The Longest Year

I think we can all agree this year has been the worst. I’m not going to list all the reasons. We all know them.

For me, however, the horrors of year have been overshadowed by my father’s illness. He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a debilitating and incurable deadly lung disease, several years ago. At that time, he was told he had a life expectancy of three to five years. Now nearly 89 years old, he’s managed to defy those odds, and we are now in year eight. During that time, he continued his work as an optometrist, only retiring this spring because the virus made it impossible for him to safely continue seeing his patients.

Because of his illness, we’ve had to be extra careful. I’m his primary caregiver alongside my mother, and we’ve been on lockdown since March 12. We go nowhere. We see no one other than medical personnel. We wear masks constantly. My hands are permanently chapped from washing/sanitizing them. His condition has continued to worsen, and as of last week, he was placed on hospice. At this point, I think it unlikely Dad will get see the world return to normal.

Every single event I was scheduled to take part in this year was either canceled, postponed until 2021, or moved online, and that makes me profoundly sad. I love travel, meeting up with friends, making new ones, getting to talk about books, and celebrating the creative life. None of that was possible this year, at least face-to-face.

I also struggled with my writing productivity this year. I have ideas. Plenty of them. I’ve got seven outlines and manuscripts in various stages of completion. But finding dedicated writing time has been elusive, and my focus was so hard to keep all year long.

However, what is happening with my Dad would have happened this year regardless, so I would likely have had to put my work life on hold anyway.

I’m not saying any of this because I think my story is somehow worse than anyone else’s. The whole world is suffering right now. We all need to be gentler with one another. This year has taken so much from all of us.

But this year has also made me learn to change my gratitude scale. It’s much easier for me to have a good day.

A good day is one in which:

  • No nurses or doctors were called.
  • We got all the grocery items we ordered for curbside pick up.
  • I got to go for a walk.
  • My dog did something adorable.
  • We ordered takeout.
  • I had time to read a book an hour before bed.
  • I cooked something tasty.
  • We found something new and tasty growing in the garden.
  • I found a new song to listen to.
  • I talked to a friend online or around the patio fire pit.
  • Our fresh peaches, grapes, cherries, or strawberries were ripe.
  • I had an hour in the morning for coffee and contemplation.
  • There was a new episode of Lucifer or The Mandalorian.
  • I learned something interesting or useful in a webinar or online meeting.
  • I danced in my office just because I could.

And there were a few AMAZING days as well.

Along the way, I learned:

  • I’m freakin’ resilient. While I had dark days, like anyone else, I made it. I survived. I even thrived at times. I’m proud I was able to hold on. Meditation and St. John’s Wort helped with my mental health, and I’m glad I learned to take care of myself when I needed it. It’s not weakness to need help. It’s a strength to acknowledge and see it out.
  • I’m resourceful. I figured out how to keep us all safe. How to find the masks and supplies we needed. What to do when there was no toilet paper (we now have bidets upstairs and down because I am never going to deal with that problem again). I navigated Dad’s healthcare needs and as a result he’s been able to stay home, safe and in relative comfort, getting the help he requires.
  • My friends are even more amazing than I already knew. Next level amazing. Like, take what you think an amazing friend would be, and then multiply it by a thousand. You might get close to how I feel about them. I am so so so lucky. I would not be where I am today without their care and support. When I think about how much they mean to me, it’s a little overwhelming. Thank you.
  • I’m blessed with a wonderful family. This year has been harder than I thought I could bear, but their help and care has made it immeasurably easier. I’m so grateful for them.
  • Setting up a smart home wasn’t that hard, and I’m not sure how we would have made it without it, honestly. Robot vacuums, the air fryer, and the InstaPot saved my life from being bogged down in drudgery.
  • Our neighbors are truly the best. They’ve helped us in a myriad of ways, and I can’t thank them enough for their kindness and compassion.
  • Though I’m naturally an overachiever, I’ve had to step way back from that this year. It’s okay that I needed to slow down. I can forgive myself for needing to change my focus this year. This year’s success can be measured in other ways. And I am proud of the way I’ve spent my time.
  • I really love gardening. There is such joy in going out each day to find something new to cook. Using my hands to make things grow.
  • After years of living on my own, I’ve realized just how much I love cooking for others. Finding new recipes to try. There’s a deep satisfaction in knowing what you’ve made is making others healthy and happy.
  • I can never have too many books. I knew this already, but this year reinforced that a thousandfold. Books were my salvation. My escape. My respite. My teacher. I’ve read more this year than I have in a long time. When life becomes busier again, I’m not going to forget this lesson.
  • Even though I haven’t finished writing anything this year (yet), I have done a ton of planning. And that’s creative too. I’ve got years of productivity to come, and every idea I’ve outlined has me so excited and hopeful for the future.
  • My mother is truly my best friend. Every day with her is a gift. I am so glad we can support one another, laugh, share ideas, plan, hope, and imagine together.
  • I’m so lucky to have this time with my Dad. Even when days are hard and he’s struggling, I’m so grateful to be able to care for him. To talk to him every day. To know I’ve done all I can to ease his worries and pain. To find ways to make him smile. To give him ways to keep his mind active. To help make his every day struggles easier.

While I won’t be sad to see this year behind us, I’m grateful for where I was able to spend it and for the people I spent it with.

I’m hopeful that next year will be an improvement. I wish for joy and reasons to laugh for all of us. May you find a more peaceful and loving world awaiting you in the time to come. And though this year has been the longest ever, may you find reasons to be grateful and the strength to overcome and thrive in the future. Let’s make the world a better, safer place for ourselves and the people we love.

Best wishes to you and yours.

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