This month marks the five-year anniversary of a tragedy that happened in my life. My wife of thirty-two years passed away suddenly of a brain aneurysm at the age of 50.
Now reflecting back on the last five years, I think about what tragedy has taught me.
What have I learned about life when tragedy gave me a roundhouse knockout punch, making me a widower at the age of 54? I wanted to share with you what I have learned.
Lesson #1: Don’t wait, please. I know it’s a cliché, but tomorrow is not guaranteed. It seems so obvious, but do you know how many people I meet who stay in a job for years where they are miserable, or stay in relationships where their spouse treats them like dirt? How many people I meet who want to start a business “someday?” Many people are waiting for the right opportunity to come along but are not seeking it out, thus wasting years of their life not reaching their full potential. I came home from a business trip on a Friday afternoon, and by midnight my wife had died. Me a widower—what, are you serious? It was so surreal. I could have never have predicted that in a billion years. If anyone knows life is fleeting, it is me. I have lived it, and I am telling you this, life is short cowboy, so you better saddle up and do what you want and stop waiting for the “perfect time” to do it. There ain’t no perfect, ever. Take the chance.
Lesson #2: Learn appreciation now. You dated the prom queen in high school, but you didn’t appreciate her as much until she dumped you for that college guy. We often miss what we no longer have and appreciate it in hindsight. Why not appreciate what you have now? Do you appreciate your job and the fact that they pay you with real money and not seashells? Some people are unemployed. Do you appreciate your health and that you get up every day and can walk on two feet? Some people can’t. Do you look at your dog and just laugh at how goofy he looks? Do you appreciate it when you see beauty in nature and stop and marvel at it or just hurry by to your destination? Look around you and make a note of everything you have that you should be grateful for right now. When my wife passed away, many couples I know told me it reminded them to love one another more, appreciate each other more, and not take each other for granted. Make a list today of all the things you are thankful for large and little everything from your big boat to a small butterfly.
Lesson #3: You are stronger than you will ever know. OK, I will admit it- if anyone would have asked me before my wife passed away how I would have reacted I would have said “The reality is I am not sure if I could survive that. I don’t know what I would do.” What I learned about myself is that I am strong, many times more than I knew I was. Many people said they were impressed by how strong I was in the early days of my grief. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, I was just trying to get by each day. Here is the good news, you can find reserves you didn’t know you had. When you push, you can find more willpower and strength within you. There is a hidden steel spine there, trust me on that one. I discovered I did have that will, and I not only survived tragedy but also was able to move forward and thrive after the storm clouds passed. My publisher even asked me to write a book about it. I wrote about my entire journey, and it’s called The Sun Still Rises: Surviving and Thriving After Grief and Loss. I get emails from people who have said they learned from my story and it helped them live through their tragedy. As the Dalai Lama once said, “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
Today, I am thriving. I have a fantastic growing business as an author, speaker, and coach. I am married to Rachael, my beautiful, elegant, amazing incredibly smart wife who is now the Chief Operating Officer of my company. My health is fantastic; I am blessed many times over. “Life is good” as the T-shirt says. Every day I wake up and appreciate another glorious day of the gift of life.
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