Reflecting on 2014, it’s been one wild, excellent ride. The year was full of travel, good people, soul-searching, new experiences, and the continual evolution of being a better me. I have much gratitude for the opportunities afforded to me within the last year but I’m most grateful for making my peace.
I’m still struggling to find a work-life balance, working a day job while working on this blog (which is a full-time job), and haven’t reached financial freedom, yet for the first time in a very long time, I feel content, happy and at peace.
Six Years of Grieving
It’s been a bumpy road the last six years and I found the strength and courage to close doors and move forward. There are five stages of grief: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s taken me six years following Peter’s unexpected death to reach the final stage – acceptance.
When he passed away I was hung up on the anger and bargaining stages. I was pissed he died, upset with the secrets he kept, and frustrated with the financial mess I faced. Sure, we had been divorced and separated for a combined six years, but he still had a place in my heart. Former spouses always do, don’t they?
With his passing, I began questioning my own purpose in life. Because of his death at the age of 43, I had this irrational fear my life would end at 43, too. “Carpe diem,” has been my motto for decades but the concept of seizing the day intensified the last six years. I exhaled a big sigh of relief when I turned 44 in May and began thinking of how to write the next chapter of my life.
As for bargaining, I felt tremendous guilt, especially after speaking with his friends and learning about the pedestal he placed me. Furthermore, he hadn’t told his family we were divorced. I constantly asked the question, “If we had stayed together, would he still be alive?”
A year after his death my grandmother, whom I was extremely close to, passed away. For two consecutive Valentine’s Days, I spent them on boats attending memorial services. Losing two people close to me in about a year’s time was difficult. It was really, really frickin’ hard. Sidebar: Grandma’s service was different because we had her ashes and tossed them in the Gulf of Mexico, although a little bit of her spilled onto the cookie tray and boat deck. But I digress…
Did a Former President Help Me Make My Peace?
Each day after Peter passed, I healed a little more but it wasn’t until early in 2014 when I finally felt at peace after speaking with former President George W. Bush. See, when Peter passed away, his family had few mementos to remember him. What Hurricane Katrina didn’t destroy, Hurricane Wilma did in 2005 when Flamingo in Everglades National Park took the brunt of two strong storms. Personal possessions were lost.
President Bush visited the Everglades in June 2001 to appoint then director of the Florida State Park system, Fran Mainella, as director of the National Park Service. The Commander in Chief was supposed to make the announcement in Flamingo, however, when the Secret Service did their security sweep, they determined there were too many mosquitoes in the mangroves to adequately protect the then president so the event was moved to the Anhinga Trail at the park’s main entrance.
I’m not sure what Peter’s involvement in the planning was, but after the visit President Bush sent a letter of thanks for his assistance. I had it framed and gave it to Peter either for Christmas or his birthday. This letter was destroyed by one of the hurricanes.
When Peter passed away, his family looked for mementos to remember him and because of the hurricanes, there were only a few items but I had something very special I could give them. When the White House sent Peter a thank you letter, they actually sent two letters. I kept one, with his knowledge, for posterity. It was one of the few items I could give his family.
Delivering My Message
I had procrastinated in writing a letter thanking the former president for the two letters (which I assume was a mistake by the White House) but thanked him in person as part of the Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Lecture Series in Sarasota in January. One of the perks of being a volunteer with RCLA is meeting the speakers (and attending the press conferences).
Because my time was limited, I had to thank the president during the photo session. I told him how my then husband and I met him in the Everglades.
“I remember the Everglades,” he told me.
“You sent a nice thank you letter to my former husband for his help in your visit,” I quickly said as the photographer instructed us to smile.
“He has since passed away and it’s one of the few mementos his family has of him. Thank you,” I said before being escorted away. If you look at my photo with President Bush, you can see how I’m leaning in toward him.
He turned to me, gave a look of sympathy then did something I really wasn’t expecting. President Bush gave my right should a light punch, as if we were longtime friends.
My heart has a soft spot for symbolism, acts of kindness, and gestures of goodwill. It wasn’t until after thanking the president did I realize this was the symbolic closing of a door I needed in order to move forward. And moving forward is what I’ve been doing.
For six years I grieved because I continued looking back and holding on. It’s taken time but I finally found the strength and courage to accept his (and my grandma’s) death, have learned to let go and importantly, I’m moving forward.
2014 was a good year and I’m jumping into 2015 with fresh eyes and renewed spirit. I’m pretty sure it’ll be my best year yet.
Happy New Year!