It was a strange mix of feelings boarding the plane for Kauai yesterday.

Impossible not to think about the fact that the next time we board this plane and head in this direction will be in June this year, and it will be for keeps as we make our move to this beautiful island. So much excitement, so much change, so much unknown.

Impossible not to think about how last time I boarded this plane for Kauai in 2016, my brother was a day away from dying, and I had no idea. My life wasn’t supposed to look like this; nobody ever promised me my life was supposed to look a certain way.

Impossible not to think about all the family memories I am heading back to on the island of Kauai- a place that holds some of my most poignant and potent remembrances of my brother and I as adults. Some of them are good, some of them not as good- all of them are all I have left and therefore dear to me in their own way.

At present, I’m long off the plane and am sitting in the morning sunshine on the lanai, surrounded by fronds of emerald green and jungle hues, thinking about the passage of time, letting it swirl through me in lazy, thoughtful drifts punctuated by the sounds of tropical birds singing the day awake.

I have learned this past year, so much so, how much emotional space exists inside of ourselves. And that sorrow and joy can sit side by side, co-mingling, as peaceful companions. It is impossible not to feel happy and freer here, excited about what will be; it is impossible to ignore the pangs of lament and grief as I think about living out my what will be’s without my brother.

Their bittersweet companionship makes me grateful I have integrated this truth into my being, but it also makes me wish that I had known some of these things when I was younger and that somebody would do a better job of teaching us about what it means to be whole.

I wish I’d known that being a whole human being means we have great space inside of our inner circles, capable of holding a variety of emotions, all of which we are meant to experience.

I wish I’d known that happiness needn’t be dictated by our sorrows and that sorrow doesn’t negate happiness.

I wish I’d known that the things that make us cringe and feel embarrassed and shameful about ourselves are just as innately lovable as the shiny, more polished, better parts of ourselves we feel good about.

I tried to practice that kind of unconditional love last night as I lay in the guestroom at my parent’s condo remembering all the previous winters I’ve been over on this island. I was in a different place some of those winters. Single. Making interesting choices in my relationships. Trying to find my way. Trying to figure it out. Trying to grow into a bigger person.

It’s tempting to reflect on some of those choices and wish I had done things differently. But as I lay there on the cusp of regret and self-judgment, I realized that the girl who walked that path- my younger self- was doing the best she knew to do with what she had at the time, and she really just deserves a big hug for working so hard on herself and trying to stay open to life.

Lessons and teachers come in all shapes and forms- those things we deem mistakes are often the necessary bedrock for what will shape us. I wouldn’t blow my trumpet so loud to the tune of self-love had I not gone through those experiences; nor see the beauty and gifts found in relationships that may not ultimately be the right somebody for a person, but might be the somebody they need at that particular point in time to teach them something they need for growth.

Nor have had the teachers of experience that taught me what it means to be a whole human being. There’s so much I had to figure out through the living; perhaps some things really can’t be taught and must be experienced, lived and integrated in order to fully realize the lesson.

I’m grateful, though, for the new lessons of day and glad as I sit here typing that some of those older lessons are far in the past. The past wasn’t meant to be relived and re-experienced; just remembered so we can learn from it and keep becoming who we are meant to be today.

And for today it is enough to still miss him and feel the ache, all while I nurture and fan these sparks of fire and excitement inside of myself that are urging me to get out and explore this beautiful island, dream about what life will be here, let myself revel in the delightful thoughts that I will soon get to call this place home.

And just be with it all- in the whole that is me.