As we get ready to bid farewell to another year, it seems natural to reflect on how the past year changed us.
Late in the spring I lost my sweet cat, Charlie. He was only 7, and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. He slept on my heart every night, loved to holler at me while I cooked, and when I kissed him, he returned the favor with a little nudge of his forehead.
The way I wore my grief for months afterward affirmed how much he mattered to me, and this little animal who was a bright spot in every day left me changed after he was gone.
His dying reminded me that we all die someday. During a long and teary-eyed walk, I decided maybe the point of all this is simply to live a life, well. And to be a witness to the creatures around us, doing the same…whatever that looks like for them.
The week before Christmas, just four days shy of his 86th birthday, my Grandpa Bob Knips left the world. The echoes of loss I felt earlier in the year resounded in a larger space in my heart, left by this man who supplied a quarter of my DNA.
He was a farmer with a level head, a healthy work ethic and a belly laugh. He knew what he liked. (My grandma, his wife. His family. Farming. Happy hour. Popcorn balls.) He knew what he didn’t like. (“You know some people you can get along with, and some people you can’t.” He paused to point out a neighboring farm out his truck window. “And that guy’s an asshole.”)
“Why are you so good-looking?” he’d ask me (and all his grandkids).
“Because I’m half Knips!”
He was never on Facebook, but more than 450 souls showed up at his wake to pay their last respects, and to console his family.
As I’m mourning him and feeling the space he left behind in the world, I’m also mourning the fact that we all die. I feel like I just remembered it.
I think of him leaving his house for the last time, driving through town for the last time, to the hospice cottage where everyone knew he would breathe his last breath.
We can’t take any of it with us.
And yet, that home he left behind mattered. It was in that nest, and a small handful of others before it, where he and grandma made a living and memories and children and love and a life so full and beautiful that to leave it would feel so bittersweet.
Can anyone ever really be ready to leave all that?
But he was compelled. Time marches on. Nothing and none of us here to stay.
Back in my own body, alongside this pain of loss, life goes on another day. Through these eyes looking forward at the days I have ahead, I am forcefully reminded to refocus on the things that matter.
Again. As if that’s not the only thing I ever do.
Maybe that’s all I’m here to do.
There is so much I haven’t figured out yet. There is so much clutter and excess left in my way—tangible, and not.
It’s times like these when I remember, once again, that we humans have a tendency to forget about our inevitable ends and plow through our days as though we are immortals.
But life is a never-ending cycle. Seasons. Sunrise, sunset. Breathe in, breathe out.
And I think I can sum up life’s purpose in four words:
Seize, then let go.
Take the blessings and love and people that appear along your path, and seize them with both hands. Love what you have, while you have it. Be brave and be vulnerable and put down the smartphone. Eat the popcorn ball. Be a living witness to the struggles and the triumphs of the creatures around you.
Then, when the time comes, move with grace to the next phase of the cycle. Instead of taking refuge in denial or avoidance or busy-ness, pray for the courage to look life in the face when it tells us: it’s time to let go.
We can’t live without this second part. We are not meant to hold one breath in our lungs; we must exhale.
As new tears warm my cheeks, I feel love and thanks and a twinge of longing for those who are showing us the way.