This week, I’m getting a bit more personal on Generation YRA. Not that I want to make anyone feel incredibly uncomfortable (please, the only squirming I want you to do in your seat is if you’re trying a new dance move) – I just want to bring to light two generally taboo spoken of topics in society:
finances & grief.
Before you grimace & choose to type in a new hyperlink into your browser to escape the discomfort, I encourage you to read on. You see, blogging is a journey that allows people to grow – from the writers, to the viewers. Most of the time when you read a blog, you’re reading something that resembles a living, breathing & potentially bleeding heart that someone had the courage to project to the internet (a never-ending sphere). I started Generation YRA because I wanted to encourage peers in my generation (and others beyond that too!) to get in tune with their finances, feel empowered by their money, and secure a strong financial present & future. But sometimes there is more to the picture of the one theme portrayed from a website/blog you visit. I’m about to display something that only certain people in my life have been able to get a glimpse of. I want to encourage people to not feel discouraged to hide how they feel about finances & grief.
As some of you may know, my father passed from pancreatic cancer 5 years ago. It has been an incredibly arduous journey where I certainly have experienced the 5 stages of loss & grief.
I was visiting home for winter break during my sophomore year of college when my father passed. I woke up the following morning staring at the ceiling. An outpour of love & support bombarded my phone. Somehow I found the strength to respond, but really I couldn’t even tell you how I mustered up the energy to do so. All I could think was “this isn’t real“ a million times over in my head. If I kept staring at the white ceiling and closed my eyes, I would wake up and he would still be there. I still feel that to this day sometimes.
I told myself and my family I didn’t want to go back to school. I would stay and find work somewhere. I would try to find a way to super glue the pieces of my family back together again. But everyone encouraged me to go back, because if I didn’t my dad would be kicking himself in the shins (he was a huge proponent for education). So I mustered up the courage to go back.
I will not go into further detail about the rest of my college experience. In short summation, it was a whirlwind of mourning, stretching myself too thin, but also preparing for the real world. I tried my hardest to put on a smile each and every day which sometimes felt like a mask to cover my grief. I can’t say flat out that I never felt happy during my college years, because that simply isn’t true. There were definitely moments where I felt like I could conquer the world because I knew he was always there with me. I also had (and still have) an incredible network of family & friends that I couldn’t even begin to list that allowed me to experience what I needed to feel with unwavering support. Even in my hardest moments finishing my undergrad, I was surrounded by my dad’s love. It added to my perseverance & determination to succeed. I wanted to succeed for him & my family.
I am going to put a disclaimer: this post is not to make anyone feel sorry for me in any shape or form, but only to provide an educational lesson & aspect of me that has led me to a place of equilibrium in life. I am feeling wholesome & healthy and that is why I am writing this open letter.
Here is where I am now…
I mentally communicate to you often, but I felt the urge to write this letter for you. There are so many things I want to tell you, to sit down & share a coffee or midnight bowl of cereal with, but I know I will tell you all about it when I see you again.
I want you to know that I am not sad anymore.
When I cry, it’s typically because there are an infinite amount of fond memories that I am reminded of. Or, I get to recount a story to someone who may have never met you. After you passed, I felt so much regret. Why didn’t I spend more time with you? How come I was so selfish in my teenage years? Why was I more adamant to increase my social status by spending time with my friends, than hunkering down on the couch with my family?
But I remember all the times we sat in my car when you sat passenger side while I was learning to drive. You were incredibly brave to sit in a car with a skittish, sometimes “non-defensive” driver like me. I remember the countless miles we journeyed, and the talks about life that stretched along with them. I recall the time I accidentally pressed my foot on the gas in a parking spot while in ‘drive’ rather than ‘reverse’ and nailed that huge, sturdy tree (and provided humorous entertainment for the people across the street observing the whole scene – of course it wasn’t so humorous when mom discovered there was huge dent in her bumper because of it). I felt shame. That I couldn’t drive any more because of such a stunt. You told me to get right back in that drivers seat and encouraged me to have confidence. Something that speaks volumes in many experiences in my life to this day.
I want you to know that I am healthier than I’ve ever been.
In college, I didn’t just gain the freshman 15 because of that ridiculous combination of pizza & beer. I put on weight because of stress & thought I could seek comfort in food. To this day, yes I do indulge (because restricting myself from any form of chocolate or craft beer from time to time would be disgraceful) – but I have more of conscious approach to what I eat. I scrutinize nutrition labels. Not for calorie count, but because I would much rather be able to comprehend/pronounce what ingredients are in my food. I’ve also tried gardening vegetables for the first time, and have grown delicious spinach, romaine, & tomatoes! I also exercise regularly. I don’t dance quite as often as I used to (of course I still break it down while at home), but I have taken on a new fitness challenge. Remember when I “couldn’t run” because I thought dancers didn’t have the lung capacity for it? I will now be completing my second half marathon on May 10th. Running has provided me a new sense of vitality & a way to really focus on getting in touch with you.
I want you to know that everyone is doing well.
We miss you like crazy, but so much of the legacy you left inspires us to keep moving forward with strength & gusto. Mom is able to laugh wholeheartedly again & has taken on a new career, Chris is an incredible father & brother, Megan is one of the best sister-in-law’s I could ever ask for, and Addison…gosh, you should see her. She is growing up fast & absolutely beautiful.
I want you to know that I found a keeper.
Andrew and I’s wedding date is set for 2016. I knew I picked a keeper when I followed a trail of 12 laid out pennies to his apartment after the most grueling 12+ hour work day I have ever experienced, to come home to a home cooked meal and copious amounts of love & comfort. In the beginning stages of us dating, I drove over to Andrew’s apartment. I brought over the hand-written journals that I wrote in for every moment of pain, sorrow & joy I experienced after you passed. I told him to read the journals to encounter pieces of me I couldn’t always convey through words & that if he was scared, or couldn’t handle it we could end things If need be. He responded with a letter written to me after he read the journals. A letter with so much support & unconditional love that I knew from that moment on that he was the one. You would love him and be very proud of him, dad. If only you both could play 18 holes together. Andrew & I visit the driving range together on your Birthday.
I want you to know that I’m not afraid to cry in public, at all.
This has come with my strengthening during the grief process. Just recently, I was at a concert. Tyrone Wells was singing a soulful, acoustic ballad written for his daughter, “Always Love You.” The theatre was silent, but I burst outright into tears just like a ridiculously leaky faucet. Poor Andrew, crying in public can come at any moment from me. But he wiped away my tears, kissed me on the temple & told me he loved me. Moments like this I have no fear or shame any longer. I feel like the times I cry in public are typically when I feel like I experience messages from you even when you are not here.
I want you to know that I’ve kept all the pennies.
All the pennies that have been left for me that I know cannot be a coincidence. From finding one sitting on my car seat on the first day of my post-graduate career, to a shelf in the fridge of all places, to discovering one on my most challenging days, the back seat of Andrew’s parents’ car, and after wonderfully meaningful conversations with friends. A gracious friend of mine gave me the gift called a “My Angels’ Pennies” jar. It sits upon our fireplace mantle with all the shiny pennies smiling at us. I haven’t counted how many I’ve collected, but I know there have to a be a couple hundred at the very least. Keep leaving those pennies behind, they bring so much joy to my day.
I want you to know I’ve taken a lot of care to strengthen my finances.
All of those pennies you have left have really inspired me. Society likes to portray that people of my age are poor savers, will not be prepared for retirement, and have ridiculous spending habits. I beg to differ. If this is the truth, then I would like to remain the minority. Wish we could go back to those long rides in the car to discuss my asset allocation in my 401(k) plan through work. I’ve been learning a lot through reading & others that care about their financial health as well.
I want you to know that there is so much to say…
I could honestly write you a letter that expands beyond 20 pages. But I’ll spare the brevity, because I know I am always attempting to connect with you in one way, or another. I love you, miss you, and always will with every part of me.
Thank you for reading a more personal side from me that may be out of the ordinary. I am here to tell you to not ever be afraid to talk about finances, or grief. Every conversation is a way to transcend beyond what you are capable of. Its an opportunity to develop and to grow in all facets of your life.
All my best,