When someone you love dies, you start to see them everywhere. Grief finds meaning in a cardinal landing on your back fence, Eric Clapton playing on the radio, an unridden bike parked on your front porch. Everything they ever touched seems imbued with just a hint of their own unique kind of magic, and everything they loved becomes somehow more valuable than it was before.
When my cousin Will was struck by a car and suddenly lost his life at the age of twenty-five, I was devastated. I wrote about grieving the loss of a loved one when you “aren’t that close,” because the reality is Willie and I weren’t “that close.” I saw him sporadically and took for granted he would always be there when we visited. I didn’t know many details of his daily life. What I did know about him was this: he was a proper fan of the New York Yankees, he gave the most sincere hugs, and he loved to ride bikes.
Everyone tries to order the chaos that is grief in their own way. Grief experts call this “finding meaning,” the sixth stage of grief. According to David Kessler, a bereavement expert, “meaning comes through finding a way to sustain your love for the person after their death while you’re moving forward with your life. Loss is simply what happens to you in life. Meaning is what you make happen.” Clearly, I find meaning in writing blog posts. My cousins have done something objectively cooler. They’ve started a legit nonprofit organization, Will’s Wheels. “The purpose of Will’s Wheels is to stage events to fund the purchase and donation of bicycles and helmets to children who would otherwise be unable to experience the joy, freedom, and lifelong health benefits of being able to say, “ this bike is mine.” I can’t think of a better way to keep Will’s memory alive than sharing his love of bikes with a child. Even my indoor-loving, air-conditioned, soul remembers the wonder and freedom that I felt bike riding as a kid. One day soon I even plan to set aside my fresh air aversion and teach my oldest son, because I know he deserves to feel that magic too.
Every time I see my son’s (as of yet, unridden) bicycle parked outside our house I think of Willie and say a little prayer about the fragility of life. Then I go find my boys and hug them a little tighter because the pain of loss has been forever intertwined with gratitude for every single second I get to hold them in my arms. I don’t know if they will turn out just like their indoor loving mama or their trail-blazing-bike-riding cousin, but I know as long as they are here in my arms I will not take them for granted. And I also know I’m going to need to hit up Amazon for some training wheels because my very cautious second-grader will need a confidence boost before he buys into this whole bike riding thing. But one day it will click. He will feel the wind in his hair and the endless possibilities laid out before him. He will swell with pride as he tells people “this bike is mine.” And this A/C loving momma doesn’t plan on missing one single second of it.
Will’s Wheels is 401c3 non-profit organization based in Long Island, NY. To find out more about their mission, donate, or get involved please visit www.willswheels.org
For more information about finding meaning in grief check out Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler. Find it on Amazon here.