Tonight I made plans to attend a funeral for a college friend whose infant just passed away.
I scrolled through posts announcing the execution of a man who had murdered a former classmate.
I contributed towards a fund to help another young mom preparing for spinal surgery to remove a tumor.
In the past year alone, I’ve walked with friends through loss and experienced it myself.
The loss of job, a house, an investment, a marriage.
The loss of a parent, a brother, a spouse, a child.
The loss of our vision for what “happily ever after” would look like in our own stories.
There was a time when friendship meant swapping your favorite Lisa Frank binder and getting matching slap bracelets. When it meant sitting at the same lunch table or being the one who would pass the “Do you like me? Check yes or no” note to your crush. When it meant pinky swears and BFFs, movie nights and post-break-up chocolate binges.
Definitely not trying to find the words to express the positively inexpressible pain of watching helplessly as she faces a struggle that breaks your heart.
Definitely not asking for advice as you try to piece your life back together after a truly devastating blow.
Definitely not funerals for babies.
So I guess we’re grown-ups now. And to be honest, as I look around at my life and the lives of my friends–each one touched by some story of struggle, hurt, or loss–it doesn’t look a whole lot like the happy ending we expected.
But maybe that’s because we were wrong to expect one–a destination, that is. A “happily ever after,” close the book, and here’s the end of our journey finale once we checked all the major life expectations off our list.
Be a kid. Grow up. Get a job. Get married. Have kids. Enjoy sunshine and rainbows. The end.
Because, like it or not, we don’t get to pick our stories, and
sometimes usually the fairy tale doesn’t go according to plan.
Things are different on this adultier side of “happily ever after.” The stakes are higher. The losses more devastating. The endings more final.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all, the heaviness of these big and little moments that weigh on what sometimes feel like very fragile shoulders.
Weren’t we all just children yesterday?
But amidst the struggles, I’ve seen something else.
I’ve seen women who fall and fail, or get knocked down by repeated hardships, and get back up again.
I’ve seen wisdom and grace blossom in ladies I once knew as girls.
I’ve watched communities–real and virtual–rally around families in need.
And I’ve been amazed time and again by the strength, courage, and endurance I see around me. I’ve been encouraged, inspired, and humbled by women who I have the privilege to call friends and acquaintances.
Some of us wear our battle scars more publicly than others, but we all have them. And I find myself weeping with those still in the midst of the fight and marveling at the strength of those who have come through things I’d never have imagined.
So I guess the secret of this whole “grown-up” thing is that there is no happy ending. At least, not a final one.
It’s just putting one foot in front of the other each and every day. Surrounding yourself with those who will help you on your journey. And holding their hand when they need you too.
The scary things we face in this grown-up world are much darker at times than any fairy tale would have prepared us for. But this chapter–this “adulting” season–is not the end.
It’s just one more step on our path.
A path that isn’t always easy and isn’t always what we would have chosen for ourselves.
But a path that we don’t have to walk alone.
Maybe it’s not “happily ever after,” but maybe that’s what growing up is all about.