“Oh that I would go through storms
Know my soul is better for it
Oh my heart to face the pain
My mind, it'd move past yesterday
No, I just want to be a better man
No, I just want to be a better man
As I go.”
–Judah and the Lion, Better Man
When I went into my father-in-law’s calling hours and Celebration of Life, I went with openness. I vowed to be all there. After all, when would I cross paths with some of these people? Never. Therefore, I felt there was a purpose for every conversation and every interaction.
One of the most meaningful—dare I say, life changing—conversations happened at the very end of Ben’s Celebration of Life service. In fact, many people had begun to leave. My feet, however, remained firmly planted. Speaking to me was one of my father-in-law’s neighbors. Because Ben lived alone, his neighbors played vital roles, especially in the end when Ben became quite weak.
This particular friend had left a voicemail on Ben’s phone shortly after he died. My husband listened to it; Ben’s friend wanted him to know about the latest upset in the NCAA tournament. It was then that I realized the two had one of those special everyday friendships. They shared the important and the inconsequential. They shared life. The man stood before me now in the funeral home with teary eyes.
“Are you going to be okay?” I asked.
He pressed his hands together nervously. “I lost my son at age fourteen,” he said unexpectedly. “I realized then that the world would keep turning, and I could either jump off or ride along; I chose to ride along.”
The man’s words hit me like a slap in the face. I was not expecting to be privy to such a sacred piece of his story. Plus, this particular piece came painfully close to home. Just days before, I was alone in a hotel room in Canada thinking the unthinkable. In a moment of deep despair and irrationality, I wondered if I should hang on or jump off. What feels incredibly heartbreaking to type right now is that for one split second, I thought about leaving … permanently. I’d just gotten off the phone with my husband; I’d let him down. I wondered if the world might be better off without me.
Deep despair, combined with utter exhaustion, grief and loneliness in the midnight hour, can lead you to dark places you never thought you could go.
And that’s exactly where I was.
And this …
And this …
Instead of taking the fire escape stairwell to the 50th floor, I ran a scalding hot bath and sat there and sobbed. “It will be better in the morning,” I repeated to myself.
In the morning, I reached out to my childhood best friend and steady anchor Kerry who shared wise words that helped me see myself and the situation in a whole new way. I also got a text from my husband that said: “I know you will rock these shows and spread the message my dad wore on his wrist since his diagnosis. I am so proud of you.”
That same day, I began working on my father-in-law’s obituary and poured over pages and pages of notes from our long talk the day before he died. I promised Ben I’d deliver a beautiful message at his Celebration of Life.
“I want to be sure I got this right,” I said to him as I confirmed certain facts and information.
Ben smiled and said, “You’ll get it right, Rach; you always do.”
As I poured my pain into spreading the ONLY LOVE TODAY message in Canada and worked on messages for Ben, I conveniently forgot about my darkest hour thoughts.
That is until this man, Ben’s friend, told me he chose to carry on when his son died.
I did not know this man. I would probably never see him again. But in that moment, I was thankful our paths crossed in this tragic moment in time.
“I am glad you chose to stay,” I said of his decision. “Ben spoke highly of you and really appreciated your company.”
“You know, that’s the oddest thing,” he said. “Ben took care of me, not the other way around. He didn’t say a whole lot, but he was a great listener. We’d sit on his patio, and he’d just listen. He was a kind man. I’m really going to miss him.”
His eyes welled up with tears.
“Are you going to be okay?” I asked again.
“Your Only Love Today book is really helping me,” he said unexpectedly. “I can’t believe your husband gave me a signed copy. I am halfway through, and it’s giving me hope right now. I also feel like it’s a little piece of Ben,” he said.
His comment reminded me of the state of my bed when I returned from my trip to Canada. The bed that had been made before I left was now disturbed. It was obvious my side had been slept in. On my pillow was Dog-Dog – a thirteen-year-old well-loved stuffed animal. While it was once used every night without fail, now it was only brought out in emergency situations.
“Did you sleep in my bed while I was gone?” I asked my teenage daughter.
She nodded. “I couldn’t sleep, so I got in your bed. It smelled like you, and I felt close to you there,” she explained.
Sometimes I don’t think I’m needed.
Sometimes I underestimate my importance.
Sometimes I think the world could go on just fine without me.
Sometimes I make stupid mistakes and poor choices and beat myself up.
Sometimes, in my darkest hour, I think horrible things I would never speak out loud.
Sometimes I look at myself and don’t like what I see.
Sometimes I look at myself and I see a mess.
But in these painful, heartbreaking, and uncomfortable moments of life, I know with certainty that I am in the process BECOMING – I am becoming a better version of myself.
I am Becoming stronger
More health conscious
More love filled.
I can’t see it on the outside; but I can feel it deep within. It is important to remember the process of BECOMING often looks UNBECOMING on the outside.
The irritability, the spontaneous tears, the puffy eyes, and the angry tone make us want to turn away from ourselves and our loved ones, but that is when we most need to turn toward each other and hold on.
My friend Kerry’s advice to me in Canada was to look at my intention – perhaps the action didn’t turn out like I wanted it to, but my intention was “beautiful,” she said. “Don’t let one piece of the story ruin the whole thing,” she wisely added.
I share her words with you because they’re too good, too important to be kept to myself.
With every painful struggle, every heartbreak, and every honest look inward,
With every difficult conversation, every holy interaction, and every gut-wrenching experience,
We are learning, growing, blossoming.
By choosing to ride along through the turbulence of life, we are becoming better versions of ourselves.
Each day our lives are being written. And one letdown, one failure, one flaw, one mistake doesn’t ruin the whole story. (Thank you, God.)
This confirms what I said to a packed funeral home at the end of Ben’s Celebration of Life message. I said, “Ben admitted he had struggles, but he tried to live a good life. I think we can all agree he nailed the ending. The ending was perfect … it was all about love. And that means he has no end.”
Dear ones, let’s choose to focus on our contributions – not our deficiencies.
Because someone breathes easier when we are near.
Someone holds onto a piece of us for comfort.
Someone sees us as a caregiver, a good listener, an everyday friend.
Someone sees us as a sanctuary.
Someone can’t imagine life without us.
Perhaps we will be lucky enough to know it someday.
But for now, let’s choose to believe it is so.
Only love today.
Love makes good things possible,
In the beginning,
In the end,
And in our darkest hours.
*Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or click here for website. You are not alone.
Dear ones, I know that 2018 has been a hard year for many of us. Perhaps you are at a desolate point right now. I hope you know that you are not alone. My turning point during one of those desolate Decembers was the moment when the notion popped into my head that in spite of all the regrets I had accumulated, there was still time to salvage the situation. What saved me from sabotaging another day with guilt, regret, and misery, was the realization that today matters more than yesterday, and today awaits my presence with open arms.
Small, barely noticeable efforts to show up for my life became my passageway through the pain and struggle, leading me to valuable gifts of discovery that transformed life. I have shared 6 of these small steps in a free little eBook called FINISHING WELL: A YEAR-END GUIDE TO TURNING PAIN INTO PURPOSE & HEARTACHE INTO HOPE.
Although the book was just released yesterday (12/8), I have already received responses like this:
- “Rachel, I'm only a few pages in but I'm already incredibly moved. It's as if the letter you wrote to your friend was also written to me. I'm looking forward to reading the rest because I know it will be just what my battered heart needs: “turning pain into purpose and heartache into hope.” -M.B.
- Thank you SO much for this. I’ve just spent the last 30 minutes reading when I had a list a mile long of things I need to be doing because my heart told be this would be worth it. I needed this, right here in this moment. The shift that reading this is causing will ripple forth to affect everyone I come into contact with.” -P.W
Click here to download your free eBook here, for a limited time.
Also, registration is opening soon for my supportive online course, SOUL SHIFT. Beginning January 21, I will be coming into your home through short videos to equip and encourage you. You will receive empowering daily messages and be part of a supportive online community led by me. My skills as a teacher, writer, encourager, truth teller, and hope bearer are merging to help you live the life you most want to live. Click here to enter your email address so you can be notified when the course registration opens on January 7th at a discounted price. I am so excited to experience this transformative journey with you!
My friends, thank you so much for being my safe place, for loving me “as is,” and supporting my work through the purchase of my books. If you have not picked up a copy of ONLY LOVE TODAY, it is available at Target, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. Each purchase lets my publisher know my work is valued and should continue. Thank you for being part of The Hands Free Revolution. Your support brings light to my life.