March 11, 2024

My Birthday Promise to Carl: Live Fully & Authentically

Today is March 11, and I woke up with a heaviness in my body. My body knows that today is Carl’s birthday. The grief lays heavy on my heart, as though my body is aware that this is his day, and that he is not here to celebrate. Today would have been Carl’s 42nd birthday, marking five years that our children and I have been celebrating his birth without him. And, while we feel the weight of our grief today, even more than we do every day, this year I intend to celebrate by finding a connection to the parts of him that I loved and celebrated while he was alive. 


Grief changes so much over time. In fact, it changes you completely. As I reflect on the past and consider how to best celebrate life in honor of this massive loss, I think about all the people-pleasing that happened in my former life as well as all the ways that I lived in fear of what others thought about me. Back then my world was calculated to keep everyone around me happy, no matter the cost to my mental, physical and emotional health. The energy that is required to please other people can deplete your inner peace, allowing you no space to do what makes you feel vibrant and strong. On the surface you think, “If I love you then I want you to always be happy.” This seems like a very noble way to live, right? Yet, you’re left feeling exhausted. 

Those of us people-pleasers are most often looking for outside validation because, as children, we were taught that our value was determined by what we did for other people. This way of thinking is a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s great to do things for other people, but not to the detriment of our own lives. As mothers, many of us often run around doing everything to make our kids perfectly happy, creating a world that’s unsustainable for them and us. Preventing others, including our children, from feeling hard emotions like sadness, loss, disappointment and failure takes away their power to learn how to manage and run their own life. By trying to constantly please them, we’re inevitably setting them up for failure, unequipped for life’s many challenges.


As a recovering people-pleaser, I have a love-hate relationship with social media, where most strive to portray the image of what they think the world wants to see. Authenticity means being who you are in every moment, whether it’s a post you’re sharing on Facebook or what you say when someone asks, “How are you doing?”  It is how you behave when no one is looking. It does not mean you have it all right, or even close to right. We’re all constantly evolving. We may authentically change the way we think, feel and live many times based upon our ability to allow ourselves to really live in our truth and communicate that truth to the world around us. If you are reading this and suffer from people-pleasing you might commonly feel resentment towards your loved ones. You might feel lonely, unseen, under-appreciated and like you are always doing for others but no one is ever doing anything for you. This is where people-pleasing becomes codependent. Somewhere along the way, likely when we were young, we learned that to be loved we had to do something for someone else to earn that love. We may have had to keep our parental figures happy all the time by being the perfect child so that we could receive the love and validation we yearned for. These survival patterns lay deep in our subconscious and continue until our life hits a burnout point. If you were abandoned by someone you love, whether by child, friend or romantic partner, you learn to do anything to be loved and not left. We instinctively want to avoid that pain. While trying to protect ourselves, we end up abandoning our truest self. 

Unauthentically giving of ourselves creates internal and external friction. We do things we really don’t want to do, plaster a smile, and pretend we love it. We hide from those we love so much. We live for them while not showing them our truest self. We seek to be loved, yet we never show them the real us that there is to love. What starts as a survival skill becomes our greatest emotional sabotage. A shaman once told me, “The only true abandonment is when we directly and clearly ask the person for what we want and or need, and they say no. All else is self-abandonment.” What she meant by this is that until we say exactly what we need and behave authentically as the person we truly are, we are abandoning ourselves. We then play the victim because it is far easier to be in that role than to speak our truth. Our inner self is most afraid of saying clearly what we need and being told, “No, I do not love you.” The hardest part of living in this repression is that we prevent others from loving us fully, we prevent internal peace and we prevent ourselves from releasing those who are not really meant to love us in the ways we need. Instead, we try to make others dependent on us so they can’t leave us.


My husband David and I lost our former spouses when we were both very young. We often regret the deep amount of self-abandonment and people-pleasing that took place in our previous marriages. I loved Carl so much. I would have done anything to make him and my sweet little family happy. I spent so much time working on their happiness that I often abandoned myself. He did the same, which makes me wonder…”Was he really happy on the inside?” Between the big love we had for each other and how much we wanted the other to be happy, we each had a fear of not being enough, not being loved. Since losing Carl, I’ve realized that the “space between” is where we had an opportunity to be vulnerable and build sacred love through trust and authenticity. That missing space is where we could have learned to show each other our most imperfect selves. But, as I have said many times before, we only get this one life. 

Carl blew out his last birthday candles five years ago. I remember how hard I worked to make that birthday party look beautiful so he would know how loved he was. Today, I have learned that showing how much you love someone means more than what’s on the outside, no matter how pretty things may seem. It means holding space for my loved ones to feel the entire spectrum of emotions. It means not rescuing them from experiencing all of life. It means hugging and holding hands when words have no meaning. It means being my truest self because I trust that bringing all of who I am into my relationships is what real love is. It means being a mom who does not need her children to be perfect, but to let them be human and make mistakes and be there to love all of them, not just the parts that please me or others. It means being a wife that says what I need, tells the truth about who I am, and offers the same for my husband. 


It’s not lost on me that being an authentic person vs. a person constantly focused on pleasing others came after losing Carl. The loss was so intense that I physically could not please anyone. I had no energy left to give. After he died, I had to focus all of my energy on mine and my children’s healing, on keeping us alive despite the insurmountable pain we were in. For the sake of myself and my kids, I had to say no, had to disappoint and set boundaries. I had to take care of us first, live in my true emotions and preserve my energy. All of my fellow recovering people-pleasers can guess what happened next…my circle narrowed so much. I lost many friends and some family members. It has taken me years to realize that I caused those relationships to fail because of my people-pleasing tendencies. Those people had fallen in love with the version of myself I was sharing with the world, not the real me, and that isn’t their fault. When death forced me to live authentically, I was unrecognizable to everyone—including myself. Slowly I have rebuilt my circle, but not a day goes by that I don’t regret not letting Carl see all of me. 

As I figuratively blow out his 42nd birthday candles, I make a promise that I will keep healing the for the both of us, that I will love all parts of our children, that I will live in the fullest spectrum of emotions, that I will give not create false happiness, nor abandon myself or my family by hiding my true self. I will live and love without hiding me no matter what. 

Happy Birthday Carl. As I promised you, I will keep living fully for you everyday.

With love,



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