A Life Well-Lived

“A life well-lived is the most exquisite form of art,” wrote Erwin McManus. This weekend my family lost our matriarch, my great Grandmother. As I contemplated her passing, I kept coming back to a life well-lived. Her life, while never easy, exemplified this axiom. My great grandmother Nellie Brown (nee Reynolds) and her twin sister Zella (Caroyln) were born on May 16, 1916, in Long Prairie to Florence and Andrew Reynolds. At this point, there were only 3.3 million cars registered in the entire US while only 11% of the population had a telephone. When she was just a toddler, the Great War was winding down, but the Spanish Flu epidemic was in full swing. She began her life as the Spanish flu pandemic took hold and her life ended as we continue to contend with COVID. Can you imagine how different the world is now compared to 1916?

Great Grandma Brown, her sister Zella and her mom circa 1920

Shortly after my grandmother’s birth, her father headed to Europe to fight in the Great War. After the war, her father left and her mother remarried. She grew up in Long Prairie, where she met her husband. In fact, she was telling Jake and me tales of watching Lindy practice while tending to the fields. In fact, they would wave as he flew over and he would tip his wings to them. Of course, Lindy was Charles Lindbergh and this was long before his famous flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis. As we drove back to my folks that day, Jake and I were trying to wrap our heads around the massive changes she witnessed in her 104 years. I would give anything to be able to sit with her again and listen to her stories.

One thing that was clear about my Grandmother is that change didn’t challenge her. Her generation was no stranger to loss having experienced both World Wars, the Spanish flu, the great depression, polio, the Korean and Vietnam wars. Perhaps that is why she was so adaptable and resilient. In fact, as the age of the internet broke, she didn’t run from it. She had an old computer that she used until she lost her eyesight. How many people can say they got emails and forwards from their Great Grandma? Not many, but I can. Undoubtedly, her adaptability and great genes played a role in her longevity, but it was more than that.

My Great Grandma lived her life according to three pillars: love, family, and God. As she held Jake’s hand that blustery October day, she shared the importance of rooting himself in love, family and God. I was struck at the moment by the power of her words, influence, and the moment. I was blessed to witness that moment. On that trip, she and Jake formed a deep bond that he’ll carry with him forever. We spent many weekends at my Great Grandmother’s house with our extended family. Our extended family is huge! Yet, she delighted in hosting all of us. Family really was everything to her. After my grandfather lost his mother to cancer in the mid 50’s, my great-grandma treated him as if he was her own child. She loved my Grandpa dearly.

She lived independently in her own house until the very end. After she suffered a stroke two weeks ago, my grandma and aunt stayed by her side. My heart aches for my Grandma, who just lost her mom. I took a picture of them together during our last visit. When I look at that picture, I realize no matter how old we get, we always want and need our mother. My Great Grandma was a woman, who lived according to her own terms. It is no wonder that she left this world exactly as she lived in it surrounded by love and family. Until we meet again Great Great Grandma, godspeed.

Nellie Brown 5/16/1916-1/30/2021

A year of loss…

There are times in our lives that we are brought to our knees by the pain of loss and the weight of responsibility.   Apparently 2017 has decided to be that time in my life and the lives of those I love.   2017 has been a year of profound loss and its only May 3rd.  It began with the loss of a beloved employee, the loss of a friend’s child, the loss of a dear friend, and the loss of a dear friend’s sister.  Today life handed us another loss.

When I started at Kaplan eight years ago, having recently been laid off from Progressive, my confidence was shaken.  Progressive had been my first and only job after college.   The idea of starting all over after seven years was daunting.

My first day at KU, I was met by a charismatic trainer with a Brooklyn accent and more energy than anyone I had ever met.   He was Pete.  He was passionate about what he did and took pride in training admissions advisors to service our military students.  Pete believed in me from day one and for that I will always be grateful.  I feel blessed to have had him as my trainer, advocate and an early champion of mine at KU.   Sometimes all it takes to restore confidence is having someone believe in you again.  I was utterly devastated when I learned that we lost him early this morning.   He left us way too early and our hearts are broken.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family especially his beautiful daughter, who was his pride and joy.

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Whether unexpected or not, these losses have been tremendously hard to stomach.  Losing someone before they hit middle age is cruel, but nothing in life is guaranteed especially our time here on earth.  Life is too short to be taken for granted.  Life is too short to settle for mediocrity and a life that does not make our soul sing.  To be clear, I’m not saying everything should be rainbows and ponies.   I am saying that while we are on this earth: we should embrace life’s experiences not possessions, embrace work that leaves us fulfilled not empty and embrace and enrich the relationships that shape our lives.

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One Month

One month ago, a moment we hoped would never come came and took our breath away.

One month ago, the immensity of the moment made time standstill.

One month ago, our world stopped spinning and the pain was overwhelming, but your pain was no more.

One month ago, we were reeling in loss, while the world kept spinning and life went on.

To my dearest friend and hockey mom,

It has been one month since you left us, but it feels like it was both yesterday and an eternity ago.  That night replays in my mind daily and not a day goes by that I don’t think of you.  Our world stopped, but life around us continued. To this day, it seems cruel that life continues on despite our enormous loss.

As I left to the coffee the next morning, a cardinal was in my front tree and flew by my car. Driving that morning, I was struck by the notion that nothing and everything had changed all at once.  The cardinal was a gift, undoubtedly from you to let us know you were okay.   You’ve left a mark forever on my soul and the souls of those that knew you.  Your strength, your tenacity, your spirit, your beauty, and your joie de vivre continue to inspire me on the daily.  You will forever be a seminal person in my life responsible for teaching me more about myself and about life through your example than you could ever possibly imagine.

I am resolute in the promises I made you that day.  Luke and I will always watch over your family and I will never give up the fight to find a cure.   United by hockey and love of our kids, I’m blessed to have called you my friend and my family.  I can never thank you enough for all you did for us.  Love you to the moon and back.

Love,

A broken hearted hockey mom.

 

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