I shot awake during the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, finding myself in a total panic—tears streaming down my face, my heart aching in pain yet racing as though I’d just seen a ghost.
My mom was alive.
It’s a nightmare I’ve had multiple times over the last few months: I somehow come to find out my mom never died, but when she returns it’s anything but happy. She discovers my dad is getting remarried, and that I’ve been rooting for his relationship—me. Her daughter. Her best friend. The one who’s supposed to have her back no matter what.
The one who told her in the days before her passing that I’d never move on, and that I’d never let my dad move on.
I’m teary-eyed writing this as I think about it, my heart sinking into my stomach the way it has for eight years. Eight years to this very day.
That pain is the reason why, when my dad began dating his now-fiancé (Letti), I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it, remembering those words I promised my mom and sticking to them with fierce loyalty. In fact, more than I wanted nothing to do with it, I fought it, with every inch, tooth and nail I had in my body.
There was a Thanksgiving in which blows were thrown—both physically and emotionally—resulting in the first of several times I’d be uninvited from a family function. There was a period of about four months when I refused to speak to my father, other than sending him texts curated with pure venom—regretful words I’ll never be able to take back. There’s been breaking points and broken moments trickled with shattered memories amid shattered glass and shattered hearts.
It took years of therapy, practice and patience to accept that my father was moving forward. But there was a pivotal moment this year in which I not only accepted it, I found happiness in it—a moment that marked yet another new chapter in my life.
But before I get to that, let me take you through my journey to get here.
Over the last eight years, I’ve battled with the grandiose idea of “happiness.” Sure, I had plenty of days garnished with highs, but I struggled with maintaining it. After moments of joy, I’d often find myself reeling at the pit of a low, slapping myself with the “reality” I had conceived about of my life: A complicated and broken 20-something who takes things too personally, feels too deeply and who can’t move on from her mother’s death. I’d gotten so used to those fluctuating emotions that it felt normal, like my life would always be this up and down of sweet and bitter.
Until I learned to move forward through gratitude.
At the end of last year, I read one of the books that single-handedly changed my life (if you haven’t picked up You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, do it NOW). It taught me to practice gratitude in moments of highs and in moments of lows. I started thanking the universe for everything in my life—not only for those days garnished with joy, but for the sadness, the heartbreak and the loss, for the lessons that came out of them and the empathy I have for other humans after going through it.
I gave gratitude for my job at the time but thanked the universe for a new opportunity (yes, preemptively—that’s what we call manifesting). Weeks later, I received an offer letter for a unicorn of a job that I still can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to have. I even started thanking myself for the traits I thought were once flaws—for taking things personally and feeling so deeply. I now find gratitude in the fact that I care about my life and my loved ones on such an emotional level, and I’ve watched my relationships blossom. I’ve made some of most incredible memories with the people that mean the absolute world to me—Jamming out with my boyfriend’s family and my best friends, riding Birds through Santa Monica with my sister and her amazing man (speaking of gratitude, big shout out to him) and sipping wine in Napa Valley with my dad and his fiancé—a title I happily write out.
And that’s where my new chapter begins.
It was the middle of February, and my dad, Letti, my boyfriend (Easton) and I decided to take a trip up to Napa. As I got ready for our first day of wine tasting, I stopped doing my makeup—studying the lips I inherited from my mom and the nose I got from my dad—and confessed to Easton how grateful I was that my father had found happiness with Letti. And then without hesitation, as though my body were erupting with the words, I blurted out that I hoped they would one day get married.
It was the first time I had ever been able to say that out loud.
Later that day, the four of us rode a gondola up to Sterling Vineyards, taking pictures of each other and laughing as we journeyed to this beautiful spot that overlooked the rolling hills of Napa Valley, which were covered in barren vines and mustard fields—typical for that time of year.
What was not so typical, however, was how warm it was for the middle of February—a metaphor, I soon realized, for the news my dad was about to share with me.
A few days prior, he had asked Letti to marry him, and despite the many hard times and years filled with tribulation, she said yes.
In that moment of revelation, I felt nothing but the Napa Valley sun beaming down on my face and pure, genuine joy.
You see, there’s a difference between moving on and moving forward.
In the past, August has always been a difficult month for me due to the anniversary of my mother’s death. And I’ll be honest in saying there was a moment in which I fell into my former routine of negative thoughts when I found out we’d be celebrating my dad and Letti’s wedding this month, too.
Why of all months…
Stop it, Kendall.
You see, catching myself in the midst of those negative thoughts has allowed me to more clearly understand my subconscious. These nightmares I’ve been having mark the end of the internal, eight-year war I’ve been battling: a grave sadness vs. the hope that happiness would one day be here to stay. Subconsciously, I’ve related consistent happiness to moving on from my mother’s death.
But that’s simply not possible.
I will never move on from losing her. My dad will never move on from losing her. We’ve both kept that promise. But we can move forward, in love and in happiness.
Through gratitude, I have learned to change my perspective and understand that there’s a difference between moving on and moving forward.
I am grateful for the 20 years of memories I shared with my mother. I am grateful for our relationship—both physically and spiritually. I am grateful I will never move on from those memories nor the heartbreak of losing her far too early in life, and I am grateful to celebrate her today.
But I am also grateful to move forward and finally understand what it means to be happy—to really be happy. Not just in one fleeting moment but consistently, truly happy.
I am grateful this year will shift the meaning of August for me. I am grateful for both love and loss, for heartbreak and happiness, for the past, for the present and for the future.
I am grateful for my father. I am grateful he won’t grow old alone, but I’m even more grateful that after one of life’s most tragic heartbreaks, he found someone so amazing to love and love him in return.
I am eternally grateful for my angel, my mother. And I am eternally grateful for Letti.