you & me

Chasing Sunsets: Life Is Too Short to Be Lived in Darkness.

{Photo credit: Jillian Ashley}

 

A few years ago, there was a fatal accident near my home. I remember the day clearly — a warm, sunny afternoon in mid-May, blue skies, sparse puffy clouds.

Spring was in the air, and the new green leaves were breathing fresh, rich life into the atmosphere. I was in the backyard with my kids, watching all three of them pile into an electric toy Jeep my parents had given them for Christmas. Their joy and laughter was palpable.

I remember feeling the warm sun on my face, closing my eyes to soak it all in, basking in the serenity that filled that moment, and then very suddenly feeling an intense jolt to my body. I was simultaneously stunned and surprised. A strange uneasy energy encompassed my being, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. “That’s odd,” I thought, “the kids are happy, and all seems well. What is this feeling?”

Shortly thereafter, I began to hear sirens — lots of them. The fire station was located close by, so hearing the fleeting sounds of emergency vehicles was par for the course at our home. This time, however, the sirens were not fleeting. The winding sounds of distress were close and they remained stationery. I began to feel a pit form in my stomach. “Accident,” I immediately knew.

With that knowing came a very dense energy.

About 15 minutes later, my then five-year-old reminded me that I promised to take him and his brothers for frozen yogurt. They never seem to forget when you promise them something sweet. So, we piled into the van and headed to the top of our street. A quick look right revealed a state trooper vehicle blocking the road.

The nearby sounds of multiple emergency helicopters taking off filled the sky with their heavy roar. “God, please surround and protect these beautiful souls,” I prayed.

The kids and I took an alternate route to get to the sweet frozen yogurt promised land. We arrived as usual, full of excitement and all three kids jockeying to get out of the vehicle adamantly insisting on their rightful position as first in line. At the time, I was a huge fan of frozen yogurt — consumed it regularly in larger-than-I’d-like-to-admit quantities, all the time wondering why I hadn’t lost the baby weight.

This time though, I found myself completely uninterested and totally unable to eat. I felt such a deep connection to this accident but I didn’t know why. The kids dug into their bowls with reckless abandon, seemingly getting their treat everywhere else but in their mouth. Meanwhile, I sat silently, unable to breathe a normal breath — it felt as though a sumo wrestler was planted firmly on my chest.

As someone who has been sensitive to energy my whole life, the way I felt didn’t completely shock me — a trauma had just occurred, and judging by the emergency response, it was intense. My proximity to the event would lend itself to some exchange of energy.

The next day, I awoke with the accident on my mind. A quick internet search revealed there had been a fatality.

Preliminary investigation revealed an SUV crossed over the double yellow center line striking a sedan in a head-on collision. The sedan was driven by a woman, a mother whose two young sons were in the vehicle. The children were flown to a children’s hospital and treated for minor injuries, however, the woman was not as fortunate. She succumbed to her injuries shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Being a mother, this news was absolutely heart-rending and it brought about a very vulnerable, even desperate, feeling. All of a sudden, life seemed extra fragile. For days, I scanned the obituaries, sometimes three times a day. I didn’t know why I felt so connected to this woman, but I did.

Finally, the obituary was published, and upon reading it, I instantly knew why I felt compelled to follow this story.

Part of her obituary read: “Above all, she took absolute delight in her children, and was usually off on some new adventure or watching a sunset with one or more of her kids, filling them with her own sense of wonder. She was a vibrant, positive life force, and her memory will live on forever in our hearts. She was creative, remained positive and present, never held a grudge, and could brighten any environment she entered.”

Tears filled my eyes, and I began to sob uncontrollably. I felt as if I knew this woman. My gosh, what a beautiful and inspirational soul! She was everything I always wished I could be. In that next moment, I began to wonder how my obituary would read if I died. All I knew was it felt pretty vanilla. I didn’t feel like a vibrant life force energy. In fact, I felt pretty dull, a bit of a drain, and maybe even completely forgettable.

Well, shit! If that doesn’t wake one up, I’m not sure what would. I knew right then, it was time for a change. This beautiful woman and her loving spirit had a strong message for me. Live! Get out there and Live!

There was a roadside memorial at the scene of the accident. I drove by it every day, at least twice a day, as part of my normal commute. Each day, I spoke to this woman’s soul in the ether and prayed for her family, especially her children, and her friends. I thanked her for the beautiful life she lived and all the people she inspired by living as she had — as a free spirit, heart wide open and one with nature.

From then on, as I drove by, I also prayed for her to help guide me in creating a life worthy of such an epic obituary. I found myself wondering how many others had read her obituary and felt called to examine their own lives as I did. It was so beautiful to think that this woman’s death wasn’t the end of her life’s inspiration. In my mind, this woman continued to live her soul’s purpose far beyond the grave.

I will never forget how this event impacted my life. I might even go as far to say that this event was the catalyst for a major life-shift. Sure, I’ve been inspired by others, there is no doubt about that, but this particular event struck me straight in the heart and shook me to the very core of my being.

Since the day of this fatal accident, I made a promise to myself. I promised to live more intentionally, more freely, more lovingly, and more openly. I decided to have fun again. I decided to remember what ignites my soul and makes my passion soar. I decided that in order to do those things, I had to learn to love life again. And I knew that loving life started with loving myself. And so I began my journey inward.

A year later, after struggling to gain traction, I finally got my shit together and hired a life coach. I knew I was in need of guidance. I had tried conventional therapy, and all that seemed to do was give me more stories about why I felt the way I did. Not helpful. I am perfectly capable of arriving at those stories on my own. The stories seemed to be what was weighing me down.

Sure enough, that’s almost exactly what I discovered in my first session with my coach. “Are you ready to shed the attachments to those stories and remember the truth of who you are?” she asked. “Yes, I am all in,” I replied.

Well, it turns out going all in isn’t for the faint of heart. Those stories I had created with my mind had deep, far-reaching roots filled with complex algorithms of thoughts, beliefs, traumas and survival patterns that could perplex the most sophisticated computer. There were times when I thought that I’d never get out from underneath them, that I was destined to feel terrible about myself forever.

And when those times occurred, my coach knew to ease up. “These stories are uncovered in layers,” she explained. “Be patient,” she persisted. “You’re exactly where you need to be,” she said encouragingly. So, week by week, layer by layer, it became more and more clear that I was not, in fact, the terrible, needy, and unworthy person I had wrongfully accused myself of being. Shifts began to occur.

I began to feel my feelings and release them rather than stuffing them down. I began to question the thoughts that bubbled up to the surface and called their bullshit when they weren’t true. I began to bear witness to my own childlike innocence. I began to uncover my God-given worth. And finally, I began to reconnect to my truth. It was the start of an extremely empowering time.

Having created some new healthy thought patterns, I began to reset my priorities.

I faithfully scheduled play-time for myself and made it a priority over everything else. I got out in nature and connected to the beautiful land and its magnificent creatures. I listened to what my body told me it wanted to eat. I drew myself daily baths. I scheduled regular massages and took time each day to meditate. Sometimes, I even did nothing!

Through this self-love approach and unconventional prioritization, I began to relax. Judgments against myself and others seemed to fade away. I accepted life in real time, without feeling the need to analyze every moment that passed. In this space, I began to feel whole again, and it was then that I really began to love and embrace this incredible life.

What I realized was, loving myself gave me the permission to put myself first, knowing that as I did, I would have more love to share with others. Loving myself gave me the courage I needed to drop the excuses, find the fun, explore, play, and get goofy. Loving myself gave me the audacity to believe that I deserved, and could legitimately have, anything I desired in my life.

Loving myself gave me the freedom to honor my truth and speak it freely, providing inspiration for others to do the same.

It’s an empowering decision to love yourself. I highly recommend it. If you are someone who doubts yourself, lives life feeling unloved, unexpressed, and are filled with worry and dread, you might be in need of a kick in the pants, and I hope this story is it. Life is too short to be lived in darkness. Make a commitment to do the work. And I mean, a no-shit commitment.

At first, it may feel like things are getting worse before they get better, but I promise you this, when you come out on the other side, it will be beyond worth it. Loving yourself and discovering your truth is the ultimate freedom, and is, for sure, the key to living in heaven on earth. I would know, I now live it.

Nowadays, I design my life based on how I would want my obituary to read. If I were to die young, I’m convinced that I would have lived a full life, just like the extraordinary woman this article honors. I invite you to join me in this radical movement of Obituary Living.

On any given day, you can find me laughing with my kids, hugging trees, hiking trails, practicing handstands, holding freestyle dance parties in my kitchen, planning my next travel destination, and more often than not, chasing sunsets.

I was recently told that I light up the room with my gentle and loving presence and embody the essence of an innocent, fun, and spontaneous child. And with that, I feel like I have arrived at home within myself. I have truly become God’s love in form.

It’s so interesting how death can often lead to a rebirth. It turns out that life is one big fun adventure if you are brave enough to embrace it. My advice: Love yourself, express yourself, chase those sunsets, and do whatever else it is that is your highest excitement. It’s time! Get out there and Live!

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Jillian Ashley is self-proclaimed free spirit, adventure-enthusiast, nature-lover, life-empowerment coach, and budding author. A mom to three, she has become a proud PTA dropout who is hell-bent on raising sensitive, kind, and conscious men.

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Rebelle Society
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