Those of us who know loss know love a little differently. We know that things are finite, temporary, easily taken—and that changes us.
We become more authentic and whole, even though it came from having to say goodbye. The broken pieces come together through time and showcase something brilliant. That we got to love is the gift. The loss is the lesson.
When I was a young girl, my teacher had us come up with goals for the first time. Mine was, “To find true love.” She told me, “Try to be more realistic.”
That never left me. Be realistic? I thought she was the one who was being irrational. Love is everything. It is a worthy ambition. It is powerful and transformative. I knew that, even as a child.
As a child, I had everything taken from me many times. My grandfather’s death. My parent’s divorce. My dad’s girlfriend dying of cancer just after we made peace, and her son who went to live with his dad.
Everything I had ever held onto slipped from my grasp. And yet, I was always reaching. I knew that the meaning of life was love.
Even if I accomplished everything I had ever dreamed of, the thought of being alone and having no one to celebrate with scared me. I watched adults in my life, on the other hand, fall apart due to each other. I had mastered repression as I watched abusive fights play out. I learned to hide my yearning for love and compassion and let them go so I could survive reality.
When my dad’s girlfriend was in the hospice dying, she held onto me longer than normal when we hugged goodbye. So much was unsaid. It was bottled up between us. A love that never got to be expressed. A relationship that she had fought for, and I had denied her.
The forgiveness I gave her, which finally allowed her peace felt too little too late. Her life story wasn’t that she was the best saleswoman in her field, as she was striving to be. Her success wasn’t that she had wealth and power. It was the humble, earnest moment of not wanting to say goodbye to a young girl who was afraid to need her. It was letting go. It was telling me she loved me so much without ever saying it. The silence spilled the truth in our final gaze.
I asked the universe, “Why give me love if it is fleeting?”
I imagined a red balloon floating up in the sky as I desperately grabbed for it. It just got farther into the distance until I could not see it anymore. That love goes somewhere. I just know it. It becomes energy, becomes a force that is indestructible. It becomes a lesson of appreciation for life.
I used that pain and turned it into purpose. I loved harder and deeper—anyone who would come onto my road, despite bittersweet partings as what happens in life.
I devoted time to becoming a woman who didn’t just try to save others but who also saved herself. I wasn’t able to save my dad’s girlfriend—but I saved her love for me. I put it into a tiny bottle and sent it into the sea of life as the universe hugged it into infinity. She was always guiding me.
When I lost things, I didn’t learn to hold on tighter. The opposite happened. I learned to let go, to let things have their time, and then move on. I learned to let myself mature and change jobs and dreams. I learned to make meaning of the moment, but also to release it at the same time.
This type of mindfulness is one way to restore after going through hardship. When I became aware of my need for love, I thanked my soul for asking for it. I told myself, “That is a very brave request.”
What I didn’t realize though is that in all these efforts to love and find love, I was learning to trust in uncertainty.
If I had to lose someone, I knew that love would come back and find me in a different way. If no one loved me, I would love myself…because I know my dad’s girlfriend would have wanted that for me.
I know she forgave me for my distance, for my anger at my parents’ divorce. I know she forgave me for judging her. I know she forgave me for not being able to be the one to say it, to say “I love you” before it was too late.
Loving myself is the hardest lesson of all—and I am constantly failing. I tell myself good things. I positively reframe things. I engage in positive self-talk. I speak affirmations. I try so hard to love myself. I do.
But sometimes, I don’t receive it. My heart is too beaten and bruised by life losses. It’s not hardened—there are cracks where the light comes through. But it’s broken. It’s repressed. It’s calling me to feel the grief, to acknowledge its existence. Because I don’t want to feel the power of the losses, I stop feeling altogether. This creates trauma. A trauma that I have survived my whole life.
It is not my fault I couldn’t see that I was just a young girl from my dad’s girlfriend’s perspective. I didn’t know any better than to be bitter. I didn’t know she would change me. I didn’t know I would feel differently about it all once she died. I didn’t know what I was doing—and I have to tell myself that’s okay.
Mindful self-compassion doesn’t happen overnight. It is something that has to be fought for.
That’s because we have a negativity bias; we see the bad before we see the good. We see our flaws. We see our mistakes. We see our failures. We see the wrong. But there is nothing wrong with us. It’s all perception. There is no such thing as perfect.
The highlight reels we put on social media only mask our problems and pain. It’s human to suffer, to not know why something is happening. Self-love doesn’t mean wiping away all our shortcomings. Rather, it is a spiritual journey embracing our authenticity.
It takes time to heal. It took all my life to truly say goodbye to my dad’s girlfriend. I know I’ll always have regret. Healing doesn’t take that away. But I refuse to lose time over this regret. She would have wanted me to live it fully. I’m living for both of us now. I’m doing the right things. I’m helping others. Nothing changes the fact though that she isn’t here. Nothing ever will.
There are moments I can’t share with those I’ve lost. There are things I can’t say to them. There are thoughts and prayers, and I wonder if they go anywhere. Then, sometimes, I just know. A knowing deep within me that everything lost comes back. In some form, in some way. There is no real goodbye when you look at it in that light.
The lesson for me is that I have to be more present. I have to show up for life and not be afraid to take space. I have to love with everything in me, so that when I do say goodbye to someone, the “I love you” doesn’t hang in the air.
It’s said a million times over and over again all through life. I have to let people see my pain and my trouble. Our shared humanity enables us to heal. I have to tell myself I did everything I could with what I knew at the time. I know more now, but it’s still okay to forgive myself for not knowing.
I’ve looked for love all my life—and it’s been here this whole time. It’s every gesture of goodwill I have ever given. It’s every friend whose life I’ve touched. It’s every kindness. It’s every shared moment. It’s every breakdown and breakthrough. It’s everything—love is in everything.
I didn’t let myself receive it for the longest time because I punished myself for my regrets on the relationship with my dad’s girlfriend; I told myself I should have loved her sooner. I knew she was trying her best, and she did some things that didn’t deserve my forgiveness—but I knew she was trying. I knew and should have met that effort. I was a child. It’s okay. I know that now.
Then, one day, my heart opened up randomly. It just happened all at once. The light came in. I knew that she was watching over me.
I knew that she was telling me, “Live. Your. Life. I’m. Fine.” And I had to believe her.
It was a strange moment because it didn’t come from any single epiphany or trigger. I was walking my dog, and it had started to rain gently. Appreciation rained down, too, as I realized she had never actually left me. It was an aha moment that changed my life.
The answer isn’t that I had to go back in time and fix everything in order for me to live happily ever after. It was loving life so powerfully no matter what was taken and trusting it would find its way back.
All I can do is love, this is the lesson. I must save the light left and use it.