MY GREAT, BIG, BEAUTIFUL GRIEF – An Optimistic Overview of the Aftermath of Tragedy and Introduction to the Blog

First of all, let me give a big, warm THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to stop by this blog.  A bit ominous in title, but I assure you, the content will be anything but.

Let me tell you a little bit about the origins and birth of Great, Big, Beautiful Grief

Currently, I am smack dab in the middle of my thirty-sixth year on this planet.  I have lived, what some would call, a pretty decent life; raised in the mountains of Southern California, attended college on the stunning Monterey Bay of the Central CA Coast, worked and lived in a vibrant LA suburb where I met my Minnesota-born husband, and now, currently reside steps away from the famous Lake Minnetonka in the Twin Cities West Metro along with a little human boy that we created.  I’ve experienced “good times, bad times, and everything in between” (c’mon, I had to throw in some Zepplin).  For all intents and purposes, my life has been pretty typical for a woman my age with my particular upbringing, and thus far, I’ve been okay with that.

Then tragedy struck on August 3rd, 2016, putting life into perspective in a way that it had never been before.

My beloved sister, three years my senior, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and on her thirty-seventh birthday no less.  For two and a half years my family and I watched as she fought a most courageous, faith-filled battle.  But on December 30th 2018, at approximately 4:45 AM, cancer won the battle, and she left this world, leaving behind her sweet, young family.

Life. Was. Changed.

It was heart wrenching, awful, a nightmare come true.  How could this have happened to someone so young, so vivacious, so good?  She would never get the chance to watch her children grow.  She’d never have grandchildren.  She’d never have the chance to check off items on her bucket list.  My parents lost a child, my niece and nephews lost a mother, my brother-in-law lost a wife, and my surviving siblings and I lost a sister.  Nothing about this was even close to being fair.

Still, it happened.  She’s gone, while we remain.

During my sister’s last few days on this planet, fighting through massive amounts of pain and fear of the inevitable, we were able to have a little chat about life.  I remember it as though it happened seconds ago.  It was a moment that will remain forever imprinted in my memory.

I was sitting on the edge of the couch in my parents living room next to the fireplace.  A fire was burning brightly.  The golden, California sun was sinking below the horizon, and a peaceful glow illuminated the room, dancing off the ornaments that hung on the forgotten Christmas Tree.  In my lap lay my sister’s delicate, balding, head.  I was gently stroking what remained of her once thick, full hair.  While we were enjoying the simplicity and familiarity of each other’s company, cracking jokes here and there as we often did, I asked her the question that I’d been afraid to ask throughout the prior two and a half years:

“If you could have changed anything about your life, what would it have been?”

In true Marnie fashion (that was her name, Marnie, which was born from a nickname for Margaret) she chuckled and quoted one of our favorite Monty Python scenes, “I’m not dead yet, MB!”

We laughed, loud, but towards the end it was hard for Marnie to laugh.  The cancer had completely infiltrated her lungs and each breath was a struggle. After hacking for about a minute straight, she was able to catch her breath and continued, “You know sis, I don’t think I’d change much, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things I haven’t done that I’ve wanted to do.  But there has always been a reason not to.  We’ve wanted to save money for the future, I was working, or some other factor always got in the way.  If I could do it differently, I’d have had less EVERYTHING; cars, house, things, so that we could have made more experiences.”

Upon hearing these words, I began my downward spiral of denial, that my sister would be able to experience life in the way she dreamed.  Some miracle would surely happen in the next forty-eight hours and her cancer would magically disappear.  The hair on her head would grow full and bright once again.

But that didn’t happen, and two weeks later we were laying her to rest.

Her words that day in the living room struck a very sensitive chord somewhere deep in my soul.  There have been very few people in my life who have spoken authentic words, born from their unique minds, that have truly resonated with me.  Marnie’s were the most profound by far; If I could do it differently, I’d have had less EVERYTHING.

And here we are today, nearly eight months since my sister’s passing.

My husband and I have made a number of noteworthy changes to our lives. We sold our unnecessarily-big house this past May, downsizing significantly.  We took over four car-loads of “stuff” to the local donation center.  We sold seven pieces of furniture.  I have a trip to Ireland coming up in October, and more trips in the works.  I switched careers to allow me more time to raise our son (who is a miracle and our only, I might add), and life has never been more blissful.

It. Is. Happening.  Each day I begin by focusing on the good. I wake up thankful, grateful that my son is alive and well, that my husband is such an amazing provider and support system, that I have so many incredible friends in my life, that I have a roof over my head, and that I have my health. Sure, there are days where I’m tired, exhausted actually.  I’m a working parent.  It comes with the territory.  Still, I’m powering through and am absolutely falling in love with the person I am becoming.

So, in conclusion, why is my grief great, big and beautiful?

It is simple. Grief brought me back from the dead.  Grief taught me that life is so much more than what we do for a living, how big our house is, or what kind of car we drive.  Grief taught me that love, compassion and forgiveness give meaning to our lives in ways we cannot comprehend until we’ve trudged through the deepest darkness.

Most importantly, grief taught me that we only die once, but we live every day, and for that I am forever grateful.




Stay tuned for more life hacks on how to LIVE LIFE after LOSS. You won’t want to miss it.

Author: Mary Burgstahler

I'm a mother, sister, wife, daughter and friend. When I'm not writing or traveling, I work as a REALTOR in the Twin Cities West Metro. I enjoy a good glass of cabernet, hiking and camping with my family, taking on new challenges, and am always up for an adventure!

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