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“Diving into the wave voids the tumble of the crashing wave itself.”

February is always a terrible month for me. It marks the anniversary of Ed’s passing on February 3. It’s hard to believe, but this year marked four years since he left us. Four long years. The first year, I got through things by thinking that after the first year, things would get easier. The joke was on me, as I learned that the second year was actually harder than the first—and this is somewhat normal. The first year you’re in a bit of a fog. Disbelief mostly, but as the fog lifts, reality sets in, and that is mostly in year two. They are still gone. Still not here for holidays. Still not here to mow the lawn, fix a leaking faucet, or do any of those other things that were “their” job. So February is always tough for me. This year, I decided to do what I had said I wanted to do the past few years. I went to Maui to forget about my day-to-day. I needed a vacation from myself.

Maui was an incredible trip for so many reasons. I was on a tropical island with two very dear friends and we had an incredible week. Sun, sand, ocean waves, shopping, dining, and exploring the island. I can’t imagine having done this trip without them! I am so thankful I had them there with me at such a challenging time. That in itself is incredible, but this trip provided more than just a respite. I actually learned a lot about myself in a very short period of time.

I loved how I lived life in Maui. Granted, it was vacation, but I think the further away we go on vacation—and by that I mean actually “check out”—the more we learn about our authentic selves and what makes our souls sing. I used to refer to this as “Vacation Tracey,” as opposed to “Work Tracey.” Removing myself from my day-to-day life and truly disconnecting provided me with a good reset. It showed me—and even made me “feel”—some things that I now realize are important to me.

Achieving the right balance between “real-world” responsibilities and striking the chord of what makes us tick internally is not easy.

I think the biggest thing was how in Hawaii, the day is received with gratitude. This is done by welcoming the sunrise and honoring sunset daily. When the sun sets in Hawaii, most people stop and bear witness, while many blow the conch shell as the sun hits the ocean. Every. Day. They push the pause button to respect the beauty, the nature, and something bigger than themselves. It is amazingly beautiful, and it served as a reminder of how I take this for granted daily, adhering to a tight schedule and letting one day drift into the next. Achieving the right balance between “real-world” responsibilities (so I can live a life of leisure on a tropical island for a week) and striking the chord of what makes us tick internally is not easy. But I remember how I was in Maui, and I want to live more like this. I don’t think I’d actually do well living there full time, but how can I bring a bit more of this balance into my life, to serve the person I am today? The person that has changed, hopefully for the better, in the past four years?

Facing this when leaving Maui proved to be incredibly difficult. The obvious reason, of course, is that living on a tropical island for a week is pretty nice. Eighty degrees, sunshine, listening to the soothing sound of the waves in the ocean—you get the picture. On the day I left, though, I asked myself, “What am I going home to? How am I really living my life”? I had to take a good, long look at that answer, and I didn’t like it. Don’t get me wrong—I have so much gratitude for my life: my home, my children, my dogs, my family and friends, and my job. All of it. I genuinely do. But when I looked at how I spend my day, I didn’t like what I saw. And that is on me to change—no one else.

One cannot sidestep grief and the feelings that come along with it.

I had also pushed away a lot of feelings and things I needed to deal with by using the proverbial “I’ll deal with it when I get back from vacation.” Guess what? All of it was waiting for me when I got home, and pushing it off didn’t make it go away. Dealing with the grief that comes with the realization my husband has been gone for four years—and by the way, he’s still not coming back—was merely delayed for a week. One cannot sidestep grief and the feelings that come along with it. We must walk through it, work through it, and then and only then will it pass. Kind of like surfing a wave in the ocean. If you get caught in a wave, it has the ability to completely take over. I call this the “spin cycle,” as the wave can knock you down in such a way that all you do is tumble over and over, not knowing which way is up until it’s done and you come up for air. If, however, you dive into the wave directly and confront it head on, it’s actually a very smooth and gentle ride. No spinning. No upside down. No fear of not coming up for air. You just sail through it. My traveling friends taught me the beauty of this, among many other things, during our vacation.

Diving into the wave voids the tumble of the crashing wave itself. Fear and anticipation of the wave paralyze us, keep us from moving forward.

One month later, where does all of this self-awareness take me? How can I shift the sand under my feet? For now, there have just been some small changes. First, I had to be compassionate with myself, allowing the grief that I had pushed away come for a visit. It was brief, but it was allowed. Second, I’ve asked myself, what is a small thing I can do each day to keep me as grounded as I was in Maui? I don’t need magnificent sunrises and sunsets to receive the day with gratitude and open possibilities. I have accepted that I won’t get these rays of beauty in Seattle in February or March (or even April, in some years), but I can hang pictures of my moments in Hawaii, go back for just a minute, and connect with my own happiness daily. And the last one I’ll share here—though certainly not the last on the list of things I am shifting—is being more flexible with the time in my day. For as long as I can remember, I have been on a schedule. My calendar rules me. In the office by a certain time, out of the office by a certain time—I am a time management freak. Like most, I have a job and responsibilities, which I adhere to daily. I also have a very flexible work environment, so I am going to take more advantage of it. For the first time, I am managing my calendar by filling in my “want to’s” first, and then my “have to’s.” This doesn’t mean I’m not getting my job done. It just means I’m prioritizing things differently. Balance? Maybe, but old habits are hard to break. Time will tell.

All is a work in progress, so before I make any other small changes, I’m going to try to get good at these. I liked the person I was on vacation. Ed always used to tell me that he really liked “Vacation Tracey.” I like feeling relaxed, laid back, and just happy. And for the week in Maui, I was. It was a reminder of how I want to be. Every. Day.

What are you doing to make every day happy?

By Tracey Blackburn

Grief & Loss