It’s here and bittersweet for me. It’s a sweet month for our nation, one in which we should all give thanks. Yet on the other hand, for me, its sharpness once again caught me by surprise, saturating my soul and wetting my face with the painful sting of how life used to be.

We always engage in Independence Day on the Fourth, which brings fun for the entire family. Last year we gathered with family to enjoy the annual town celebration. As the children’s parade began, hundreds of little ones dressed in their patriotic colors as they walked and rode their bikes, waiving and smiling in sheer delight. My mind flashed back to Independence Day, ten years ago, as Lydia rode in the same parade, eager to throw candy and take in the festivities. She rode in a toy jeep with her friend, dressed in her white and red star covered shirt with her strawberry blonde pigtails blowing in the wind, grinning from ear to ear. It was so real. I could see her innocent, happy smile and hear her contagious laughter. Clearly, she was enjoying every minute of it and so was I.

Just then, the swarm of children came fast and forceful. Lots of giggles, shouts and squeals of delight filled the air. Upon first sight of this chaotic and beautiful display, I swallowed the lump in my throat as I looked around. I saw families making memories, parents tending to unruly children, people laughing and taking candid photos, and smiling faces covered in colorful snow cones.

I wiped the wetness from my eyes.

And then I saw one little girl who was in Lydia’s dance class, who suddenly wasn’t so little anymore. Had it really been that long ago? The petite little girl who used to dress in leotards and twirl in pink tutus was now a grown teenager. Shortly behind her, a lady I hadn’t seen in years. Her mother. The compassionate woman who came to my house to sit with me days after Lydia died.

The tears began to roll down my cheeks.

So much remains cloudy about that time, but the vivid memory of her coming to see my husband and me, is one I will never forget. She didn’t come with traditional gifts, cards or casseroles, she came to just BE with us. She sat close to me, one arm stretched out on the back of the couch behind my head for what seemed like hours, gently rubbing my shoulders and rarely saying a word. She was there. Present in that moment which meant more to me than she will ever know.

Seeing her daughter so beautiful, tall and grown up was tremendously difficult. My mind told me how it wasn’t fair. My heart broke for what would never be. Secretly, I sobbed and longed to see my daughter grown and experiencing the joys of this annual event.

I attempted to conceal my sadness, wiping away the drops of love underneath my eyes, before someone could see me, quickly readjusting my sun glasses hoping no one would notice.

And just like that, the moment was gone.

The memories remained and I embraced the craziness and incomprehensible thoughts of how my life was forever now divided into the before and after of July 16, 2008. My mind scrambled to make sense of my million racing thoughts about my journey back then and now.

Wondering how I got to where I am today, I put on my best face and pressed on, one moment at a time. I looked at my children there that day, seeing their excitement and happiness brought me to a place of peace and contentment. Out of my tragedy came three new vivacious little lives to nurture, love and raise. Eyes with new perspective gave me insight into everything I had been missing. Little things have become big things. An incredible transformation. It’s never an easy road to tow, having a giant void deep in my heart. And although I may not have all the answers or understand why things happen, it’s the hand I have been dealt. I am thankful for God’s grace, strength and ability to find gratitude in each new day, no matter the difficulty. Gratitude. One secret to living life after loss.

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