Do you ever think to yourself, “Boy, do I wish ____ were here so that we could talk?” Have you ever heard a song that makes you think of a loved one who has passed – a parent or grandparent with whom you were close – that stops you as you choke back tears? And during those hard times in life, do you wish that person were still around, so you could call them or go up to them and have them hold you like you were a kid again? I have. On my LinkedIn profile, the first thing I posted was that I saw someone die when I was eight years old. That person who passed was my "Popo." I remember the day like it was yesterday – being in the hospital, right outside the door when his monitor screamed... getting swept away to a window, confused and frightened. Later, I remember being picked up by a family friend and spending the night at their house. I didn’t understand what was happening; I didn’t get it. Even when I was told Popo wasn’t coming home. After the news, I remember the funeral and sitting in my church clothes, listening to the sermon. Family and friends came up to me and gave me hugs; they said they were so sorry. And then I remember looking at my nana and seeing the heartbreak in her eyes and the despair on her face. Holding an American flag, she'd been given, I remember Amazing Grace playing and having a complete meltdown – that was the moment I realized Popo was truly gone forever. There have been plenty of times throughout my life in which I've had challenging moments and big decisions I needed to act on, and there is nothing more that I want than to hear my Popo or Tutu’s voice and their wise words. To feel their arms wrapped around me, saying, “It’s going to be okay,” or “I will be proud of you regardless of the choice you make,” or “I love you, and I am here for you.” It’s okay to cry. I am. I chose to keep my Popo and Tutu’s memory close in the form of a tattoo on my left arm. I remember always having their hand on my left shoulder as a kid. Choose what makes you happiest and how best to preserve your special memories.
The reality has set in over the years. But the more time that passes, it doesn’t get easier. Everyone who has lost a loved one, or multiple loved ones who were like parents to them at any age, knows what I am talking about. We still choke back the tears when we hear those memorable songs or see a picture; when we talk about that person, it’s a little more somber of a tone but filled with gratitude. I'm sure by now you’re wondering why I'm telling you this. There never has to be a point in life where you’re "okay." It’s beautiful to be sad sometimes, miss a loved one, or cry about someone who passed a year ago or even 20. The tears never end, the love never fades, and neither do the memories. Keep the memories fresh in your head by calling loved ones and talking and reliving them together. Take moments of silence and be grateful for all the good. Listen to all of the songs that make you think of them. Smile through the tears, and soak in those memories. I was hoping you could do one thing for me after you’re done reading this. Call or text a loved one. Tell them you love them and are grateful for them. If you choose not to do that, I want you to forgive someone. I want you to forgive yourself, forgive a loved one, forgive someone who hurt you. If you could write a letter to someone who isn’t alive anymore, who would it be? I feel the answer is often a parent, grandparent, uncle, or even someone famous. But have you ever thought of writing that letter to a past self? What would that letter say if you wrote it to your past self? What would you tell if you wrote it to a loved one? I know if we were writing it to a loved one, it might say something like this: "Hey ___, It’s me. How are you? It’s been x amount of years. I miss you. Life has had its ups and downs over the years. I have *insert life accomplishments here*. I wish you could have been there for *insert moment*. It would say grandma is doing well; she missed you every day. She’s gotten older; she’s still as spunky as ever. You have four great-granddaughters between my brother and me. If you could meet them, they could love your hugs so much. They would love your snow-white beard and hair. I could go for one of your hugs right now. I miss you so much. Do you remember when I jumped off the couch and broke my collar bone? I remember you taking me to the hospital. Remember how we would watch Jerry Springer and drink orange soda when I was little? That was a lot of fun. I wish you could have been at my first baseball game. You would have been the loudest fan in the bleachers next to Nana. There are many more stories, but I know you’ve been up in the sky watching. Tell everyone hi for me. Love you and miss you so much.” But what would your letter say if you wrote it yourself from 5 to 10 years ago? I know mine would look a little bit like this if I were writing to you ten years ago: "Hey, there, man. You’re about to get your license, my dude. I am so proud of you. All I want you to know right now is that you will get through it. It would be best if you kept your head up, kept trying, kept being you. Don’t change for anyone except yourself, and the better. I know things at home are tough. They get easier to an extent. You make some great friends here really soon; make sure to hold them close, give them your love and trust and be as kind as possible. Your first true love is right around the corner too. There is light at the end of the tunnel; hold on. Keep playing baseball and doing whatever you can to keep sports in your life as a passion and as a healthy outlet. Share your story and share the stories you wrote. Keep writing, don’t stop. Who cares if your handwriting is sloppy. Start typing. You got this; you have a bright future with endless possibilities. Now, go and call grandma.” We often don’t look back at how far we have come. We don’t look back and give ourselves credit for getting to where we are today. We don’t pat ourselves on the back for how good a job we have done to get to where we are now. I feel many of us would be our heroes if that person from 10 years ago could see us. Do you remember your goals, hopes, and dreams from 5 to10 years ago? If you do, great. Suppose you have forgotten them. That’s ok. I think you may have overlooked them because you got to work on achieving them. If you remember them, take a second to look back and assess where you are at one achieving them? I can honestly say I am nowhere near where I thought I would be five years ago. I have failed. I have succeeded. I am okay with it because I am grateful for how far I have come. I am thankful for everything I learned, the people I met, and every lesson. The point of all this is that life doesn’t go to plan. If you try to stick to an exact plan, you may be more miserable than happy. We often need to let go of the list and let life take over and teach up. We need to let gratitude set in for where we are, what we have, what we don’t have, and where we have been. Accept failure, let in appreciation, and be proud of who you are today. I am proud of you for overcoming all of the adversity in your life and making it today. You are doing a great job; keep going. You got this.