Gratitude: What I Learned From Carly

Every once in awhile we have experiences that put life in perspective. These experiences remind us of all the things for which we should be grateful.

Unfortunately, often times these experiences are the tough ones…we lose someone we love, we go through a break-up or divorce, we lose our jobs, someone we know gets sick, etc. As much as we wish they didn’t sometimes, these moments scar our memories and we usually remember every little painful detail.

Last week, I re-lived one of these experiences by way of a 4-year anniversary.

February 17th is always a tough day for me. On that day four years ago, I lost one of my best friends to cancer. Aside from this hard day, I still think of Carly all the time. I think of her when I’m doing the things we used to do together, or when I try something that I know she would love, or sometimes for no reason at all other than I just plain miss her.

Carly and I went to Boston College together and grew close during our senior year. We got an apartment in North End (Boston’s Little Italy) after graduation and we helped each other deal with the transition into the real world of full-time jobs, bills, and rent. Carly and I spent a year in that apartment making memories. We cooked (and burned a lot of things), we drank lots of Italian wine, we danced (usually to Zac Brown Band), we re-watched every season of Desperate Housewives, we laughed, we cried, we talked until the wee hours of the morning…It’s actually crazy to think how much we did in about 600 square feet of space.

Eventually, though, Carly started getting strange symptoms. She began her endless doctor’s visits and eventually had to go home to New Jersey where she was diagnosed with gastric cancer. She underwent multiple surgeries as well as chemo and radiation.

I remember visiting Carly in the midst of her weeks in chemo. I expected to see my friend as I always had, a happy and healthy young woman. But Carly had lost so much weight that I was nervous to hug her too hard. The doctors had removed her stomach entirely and eating had become a battle. That night Irene and Tony, Carly’s mom and step-dad, took us out to a restaurant for dinner. We went reluctantly, unsure if Carly would be up for it, but she insisted. I sat across from Carly at the table and couldn’t stop staring at the chemo port-a-cath that the doctor had implanted just below her collarbone. It looked so uncomfortable. We eventually got our food and as we started eating Carly got upset. As badly as she wanted to ignore it, her body was not reacting well to the few bites of food that she had, so we headed back to the house.

When we got back, Irene had to give Carly a shot into her stomach with a GIANT needle. Carly cringed in pain and as I watched all I wanted to do was cry. I left later that evening to drive home because I knew Carly wasn’t up for me to stay the night. As I was leaving, I began to realize how bad things really were. Carly never complained about anything, so I didn’t know how much pain she was in until I saw it. I spent my drive home to Boston crying.

Carly passed away just a few months later. I was on my way down to visit her when I got the call.

Carly was a light in my life. She was the kind of person that made you forget any crap going on in your own life because she demanded your full attention and made sure you enjoyed yourself while you were with her. She was always seeking adventure and wanted everyone to be in on it.

Carly unknowingly taught me what real gratitude feels like. Even after four years without her, she still inspires me to be spontaneous and do anything I can to love my life right now. There’s no time for waiting. I’m grateful to have met her and to have been with her for so much of her short time in this world.

I would love to say that I only think happy things when I think of Carly, but that would be a lie. She was such a happy person and it was infectious, that I won’t forget, but I still get incredibly sad when I think about her. My first thought when she comes to mind is always “Why do I get to be here, but she doesn’t?” I think about the time that has passed since she left and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve done as much good as she would have if she was here in my place. This thinking is never positive, so I try not to go down that road, but it’s tough isn’t it? Not to wonder?

Instead, I try to move on from those thoughts and focus on what I can do to better take advantage of my own life. I’ve already had more time in this world than many, so what am I going to make of it? I appreciate every minute of every day when I think this way, and it inspires me not to waste a single second doing things that don’t matter or things that trigger negativity.

Being grateful and being positive are choices, and they go hand in hand. Gratitude begets positivity and positivity begets gratitude.

It’s inevitable that we will all experience difficult times in our lives, but it’s how we choose to deal with them that matters. Choose gratitude for having known a person you lost, for having learned a lesson that you’ll never forget, or for having hit the lowest low only then to rise back up.

We should be grateful for the people in our lives. Our family and friends may annoy us sometimes, but our lives are probably better because of them. We have to let the little things go and be grateful for each other.

We might be unhappy with our bodies sometimes as well. Maybe we linger just a little too long in front of the mirror and find things we don’t like. But at the end of the day if our bodies can do most of the things that we want them to (stand, eat, move, etc.), then we’re pretty damn lucky.

I don’t mean to preach, so I hope that’s not what people think this is. We all believe different things and maybe there are some experiences out there that scar us beyond repair. I just know that I choose gratitude. I need to. For me that’s the only way.

If you would like to learn more about Carly or donate to her foundation, please check out  Carly’s Kids Foundation.

 

Can you relate to this? Do you have something from your past that taught you an important life lesson? I would love to hear it. Email me at info@katehoerner.com, or send me a Facebook message

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