Last week was a rollercoaster. No, I’m not talking about the election. (And I’m sure many of you will thank me when I say, I have no plans to touch that topic with a ten-foot pole here.) I keep looking back on the week before, amazed that I managed to feel about every emotion imaginable in the span of just a few days.
On Thursday, my family said goodbye to my great aunt. Auntie A never had kids of her own, so her numerous nieces and nephews were like her children and grandchildren. She was the center of my dad’s side of the family, and I meant it when I told my relatives that she was the kindest and most selfless person I have ever known. Auntie was a person who knew how to make anyone feel special, like you mattered deeply to her and to the world. Our family gathered at her home every Christmas Eve, Easter morning and Fourth of July since long before I was born, and she filled each day with such a tangible, loving energy that was contagious.
She died exactly two weeks after suffering a massive stroke, and I was thankful I got the chance to tell her how much she meant to me, and for her to tell me she loved me once more before her condition declined. Our family spent many hours by her side in those weeks, holding her hand, praying, crying, and reminiscing.
The day of my aunt’s funeral I was filled with emotion. It was a beautiful day, and every word that was said that day felt like the perfect tribute to her kind heart. I shed many tears, grieving the loss of such a special person, feeling like a deep void had been left behind. Yet at the same time, I was grateful. I felt thankful to have had such a wonderful person in my life for so many years, and for the lessons in love and kindness she taught my family. I felt thankful to be part of such a great family. I felt thankful for my aunt’s long life and that she didn’t suffer much in her final days. That day alone was enough of a rollercoaster, but I had more in store.
The very next morning, my spirits were lifted, when my boyfriend, a few of my coworkers and I decided to check out the Cubs World Series victory parade that was taking over the Chicago Loop (steps outside of where we work). The city was flooded with Cubs fans (some believe it was one of the largest gatherings in human history), and everyone appeared to be overjoyed.
Besides being energized by the fact that my team had won its first World Series in 108 years, I also felt unified with the people of my city, like we were all coming together to celebrate at least one thing we could all believe in. It was refreshing, given the division in the political season this year that made me feel like no one was ever going to get along. (Okay, that’s the only election reference; I promise!) That feeling of pride and unity continued when my friends and I popped into a bar to watch the Cubs rally in Grant Park, singing “Go Cubs Go” with a few hundred of our newest friends.
Later that day, I was sitting at a kitchen table with my closest friends from high school, drinking wine and sharing our favorite memories. We had planned a Chicago-themed going away party for our dear friend Lynn, in honor of her upcoming move to France. I’m always a sucker for those warm and fuzzy moments of people-who-known-me-best girlfriend bonding sessions. But this one was tinged with a little sadness, sending off someone I care for so far away. Lynn had been living in San Francisco over the last few years, so our get-togethers were already fewer and farther between than our group would like. But France! It’s an ocean away. At the same time, I found myself feeling just so fiercely proud of my friend, fulfilling one of her longtime goals.
Maybe it was the mix of wine and nostalgia, but before the night was over, my dear friends and I were blasting 90’s music and had formed a kick line in the middle of my friend’s living room. We held hands and danced in a circle, singing “No Scrubs” to my friend Jess’s 3 year old, Logan, as he continued asking for “one more song” before his bed time. (Logan and my friends’ other kids are also some of the little people in my life who make my heart feel like it’s overflowing.) So there I was, one day removed from one of the saddest days I’ve had in a long time, belting out the Backstreet Boys and trying to soak up every second with some of the best people in my life.
The next morning, I was celebrating another milestone moment for another old friend of mine. My friend Maggie was one of my first college friends at the University of Illinois, and after we fell a little out of touch for a few years, life brought her and her husband David down to Austin while my boyfriend and I were living there, and thankfully, back into my life. Saturday, they were back in town in the Chicago suburbs for their baby shower, expecting their little boy right around Christmas this year.
Maggie is a friend who has always been an inspiration to me. Shortly after we met, she suddenly lost her mother, a loss that was obviously very painful. Yet she has more faith in God and in the future than most people I know. She and David have built up a successful business over the past few years, and have managed to find the time and money to travel all over the world. And like my Auntie A, Maggie is filled with love, kindness and humility, always more concerned about others than herself. Seeing her joy in expecting her first child was very special, and again last week, I found myself filled with gratitude, that I would be counted among the friends and family she wanted to share this with.
Like the sadness I felt saying goodbye to Lynn, Maggie and David’s baby shower also made me miss our time together in Austin, feeling sad that it would probably be quite a while until I got to meet baby Noah. But I chose to focus on the pride I felt for my friends doing great things, and achieving their goals in life.
Saturday night, I slept deeply and for a very long time. I truly felt like the last few days had been an emotional rollercoaster. In just three days, I had experienced grief, relief, joy, sadness, pride, nostalgia, unity, anticipation, celebration, gratitude, and deep love. A younger me would have felt paralyzed and overwhelmed. But I’ve come to learn that these are the moments that define our lives, that life is just one twist and turn after another and the best way to experience it is to soak up every emotion–good or bad–and the lessons you can learn from it.
I was reminded by this photo that I saved off the internet a number of months ago:
It reminded me of the joy and gratitude I felt for the memories with my Auntie A, even as I felt a pervading sorrow to know she is gone from this world. It reminded me of the sadness I felt to be far from some of my close friends, even as I watched them fulfill their highest goals and we enjoyed our moments together. This is the best description of life I’ve found so far, and I’ve resolved to honor every moment as I experience it, for every moment is an important part of life.