Anyone who knows me personally, knows that this year was especially hard for me. It’s not because I don’t have anything to be grateful for – on the contrary – I have lived a rather privileged life. I know this – I accept it for what it is – and I remind myself constantly that there are people who have a life far worse than my own. But in every life there is pain and suffering at times, and all the possessions in the world can’t take it away.
This year my mom lost her very short battle with cancer. Having lost a woman I considered a second mother a year prior I was hoping I would handle my mother’s passing better than I did hers, but even as I type the words I struggle to keep myself together. You see, my mother was my rock, the tether that kept me grounded, and the only person I’ve ever trusted implicitly.
Losing a parent is right up at the top of the list as far as grief goes. Grieving a loved one is a life-long, personal thing. It isn’t something that someone can define for you. There are steps to help you through the process, but you have to take your time and handle the waves as they come. I’ve found that it’s not something that happens, you get over it, and then you’re good. Really, it happens more like this: you do your best to work through it, then you have a bad day, and you go back to working through it again. Each time it seems to get easier, and one day you will be able to miss them with smiles, not tears. And if you are blessed enough to have a wonderful support system of friends and family to keep you together you will find a new normal.
For me finding a new normal gave me the opportunity to make some big changes. When I look back on it there are things I wish I had done different, but I still like the way the big picture turned out. There were a lot of tears and hurt feelings, but there were also a lot of smiles, deep laughter and romantic interludes that I will cherish. As I look back through the pictures I am transported back to those moments when I felt free from the pain of grief. Here is what I learned along the way.
Everyone has insecurities so that’s no reason to hide from the world. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves. Those things don’t have to define us. Those things are what make each person unique. But it is also those things that can bind us. When I was traveling in Germany I made friends that took me all around town in their spare time, showing me most of Frankfurt. They treated me as their personal guest and I had just met them less than 24 hours prior. Being an introvert I really struggled with their excitement at showing me their city, but I found that we had a good bit in common. Talking to them while I sat alone drinking a beer was one of the highlights of my travels. It was difficult to make the first move, but I decided that if they didn’t like me, I would just talk to someone else. If I hadn’t stepped up I might have missed out on a really good experience.
Follow your heart, it’s good for your soul. When I started on journey through Europe I was on a mission to do the things my mom and I had always talked about. I didn’t care what my family, friends and significant other thought. It felt like something I had to do or I was going to explode. Some people embraced the idea, and others barely spoke on the subject (I knew enough to take that as polite disapproval.), but I followed my heart, and I’m glad I did. Every time I travel it changes me, but this time was different. I was away for 2 months, I traveled through 10 countries and created this blog to keep up with my friends and family. There were many highlights; my favorite being when I picked up two college kids hitchhiking to Liechtenstein. It was during a road trip I took through Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. I wrote about my European Road Trip in more detail if you’re interested. Normally I wouldn’t do something like picking up hitchhikers, but my heart said it was the right thing to do. I wouldn’t change the decision at all because it allowed me to meet a couple crazy kids that reminded me of myself only ten short years ago. Spending those hours with them was good for my soul.
You don’t have to be perfect for life to be satisfying. I’ve been known to be a bit of a loner. I act like nothing bothers me too long, and like to make sure people know I’m fiercely independent and capable of anything. This year I realized that it’s okay to say “I don’t know how”, “I’m scared of that” or “I’m not good at that”. I think I thought that if I conquered everything I would feel like a whole person. What I learned is that it’s okay to be scared, but you should live fully so the good moments don’t pass you by. If I had learned that earlier I may not have missed out on a couple things, but I believe life has a funny way of working out in the end. I remember the moment I was most scared, I was sitting on the train from Prague to Budapest while the refugee crisis was at a tipping point. There was a chance they would stop our train at the Slovakia/Hungarian border, leaving us to take a regional train the rest of the way to Budapest. To add to it I was alone, I could barely ask for the ladies room in either language, and I had a heavy-ass suitcase in tow. I was freaking out, hangry after a disappointing run in with the food cart, and nervously staring out the window as we came close to the Hungarian border. It ended up being a quiet day during the ordeal and my train pulled into Keleti station on schedule. It wasn’t until Vienna that I saw the true impact the refuges had on the European Union. I don’t even want to imagine the fear those refugees feel. I’m grateful to have lived the life I have to this point.
Travel is intimate, so share it with the ones you love. Although I spent most of the year traveling solo, there were times when I got to share it directly with my loved ones. I spent two weeks with my brother: I showed him around Amsterdam (his favorite), we explored Munich during Oktoberfest (shout out to the Shakespeare Bar) and hung out with our new favorite Parisian, Justine, as we strolled Le Marais in Paris. You learn a lot about people when you travel together that long, and I learned that I like my brother. I know it seems silly to say that, but he and I are several years apart in age, and not close as a result.
Then I got to spend two weeks with my significant other. That was a bit more stressful and possibly what spelled our demise, but ultimately taught us some valuable lessons. We spent a romantic night on the Bustronome eating dinner as we saw Paris from the glass-top bus. For my birthday he planned a great day trip to Amboise in central France. It was a roller-coaster of a day that ended with us limping into the apartment from exhaustion. We ended our journey with a week in Ireland, where we felt, ironically, more out of our element than while in Paris. Ireland was where I learned to stay calm and forgive myself in the face of failure. I don’t think I would have reached that point without him being with me.
My final adventure sent me to Colorado with a close friend for some fun in the snow. We had a blast! We drove hundreds of miles, talked to many people and stood in places others only dream about. The beauty we saw was immense, and to this point in my life, unprecedented. Being able to share this time with my loved ones was the biggest treat of my year, and they will be experiences I look upon fondly.
Failure is possible, but if you don’t try it’s inevitable! There were times on my journey when I was worn down from the hassles of travel, unhappy with the accommodations I chose, or just downright not liking a city and feeling like a failure. I didn’t handle all of those well, and I know they will happen again, but this year I learned that all those times by mom would say to me, “sweetie, this too shall pass”, she was right. It did all pass, all the while making me a stronger, wiser person. My biggest failure came in Ireland when I pulled out into an intersection that wasn’t actually clear (in my defense, why do they have to drive on the opposite side of the road, it’s super confusing at first.) and got into a car accident. My boyfriend handled it like a champ, which meant more to me than he might have realized. I beat myself up pretty bad for about a day, but I got back in the driver’s seat later without incident. I was worried that failure would ruin our vacation, but his behavior showed me what a loving guy he was, and made it easier to take his lead and forgive myself. Had I not, all hope of a positive experience would have been lost.
To sum up 2015 let’s say it was a “game changer” for my life. I experienced great loss, started a new journey that took me on great adventures, and learned the value of supportive loved ones. The most important lesson I will take from 2015 is to live life fully with grace and fervor. I will look back on this year as the year I learned the soul soothing revelation that I’m not perfect, but that’s why my peeps love me.