romantic love, but true love—the kind that is absolutely irreplaceable and leaves a jagged personalized hole in your heart when it’s gone forever. Nothing and no one could ever fill that shape. That is sorrow. The good news about sorrow, however, is that it’s simply too arduous to maintain forever. It will ease, scar-tissue will fill the hole and your heart will stop leaking eventually.
When someone you love dies is when you can change for the better. You can take those regrets and turn them into change. All those times you wished you had just spoken to her for just a few more minutes, despite 30 years of love and memories, can be transformed into quality time with the ones you love who are still around. All those lost moments when you could have been telling her “I love you so much”, can be turned into “I love you”’s still. “I love you”’s are transferable, bottomless and no one ever tires of receiving them. You can turn your love for someone who is gone into yet more love for those who are still by your side. Don’t let that love dissipate.
When someone you love dies is when you realize how resilient you can be. You feared that you would die yourself of sadness, but look, you’re still here. Someday—maybe not today, tomorrow or even next year—you will be OK again. You will smile genuinely again. You will laugh heartily again. You will love life again. You will feel their love without sorrow. You will honour them without tragedy. Laugh lines will take the place of tears at the corners of your eyes. Your heart will be light again. Which is exactly what they would have wanted.
Tomorrow, I turn 30. If you really put it into perspective, it is absolutely ridiculous or maybe even offensive that someone might have confused feelings about this. Many people never make it this far and would probably have given anything they could to experience the tingling promise of a new decade.
And, boy, was the last decade a blast. Maybe that is why my heart is heavy today. The same way I feel when I think about the pastoral childhood I was privileged enough to have and sense the pang of loss at never having another sweet day as an eight year old swinging from a tree in the sunshine. I guess now an hour before I am 30, I am beginning to understand why people have kids. So they can watch them swing and soak up the joy their children radiate. As a way of remembering in the present.
I know where I was exactly ten years ago, which feels peculiar. I usually have trouble remembering the details of the past, so it is strange to reflect with this level of certainty and clarity. It seems like that was a lifetime—a person—ago. Like a movie I saw once and have since forgotten the title. And when I examine the last ten years from a distance like this, I see now that I was an entirely different person. I read once that all the cells in the human body completely regenerate every seven years, so who knows, maybe I was a completely different person back then. I think I have improved at least a little, despite my own stubborn efforts to remain the same. Change is sometimes slow, sometimes fast, and sometimes not at all. I hope I changed.
19 years and 364 days, I had just moved to Berlin. I had just started an exchange in a faraway land. I was always a Mommy and Daddy’s girl (still am a decade later), but somehow my parents managed to make me feel close to them no matter how far away I went. I live far away now, too, but I still feel like my parents could be down the street since that is how intensely I can sense their love. Berlin was huge, exciting, terrifying and thrilling, all at the same time. And I remember sitting in a bar and thinking “My god, this is my last night as a teenager. I need to say goodbye”, much as I am doing so tonight.
21, I returned to Canada to finish my BA in English and German studies. 22, back to Berlin to teach English. 23, Toronto again working as a German Medical Market Researcher where I met my dear friend, Claudia (who will play a huge roll again at 26). 24, started my Masters in Screenwriting at York University and began my mid-twenties crisis. As a result (or possibly as a prerequisite) I started working at my beloved Sneaky Dee’s. 25 is pretty much a write-off, although I can thank my best friends for such a high level of fun and hilarity that it really is just a blissful blur in retrospect. 26, things started slowing down around me, inside me, and I finally opened my mind to the possibility of real love. Love like I had never permitted myself to have before. And that is precisely when I met my husband while visiting Claudia on vacation in Munich. 27, I dropped everything and moved across the ocean to be with my now-husband. A few months later, he waited patiently at the top of a mountain until the clouds parted to ask me to be his wife. 28, I cultivated my relationships and a calmness crept into my soul as I allowed myself to reflect on the internal for the first time in my life. 29. In June, I married the love of my life in a sun shower surrounded by our incredible families and friends. Even my Oma made it to the wedding after we were all convinced she wasn’t going to see Christmas (she is a constant source of strength and inspiration, no matter my age). It is true when they say it is really the best day of your life. A cliché is just that for a reason. And now I am here, snuggling under an orange blanket that we “borrowed” from my mother-in-law, wondering if I should be sad or happy or maybe equal shares of both.
Some of the best friends I have I can thank the last decade for (although, to my good fortune, many of them predate even the day I mourned and celebrated the passing of my teenage years). I have laughed so hard I got killer abs (securely hidden under a layer of life-loving, decadent chub). I have cried so hard I have actually hyperventilated on numerous occasions and my tear ducts got irritated and took a two hour lunch to spite my sobs. I learned love like I had never known. I have had friendships reach seemingly bottomless depths of respect and love. I have had to sacrifice very little and have gained probably more than I think I deserve. I have worked hard, quit too soon, struggled, given up, cared too little and too much, ached, rejoiced, fought and laid down my arms. After these ten years, I am both deeply disappointed in and profoundly proud of myself.
Tomorrow is just another today. Objectively, I will only be one day older, but suddenly, I will be a full blown adult, the kind I feared the night before my 20th birthday ten years ago. And so, with sorrow and optimism, I must embrace tomorrow as another new day. I hope it turns out as well as the last 3650 and I hope everyone I love is by my side to share them with me.
Here is to the big three oh.