I have been very blessed in life with an incredible amount of friends from all over the world, all walks of life, all with unique views. From each of them, I have learned tremendously and grown as a person. For each of them, I am thankful.
I believe that people come into our life for a reason. We don't always know what that reason is right away - or ever - but I do believe each person has a purpose in our life, just as we do in theirs.
It's that time of year, between Thanksgiving and the New Year when I see so many of my friends reflecting on what they are most thankful for and the many blessings of the year that is coming to a close as they prepare with excitement for a new year ahead. Their joy is contagious, the memories are warm and the hope for what will be is exciting. I love to see and hear this type of reflection, it's good for my soul, my heart and my mind.
It's not the case for all of my friends though as many have found themselves in a very dark place where I have once been. For those who have been there, or are there now, we all end up there for different reasons. For some, it's a life-long struggle with depression. For others, it's the loss of someone they've loved. Some are faced with incredible challenges that others can't even begin to fathom and that most are unlikely even aware are being faced. For a few, it's losing their way and a series of mistakes they find unforgivable. It's a million other reasons, some of which we simply will never know, but every single one is valid and real. Every reason (or combination of reasons) have left my friends at a place I hate to admit I've been, at the very end of the rope holding on by a thread ready to take the scissors to cut yourself free.
I was lucky, I have an amazing person in my life who never left my side, 2 beautiful children who I would forever shield from pain if I could and people who care more than I likely realize.
Each time I see a life lost to suicide I hear so many of the same responses "They had no idea how many lives they touched, they had no idea how much they meant to me, they didn't realize the impact they had on this world, they had so much ahead of them...." I know that when you are drowning with depression, that is hard to see and more so to believe, yet I try to remind my friends who are struggling of these very things.
Recently though, a new perspective was brought up in conversation. The other thing we often are told is that suicide is selfish. It takes a person away from the world who loves them, leaving unanswered questions and people in pain. During that tearful conversation I was asked, "What makes me more selfish than you? I live in pain and with struggle every day while there may be hope for the future, there is also the reality of today which sucks. I am not living, I am going through the motions for others while I wait each day to die. You want me here because "you" need me, "you" want me, "you" are better when I am here. Why is it ok for you to be so selfish, wanting me here for you but it's not ok for me to say I just can't do this anymore? What makes you so important that it's ok for your selfish needs to be more important than my need to stop the torture I live with each day?"
I didn't have an answer. I still don't. I don't know that I, personally, ever will.
What I do know is I don't want to lose my friend, ever. What I also realize is I don't always get to make the decisions. (Although our world would be a much more peaceful happy place if I could!) That doesn't mean I walk away or encourage it, that is not me or who I want to be. I will continue to do all I can to help my friends, to help them see we hold the pen in our book of life. Someone may have ripped out several pages of our book leaving us feeling incomplete and not worthy but we don't have to let that be the final chapter, there is always more to write.
Our talk really opened my eyes to many things, mostly on death which is a topic I avoid because of how much it hurts to think about. The reality is, none of us know. Yes, there are some who are given a grim diagnosis with limited time left and we are aware our days are limited. What we don't know is that they won't get hit by a car crossing the street the next day and still be taken from us before we are ready. We don't know.
We don't know how much time we have left, not a single one of us is walking around with an expiration date on us that we can see. Imagine if we could though. Imagine if everyone in your life had an expiration date stamped on them that you could clearly see. The cause of death, irrelevant. If you knew the date, would it change your actions? I believe it would.
So why aren't we letting people know how much thy mean to us? How much of an impact they have on our lives, community and world? Why is it we so often hear at funerals "they would be amazed by how many people came out to pay respects?" All of that, we have control over - every single day.
Every day we have the opportunity to let those around us know that we love them. We have the opportunity to tell them what an incredible impact they have made on our life. We have the opportunity to let them know the difference they make in this world. So, why aren't we using that opportunity each day to do exactly that?
We don't get a do-over after someone has died. We don't get to go back and be kinder, to talk to the person no one speaks to, to offer words of support and encouragement, to tell someone how much they really mean. We get regret. Regret for not taking the time. Regret for not using our words. Regret for not making someone else a priority.
Life is busy, I get that but really, how long does it take to make a phone call? Send a text? Write an email? There is no promise that tomorrow you will still have that chance.
I went through a good portion of my life not fully realizing death could happen, a silly feeling of invincibility. As I've said goodbye to more people than I could have imagined in the past couple of years, I realize that I'm not invincible. I don't get to chose when and I don't get to come back and say what should have been said. I don't get to promise I'll be here tomorrow, next week or next Christmas. As much as I want to, I simply don't get to honestly make that promise knowing it's out of my control and I may not be able to keep it.
For my friends who are struggling, I created my own bucket list of memories I want us to have. While I pray they find strength for us to have many more years together, I also understand I could very easily be the one not here tomorrow. Not from taking my own life but from something out of my control. In many ways making my bucket list is a gift to us both. A bucket list doesn't have to be elaborate, you don't have to jump from a plane to have something on your list - it could be as simple as telling someone each day you love them, planning a special dinner or meeting them for lunch, sharing a movie, taking a walk... it's about memories, it's about time... it's about no regrets.
I don't know what tomorrow will bring for me or for anyone in my life. What I do know is that right now I am here, right now I have a choice. I can make each minute matter or I can let them slip away. Every minute I am here, is an opportunity to make a new memory. This hits hardest when I look at my children. We never go to bed mad or upset with each other or without saying "I love you.". I have the choice to make each minute with them matter, to boost their belief in themselves, to help them see their importance and worth, to help them appreciate the smallest things in life, to help them see the world as the amazing wonderful place it can be... or I have the choice to let that slip by assuming I'll have another moment to make that happen.
I see this in a much larger way now. I am not perfect, I will always make mistakes. I pray that they are small and that I learn from them. All I can do is try to be better in the next moment than I was in the previous one. Every minute is a fresh start, a new opportunity to be a better person and to make a difference in others. A positive difference.
I can't promise to save the world, sadly I can't promise to save each of my friends - even if it makes me selfish, I would save every single one of them. I can't promise I will be here tomorrow.
What I can do is make each day count, for myself and for those around me. There are people in our lives this holiday season who won't be here for the next one. It's a promise not a single one of us can make. This holiday season and every single day from here out - make each moment count. Take the time to tell people how much they mean to you. Take the time to create a bucket list of memories you want to make. Somethings we shouldn't be waiting on. We shouldn't need to know we are going to lose someone we love or treasure to tell them how amazing they are and create memories of a lifetime.
We have right now. Please, take time today, this holiday season and each day after to make it a point to say "Hi" to the person you pass in the hallway who could use a smile, to tell people you meet what an impact they make on your life, to walk away from what is hurting you, to forgive yourself for mistakes of your past and live for today and your future. Take time to make a positive difference. Take time to smile more, laugh more, share more. Take time to reach out and let someone know how very much you care. I can't think of a more perfect time to remember the importance of lighting the flame for someone in our life so they can be brighter and shine more than the holiday season.
For everyone in my life, thank you - for making me who I am today and who I will be tomorrow. Thank you for keeping my light shining and the ability to use my flame to light the flames of others. Please, share your flame this holiday season with your family and friends. Together, we can make a brighter world.
Live each day. Really, truly live it.