Happy Monday, friends and family!
As shared in my previous two posts, Broken Bonds Restored and 2015 - The Year Life's Beauty Exploded, 2015 was really the beginning of a new dimension of life in recovery. I made my first trip to Colorado, opened a chapter of a national nonprofit, bought a new car, made two trips home to Massachusetts to see long lost family, all before summer began.
Another huge step in my life happened that summer when I started a new job at Beauterre Recovery Institute, a new treatment center in Owatonna. I applied to work on the maintenance team, cutting grass and taking care of the grounds. Managers there convinced me to work as a Recovery Specialist instead, something I was hesitant to do. I did agree to start part-time in that role, and within a month or so, I was working full-time hours and making enough money to quit a couple other jobs.
By August of 2015, I was feeling good about taking the job, the impact I was able to have, and the direction of my life in general. Later in August, however, I was at work when I received a call from my mom, and all she could say was "Grandpa's gone." I didn't understand, but after her crying became more apparent and she repeated herself, I knew. The phone call ended quickly and I had to get out of work.
My mom had gone out to check on my grandpa, who was only 73, and found him lying on the bathroom floor. He was not alive. My grandpa was the patriarch of our family and his death would have an impact on not only our entire family, one that had just recently lost another, but an entire community in which he was very well known. Just two months prior, my great uncle David, his youngest brother, passed away from cancer. My grandpa's passing added greatly to the collective family sadness. As we began to plan the funeral, my mom asked me if I'd be willing to read the eulogy, a different kind of eulogy - a compilation of the most memorable stories of family and friends. Of course I said yes.
Family came to town, stories began to come in, and the legacy of my grandpa began to show its face even more than it already had. He was smart, funny, hardworking, ethical, family-oriented, and straightforward. He had a unique way of being incredibly caring without showing much emotion. If you knew my grandpa, you knew you could count on him for just about anything. He loved his family, and as much as anything, loved all those grandkids and great grandkids of his.
I put a lot of thought into making the eulogy something that would light the place up. That might sound strange, but I realize after presenting enough eulogies - for family, even for humans I never met - it's quite possibly the last chance to celebrate someone in such a memorable way. And bringing the appropriate and sufficient emotion to it was a goal of mine for my grandpa's last gathering. I sat in his chair the night before, windows open, putting the stories together. I felt a breeze come through and just knew. I knew his spirit was present. I slept in his chair that night, for just a few short hours.
The time came for the funeral. It took everything in me to hold back emotions and stay focused on my task at hand. I'm not really sure how I made it through that three-page speech, but I did, and it made for the most moving moments of my life. Something I'll never, ever forget.
A couple of cousins from the east coast helped me realize that, not just about recovery, but in general, one of the greatest gifts I possessed was the ability to speak with power and emotion. "That gift you have, you need to use it in whatever you do." That was my cousin Ben, who I had little to no contact with most of my life. I've never stopped thinking about or acting on that, and as I worked out this morning, thinking about this post, it became so clear that whether my life story, funerals I've spoken at, or any other setting, the common theme of my new life has been turning tragedy into triumph.
Because even the worst of times have good. Even the darkest nights have light. And even life's biggest losses come with opportunities to come together, to celebrate, to remember what was good, and to carry on a legacy.
From tragedy to triumph, I think I'll stick with that.
Until next time,