I did not use to be a hopeless optimist.
In fact, I think I generally saw the glass as empty more than full, but through my past three years in college I have learned one monumentally important lesson – it CAN get worse. It can always be worse. I realize that doesn’t sound terribly optimistic, but once something so bad happens and you get through it, you realize that you can get through anything and that others have it much worse than you.
First semester of my junior year is one of my proudest so far, not necessarily because of accomplishments, or grades (although those are still stellar ~humble brag~) but really because I survived it. That semester was full of more challenges and grief and pain than I could ever have imagined.
We’ll start from the beginning – less than one week back into the school year I got a panicked phone call from my father telling me that my Grandmother was being taken to the hospital again and probably would never leave.
While not completely unexpected, as my grandmother had been sick, it was still sobering. It was one of the hardest times to be away from my family yet. Moving forward through the semester, things began to level out, I continued to power through my work, I planned philanthropy events for my sorority, I kept going.
The next shoe dropped by the end of September. I had been so sick for so long, and chalked it up to stress and lack of sleep, then I ended up having mono. I was so lucky it wasn’t so much worse, I had the back pain, the headaches, the tiredness, the persistent cold, all that. But I managed to not miss a single day of class while I was sick.
Keeping my head buried in books really got me through most everything. I got better; I went to a Mountain Weekend, conquered my first cooler and had the time of my life.
Quickly the holidays were approaching which for me means traveling up and down the east coast from Thanksgiving to New Year’s seeing every family member possible. I love it and I could not wait to start.
We were neck deep in our final project for the semester and everything imaginable was going wrong there, but it did not matter because as of Friday I would be on a plane to Florida to stay with my favorite cousin to celebrate her baby boy’s 3rd birthday!
The Monday before Thanksgiving break began, I got the worst phone call I hope I will ever get in my life. My cousin Holly had died that morning.
To give a brief backstory, Holly had been battling cervical cancer for years at this point. She was 28 and on her 5th relapse in 3 years. She barely had any working organs of her own. She was in and out of the hospital receiving platelets and blood transfusions to try and get her counts even close to high enough to continue her treatments.
Eventually her body just gave up. She left an incredibly strong husband, who is in the Coast Guard, and a little boy, who is a miracle in his own right. Born at 26 weeks, he now has cerebral palsy. All of them are incredible humans.
They are people you look at and think “how can they possibly go on?’ but that is the point, they do, they always did because they got to wake up every morning – period – the end – they were thankful for life. Holly and her family are my biggest inspiration.
While this was the worst news I could have received and I will never stop grieving for her, it changed me for the better. Because of their strength I found a new outlook and I refuse to ever go back. After all of that, I still managed to smile most days, to find something to be thankful for, to be a little more patient and a lot more forgiving.
In the end, life is too short to waste a single day on the negative. Make the most of every moment you are given.