My wedding was both the best and worst day of my life. Here's what I learned.

10 days before my wedding, my brother lost his fight with pediatric bone cancer.

It was my wedding day.

I stood outside the doors to the chapel. My heart was racing, and I felt my eyes fill up with tears.

I can’t do this.


Before I could turn and run, the doors flung open. I was caught off guard as 80 expectant faces turned to look at me. I scanned the crowd. I saw my family and friends. I saw my dad and stepfather waiting in front of the altar to give me away. But I was going to have to walk down the aisle alone, and that was not how it was supposed to be.

I don’t know how long I paused there. I felt like I couldn’t move.

Then my eyes found my future husband, Joe. And right next to him, I saw a single candle burning on a tall candelabra. Gulp. I looked back at Joe and decided that if I could make it down the aisle to him, I’d be OK.

I felt as if my knees might buckle, but somehow I began walking. It was surreal. I felt as if I were floating, but I eventually made it down the aisle.

Me and my husband-to-be on my wedding day. All photos from the author and used with permission.

18 months earlier, my 16-year-old brother was diagnosed with a rare pediatric bone cancer.

The diagnosis was grim. The prognosis was not good. He was quick to rally. He was going to be fine. He was going to live his life. He was still planning a future. He packed a lot of living in a short time.

10 days before my wedding, he lost his fight.

Now, I look back and I don’t know how my family and I made it through both a funeral and a wedding in such a short span of time, but we did. There would be no postponing of the wedding as I’d suggested. Every single member of my family told me in no uncertain terms that my brother would never want me to put it off. He always said he "didn’t have time for cancer." He didn’t let it stop him from doing the things he wanted to do, and he would be highly pissed if I let cancer stop my wedding.

So, even though we were still in a state of shock, we had a wedding. There were tributes to my brother throughout the wedding, including the single candle that stood where he was supposed to stand as a groomsman. We read a beautiful poem in his memory during the ceremony. We played his favorite song at the reception. And we danced. And we drank. And, inexplicably, we had fun.

15 years have passed since that day.

15 years and I’m still trying to figure out how to move through life without him. 15 years and I’m still learning about how this "after part" works.


A school picture of my brother.

I would gladly trade the things I’ve learned to have my brother back, but I learned a long time ago that bargaining doesn’t work. So usually, I choose to appreciate the lessons I’ve learned instead.

1. I’ve learned to cut people some extra slack.

You really don’t know what people are going through. You don’t know what they have endured. You don’t know what battles they may be fighting.

There were the times during my brother’s illness when I would find myself driving 15 mph in the left lane. I’d be lost somewhere between grief and exhaustion, and I would arrive home with no idea how I got there. There were times when I’d look up distractedly at the grocery store, only to realize that I’d been standing in the middle of the aisle, lost in thought, for 10 minutes.

I used to be the person who honked impatiently and threw dirty looks as I zoomed past a slow driver, but not anymore.

Now I know what it's like to really have a bad day, to be so lost in a world turned on its head that you’re completely unaware of your surroundings. I learned that we all have bad days. Some of us have really bad days. Most of us are just trying to make it to tomorrow.

2. I’ve learned that true compassion and grace are about suspending judgment.

Over and over, I saw that real compassion is giving people the benefit of the doubt: granting them access, assisting them when you don’t know them, being patient and kind even when you don’t know what they're actually going through.

If you have to know the behind the scenes? If you have to know their story in order to be kind? If your kindness is based on an assessment of their pain and if it is conditional? Then it’s not truly kindness; it’s just judgment.

I didn’t get this before. I wasn’t cruel, and I wasn’t mean-spirited, but I was impatient and I was easily irritated. That was before I realized the depths in which people can be trapped while still looking completely normal to the rest of the world.

3. I’ve learned that comfort sometimes comes from unexpected places.

There are people who had a huge impact on me, who helped me through difficult times, and they probably don’t even know the significance of their actions.

Sometimes, for me, it was the soft-spoken coworker who offered me a hug as I was leaving to meet my family at the hospital. He was shy and reserved, but he wrapped me in a big bear hug when I was overcome with emotion. I knew this small gesture was not easy for him to give, but his effort to offered me solace.

In another moment, that solace came from my brash, loud, jokester boss who let me take off as much time as I needed to be with my brother at the hospital. Another time, it was my friend from work who calmly assured me that I would feel joy again after I tearfully confided my fear and pain to her. And often, solace came from my husband’s brother and my sister-in-law, who drove 12 hours to attend my brother’s memorial service.

I learned that an act of kindness, no matter how small, is never wrong. Sometimes it’s the thing that can help someone put one foot in front of the other.

4. I’ve learned that I can still, even 15 years later, be blindsided by the cruel reality of it all.

Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my kid’s swim practice when a memory knocks the wind out of me. The next thing I know, I’m wiping away tears and hoping no one notices.

Sometimes I’ll be eating dinner at a restaurant and the waiter might look just like my brother. I’ll feel the loss and pain take over and overwhelm me. And in these moments, I’m always surprised at the cruel force of grief’s ability to blindside me.

Sometimes I'll see him when my kids do something especially mischievous, and my thoughts unwillingly flicker to images of my brother, to memories of the antics of a little boy long ago.

Me and my brother as young children.

Then, I start imagining what could have been: him egging them on, encouraging their exasperating behavior. And I can almost hear him laughing, enjoying every second of finding a way to torture me as an adult like he did as a little kid.

You can bottle yourself up and try to insulate yourself from it, but let me tell you: It’s not going away, so you might as well let it happen. You’ll feel it, you’ll hurt, but I’ve learned that you’ll also be OK. You will be OK.

5. I’ve learned that I’ll probably feel my brother’s presence forever.

I'll still see him in each of my children, in their personalities, in their senses of humor, which is what my brother was known for.

I'll still feel him when my family is together and my sister and my parents are laughing and we’re giving each other a hard time. I often feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I feel a warmth come over me, a warmth hard to describe because it’s unlike any sensation I’ve felt before.

And I hope I'll still feel him, forever, kicking me in the ass when I’m about to chicken out on doing something that scares me. I can almost hear what he would say to me in those situations: Don’t give up. You’re better than that.

I’ve learned to recognize these moments, when I feel him with me. They are bittersweet. They are welcome. And they tug at my heart because they will never be enough.

6. What I’ve realized most of all, after all of these years, is that there didn’t need to be a replacement for my brother.

When we knew, in those last weeks, that it would not be possible for him to walk me down the aisle, I contemplated other options. But in the end, I decided there was no understudy, and there would be no last minute stand-in. I couldn’t imagine replacing him in that role.

And as always, even though my brother wasn't physically there, he showed up. He kicked me in the ass a little and told me not to be scared. He reminded me that I didn’t have time to let my pain stand in the way of my wedding, my happiness.

Me and my husband walking down the aisle after our marriage ceremony.

In the end, my brother was still there with me on one of the best days of my life because he always has been.

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Should a man lose his home because the grass in his yard grew higher than 10 inches? The city of Dunedin, Florida seems to think so.

According to the Institute of Justice, which is representing Jim Ficken, he had a very good reason for not mowing his lawn – and tried to rectify the situation as best he could.

In 2014, Jim's mom became ill and he visited her often in South Carolina to help her out. When he was away, his grass grew too long and he was cited by a code office; he cut the grass and wasn't fined.

France has started forcing supermarkets to donate food instead of throwing it away.

But several years later, this one infraction would come back to haunt him after he left to take care of him's mom's affairs after she died. The arrangements he made to have his grass cut fell through (his friend who he asked to help him out passed away unexpectedly) and that set off a chain reaction that may result in him losing his home.

The 69-year-old retiree now faces a $29,833.50 fine plus interest. Watch the video to find out just what Jim is having to deal with.

Mow Your Lawn or Lose Your House! www.youtube.com

Cities

The world officially loves Michelle Obama.

The former first lady has overtaken the number one spot in a poll of the world's most admired women. Conducted by online research firm YouGov, the study uses international polling tools to survey people in countries around the world about who they most admire.

In the men's category, Bill Gates took the top spot, followed by Barack Obama and Jackie Chan.

In the women's category, Michelle Obama came first, followed by Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie. Obama pushed Jolie out of the number one spot she claimed last year.

Unsurprising, really, because what's not to love about Michelle Obama? She is smart, kind, funny, accomplished, a great dancer, a devoted wife and mother, and an all-around, genuinely good person.

She has remained dignified and strong in the face of rabid masses of so-called Americans who spent eight years and beyond insisting that she's a man disguised as a woman. She's endured non-stop racist memes and terrifying threats to her family. She has received far more than her fair share of cruelty, and always takes the high road. She's the one who coined, "When they go low, we go high," after all.

She came from humble beginnings and remains down to earth despite becoming a familiar face around the world. She's not much older than me, but I still want to be like Michelle Obama when I grow up.

Her memoir, Becoming, may end up being the best-selling memoir of all time, having already sold 10 million copies—a clear sign that people can't get enough Michelle, because there's no such thing as too much Michelle.

Don't like Michelle Obama? Don't care. Those of us who love her will fly our MO flags high and without apology, paying no mind to folks with cold, dead hearts who don't know a gem of a human being when they see one. There is nothing any hater can say or do to make us admire this undeniably admirable woman any less.

When it seems like the world has lost its mind—which is how it feels most days these days—I'm just going to keep coming back to this study as evidence that hope for humanity is not lost.

Here. Enjoy some real-life Michelle on Jimmy Kimmel. (GAH. WHY IS SHE SO CUTE AND AWESOME. I can't even handle it.)

Michelle & Barack Obama are Boring Now www.youtube.com

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

Planet

The world is dark and full of terrors, but every once in a while it graces us with something to warm our icy-cold hearts. And that is what we have today, with a single dad who went viral on Twitter after his daughter posted the photos he sent her when trying to pick out and outfit for his date. You love to see it.




After seeing these heartwarming pics, people on Twitter started suggesting this adorable man date their moms. It was essentially a mom and date matchmaking frenzy.

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