I am thankful to feel 

Collect memories, not things.

My fiancé Vance and his brother Andy (21 & 19) lost their 56 year old father, Vance Sr., a few weeks ago. Neither of them had ever truly experienced a death in the family, except for when Vance attended my gram’s funeral years ago.

When we suddenly heard the news that the situation wasn’t looking good, everything happened so quickly. It would be impossible to fly to his town in Florida quick enough. Schoolwork tightens its noose around you with every missed class. Upon hearing the news, my instincts immediately told me I needed to be with him. It wasn’t possible and it was only Tuesday. This moment was one of the few in my life where I felt my hear tearing and was so angry over the ridiculous factor of distance between us. Vance shouldn’t have to lose his dad. It’s not fair.

Vance Jr. has faced an innumerable amount of setbacks in the time I’ve known him: mentally and emotionally, thankfully not physically. Hearing the news that his dad was in the ICU wasn’t the first time I’ve heard him cry. I can fully recall only 3 times he had in the past 7 years.

  • Once over the thought of us not making it together through college in the past.
  • Once when realized he’d never be able to fix the truck he got for his 17th birthday and he’d have to part from it.
  • A few weeks ago when he found out about his dad.

Vance is a strong man that never breaks, except during these three times.
Since it was only the middle of the school week and I couldn’t travel to him, I said and did everything I could do to comfort him from 150 miles away. We sat in silence on the phone a lot – a silence we both understood when there weren’t words to show how we felt. Sometimes silence is all I could give. I couldn’t stop thinking that our kids would never get to see Vance Sr. He desperately thought about the last time he spoke to his dad weeks before. The morning he died, Vance Jr. called me with the news before I left for work. My world stopped, but the rest of it could not. I felt soulless, empty. I cried in the bathroom at the office.

Fall semester of senior year is like the calm before the storm – the rat race that is applying for a job as a fresh college graduate. All I think about in my spare time is where I’ll live next year and how to get out of home as soon as possible. I’ve calculated the exact salaries Vance and I will earn and already planned how we will divide it and spend each section. It’s all about maximizing opportunity. What is the best position with the best company that is within the perfect distance of home that will still provide the best work-life balance? Every single day is a countdown and less time to achieve every goal. You could imagine how exhausting it is and how quickly happiness dissolves. In this equation, there isn’t time for happiness.

This fall, I’m also enrolled in a few political science courses – one in particular teaches us about underdevelopment in our world caused by captivity, poverty, violence, etc. We watch videos of people walking through trash-ridden streets without shoes. Children drinking puddle water living in houses that are ready to collapse… and I’m worried about earning $25 an hour instead of $23? I’m worried about living in a place with a little less snow, not because I don’t have the resources to protect myself, but simply because I don’t prefer it. Since this comparison has entered my consciousness, I can never prioritize these selfish desires over survival. I will no longer let my mind be consumed by such self interest.

In the car on the way home from the memorial service at Cape Canaveral, I looked at Vance Jr. in the front seat. Though I love Vance with all my heart, there are a few times when my consciousness has been alerted to how much I really do. I saw a vulnerable human being whose life is made up of these very moments. I kept thinking about the fear that someday I won’t get to stand next to him anymore. It was there in the car that I knew the best thing about this life is Love – the ability to give it and receive it.

I would, without another thought, choose to lose much more than that $2 from my hourly pay if Vance’s dad could still be here, if my Gram could be, if my two grandfathers could be. I will never be able to calculate how meaningful Vance Sr.’s memorial service was to me or how beautiful it was to see service members fold and present the flags to his sons. These moments are my life, my legacy, and will make up a part of my memory for the rest of my life.

This entire experience has breathed life into the phrase, collect memories, not things. All of this is now a chapter in not only our relationship, but each of our individual lives. Following your happiness, whatever it is, is truly the purest, most raw way to live your life. Raw moments are life – the gut wrenching heartache and the blissful awakening to true love.

Today, I am thankful to feel.

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