Ultimate Bittersweet

I have news to share that is the ultimate bitter and truest sweet. There’s no easy preface, other than dancing around it as I am right now, so I’m just going get right to it. We’re friends, we can do these things.

It’s time for me to step away from Whistling & Company.

Those are hard words to say. Phew. Let me explain.

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Megan Kerns Photography

A few weeks ago, I had to get my appendix out. My dad came into town to keep me company and make sure I was following my surgeon’s orders: No heaving lifting and no intense physical activity, blah, blah. Being a couch potato requires reinforcement.

Amid my lounging and between episodes of This Is Us and Netflix movies, my dad and I had conversations that I think were divinely orchestrated during our four days together. At one point, we both sat back and wondered what life might look like if my mom were still around. What race would she be training for? What vacations would we plan together? How would she be preparing for my brother’s college graduation this May? (Never mind, we know that one. She’d be super proud. And simultaneously freaking out: “How is my Adam old enough to be graduating!?”) What new song (or old song, for that matter) would she have on repeat in the car? What would we be doing with her? What new recipe would she insist I just HAD to try? What conversations would we be having?

In that conversation, I was struck by an idea. It’s highly likely I wouldn’t be talking or thinking or writing about suicide and depression daily as I do now since my mom passed away. I thought back to a few weeks ago. I was asked to speak at an event about my experience of loss. It’s such an honor to even be considered for opportunities like this. But my first thought was, “You know? I can talk about other things. I’m interested in other things, too.” That was my first hint that my heart was shifting.

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My Grief, My Muse

My grief has been a muse of sorts. The whole whistling story has been a personification of grief.  As grief evolves and shifts, it’s natural for this project to follow.

This blog was born just months after my mom passed away, essentially documenting my grief journey since I was a young grasshopper griever. After nearly 18 months together, we’ve shared grief and loss together. But now there is a stirring in me that acknowledges I am more than the daughter of a mother who ended her life.

First, I am Emily. I love my family to the ends of the earth. I love the art of words and language. I sometimes like songs more than I like people. Honesty and authenticity are the first traits I seek in a friend. I like to travel but get antsy on planes. If I could eat pizza and ice cream for every meal, I’m not convinced I’d grow tired of it. I’m not Type-A. Like, at all. I’m a sister, daughter, friend, niece, cousin, granddaughter. I believe in a God that I often don’t understand but believe in, just the same. I am more than the last 18 months of my life.

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In the same thread, my mom was so much more than her depression. My mom had a whole fifty-five years of life that hardly condemn her legacy to be solely suicide and depression. She was a sister, a daughter and a friend. She could listen in a way that made you know you were important to her. She had a huge heart.

My mom and I loved to sing in the car together. Madonna’s Borderline and Celine Dion’s Power of Love were some of our favorites. So was Three Dog Night’s version of Joy To The World. My mom would drive with her left hand on the steering wheel and with her right hand as our joint microphone. Jeremiah was a bull frog! dun dun dun! She had clinical depression her last year of life, yes, but throughout her life she was alive in ways I aspire toward. 

“Moving Forward”

I’m still so glad I left my job in January. I’ve loved focusing on Whistling & Company these last few months. I think this time has given me perspective and time to catch my breath and consider. While it’s so hard to turn down great opportunities that might lie ahead for Whistling & Company, I’m relieved that moving forward isn’t the scary next step that it has felt like. I’m eager to see what life is like further outside the veil of my mom’s passing. I know that moving forward is a way of honoring all of my mom and the life I have left on this earth.

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I’m a firm believer that some of our stories are meant to be only chapters, rather than comprise the whole book. It’s hard to let go of something that is extraordinary. While I wish it wasn’t so, I know in my gut that it’s time for this chapter to come to an end. This has been an exceptional chapter.

Ya’ll, I Love This Community

I love this community like a best friend on speed-dial. For this chapter, I’ll celebrate its existence and grieve its ending. This has allowed opportunities for me like I never could have imagined: Radio show interviews, speaking engagements at universities, even an invitation to THE White House. But more importantly, a community has come into existence that spans our nation, made up of people committed to a hopefulness that defies fear. A community that knows our most defiant act against the dark is to stare it down, call it by name, and act in hope anyway. This is such an inclusive, accepting group and I am grateful to be in your company.

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This chapter is ending but what we have created and learned and all we stand for are preserved forever. (Amen!) Just as the love of loved one does not suddenly disappear, this doesn’t change the whistle around your neck or the whistle on your key chain. We are still hopers, change-makers, and safe places for conversation. You all are what have made this happen. 

What’s next for me? You know, I’m not entirely sure. But even in that, I feel like I know myself, my interests, my limitations more than I’ve ever been aware. I feel hopeful. I’ve learned that if you want to start a movement or have a side-hustle, just do it! (As you all know, the majority of Whistling & Company happened while I had a full-time job.) I’ve loved meeting so many of you. I’ve loved the way existing friendships have grown. I’ve appreciated every conversation. I’ve learned the power of social media. I’ve been so grateful I was required to take that Public Speaking class in college. I’ve been shaped by new perspectives and ideas. I’ve learned that so many of us struggle and that there is absolutely no shame in admitting that. I’ve been reminded that I can muddle my way through finances and spreadsheets if I really love the mission that put me there in the first place. I’ve been humbled to know I still have plenty to learn. The next chapter might be a revamped blog and theme. It might be a return to a regular 9-5 job. It might be a move and a new city. Regardless, everything I’ve learned here, with you all, will be a guiding force.

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You know? Maybe there is freedom in this for all of us. We are not solely our triumphs and tragedies. We are an evolving culmination of our experiences. We are allowed to grow and change. Thank goodness for that.

And, so, here we are. The last blog post for a while. What’s that? No, there’s just something in my eye. My eyes are just watering, funny how they do that. No biggie. Happens all the time these days.  No, I’m not listening to this song. Or this one.

It has been a pleasure and honor, my friends. Whistling with you all ❤

P.S. Logistics: The Etsy shop will remain open through April 15 for any last-minute orders. The Facebook group, Instagram, and blog will stay up. I’ll post any updates there (new job, new city, new blog, any or none of the above!). Feel free to reach out if you have any questions (or know anyone hiring!). 🙂

 

 

 

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Thoughts on Fear

Here’s what I’ve learned about fear: Fear tells the truth.

But not the full picture of truth.

Fear is our innate protector. Fear warns and acts as a caution sign as we approach a decision. As we near a ledge, fear is what screams at us to lean back and not walk so close. Fear is truthful in this assessment.

Fear is good. Fear is healthy.

I’m scared of a lot of things. I get a little jumpy in the dark. I am terrified of rollercoasters. I don’t like masked things. My roommates and I had a mouse problem in our kitchen and all I could imagine was a mouse jumping on my face as I walked past the sink. I get nervous on airplanes. I fear loss. I’m scared of loosing someone I love.

But if I listened only to fear, I’d always keep the lights on and I’d keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. I wouldn’t step foot in my kitchen. I’d never love. I’d never rise up after my loss.

Fear says live in a small, well lit-space. Never venture far and don’t get too attached. All of this is grounded in truth.

But fear is only one-sided. It’s only ying to another’s yang.

Enter hope. Hope allows us to balance fear. Hope is the ever-optimist. Hope revels in possibility.

But in their own right, both fear and hope need each other. Courage is the bridge that allows us to go between the two. It takes courage to listen and abide when fear raises a good point. It takes courage to listen and abide when hope dares you to step out.

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Often it seems that fear begs, “Don’t try that! You might get hurt.” Hope counters with “But what if you succeed? What will you learn then?”

All of us fear. Not all of us hope. 

Hope leads to the remarkable, the exciting.

Starting a business has taught me a lot about fear. It’s really easy for me to dream up all these grand plans. In my dreams, I can envision a storefront for us. One side has artsy oriental rugs and big couches, fun lights and maybe even a coffee bar. We have regulars that come in everyday just to say “hi.” People can shop around and also take a seat and chat with a friend. On the other side, we sell apparel, whistle necklaces, journals, and greeting cards that say cheeky things like, “Depression Sucks.” We have guides that describe what showing up for a friend might look like. We have free yoga classes one morning a week and groups like AA, NA and others use our space in the evenings.

I can dream all these ideas (it doesn’t matter if they all makes sense, it’s my dream after all). But when we start the doing part of this, fear kicks in: You’ve never run a business! You need a staff! How do you know where to purchase sustainably made products! Storefronts are expensive! How will you find partnerships! Run! Run away!

But courage takes a step out right before we do. It feels as if a resistance band is pulling us back as we step away from fear and toward hope. Each step is the farthest out we’ve been. Fear is still there which is good! He’s keeping an eye out for shady business deals and lost profits. But hope is there too. Guiding and saying, “one more step, just one more step.

I love the poem What If I Fall by Erin Hanson. Erin writes:

There is freedom waiting for you,

On the breezes of the sky, 

And you ask, “What if I fall?”

Oh, but my darling, 

What if you fly?

When Grief Turns 18 Months Old

When my grief was in it’s infancy, like a baby, I basically existed, ate, and slept. But we’ve come a long way and my grief will be a walking, babbling, 18 month old on Saturday.

There is so much emphasis on the first twelve months of grief — and rightly so. Those months are delicate and difficult. Everything feels monumental and new. As we round the corner to complete a year of grief, we realize there is no magic in one year. Thankfully, for me, my grief faded in intensity as that first year completed but I woke up on that 365th day and still missed my mom with my whole heart. Grief lasts a whole lifetime beyond that first year.

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As my grief has grown, I’ve become more comfortable with it. We’ve gotten used to each other and maybe even appreciate each other. While my grief has changed in magnitude, much of my grief’s original characteristics endure.

I still miss my mom so much. My life has begun to look different than when my mom was alive. I have a different job. I don’t live with the same people. I’ve gone on trips without her. Among my family of three, my dad, brother and I have learned to communicate with each other, even when it’s hard to. We’ve had large family gatherings, all without my mom. We’ve made memories that my mom is not a part of.

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And it hurts when these memories come to mind before memories with my mom do. As time trudges on, memories of my mom seem to fade a little bit. The distance between us only grows larger.

I still wear out easily. I need so much more sleep than I ever did before. I am so much more aware of fatigue in my body and mind. I was getting to the point that I was wondering if something else was going on with me. I went straight to Google, which I know is never the place to go for medical advice. I know. I did it anyway and suddenly wondered if I had adrenal gland failure, thyroid issues or even anemia.

I went as far as booking an appointment to donate blood. The woman at the Red Cross was so kind and appreciative of my donation but I felt a little guilty knowing I was more interested in knowing my iron levels so I could rule out iron deficiency than my actual donation.

And guess what? I’m not iron deficient. I am not anemic. All my thyroids and glands are just fine. I’m just grieving. Grief takes such a toll on our bodies. I vividly remember the day after my mom’s funeral. That day, after six days of feeling and knowing such intense tragedy and sadness, I could only sleep. Even my appetite took months to come back to normal.

I still cry. And it’s not just when I’m sad. I also cry when I’m happy, or moved by something. These days, I tear up at cereal commercials. (This was so not me a year and a half ago.)

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I was reflecting with a good friend last weekend about life after the death of a loved one. Her brother suddenly died just a few months before my mom died. We share the same horrible loss of an immediate, beloved family member. I hate that we are unified over such sad circumstances but I’m grateful we have each other to compare notes with. We were talking about how we are both so much more “weepy” than we had been before our respective losses. I don’t know what it is. Maybe we become more empathetic or witness situations that bring us right back to the day and the moment we lost someone, too. Who knows. All I know is I carry Kleenex around just like I carry my wallet and car keys.

But now I’m more experienced with my grief. I know how to nurture and care for it.

When I’m sad, I just let myself feel sad. I read notes and emails and old texts from my mom. I remember her fondly and often.

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I pay attention to what I need. If I need to take 4 months off running because I feel tired, I will (and I’ll revel in it!). If I need to be by myself for a little while, I’ll do it. If I need to be around friends, I make it known.

I know that my grief is only a reminder of love. I don’t mind it because as long as I feel my loss I am reminded of the heart full of gratitude I have for the time I had with my mom and my old life. Some people never have relationships with their family. I had 25 great, memorable years with my mom. I still have a tight family unit with my dad and brother (and such supportive extended family). Things are different but our lives are still filled with so much love and honesty. Would I rather my mom be here? Yes. Give me three magic wishes and they’d all be for my mom to be here. But that world doesn’t exist and I’d rather soak in all the goodness that is left. I’ve seen my grief only beget gratitude.

This is also only representative of my experience with grief. I’ve been able to be close to others as their grief journeys look wildly different than mine. And that’s okay.

The good news? Our grief can look different and we can still do this together.

I’m grateful for that, too.

Songs To Keep You Whistling

Outside of relationships with friends and family, music has always been my go-to for comfort. Songs can validate how we feel. Songs can lift us up or meet us right where we are. Music often goes where our words cannot. Here are five songs to keep us whistling throughout the week. The genres will be varied but all songs will have an element of being hopeful, honest, and/or uplifting.

Let’s do this!

Rise Up – Audra Day 

Goodness. If I could sing like Audra Day, I wouldn’t be mad about it. This song inspires me to get up time and time again, even when I’d really rather not.

Favorite line: “I’ll rise up / In spite of the ache / I will rise a thousands times again.”

Moving Forward – Colony House

I think this song is full of gratitude. The singer recognizes “my eyes are open, my heart is beating, my lungs are full, my body’s breathing. I’m moving forward.” All I need is a life to begin moving forward and making a difference.

Favorite line: “And now bursting forth in splendor / Are the blossoms of second tries / Because dreams that bear the mark of love / Are dreams that never die.”

Pumpin Blood – NONONO

This should be the Whistling & Company theme song, BTW. So upbeat. So good. I dare you not to dance.

Favorite line: “And it’s your heart it’s alive / It’s pumping blood / And the whole wide world is whistling.”

Shed A Little Light – Foy Vance

Oh, Foy. His voice is just so stinkin’ awesome.

Favorite line: And the second love reveals / Trouble is hard on its heels / And love walked right up, stood by my side.”

Brother – NEEDTOBREATHE (feat. Gavin DeGraw)

NEEDTOBREATHE and I have a long history. I’ve been a big fan of these guys for years and when Brother came out the summer before my mom passed away, it took on a whole new meaning as I saw family and friends gather around us like the brothers in this song during the months that followed.

Favorite line: “Like a bull chasing the matador is the man left to his own schemes /  Everybody needs someone beside em’ shining like a lighthouse from the sea.”

There you have it! Feel free to follow us on Spotify (Whistlingandcompany) and in the comments, share any songs that have been good to you so we can share them!

Do The Hustle

How has being my own boss been going? Well, I woke up the first day I didn’t have to commute into the city for work, ready to seize the day… until I realized that day-seizing could wait.

I went right back to sleep.

The next day I did the same thing.

I can’t lie, in a city known just as much for it’s deplorable traffic as it is as the “Capital of the Free World,” this no commuting thing is a beautiful wonder. I’ve loved making my own schedule. I’ve loved running mid-day errands. I’ve loved working in my favorite big, baggy sweatshirt.  But after a few days of sleeping in and mid-day coffee dates (because why not!), an actual routine is slowly starting to shape up.

Learning Is My Middle Name

For Whistling & Company, this time is allowing me to soak up as much as I can from people who really know what they are doing. I am working on a lot of small business fundamentals with plenty of help and outside expertise. I’m reviewing financials, shoring up all of our branding and language, working on a new collection for our necklaces. I’m using words like editorial calendar, wholesale, branding, website hosting, and Quickbooks. I watch YouTube tutorials before I do just about anything.

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Even at my new job a yoga studio, from running the front desk or having the patience to withstand a 75 minute-long yoga class, I’m learning so much. During my first yoga class, we were all “forward folding” when the instructor invited us to invert. I was still bending over at the waist as I saw through the frame of my own ankles, several people shoot up into a headstand like it ain’t no thang. (One day, I’ll “invert” with the best of them.)

I’m learning how to be new at something again. I’m challenged on a daily basis and the problem solver in me is loving the “think- fast!” moments. It’s during these times, I really learn to be resourceful. My first night at the yoga studio, I couldn’t remember, through the maze of back hallways, which plain, unlabeled, white door would get me to the dumpsters. Rather than call the manager for the 12th time that night, I took the garbage, threw the trash in the back of my car, and dropped it at a dumpster I knew of on my route home. Oh, well. Learning.

Why We Are Here

And while all this day-to-day stuff is really mostly fun and exciting and aiding in my personal education of what feels like everything, I’m all too often reminded of the dark situations that brought us here in the first place. Whistling & Company is always on the hot pursuit of hope. We don’t aim to be just a cutesy boutique that talks about how great hope is. We are doing this work because we are determined to find it. This is messy. This isn’t a walk in the park. It’s more like a tussle in a swamp. I want to be walking into the places where hope doesn’t have the oxygen to survive. We are the oxygen tanks.

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The reality is, balanced with all the fun and all the learning, I am also having conversations with friends, asking questions like, “How’s your mental health?” or “How do you feel about your support system? Do you have enough?” or “How’s the job search going? Still searching, yeah?” While I’m able to take a breather and dream a bit, real life is still happening for many of us.

It’s easy to joke about impressive inversions and learning the ins and outs of Quickbooks but — while important —that’s not why I’m here. I believe in hope and need this community so much that I want to make it count. I want to stand for something. I want my belief to be put to the test that hope even in the tiniest glimmer overcomes the Goliath darkness. I want to trust. Trust that there is good. Trust that as divisive as this world can feel, we are all so much more alike than different. Trust that we will all be okay. I want to believe in something so much that I’d leave a job, a level of comfort and predictability to see it through. Ya’ll, I believe in this. I believe in hope. I believe in this community.

We Are The Changers

I’ve said many times on this blog that we are the changers. We create the good for others. Doing that will look different for each of us each day. Some days we are the supporters. Other days we are the supported. For me, being a changer, a hoper, a whistler means going where I’ve never been to create what I believe gives the chaos a steadier rhythm.

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The day-to-day stuff is just stuff. The truth is, I don’t worry much about the nitty gritty. I don’t worry about how many people follow us or what our page views look like. I care about you. I care that this is a message that reaches exactly who it’s supposed to. I care that this is a message that resonates with so many only because of the great magnitude of hurt and pain.

A lot of people talk about the entrepreneurial hustle. I’ve said that’s not my style but I’m learning the hustle isn’t often driven by a desire to work in Excel or just start a business for the heck of it. My entrepreneurial hustle nudges me to go deep, to feel, and to take a risk in the name — the certainty — of hope.

We’re back!

Well, almost..

I can’t promise too many posts here for a couple more weeks BUT THEN I hope to return to our regular schedule (…if there was such a thing. Doesn’t regular schedule feel like an oxymoron sometimes?).

I’ve got some news to share that feels like BIG news. For the first time in a while, I’m yearning for change. I’m looking to switch things up and excited for a little shake up. There has been a significant part of the last year and a half where change hasn’t been welcome. Enough had changed, thankyouverymuch. But now, I think I’m ready.

I’m leaving my job! This Friday will be my last day. I’m leaving a great job that has allowed me to work with people I admire with a mission I care about. I’ve learned so much there but have that gut feeling, nudging me. I know it’s time. I’m leaving comfort, kickin’ that steady paycheck out the door, and kissin’ employer-sponsored health insurance goodbye. AH!

I want to pursue Whistling & Company with more time and space. There are so many exciting things happening here that I can’t ignore the excitement and hope I get from this project. I’ve loved the excitement and community that are undeniably present here. I’ve loved watching orders come in initially solely from friends and family to now, not really knowing the people in the order queue (or anyone even in the state the order is coming from! Here’s looking at you, Montana!).

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Megan Kerns Photography

Since May 1, 2016, we’ve shipped out over 600 whistle necklaces or key chains all across the US. We’ve donated over $2,000 to To Write Love On Her Arms. Things are happening here, folks! I’ve been getting up before work to make whistle necklaces. I’ve been coming home, dropping my bag at the door, and hurrying down to the Whistling Workshop (aka our basement-based hub, complete with lime-green carpet on the stairs) to keep it going! If we can do that with a few hours here and there (and with the crucial, diligent help of many folks volunteering their time and care to spread the word), JUST IMAGINE WHAT 15-20 HOURS A WEEK will do! Y’all. This is big! And I think it’s just the beginning!

To answer a few questions: 

Are you scared? Depends on the minute you ask me. But if I’ve learned anything in this last year and a half, it’s that fear can either hold us back or propel us forward. Fear can be the reason to do something. Fear can also be the reason to not do something. I’ve learned to respect fear but I won’t let it dictate my life. Some days I do that better than others. Fear is healthy and has great purpose. But fear should be weighed and considered. So to answer the question: Yep, I’m a little nervous but I don’t let that cloud the feelings of excitement, relief and joy.

With all this excitement, are you still “grieving”? You bet. Through all these big decisions being made in the last few weeks, I’ve been so grateful for the people in my life that have stood by me as I’ve been making these decisions. So, so grateful. But no one has advised me in the way my mom would. It’s no fault of their own, they just aren’t my mom. I miss her all the time. I’ve learned grief is different for us all. Sometimes my grief shows up at weird times (like when this Publix commercial comes on). Sometimes my grief is underlying a laugh. In all kinds of ways, I think I’ll be grieving the rest of my life. My grief reminds me that my life is incomplete, that I’m missing someone important, and that I’m doing my best with the pieces left. Before my mom died, I never knew the depth of how joy and sadness are often so intermingled.

What are you going to do with the rest of your time? I’m really excited to be working two part-time jobs. One is at a yoga studio near my house. I’ll be working the front desk, checking people in for classes, cleaning up after classes, doing laundry, and saying “namaste” a lot. The second is joining a former colleague (who I adore!) for a non-profit contract job. Each job is about 15 hours a week, leaving plenty of time for Whistling and Company to have real space in my life!

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Megan Kerns Photography

What’s next for Whistling and Company? We have a lot of little ideas baking right now. There’s an idea for a short book and an idea for a longer book. There’s an idea for an album — yes, like a real album! Think of the most hopeful songs all in one place. We have ideas of new products and ways to incorporate giving back within this organization. We dream of this being a community that meets face-to-face rather than just online. We have dreams, we sure do.

Practically, though, goal number one is to stock up on inventory. When Taylor Swift posts a picture of her and all her #squad friends wearing Whistling and Company necklaces, I want to be ready.

I also know that the entrepreneurial way seems to be hustle, hustle, hustle. You meet, you greet, you say all the right things, meet more people, work late, work early, stay caffeinated, and manage to run a half marathon each day. Not this girl.  I’m all in for hard work but I’m looking forward to a little rest. The last few months have been great and exciting but if I’m being honest, I’m tired. I’m looking forward to learning how to take care of myself while all this is happening. I’ll probably sleep in the first few weeks. I’ll try to have a few slow mornings with books, coffee, and a note pad. I’ll blog more.

But once I’ve rested, ya’ll, I’m ready to run.

This is an exciting, scary, and changing time. I really don’t have the words to say how grateful I am that you all are apart of this.

Thank you.

Defined by Hope

Man, oh man. It’s been a while! I’ve missed you all!

It’s been a pretty cool last couple of weeks. As Whistling & Company continues to take me on this crazy ride, I’m so enjoying meeting and connecting with so many great people.

I got to speak with the lovely women of AXiD sorority at Elon University a few weeks ago. We talked all things vulnerability and hope. It was a beautiful night.

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I got to attend Business Boutique in Nashville, a summit for women entrepreneurs and small business leaders. Such an awesome event (and a great excuse to visit friends in Nashville!).

It’s been pretty neat couple of weeks to say the least. (Also, the CUBS won the World Series!!)

I also had lunch with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while. We caught up. We talked about family and life. The waiter had to come back three times because we hadn’t gotten around to looking at the menu. We just jumped right in, story after story. At one point we talked about Whistling & Company. She paused and said me, “You know, I hope that you don’t let what happened with your mom define you.”

The statement was made out of care but it stung for a second. I never want to be defined or pitied for my loss. She was giving me the freedom to dream about other things, possibly imagine my life had my mom not died. In that moment though, I paused and considered her question. Has my mom’s death come to define me?

This is something I’ve wrestled with as long as Whistling & Company has existed. I never want to benefit out of something so horrible and sad for my family. I never want my mom’s loss to be my gain.

The truth is, the loss of my mom is inescapable. The old life I had with her is unattainable, impossible to recreate. Dreaming about what could have been is pointless. It only adds to the heartbreak. The only option is to live here and now without her while remembering her. When I think about what I am defined by, it’s never the loss of my mom. I think we are defined slightly less by actions and more by the underlying attitudes that actions stem from. We are defined a little less by what and a little more by why. Actions can be misinterpreted, misrepresented and have backwards intentions. Our attitudes are more transparent.

I hope I am defined not by my loss but by my attitude towards it. I see my loss. Lord knows, I feel it. But I trudge forward (most days).You do, too. We are a community defined by hope. We bask in it, savor it and cling to it. Hope is our daily bread. I have been sustained by the hope that is active and real in this community.

And while it’s true that my mom’s suicide is not my weight to bear or an act that defines my mom, let alone me, I cannot not acknowledge it. I want to fight back.

I’ve learned if we let only those affected by certain tragedies be the ones to speak up for themselves, often there would be no voice left to hear. For instance, if we let those that die by suicide be the only advocates for suicide prevention, there would be no advocating. If we wait for folks that have lost their lives to breast cancer to advocate and tell us what that experience is like, we’ll be waiting an eternity.

We cannot operate as silos. We cannot wear blinders and speak up when we are only affected or when we only have first hand experience of something gone wrong. There is no time for tiptoeing. We have to overlap and entangle. We have to reach out and advocate for others. Our world depends on it.

When I was young, I never imagined my life would look like this. My mom loved Louis Armstrong’s song What a Wonderful World. I would hear my mom singing and like Louis, we dreamed of blue skies, birds chirping and friendly conversations. Instead, this morning in my car, that song came on the radio and I teared up as I  waited for the light to turn green. I can dream and wonder what if or face the reality that happy songs make me cry sometimes. But I live on the assurance of hope existing in this world.

And since I’ve learned that hope sustains me, I want to be in the business of creating more of this boundless resource. Hope takes little to create and multiply. But it is a choice. For me, it takes just a sun-ward glance to be reminded of it.

Hope often stems from reminding myself of all that is good amidst the mess. My mom is gone. I’m really sad about that. But I also have the best dad and the best brother. I have an awesome, supportive family and many friends that whistle with me. I have a home that is heated on chilly mornings like today. I live in a city that is vibrant and alive. I could go on and on.

During Thanksgiving last week, I got to gather with our big ol’ family. Right before we ate, we circled up in the kitchen and clutched each other’s hands (and a few Kleenex, too). We were sad for all we’ve lost but I felt warmth from how we all beamed in gratitude for all that we have and all the hope we recognize, even still.

My cup overflows.