Meghan strathman

April is the worst month of the year for me. I grieve and remember my sister. Losing a loved one is traumatic, especially when it’s someone so young. I’ve found my new normal – live every day like it’s your last. Even though I know live each day like it’s my last, that doesn’t mean every day is full of happiness. Some days I’m just sad. Amidst my grief, I always find shadows of light and hope. For me, my grief eases when someone shares an unexpected memory. Even the small notes, from friends and classmates, cheer me up. Often, they’re from people I don’t even know. That makes them even more special knowing so many people still remember.

Losing a loved one

In one of those unexpected emails, the friend said she still remembers “that call.” I remember it too. The one that stopped my heartbeat. The one that changed the beat of my life forever.

That call. The NCAA tournament. Good Friday. April 19th. Easter. Graduation. All those days and events bring back memories.

The weeks leading up to April 19th are always painful. The weeks following too. The anniversary of my loss coincides with the NCAA tournament. The tournament brings back memories, especially mention of the Final Four. It’s the last time I saw Megs alive.

We last spoke on Good Friday. She was killed on April 19th. I picked out caskets on Easter. By the way, May is no breeze. Graduation brings up the memory of walking across the stage to pick up her diploma. The one she worked so hard for, but never held. Then, there’s her birthday and Mother’s Day. Both in May. Many sad days packed into one month’s time.

meghan strathmanFor nine years, I’ve tried to move on. After eight years, I finally composed my thoughts on life and publicly shared them. I almost didn’t post that article, afraid to share such raw and personal emotion with such a public audience. I still have no idea how many of Megs’ college friends found that article, but I’m so honored the message and the memory of my sister is still being shared.

Finding joy after loss

I’m overwhelmed so many people still remember my sister nine years later. I never expected this year would be one to remember.

I’m getting married this year so I expected it to be one of the more difficult anniversaries. I dreamed of having my sister next to me on my wedding day. As soon as I knew she was gone, I immediately thought of my wedding day. Even though, at the time, I wasn’t even engaged or with someone I knew would be my husband.

At the time of my sister’s death, I never thought I could love someone again. The pain of losing her hurt too much. How could I ever walk down the aisle without my best friend and maid of honor there? It’s taken nine years and an amazing man to find a way to do that.   It’s moving that this year, the year I’ve dreaded, I’ve had so many people unexpectedly offer such support.

Don’t let money get in the way of life

A few days after the unexpected and comforting words from my sister’s college friends, one of my college friend’s husband posted something on his Facebook page.

“You have a lifetime to payoff debt, but only a number of years your kids want to hang out with you….. Book a family vacation and enjoy the time with them.”

He has two kids, and obviously had a moment that made him compelled to post that. Little did he know the timing of that post coincided with the anniversary of losing Megs.

Both events made me realize I need to make it a yearly habit to remind people that money should not get in the way of life. It’s hard to do during such tough economic times. I’ve seen friends deal with sudden job loss. I know how difficult it is. No matter your financial state, you can still find time to make memories.

Our lives are hectic. Sometimes we lose our sense or reality. Look for a ray of sunshine when you get frustrated. You’ll find it somewhere. Life is short, and your life can change directions at any time. Some things you control. Others you can’t.

That’s why I know live every day to the fullest. When I get frustrated during the inevitable chaos of life, I think back to my sister’s dorm room.

Living was the only thing on Megs’ mind. I remember walking in her dorm room, and seeing her calendar full of appointments. There were clothes, books, and sticky notes every where. Megs’ was busy prepping for interviews and studying for exams. The image of that room, a chaotic mess, still stick with me. Megs’ lost everything in the midst of a busy life. In a heartbeat, the stress of interviews and exams no longer mattered. Megs’ wasn’t coming back.

We have wonderful memories together. We splurged on skydiving. The Christmas before she died, I found a way to get time off and go home. At the time, I didn’t realize it would be our last holiday together. There are so many other things I wished we’d done, but we let money get in the way.

When you grow up with four siblings, money is tight. We didn’t take many family vacations. We took mostly day trips. The only exception was in second grade when we traveled to Orlando to see Disney. I’ll never forget it. All these years later, the memories are fresh. It’s a trip that probably broke the bank, but I don’t remember my parents ever complaining about money during that trip. They probably saved up for years, but it’s a memory we’ll always remember.

There’s one memory I don’t have, because my family let money get in the way. My junior year of college, I studied abroad in London. I saved up for years. My mom had dreams of taking my sister overseas during April vacation to visit me. The trip never happened. My family simply didn’t have the money. At the time, my brother was also in college. All my other friend’s parents visited London, but not mine.

It’s a missed opportunity full of missed memories. We took those memories for granted at the time. Now, I don’t. To this day my mom talks about the regret over that financial decision. We can only imagine the memories the three of us would have created that week. The only memory we have — not having enough money to take that trip.

At the time, my family couldn’t justify the cost given the other expenses facing our family. I think we all realize now we should have made it a bigger priority and made other sacrifices to make it happen. Losing Megs made us realize that instead of thinking a trip is financially impossible, we need to focus on ways to make it possible. We should not have let money get in the way of a once in a lifetime moment. You can’t duplicate a trip like that.

In honor of Megs and the other young man who lost his life, don’t let money get in the way of your life. It doesn’t mean you should spend lavishly or spend your way into debt, but take those trips that are once in a lifetime. You’ll be able to do that if you find ways to save in your daily life even if it’s $5 here or $10 there. It adds up, and then you can use your savings to take a once in a lifetime trip.

Create a bucket list and chip away at it each year. Skydiving was on both our lists, and I’m so glad we did it. It’s a memory we wouldn’t have if we dwelled on the $150 price tag. Instead, we splurged and took a leap of faith. Now, I’ll have that memory forever.

While an African Safari is on my bucket list, the next one I’m crossing off is a beautiful wedding on the beach followed by an amazing honeymoon. We’re making memories that day on a budget, but we’re splurging for things here and there that we know will be memorable for us and our guests forever. Thank you to everyone whose reached out to me over the years to help make this year a year I’ll treasure rather than dread. I look forward to the day I start the next chapter in my life and begin to make memories with my husband and hopefully family to be.

This year how are you going to make sure money doesn’t get in the way of life?