6 Things I Say Differently Now
Six years ago today, I lost my cousin, my best friend, one of the most important people in my life. It occurred to me, today, that his death changed so much, even the little things that I say every day. As a tribute to him, and to his memory, here are six things that I say differently now, after losing someone I loved so much:
1. “Happy Birthday”
Growing up, I never thought birthdays were that big of a deal. I’d celebrate friends and family on their special days, sure, but the days only seemed slightly more special than most. But birthdays are so much more than parties and cake — they are specific days that we are given the opportunity to celebrate and cherish the ones we love — days that remind us just how lucky we are that we have had another year to do life with a person that we love. This realization hit me hard on the first birthday that my cousin spent in Heaven. I would give anything for the chance to celebrate his birthday, with him, even just one more time. But I’ll never get that chance. Which made me realize that I should celebrate the birthday of each and every person in my life as if it is the last birthday that I’ll ever get to celebrate with them. Because eventually, it will be.
2. “Let me know when you get home safe”
There is a slight risk of permanence in every goodbye that we make. Even the small ones, like when our friends are leaving our houses to drive home, or when our sibling is driving back to college. On January 13, 2011, I found out how quickly car accident can change those little goodbyes into a forever one. There have been countless times I’ve told friends to text me when they get home, and when I don’t hear from them a few minutes later, I text or call them to make sure they made it. This is usually met with a laugh, and a comment about how they were only headed right down the road. But death stole one of the most important people from my life in a heartbeat. On a backroad. So my heart will always skip a beat when I see a loved one drive away, and it’ll stay that way until I know that they made it to their destination safely.
3. “We have plenty of time”
It’s our natural tendency to make plans with friends and family as if the future is near and guaranteed. The harsh truth is that Death is both certain and guaranteed, but the future is just a promise that may or may not be kept. Luckily, most of the time that promise is kept. We are able to live our lives knowing that most of the time, when we make plans with the ones we love, we’ll be able to keep them. But that is not always the case. I still plan for the future, of course, but now I place a much higher priority on being present and in the moment when spending time with the ones I love.
4. “We have to take a picture to document this moment”
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to take tons of pictures and document everything. But this wasn’t always the case. When my cousin died, I was seriously heartbroken at the lack of pictures we had together. There are countless amazing memories that we made together, but I have only a handful of pictures to show for it. It kills me to think that one day these few pictures are all that I will have to show my future spouse and future children this person that was so integral to my life. A person who shaped who I am. A person whose death changed so much about my life. I’ll always regret that I didn’t take more pictures with him, and because of this, I make sure to take pictures with my friends and family every chance I get. After all, pictures give us the ability to travel back in time, and we want to do that most when the past is the only place we can find a person that we have loved and lost.
5. “I love you”
Losing my cousin unexpectedly taught me that we never tell those that we love that we love them enough. Even if we think we do. We assume they know. I can’t remember if I ever actually spelled out the words to my cousin and said “You are one of the most important people in my life. I love you and appreciate you and would never want to live in a world without you.” I know that he knew I loved him, but did he know how much? I know that he knew he meant a lot to me, but did he really know how much I looked up to him? It haunts me to this day that even though he knew I cared, he might not have known how much I cared. He might not have known that his death would change me forever. He probably had no idea that I would trade years off of my life to see him again for just one more day, if I had that chance. I hope he knew those things, but I’ll never know for sure if he did or not. What I can make sure of, though, is that I live my life in such a way that I’ll always know that all of my friends and family do know how much they mean to me from now on. I say “I love you” to as many of my friends and family as I can, each and every day. Whether I write out my feelings, mention them in a casual conversation, or shoot a random text when I’m thinking about someone just to let them know, I try to make sure that on any given day, at any given moment, everyone in my life knows how much I love them. Because it was on a random day, in a random moment, that death stole one of the people I loved most in this entire world. And it could happen again, on any day, in any moment.
6. “I am so sorry for your loss”
I once heard that grief is the price we pay for love. Which is also why, they said, that we grieve the loss of a loved one for so long. We would have loved them for the duration of our entire lives, had death not stolen them from us. They will be missing from our lives, for the rest of our lives, so we will always miss them. That will never stop. And grief is strange in so many ways, especially in the sense that it is one of the only things in life that does not heal with time. In a way, grief gets more difficult with time, because every day that passes brings with it more that you want to tell your loved one, but cannot. More stages of life that you are going through, that they are not here to go through themselves. More people that you know that will never know them. Less people that did know them that remember them.
The grief that comes with the loss of someone instrumental to our lives brings with it unimaginable pain. The type of pain that we wouldn’t wish upon our worst enemy. But the one gift that grief gives us in return is the ability to empathize in a way that we never could before. It makes us understand. It makes us kinder. It makes us so, truly, incredibly sorry for anyone else who experiences loss. It connects us in a way that nothing else in life can.
A connection which is probably the reason that you took the time to read this entire post. So, thank you. ❤