I wish I could go back in time and mentally prepare myself for the year that I just had.

I won't get into too much detail about the disaster that was 2023, but I will tell you that it all came to a head when two important figures in my life passed away within a few weeks of each other. My brother, who was only 30-years-old, died accidentally after a long battle with addiction and mental illness. And then, suddenly, we discovered that my former step-dad, the man who raised me for eight years of my childhood, was dying of cancer.

As tough as this year has been, I have learned a lot of important lessons and received some crucial reminders. Here are a few of them:

Grieving is tricky.

For me, one of the toughest things about these losses has been allowing myself to grieve. If you ask anyone who sees me on a regular basis, I think they would tell you that I'm doing just fine. That's because I don't really feel like I have a choice. Life doesn't stop when you lose someone you love. You still have to go to work, clean, cook meals, workout, take care of family or pets, run errands, etc. Who has the time to sit around and cry? And who wants to be around someone who is sad all the time?

My therapist recently reminded me that it's ok to acknowledge negative feelings. It's ok to alternate between anger and sadness and whatever other emotions arise. The people who love me will understand. Grieving doesn't just end after a few months. It's a long process, and everyone does it differently. Stuffing your feelings down deep doesn't make them disappear. I needed that reminder.

Friendships are so important.

As we get older and busier and wrapped up in work and families, friendships sometimes fall by the wayside. It can be easy to take them for granted.


I don't think I could've survived these last few months without my friends. When I arrived back in Iowa after going back to Michigan for my brother's funeral, I discovered that all of my friends came together to do things for me. My house was cleaned, my yard was weeded and mowed, there was food in the fridge, there were gifts and cash and gift cards - I was absolutely blown away. I've never felt so loved.

As someone who lives eight hours away from my entire family, my friends here in Iowa have become my family. I hope to do a better job of showing them just how important they are to me.

Say what you need to say.

I know this is cliché, but life is short. Say what you want to say before it's too late.

I have a note in my phone that I wrote to my brother a few weeks before he died. I never sent it to him, but now I wish I had. When I found out that my former step-dad was in hospice, I made sure that I didn't make that mistake again. I was able to send him one final message, even though we hadn't spoken since I was 18-years-old. As tumultuous as our relationship was, I'm incredibly grateful that I had a chance to say goodbye. I just wish we could've spoken sooner.

If you love someone, tell them. If you're upset with someone you love, get it off your chest and work things out. You really just never know when it'll be too late.


You can't save everyone.

By far, the hardest lesson I've learned this year is that, sometimes, you just have to let go. There's nothing more that you can do.

My brother had the support of our entire family. Me, our mom, aunts & uncles, cousins... we all offered him help over the last few years. Unfortunately, you can't save someone who doesn't want to be saved.

As a professional control freak, there's still a part of me that wonders if I could've done more. Maybe I could've said something or did something that would've changed the outcome. Maybe if I had been in Michigan I could've prevented him from making some of the choices that he made. The guilt eats away at me some days. But, I have to remind myself that he alone was responsible for his actions. The quote that sticks with me is, "you can't change someone by loving them harder." Wouldn't it be great if you could?


Overall, I think that I'm leaving 2023 with a much greater appreciation for life and my family & friends, as well as a better understanding of the things that really matter. I'm hoping that 2024 will bring some much brighter moments.

For anyone else who is struggling after a difficult year, please know that you are not alone. I hope the new year brings you healing and love and joy and all the other good things. Life will get better.

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Gallery Credit: Courtlin

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