We just finished our second “Celebration of Life” for Dani in Florida. Our first one was a week prior, with over 500 people joining us in Ohio to celebrate the life of a beautiful daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, friend, co-worker and woman gone too soon. This celebration had over 100 friends sharing stories I had never heard before. Stories about a girl who did whatever she could to guide, inspire and bring out the best in everyone. A girl who literally paid forward when friends couldn’t. A girl who placed her mental health second to others. A girl I was so proud of and missed more than anything in the world.


We were leaving for home the next morning and I suggested we go to the beach. It was right there and Danielle and I always walked to the ocean when I visited. The sun was setting, the waves lapping and the wind blowing. I don’t remember who suggested it, but, of course, we needed to “document” this memory with a group selfie. As we gathered together I tried to move my face into a smile and it didn’t work. Literally, it didn’t work and I was  unable to form a smile for this picture. There was no joy in my heart and it reflected back at me on the screen.  Snap. It was done. Memory made, tucked into the photo library with others I would forget had been taken.


I can’t recall the exact moment I gave myself permission to smile, but it was long after that trip. Mentally, physically and emotionally drained, smiling was the farthest thing from my mind. As time passed, I was reminded of the one common denominator of all the stories people shared about Dani. It always was about her laugh. Contagious, pure, loud and unrestrained. Music from her soul to all who listened. I remembered the times her and I laughed hysterically and the joy that reminiscing always brought us. I smiled at the memory. I watched my first movie since her passing, “The Greatest Showman,” and my face lit up during the music. It made me feel a bit guilty. How can I smile, laugh or be the least bit happy when part of my heart was ripped into a million pieces? My daughter was gone. Years before Dani learned to smile and laugh after she lost her person. If she could, I knew I had to as well.


If you find yourself in a situation similar to this, please don’t be hard on yourself.  Give yourself permission and grace to smile. It may not happen until you watch your favorite sit-com or listen to a song. It may wait until you are with your children or grandchildren and you catch yourself enjoying the moment. Whatever it takes, weeks, months or years, one day you will remember how to smile. I did.


Being raised by the music of Nat King Cole, these lyrics came to mind:

“Smile, though your heart is aching,
Smile even though it’s breaking,
When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.”