It happens. One day you look up and realize that you haven’t set too many places at the table for over a month. One day you find yourself smiling at a photo instead of wanting to turn it face down on the mantle. One day you’ll know that it’s OK to leave room for them in your heart, even when they don’t need room in the backseat.

Don’t let yourself feel guilty about making progress. Learning to live with loss is not the same as minimizing the life of your loved one. Finding joy in your present and future is NOT a sign that you no longer value or miss those who were so great a part of your past.

It’s important to take note of the small victories AND the big ones and CELEBRATE them! I believe that one of the secrets to lasting joy is the habit of celebrating progress and achievements of all sizes. That doesn’t mean planning a party for you and your 50 closest friends, but at least take a moment to sigh and acknowledge a mile stone. Write something good on your calendar, post something happy in your blog, or better yet, put a sticky-note on your bathroom mirror.

Perhaps you write:
I am stronger today than I was last spring.
I made it through a sad movie.
I cleaned out that closet today.

Perhaps you rather write something to inspire:
Every day I choose to keep going. I can go farther.
I still have a life to live and I will live it in honor of ____________.
Every good day is worth bonus points!

Where are you today in your journey? Can you enjoy a favorite song again? Can you sing along even if it triggers a deep memory of who you’re missing?

Ask yourself these questions:
Have I missed things I could have celebrated?
Have I failed to praise the progress of others?

If you don’t think you’ve done well at this, that’s OK; just look for the opportunities in the future. Not knowing you won a thousand dollars is unfortunate… not bothering to pick up the prize on your way home from work would be a waste.

As you will hear many experts say, grief is not a stage you go through and leave behind. As you learn to handle more and more of your new life’s problems and pains, celebrate the milestones. Be grateful for each step away from panic and dysfunction.
Don’t just survive, learn to thrive. As you “pick up the pieces” don’t forget to pick up your prizes. You’ve earned them !

Michael Nunley

Michael Nunley's love for music began in his youth. He was singing in churches and sharing the stage with well known performers in shows and television appearances all across the Ohio Valley. Growing up in a military family, Michael traveled extensively. He considers himself blessed to have experienced the beauty and diversity of so much of our world and it's people. Michael was a music scholarship recipient at Walters State College and at The University of Tennessee. As a member of the U.T. Singers, he toured and performed as a soloist with "Tennessee's Musical Ambassadors." He continued his involvement in the performing arts, playing guitar, bass, synthesizer and percussion as well as expanding his vocal abilities. He began to write and record his own music while serving as Interim Worship Leader at his church. It was during this time he produced his first CD of original songs as a music department fund raiser. In 2010, the Governor of Kentucky awarded Michael membership in The Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, the state's highest title of honor, for writing and performing the theme song, "Because We Care", for the Kentucky Employee Charitable Contribution campaign. In 2000, tragedy struck twice, causing Michael to have a deeply personal change in his attitude and understanding of loss and grief. His sister, Cyndy, took her own life shortly before his father, Col. Billy F. Nunley (U.S.A.F.) lost his fight with a cancerous brain tumor. Michael is profoundly grateful for the opportunity to have written a song for The Compassionate Friends in 2011, and he found the experience brought him a new level of healing. He hopes to pass along some comfort with his poetry and music. He encourages others to use the creative process of writing, as he has done, to take care of "spiritual housekeeping" and help "Define, Confine, and then Refine " the sorrow into a more constructive energy. Michael says, "Grief is natural. What's UN-natural is dying from it in solitude. Accepting help, learning from it and passing along the healing is far better. That seems to me to be a cycle of life that will expand our compassion without killing the possibility of joy."

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