Three Years Ago
On this date in 2011, I checked my cell phone’s voicemail at the end of an afternoon gym session to hear messages from my father and sister that my grandfather had passed away.
I was still a practicing lawyer, and that day, I didn’t have any time to digest what I’d learned—I had to run to a meeting with three colleagues about a fast-approaching court deadline.
I had made it a habit to break in the middle of the day for the gym, mainly because it was a stress-reliever. I usually came back to having missed a few dozen e-mails in the hour that I was away. But not that afternoon. I wished I could somehow magically transport myself home. The best I could hope to be able to do was to hide in the locker room and mourn. Yet I felt that I had to “man up” and participate in that meeting. I rationalized away my emotions: I can’t do anything now anyways; there’s no way I can secure a visa and a plane ticket to Pakistan in time for the services. Oh, but now I wish I had at least tried.
So I went back to work. I scrambled to compose myself for this meeting. I joked as we all assembled in the conference room, pretending I hadn’t been rattled to the core, that I wasn’t trembling inside. Selfishly, I felt abandoned. My mind was in a fog—everything was moving slowly and felt surreal. I was in a meeting with three stoic men. I had to keep my s**t together. A few minutes into the meeting, tears came to my eyes. I tilted my head up slightly and tried to blink them away. I couldn’t. I pretended something had made its way into one of my eyes. But I couldn’t hold myself together, and I knew tears would be flowing quickly if I didn’t leave at that moment.
I scribbled a note to one of the partners, saying I had just learned that my grandfather had died. I dashed out of the room. I felt like I should have stayed because I couldn’t do anything for my grandfather. I felt that in a heavily male environment that I couldn’t reveal, couldn’t share, and had to keep emotions to myself. I was working with three incredibly thoughtful individuals, who would have had my back for anything in the world, but I felt guilty for leaving the “team.”
It’s not just that my life is different because I traded litigation for chocolate, but I have changed how I live—or I should say, loss has changed how I live. In these three years, I’ve been learning to:
I cherish those in my life, and I cherish my time.
There are certain family members and friends who have contributed positively to my life in a variety of ways. Many of these friends are those I met while practicing law. I may not see them often but they have shaped me, and I know they are in my corner. I do my best to let them know that I’m in theirs no matter what. On the other side, I’ve let some people fade out of my life. It has taken me a while to feel comfortable with those decisions, but they are the right ones.
I also cherish my time. Cherishing my time is not the same as being selfish with it. I recently met a young man who told me, shortly after we met, that he was selfish with his time, and that he only spent it with those who could benefit him. Yes, I spend time on things I want to do so that I have time to do what I want and with whom I want. Sometimes that time is focused on me, and sometimes it’s focused on others.
Time is my most precious asset (a gift really), and each day I try to remember to ask myself how I want to use this asset. I find that I now can slow down to enjoy experiences that I rushed through before, such as meals with friends and family without distractions. I had dinner with a friend the other night without checking my phone (a milestone for me!). I was fully present. Everything and anything else could wait.
I trust myself. I’ve learned that the loudest voice isn’t necessarily right; that many times, there isn’t a right or wrong way; and that I face only myself in the mirror each day. When others tell me which path I should take, I trust myself to sit quietly and figure it out for myself. I trust my instincts, my gut, my heart more than ever before. I don’t let my rationalizations always rule the day. I trust that if I make a mistake, I’ll get past it and learn from it without beating myself up about it.
I share. I’ve learned to share with the people in my life that I care about them and that I enjoy spending time with them—to a fault at times because not everyone understands how to react to vulnerability, but it’s now who I am. Maybe I’m afraid that I never told my grandfather that he was a rock in my life and never saw him enough because he was thousands of miles away and I was “busy” with my career.
I’ve learned to share what I create, regardless of how it will be received.
I’ve felt more vulnerable in these last three years than ever before, but I’ve also felt more alive in these years than I can remember. When I think about my grandfather, I sometimes still feel abandoned, but I also know that he’s the reason I’ve gained so much.
What have you gained from loss?