‘Six months is nothing’, they said. ‘When you come back, everything will be exactly the same.’
March 2016 was easily one of the happiest times of my whole life. I was in the Philippines, my boyfriend proposed. I was so tanned, so healthy and had absolutely everything to look forward to.
In April, everything changed. Well, not everything. One thing changed enough to make all the good things look different. Once upon a time I would have seen this as a sign that maybe I didn’t deserve to be as happy as I was. Now, I simply refuse to feel sorry for myself. What good can it possibly do? I still have all of those wonderful things (apart from maybe the tan). It’s so important (and often so bloody difficult) to focus on what we’ve been blessed with, rather than fixate on the negatives.
I wrote this post to comfort others as much as myself. Because sometimes terrible things happen. And the only way to make them less so, is to find the strength to interpret them in a positive way. A while back, I made a decision to have faith in the world around me no matter what, so I really have no other choice.
It’s something I worried about over again and again, without ever truly believing it would happen. That I would receive that heartbreaking phone call when so very far from home. Losing someone is never, ever easy, but finding out when I was minutes away from boarding a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Japan is one of the most painful experiences of my life.
What happens when you’ve assigned a limited amount of time and all of your money to fulfilling your dreams, and something happens to make you wonder why you ever wanted to be away from home at all? Because everything you really care about is a million miles away. You can plan every detail of your life six months in advance, only to find out repeatedly that you will never have full control. On 8th April 2016, my wonderful grandad died, and we made the decision to fly home.
Although I could talk forever about the strength of my family, or the beautiful send off we gave him, what I want to share is the light I’ve managed to salvage from the dark. That even though I’ve lost someone too soon and my family are suffering, I will not crawl into a corner, angry and afraid. I will be strong for them and for myself. Because that is the least we can do for the people we love.
There is so much hope to be found when it’s least expected, if only we discipline our minds and hearts enough to find it. Death is the only reason our lives mean anything, and grief teaches us so much about love. I said this in another post about death; that being prepared to grieve for someone is the same as being prepared to die for someone. They are the bravest declarations of love we can make. They prove that you believe in something much bigger than the constrains of life and death.
Be open to the possibility of a force affecting the order of things, and you’ll realise how much you want it to be true. If a bird of prey circles my head the day my grandad dies, and then again, in a different country, the day of his funeral. I will believe it means something. I don’t care if it’s just a coincidence, because I believe enough to make it true to me. I found something lovely in something very sad, and that means I know I’ll be ok.
In fact, lots of my family members experienced weird and comforting coincidences around my grandad’s death. He had dementia, but knew everyone’s names and played the harmonica during his last days. I even spoke to him on Skype. I keep seeing the Ferguson tractor he had and was handed free samples of his favourite drink (Baileys) at a food festival. It doesn’t matter that I’m probably just more tuned into these things now he’s all I can think about. All that matters is that my grandad’s death is shrouded in meaning. There is so much comfort to be found in that small, simple fact. That a random case of life and death has so much definition and significance in the minds of the people who loved that person. People live forever with us that way.
‘The ghosts of the people we love live inside of us, and like that we keep them alive.’
So it will probably come as no surprise that even though our money pot is dwindling and our plans have gone completely out of the window, we’ll be flying back to Asia tomorrow, having spent two weeks at home. Determined to finish our travels on a positive, and to continue to have faith in life, we’ll be spending the next couple of months in Northern Thailand and Vietnam, before volunteering on an organic farm in Spain. Because if there’s one thing death teaches you, it’s that you only have one chance to tick all those things off your list. Just one.
I was so fortunate to have known my grandad for 26 years, and will remember him by continuing to make the best possible memories I can for myself and my family, just like he always did for us. Having a positive reaction to a negative thing is really fucking hard, but I hope this story inspires you to be brave enough to do the same.