A New Year

The top of this year’s Christmas tree, with our angel.  That this tree came within an inch of our ceiling, by dumb luck, is one of the small joys I mention here, whose shimmer I’m newly aware of, and whose presence is a balm.

It’s no secret that 2017 was very, very difficult year for me.  The weeks between November 26 and the end of the year were without question the darkest of my life, in what was already its hardest season. My word for 2017 was deliberate, and for the first nine months of the year, it felt about right.  I dedicated yoga practice to the word deliberate, when I (occasionally) meditated, I allowed that word to guide me and to surface.  I thought about how I could be careful with my time, my choices, my attention, my life.

And then we lost Matt’s father and my father in two months, and our lives veered off the rails.  Deliberate became, frankly, irrelevant.  I can honestly say that since late September the notion of making careful choices hasn’t crossed my mind. I’ve been writing obituaries and eulogies and thank you notes, crying unexpectedly and often, comforting children who are both scared and sad, talking to a spouse who is facing eerily similar circumstances.  We both miss our own dads most of all, of course, but we enjoyed close relationships with each other’s fathers, too, and so Matt and I are both mourning two important men simultaneously.

The day after Christmas, I described this holiday season on Facebook as “shot through with light and suffused with both love and loss, but mostly, honestly, bewildering.” On Christmas Eve, in the church service we always go to, I was in tears several times.  During the prayers of the people when the minister asked the congregation to speak the names silently or aloud of those who have died in the last year, Matt said “Kirtland Mead” and I said “John Russell.”  There is so much about right now that feels surreal.

But even the midst of these dark, confusing days, I am aware of a deep thrum of gratitude.  I wrote about it the morning after my father died, and right after John died I spoke about it unceasingly to Matt.  Both men had full, rich lives, and left tremendous legacies and long shadows.  We are immensely fortunate to have known, loved, and been loved by them.  There is no tragedy here, at least in my view.  There is a lot of sorrow, and a fair degree of shock, but also an enduring feeling that life is good.

Anyway.  There was also much that was good in 2017, though those developments have been thoroughly occluded by the sorrowful events of the year’s end.  Both Grace and Whit started at new schools that they love.  Both Matt and I are in new professional roles, mine in a company I co-founded. One thing that gives me comfort is knowing that both my father and my father-in-law knew of all these developments before they died, and they knew everyone was doing well.  I’m glad for that.

Despite this sturdy sense of gratitude, it was still a holiday season marked predominantly by sorrow. In the midst of all the darkness, though, I’ve been able to see beauty.  I’m still unpacking all the gifts that the box of darkness that the autumn of 2017 handed me, but one of them is surely awareness of small joys.  I wrote on Instagram that this fall had given us radical perspective, and I think that’s connected.  A lot, and I mean a lot, of things cease to matter, when a few things matter so much. It sounds paradoxical when I write it, but somehow realizing how few of the things that cause me and those around me angst and frustration really matter opens the door to awareness of the beauty in many commensurately small things.  Does that make sense?  I’m not sure.  In the wake of devastation, when there is such an overwhelming focus on one (or two) heartbreaking events, a deep well of thankfulness for small comforts has sprung up.  For those of you who have helped provide those: it is appreciated. We have been borne up and carried by the love of friends and family in these last weeks: there’s no way for me to thoroughly express my thanks for that.

I don’t yet have a word for this new year.  I’m mulling some over – peace, calm, grace have all come to mind.  What I want most fervently is a less eventful year.  I want for my family – the family I came from and the family I built and live with – to have some months ahead of quiet joy, of small pleasures and creeping peace.  I want my mother and my mother-in-law to laugh again, and I know they will.

In past years my New Year’s posts have been about lessons learned the year before, about things I want to carry into the new year, about words that guide me.  This is less structured than that, I realize, but perhaps that’s apt: life is a mish-mash of feelings right now, mostly dark with some shimmers of light.  I do have trust that we’ll make it through, all of us.  And I hope you do too.

Happy 2018.


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5 Comments

  1. Posted January 2, 2018 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    “Deliberate became, frankly, irrelevant.” Love this. Such truth in these words. Reading your blog these last two months has made me more aware of life’s fragility…how we are all one phone call away from being emotionally leveled. Please know I think of you often. Sending you peace and patience as you find your feet in the new year. xoxo

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  2. Posted January 2, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Happy 2018 to you dear friend and may it bring you all peace and calm and grace. xo

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  3. Gale
    Posted January 2, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    In 2013-2014 I went through a period similar to your recent travails (professional upheaval, a move, a death, etc.) and when my rough patch seemed close to subsiding I remember thinking that what I craved was quiet. I wanted desperately for all the noise in my life to cease. I wanted to go through a year without any major, life-altering events. I don’t do words of the year as you do, but if I were picking yours for 2018, it would be quiet.

    Happy New Year and best of luck for a brighter skies ahead.

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  4. Posted January 2, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Your words are beautiful. Hang in there. Your father (and father-in-law) are all around you and will always be beside you in spirit. Time is the greatest healer. A cliche perhaps, but no less true. Give yourself time to heal. Time to grieve. Time to feel. Over time, the laughter returns and their spirits live on through the stories you tell your children.

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  5. Posted January 4, 2018 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    This was so thoughtful and beautiful. I especially loved this: “There is no tragedy here, at least in my view. There is a lot of sorrow, and a fair degree of shock, but also an enduring feeling that life is good.”

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