“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life.  I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”
– Walter Anderson

Twenty-one years ago today, my brother, Mike, died from a drug and alcohol overdose.  Mike was three years older than me, and when we were kids, he was my hero and my best friend.  We built forts, rode our skateboards, swam in the huge lake behind our house, and terrorized the neighborhood ice cream man.  He taught me how to breakdance (in neon zippered parachute pants, of course), how to fight (the school bullies loved me), and how to curl my upper lip like Billy Idol.  He was hilarious, fearless, artistic, athletic, and incredibly smart.

But that was before he became an addict.  Before he was arrested for multiple DUI’s, public drunkenness, and stealing food from a bakery.  Before several unsuccessful stints in rehab, multiple job losses, and being homeless on the streets of San Diego for two months.  And before, at the age of 24, he overdosed on a bottle of Percocet mixed with a bottle of vodka.

The sudden loss of my brother was a life changing experience for me – my life would never be the same, and my perspective on life changed forever.

In the very early stages of my grief, all I could think about was my pain and my sadness.  My world fell apart, and my family was irretrievably broken.  I couldn’t even consider that there would be any lessons for me to learn because of losing my brother.

However, with the passing of time I’ve come to realize that there are things we learn from our grief, and that these lessons are an integral part of our healing.  I also know that if we choose to open our hearts and embrace these lessons, our lives slowly but surely transform and move from a place of hopeless stagnation to renewed faith, compassion, and courage.

Losing someone you love is a test of life, and we have no control over the tests or challenges that life throws at us.  What we do have, however, is the power to control our responses to them.

The anniversary of Mike’s death is, and always will be, a difficult day for me.  But I’m eternally grateful for the incredible life lessons that I’ve learned because of losing him far too soon.  In loving memory of my brother, I’d like to share these lessons with you today.

  1. Live Your Life to the Fullest Because It Can Change in the Blink of An Eye.
    “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say.  Whatever you want to do, do it now!  There are only so many tomorrows.”  – Pope Paul VI

Too many people postpone living.  They say that they’ll live their best lives when they have more time/feel more confident/lose 10 pounds/finish the pressing projects that are consuming their energy.  They promise themselves that they’ll be more loving and attentive to their family and friends when things slow down.

Yet, deep within us, each one of us knows that there will never be a better time to live our greatest life than right now.

If you have a dream but you’re too scared to go for it, please don’t wait for the “right” time.  Because there is no right time!  Find a way and go for it.  When we stop taking risks, we stop living life.  Life’s too short to have regrets!

Embrace life, take the time to make incredible memories, and cherish the moments you spend with the people you love.  Get your priorities sorted, and know what’s important to you.

  1. Healing Is a Process – Don’t Rush It.
    “And so I wait. I wait for time to heal the pain and raise me to me feet once again – so that I can start a new path, my own path, the one that will make me whole again.”

― Jan Canfield

Grief doesn’t magically end after a set period.  There will always be reminders in your life where your feelings of loss and grief will return.  Over time, however, you’ll find that your pain turns to a dull ache, then to sad memories, and then, with time, you’ll reflect on positive experiences and memories that make you smile and laugh.

There will be days where you will want to hide away from the world, crawl into bed, and pull the covers over your head.  Let yourself do it, without judgment or guilt.  Just don’t use that time as an excuse to hide away from the world forever.  If you give in and stay hiding away, it can be difficult to pull yourself out of that dark cave.

There’s no right or wrong way to feel when grieving.  It’s a fluid process and different for everyone, so go with it.  Don’t fight it.  Be kind to yourself and believe in you, your strength, and your courage.

  1. Use Your Power of Choice – Choose to be Hopeful.
    “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”– Dalai Lama XIV

As author and positive psychology lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar likes to say, “things don’t necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen.” When some people meet adversity, they simply stop looking for ways to turn failures into opportunities or negatives into positives.  Others know that it’s not the adversity itself, but what we do with it that determines our fate.  Some will sit helpless, while others gain their wits, capitalize on their strengths, and forge ahead.  By choosing to search for positive opportunities, and by rejecting the belief that every down in life leads us only further downward, we give ourselves the greatest power possible: the ability to grow and flourish not despite our setbacks, but because of them.

The beautiful thing about today is that you get the choice to make it better than yesterday.  Exercise that choice, every single day.

  1. Find Your Purpose in Life
    “When you lose something in your life, stop thinking it’s a loss for you… it is a gift you have been given so you can get on the right path to where you are meant to go, not to where you think you should have gone.”– Suze Orman

I believe that we’re all here for a special purpose, which is up to us to name.  A purpose sets the entire context for our lives.  Without a clearly defined purpose, we are just a haphazard combination of goals and non-goals, actions and non-actions meandering through space and time.  A purpose is a master plan for our life.  Knowing our purpose helps us define our goals.  It helps us avoid getting lost in the minutia of daily life by keeping our eyes on the target.  It can make life much more enjoyable and effortless.

Our purpose emerges from an exploration of what we value most.  IT’S OUR WHY.  When we’re defining our purpose in life, it’s important to not worry about how we’ll go about achieving it.  When we identify and commit to our intentions, the opportunities and methods for achieving our purpose will begin to show up.  In fact, they’re often already in our lives, but we may not have noticed them because we weren’t paying attention.  Defining our purpose helps us focus and gives us hope for our future.

  1. Don’t Let Your Past Rule Your Future.
    “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the future.”– Jan Glidewell

Your past is your opportunity to learn the lessons you need to deal with in your present life.  Make peace with your past, accept it, get to the lessons, and move on.  Don’t waste your energy on regrets or “what ifs.”  Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery, and learn how to trust and believe in you.  You’re not what happened in your past; you’re who you choose to become.  Become the strong, empowered, and resilient person you desire to be.

  1. Don’t Run Away from Life – Stay Strong and Embrace its Unpredictability.
    “Running away from your problems is a race you will never win, so just face them head on, and overcome them.”– Unknown

Life is a strange and amazing journey, full of both painful and wondrous experiences.  Running away from the challenges that befall all of us isn’t the answer to dealing with life.  When you run away, the only place you can go is nowhere!

The pain, discomfort, and challenges of life will follow you wherever you go.  Spend time on you, developing your strength and your resilience.  You were given this life because you’re strong enough to live it.


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