Slice of birthday cake with one candle

What Being 22 Taught Me

Today I turn 23 years old. I have a great deal of mixed emotions over this birthday. I typically go into birthdays with the feeling that this year will be the best one yet, but that is difficult when one of the two reasons I exist is no longer alive. I am struggling because although 22 was the most challenging year of my life emotionally, physically, and mentally, it was also the last year I had with my dad and Jenna. I have this idea that staying 22 forever somewhat ties me to them. I know a day will come when I begin thinking of the accident in terms of, "my dad died when I was 22" and that change in time is incredibly hard for me to deal with. The time since I last saw them only grows further away, and it makes me feel increasingly distant from them.

Although I experienced an incredible amount of trauma and heartache this past year, I also truly began to find myself. I have never been more comfortable in my own skin, and I have also never felt so much compassion and love. I grew this past year in ways I know I have the accident to thank for, and I have become grateful for that. Although I lost two of the most important people in my life, I have become closer with my mom and brother in ways that only tragedy can bring. All of my relationships have reached a greater depth, and I appreciate the people in my life in a way that was not possible before.

My wish for 23 is continued healing and strength, as well as continued acceptance of what is. I have never felt so much gratitude for my life, and although I know nothing of what the future holds, I learned this past year just what I am capable of overcoming. Great beauty can truly come out of tragedy. Although I wish with everything in me that I could bring them back, I am grateful for what the accident has taught me about life. My gratitude for everything has grown, I am living more presently than ever before, and I see the world through more compassionate eyes. I have never worked so hard in my life to, as Gandhi said, "be the change you wish to see in the world."

So even though this birthday may be filled with more tears than the previous, I know I will be okay. Each difficult moment that presents itself is another chance for me to focus on the love within and around me. The last 8 months of being 22 brought about lessons that taught me to feel secure in my own strength and to love myself unconditionally. There is no greater gift that I could give my 23 year old self, and there is no greater gift that Dad and Jenna would want me to have.

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Kaylie Schmidt

Thank you:)

Kaylie Schmidt

Wise beyond your years.

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