How was I to know, as I climbed into bed to soak up the latest my little blog reel had to offer, that deep contemplation and soul searching and tears were on the horizon. Snuggling into my thick comforter, fluffing my cushions, flicking my socks off into the endless pit that is the bottom of the bed. I was so unprepared. Oblivious of the emotion and sadness and worry and deep gratitude my late night reading would conjure up.

My cousin Kayla has recently taken up blogging, and it was her sweet Memories post this evening which hit home. In it Kayla talked about loving and missing her Grandmother - the very same woman I've  affectionately referred many times to as 'Mom' - and how empty it's been without her here. As I read Kayla's sincere words, and tearfully revisited my own post about Mom, I felt it too. That aching in my heart. The longing to share with her my successes, my dreams, my favorite recipes. To confide in her. To listen to her stories. To breathe in her sweet hugs. To kiss her hello and goodbye. To just spend time together like we used to when I was 11.

I ache because she isn't here anymore and I miss her. I wish I could go back. I hate that one minute people you love and adore are there and the next minute they're gone. And there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it.

And as the 2 year anniversary of Mom's passing slowly creeps closer, I, like Kayla, find myself thinking of her more and more often. I did just this afternoon as I drove home from work and reached down to lather her favorite lip balm, Carmex, on my lips. I did on Sunday at our family brunch where my cousin Missy (Kayla's Mom) showed us pictures of her paintings - one of which I know used to hang on Mom's living room wall. And last night as the touch lamp in my bedroom flickered repeatedly for 2 minutes straight as I sat alone in our bedroom. I even asked out loud if that was her - after which it flickered again.

It's hard when loved ones pass. It's hard not to wonder what good could come of it. It's hurts to grieve, to carry on, to find 'normalcy' again. To seek happiness and joy in your own life. To look back at precious memories with not just sadness and hurt, but also love, joy and appreciation.

To grow.

I consider myself lucky in that I, unlike many of my close family and friends, haven't experienced tragedy or lost many loved ones in my lifetime. Of course I've said goodbye to my Grandma Cousino, Grandpa Tom, 'Mom,' my neighbor, and most recently Carl's Granddad and Uncle - I'm not in any way discounting the sadness and pain it felt to lose those special people, but I'm also so very lucky to still have the majority of my nearest and dearest still here. My parents, my sister, my husband, my grandparents and in-laws are all still with me. All of my closest friends are healthy and well. I've never lost a loved one to a crime, or a car crash, or fire. None of my loved ones or friends are missing. I've never had a miscarriage or watched my child suffer and leave this Earth far far too early.

I am lucky. I am blessed.

And yet I know that there are people out there who have experienced those things. Experienced unbelievable heartbreak and mourned unfathomable losses. Suffered from numbing emptiness. Tragedy. Shock. Yet they continued, through the heartbreak and sorrow, to show love, compassion, strength and faith.

Life in general is something I'm trying to understand and find peace with. Most specifically, death is something I'm trying to understand and find peace with. When I was younger I used to have this awful dream where I was riding my turquoise bike with the rainbow and white training wheels around our dirt driveway. I couldn't stop going in circles while an awful man in a black cloak with no face chased me. Around and round we'd go. And with each complete circle he'd get closer. I knew he was death and that when he finally reached me I'd go into a rectangle hole in the ground and stare up at darkness. Worms wriggling. Outside life would continue, but I would lay inside this claustrophobic hole - paralyzed and silent - for years. And years. And years. Just laying there. Like a rock. Waiting. Silent. Alone. Half asleep yet entirely alert. Waiting until I the eternal nothingness seized.

Thankfully I haven't had that dream since I was in college. The last time was the night after they found the body of missing Hayley Holmes - a 17 year old girl from Liverpool who drowned in the Mersey River and washed up on a nearby beach. Her boyfriend was still missing at the time (they found his body weeks later at a local ferry terminal near mine and Carl's apartment). For whatever reason Hayley's death upset me terribly. Although I'd never met her I couldn't stop thinking about her. She played on my mind. I remember reading the posts and comments from Hayley's family and friends on a Facebook page (Hayley's Mom still writes to her every day) that had been set up in order to remember her and help find her missing boyfriend. All I could do was cry and try not to think about how heartbroken all of those people were. Her loved ones coming to terms with the fact that she wouldn't return home. At the age of 17 she was gone. I couldn't help but think about how lost and shattered I'd be if that were my friend, my sister, my daughter. About whether I'd actually have that ability to continue, through the heartbreak and sorrow. To show love, compassion, strength and faith.

I kept thinking about why awful things like that happen. I kept thinking about how utterly terrified I am that something like that might happen to me. To my family.

I kept thinking about how I'm afraid.

I'm scared to lose my loved ones. I'm scared of tragedy. I'm scared I won't have the strength to overcome hardships or goodbyes. That I won't learn intended lessons. That I'm not being the best person I can be. That I won't have accomplished everything I want to before I go. That I'll never be able to have a baby. Or if and when I do, will I be a good parent? What if something were to happen and I never got the chance to be there for my children's accomplishments, or meet my grandchildren. The list is endless yet continuously linked to fear of the unknown. The what if's. The things I cannot control.

Thankfully, the older I get the more I'm learning who I am. The more I'm valuing my beliefs - some of which may not be the same as other people, but that's okay. I know that I am not a sheep and that I don't have to think the same as everyone else. I believe in supporting my dreams, and focusing on what I can control rather than what I cannot. I know that I believe in heaven and angels and that eating ice cream after watching The Notebook is important in order to regain emotional balance and serenity. I believe in soul mates and know that Carl and I were meant to be together. Not even the Atlantic Ocean can separate us. I believe in kissing my husband 5 times every night before bed, and first thing when I wake up in the morning. I believe it's okay to cry and scream and shout and laugh all within the space of 5 minutes. I believe it's okay to question and challenge and be afraid. It's okay to miss loved ones and talk to them at night, just as it's okay to that I take time to reflect and contemplate and digest my own thoughts. It's healthy that I take time to write them down. That I voice them.

Life is a journey. It's challenging, rewarding, unpredictable, reliable, exhausting, refreshing, beautiful, vibrant, overcast, frightening, peaceful, rigid, resilient, philosophical, erratic, demanding, vulnerable, precious. Life is a gift.

Live it the very best you can.

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