Looking back on my life it is very apparent to me that a single moment in my existence has had an irrevocable and profound effect on my life to which I will forever be grateful. But, I digress, as you must understand this incredible gift was born out of one of the most tragic and heartbreaking moments of my life, my mother-in-law losing her battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
There are certain people that come into your life and change you for the better. One of those people in my life was my mother-in-law, Diana. From the moment I met Diana her deep and endless love for her family was apparent. She had a sassy “can do” attitude paired with a dimpled smile, which made it impossible for anyone to say no to her. It didn’t hurt that she was always looking to have a good time whether that meant heading to Disney World, inviting everyone over for a BBQ, or buying practically every toy she could find at Costco to bring home to her grandkids. So, when a few short weeks after I married my husband she announced her ALS diagnosis shock and disbelief fell over us. How would we start our life together without her?
I remember quite vividly going through all the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But, it was us, her family, struggling through these phases. Diana however, being the vivacious and amazing woman she was, had accepted her diagnosis with grace. Instead of focusing on the negative she strived to focus on living and having fun. I can honestly recall her begging me to book a skydiving trip for her one afternoon. And, while that was a request she meant for me to ignore (maybe?) there were others that she was quite serious about like getting to ride in a hot air balloon, asking for sips of Dr. Pepper against doctors orders while in the hospital, heading to Disneyland with her grandkids to see the fireworks even after things had gotten pretty bad, and maybe most importantly that she wanted her funeral to be a celebration of her life instead of a sad event. All requests which we obliged.
While my time with Diana was short, her legacy lives on and plays out in the lifestyle my husband and I have created with our 5 children. She is the real reason we choose to pour all of our energy into creating a meaningful life, one that doesn’t follow the status quo but yet one that ensures we are cherishing the moments we have together with the ones we love the most in the best possible way. Diana gave us one of the most precious gifts of all; she showed us that even with a great loss could come great joy. She gave us a reason to keep living in a time where all we wanted to do was cry.
We laid Diana to rest by spreading her ashes in the ocean in Maui as she requested. At her memorial, there were pictures of all the incredible trips she had taken through the years, photos of her with her family, and each one with that gorgeous and infectious smile of hers. We cried that day no doubt, but we also found the strength to rejoice for she had lived life well.
As the years went by my husband and I became more and more passionate about traveling with our kids. It was a chance for us to escape the daily demands and obligations of work + life and just enjoy each other. It was also a way for us to connect with Diana. Every time we stepped foot in an ocean we felt her presence. The same was true when a butterfly fluttered by or we headed into a Disney Theme Park. So, we built a life around travel and creating incredible memories with our children.
Almost daily I pinch myself because the life we live seems too good to be true. But, then I quickly remember it wasn’t just luck that got us to where we are today but rather the perspective gained through our greatest loss and for that reason, not a day goes by that I don’t think of and am grateful to my mother-in-law and her incredible and selfless gift.
Lessons You Can Learn from Our Loss
A loss in inevitable in life, we have no control over it. What we do have control over is striving to pull whatever silver lining we can from our losses. For me, that meant allowing Diana’s legacy to live on by embodying some of the magnificent qualities she possessed like kindness, generosity, love, and as someone who lived life to the fullest into our daily lives. But, how to do that exactly has been a work in progress. Here are the lessons we have learned so far.
Every Day is a Gift
Living with someone who is terminally ill makes you realize how delicate life really is. It hits you with so much clarity and allows you to put your priorities in order. To us, that means waking up each day with a grateful heart open to what the world has in store for us. It means taking time to truly enjoy the monotony and mundane. It means never missing a sunset, a chance to play with our kids, and most definitely never missing the chance to laugh together. Those are all things we strive to do each and every day.
Create Memories Over Material Things
Material things don’t get to come with us after we pass whereas memories live on forever and can bring us happiness even when we are facing a time in our lives that is steeped in sadness. We realized the power of memories first hand when we were losing Diana, as the one thing that did bring us all joy at that time was recalling all the happy memories we had with her. So, a few years back we decided to forgo most material gifts and in their place gift experiences. At first, the kids weren’t too sure of our decision, but they quickly learned that they gained so much more joy through their trips and events than they did from their material gifts.
Be a Risk Taker
Diana was not one to wait around for her dreams to come true. She had the veracity to go out there and chase them down. I think it is one of the reasons when we looked back through all the photos of her life we felt rested in the fact that even though her life ended much too soon she had truly lived each moment of her life to the fullest. So, instead of pausing, contradicting ourselves, waiting behind we have taught our kids to “Be like Grandma Diana” and just go for it! It’s amazing the power behind her memory. It is what gave my husband and I the courage to start our own businesses, and what gave us the audacity to travel thousands of miles to welcome a son into our family from Ethiopia, her memory also gave my kids the fearlessness to zip line across ravines, and it was her memory that gave me the freedom to chase after a career in travel blogging.
Play By Our Own Rules
Whether she was dressed up as a clown, learning the Hawaiian culture, or speeding down the highway in a convertible Diana was definitely not one too concerned with following status quo. So, I attribute our attitudes of strumming to the beat of a different drum to her. Take one look at our family and it’s easy to see we embrace diversity. We believe in living out our own truths and creating a life that is true to who we are versus what the world tells us we should be.
Pain and Joy Really can Coexist
Maybe the most important lesson we learned through losing Diana was that pain and joy can exist together. The photos above were taken as we spread Diana’s ashes out to sea and I think it is the perfect example. We were saying goodbye to Diana while simultaneously watching the two new lives we had created playing and being silly on that same beautiful beach. The boys were much too young to understand what had happened and their innocence granted them the ability to still be playful in a time where all we wanted to do was cry. Instead, we would find ourselves giggling over their tomfoolery which I can guarantee their Grandma was watching and laughing along with too, from up above.
What I hope you learn from our loss is that we have no choice over whom and when our loved ones will leave us but we do have the power to cherish the time we are given and to remember those who we’ve lost by helping their memory live on.
Is there a person that has impacted the way you live for the better? Tell me about your story in the comments below.
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