live life to the fullestApril is a dark month in American history. Many tragedies happened in April including Columbine, Oklahoma City bombing, Virginia Tech shooting, and the Boston Marathon explosions. These national tragedies are dark reminders of our own traumatic losses.

Every year, we remember and honor the lives lost in national tragedies. We all remember where we were at that moment in history when we heard the news of destruction and lives lost. These events shape us. These national tragedies are dark reminders of our own traumatic losses too. Grief is a journey. I’m still coping with loss 10 years later.

National tragedies are painful reminders

During moments of national tragedy, we all pause aghast at the images we witness on television. We then grieve. Finally, we unite and rally for the victims. These events paralyze us for a few days. Newtown perhaps paralyzed America for a few weeks because so many children were lost in a senseless crime. Then we move on and forget until the next anniversary.

When I witness a national tragedy, I am lost for words. The tears flow freely when I hear the victims’ families speaking about their unthinkable loss. Their grief is often raw and palpable as they try to speak through heavy breaths. Their thoughts often rambling. It’s a moment I know all too well.

Coping with grief 10 years laterCoping with grief 10 years later

Every tragedy makes me relive my own personal tragedy. It’s hard to believe ten years have gone by since a senseless crime took my sister. I know how those families who lost loved ones in Boston and Newtown feel. I felt it and feel it too.

In the early morning hours of April 19, 2003, friends shared details of what happened. They knew more than I did thousands of miles away. The car crash was all over the news. Two young lives lost, and others injured. The news rocked two small towns.

When I arrived home and pulled up to the crash site, I saw a television news photographer. The accident wasn’t on the scope of these national tragedies, but the accident made headlines.

Unlike these national tragedies, the headlines didn’t last long. They came and went over the years as the trial ensued. People went on with their lives in a few days. That’s the hardest part about losing someone. The families who lose loved ones never move on. Finding your way after a loss is difficult because nobody else feels the pain like you.

megs footprintsTen years later, I’m still grieving. I’m grieving in a different way than I did ten years ago. The pain is still there. The wound is scabbed over. At times, it bleeds unexpectedly. I can control the flow of pain better, but it’s still there. A constant dull ache that never goes away.

I’ve been through a lot, and worked hard to find my  new normal. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Megs and all I’ve lost.

Anniversaries are difficult. They’re a reminder of your loss. Ten years. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since I saw my sister. On the other hand, it feels that long when I think about all I’ve been through.

Children heal wounds

After a national tragedy like Newtown, my grief scab cracks open and bleeds again. I had many bad days after the Newtown shooting. The senseless nature of the crime, the innocence of those children, and the bravery of those teachers tore at my heartstrings.

My sister was weeks away from becoming a teacher when she lost her life. She was in the midst of final exams, and interviewing for jobs. Her student teaching job was nearing an end. She never had her own classroom, but she left a mark on many lives.

Salve Regina University held a memorial service for Meghan. Professors, classmates, and second graders filled the room. Megs’ students taught me how to laugh again. They told funny stories about activities they did with Megs, and how they loved her hair. I’ll never forget those brave second graders sharing stories in front of a room full of college seniors and adults. 

Children are resilient. Their unique perspective on life gave me hope during my darkest days.

Those students are now graduating high school. They still remember Megs, and that means so much to my family. A few recently attended the tennis tournament held every year in honor of my sister. It’s hard to believe those little kids are graduating. For them to take time out of their busy lives to remember and honor their student teacher is more meaningful than words can ever explain. My sister didn’t get long to teach in a classroom, but it’s apparent she touched many lives in her short time.

Live life to the fullest

Life is short. We need to make the most of each and every day because we never know when it will be our last. That’s hard to do with all the craziness that life throws us, but you need to find a way to do it.

Losing my sister is a turning point in my life. I had two choices — be miserable or live life to the fullest. Once I got over the initial grief, and trust me it took years, I chose to live life to the fullest. I take calculated risks, and look for the hidden reward.

That’s why my husband and I took a trip of a lifetime to New Zealand soon after we got married. It was an amazing experience. We did things we’ve always wanted to do. My sister and I used to chase hot air balloons with our family. So, we took a hot air balloon ride. It truly was a trip we’ll always cherish.

Why did we do this? New Zealand was definitely a bucket list trip. We did it because we believe you have to live life to the fullest. You can’t let money get in the way of life. For those of you who follow my blog, you’ve heard me say that the past few years. You need to create memories with your family. That doesn’t mean spend foolishly. I’m a saver. However, saving for big trips is worth it.

One of my fondest memories is taking a trip to Disney World when I was in second grade. Megs and I had a blast. I still vividly remember details of that vacation as if it were yesterday.

In college, I went to London to study for a semester and there was a lot of discussion about my mom and sister coming to visit. Money stood in their way. My parents put four children through private school so I don’t fault them one bit. They had tough choices to make. I can tell you, though, that decision to not come to London is a lost memory and one I know we all wish we had.

I’m not suggesting you go spend money in a foolish fashion. After all, I help you save money. This is the one time, I’ll remind you to take that savings you’ve created and use it for a good cause. If you’re smart with your money throughout the year, you might have a little extra. Do something with it that will create memories that will last a lifetime.

Plan something or do something spontaneous. I did that on the 10th anniversary of losing my sister. I last saw my sister alive during the semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament when Syracuse beat Texas to go on to the Championship Game. My sister drove from Newport, Rhode Island, to Syracuse, New York, in an ice storm. My college friends loved Megs. She loved to visit us. When she was still in high school, she wrote me letters begging to come visit. I recently found the letters in a box, and oh what joy they bring to my face. So, she was determined to visit for the Final Four. I’m so glad she did. Two weeks later, she was killed.

Ten years later, Syracuse made it to the Final Four again. I knew I needed to go. The day after I booked the trip, I had second thoughts. I worried about the money. Then I remembered the reason for the trip. It was another bucket list item. My husband told me to stop worrying about money, and I went to Atlanta and had a great time! I got lucky and found some great deals so it wasn’t even that big of an expense. My team didn’t win, but I won in the game of life!

strathman girls growing upTen years later, I still grieve. On such a monumental anniversary year, I’ve managed to create new memories. The one positive of such a tragic loss is that I now know and cherish the true meaning of life. 

What memories are you going to create for your family this year? Do something in honor of Megs!