Special thanks to guest author, Comfort Zone Camp volunteer and Hello Grief Community member Danielle Taylor for sharing this story with us, and to her husband for sharing one of his favorite photos of Danielle.
Hi, I’m Danielle, and I’m a card-carrying member of the “That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen” club (also sometimes known as the “It’s Not Fair” club). To be a member, you had to have been hit with a wicked curve ball – death stole someone it shouldn’t have. Whether you’re a new member or a veteran, it’s nice to meet you. And I’d like to apologize – our admission dues are far too high.
As a part of this club, it is typical to want to throw yourself on the floor like a child and throw a full scale temper tantrum, complete with kicking and screaming and wails of “It’s not FAIR!” I have had many of those moments and trust me, I am not making light of them. I think the feeling of injustice comes from the fact we structure our lives around the “supposed to be,” believing there is a natural order to the world. See if this pattern rings any bells: You’re a child, you go to school, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, lose your parents at a ripe old age, and then when you have grandkids, you, too, die at a ripe old age. There are some variations allowed, but this is a fairly typical pattern of our life expectancy.
But once in awhile, the “supposed to be” doesn’t happen. There is a rift in the natural order of things. Children die before parents. Parents die before grandparents. Somebody dies when they weren’t “supposed to.” Hence, the creation of our charming little club. Membership benefits include total annihilation of those expectations.
So what do you with a truck load of shattered expectations about how the world works? A lot of people choose to stop living right alongside their lost ones. They feel guilty having fun, enjoying life, laughing or even smiling. Maybe it’s the feeling of “why them and not me?” Or maybe it feels like you don’t care enough about them or don’t miss them enough if you allow yourself a reprieve from grief. Maybe there are far more complex reasons.
As for me, I saw things differently. My world was shattered when my dad died, and against my will, I was inducted into “the club.” My welcome letter included the disturbing announcement “You too, Danielle – you could die at any minute.” It shouldn’t happen, but it could, without warning. I was jolted to learn how unpredictable life can be and that I may not have another 30, 40, 50 years to fit in all the things I wanted to do. I saw that the “supposed to be’s” don’t exist for everyone.
But I wasn’t ready to die. My dad’s death wasn’t a table for two. As much as I missed him, I knew his death would be even more pointless if I also gave up my life by refusing to live. This is where my defiant streak kicked in. At the end of my life (whenever that is), nobody was going to grieve that I barely lived. No, they’d remember me as having squeezed every drop of enjoyment out of life while I had the chance. I want to live ten lifetimes of joy. If this is my only ride, I want to see as many beautiful things, feel as much joy and love, and celebrate life as much as I can. I don’t want to meet God and say, “But wait, there’s so much more I still have left to do!”
I remember when I turned 30, I was filled with the most dreadful panic. If I only lived as long as my dad, I only had 15 years to fit in an entire life’s worth of living. My 20’s had disappeared so fast and I hadn’t even started living! I had to get living FAST because I had a lot to do in a very unknown period of time. So I did. Before I turned 31, I had been kayaking looking for killer whales, I got scuba certified, I went to the Grand Canyon and Disneyland, and I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. I also bought my first house and got two new puppies. I traveled to 4 different states by myself with nobody waiting for me on the other end. Over the next few years, I traveled to Chicago, New York, Peru, Niagra Falls, and Fiji. I had my dream honeymoon in Italy, watched an ocean sunset from a hot air balloon, rode horses, went parasailing, swam with dolphins, and did a 20-foot firewalk. Yes, you heard me right – I walked across a bed of white hot coals without a single burn. I even have the keychain to prove it.
In the midst of all this living, I can’t help but to think about my Dad. He died so young and there was so much he didn’t get to see. Don’t get me wrong, his life wasn’t empty, just too short, and he spent a large part of it raising two daughters and several foster daughters. But when I find myself in a breathtaking place, part of my heart breaks knowing he’ll never get the chance to see what I’m seeing. I can’t shake the feeling that he was robbed of so many of life’s pleasures.
So for him, I try to live for two, like women who are pregnant eat for two. All of the things he didn’t get to do or see, I do and see for us both. I take him with me on every adventure, as if I could carry his soul in my backpack or on my shoulder. When I close my eyes and marvel at this amazing world, I imagine that he’s standing next to me, seeing everything right alongside me, feeling the breeze on his face, the water on his feet, or the sun on his skin.
Yes sir, I’ll take a life for two, please. And make it snappy, I’m in a dash…
This article was originally posted with an untitled poem by an unknown author. However, we have been informed that the poem is entitled “The Dash” and it is by Linda Ellis. Please check out this inspiring poem and other motivational messages by Linda Ellis on her website.