The Gifts of a Bad Year

As I sat in a fancy, schmancy hotel surrounded by some of my best friends watching one of my favorite songwriters sing “Old Lang Syne” on Friday night, I couldn’t help but be thankful that 2010 had finally ended.  It’s not been the best year for me and my family; in fact, I’d hazard saying that it was the worst year of my life.  Funny, though, how when your eyes are blurred by tears brought on by hard, heartbreaking events, you sometimes have the clearest vision of your world.  Amidst the bad things happening in 2010, I was given so many gifts.  I take so much for granted in my life – 2010 reminded me of all the people and things that I am truly lucky to have in my life.

As many of you know, my Mom was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in July.  It’s been a really horrific fight for her, and the last six months have seemed like an eternity.  Severe dehydration during her chemo treatment put her into septic shock and we came very close to losing her.  Her body has been through so much, and the emotional toll it has taken on her, my brother, sister and me, as well as many of our other family members, has been taxing.   I have spent the last five months being angry that this happened to my Mom, scared to death that I would lose her, worried about how we’re going to pay for everything, and heartbroken for her because this has completely changed her life.  And yet, despite all of those negative feelings, the good somehow shines through the bad.  In December, she was finally physically strong enough to have surgery to remove the tumor and we hope that we’ll soon have an “all clear.”  She’s had access to some of the best oncologists and surgeons in the country, thanks to where she lives.  The care she received at the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania was beyond amazing.  I cannot possibly express my gratitude to everyone there who played a role in her care and recovery – but most especially the nurses.  If you’ve never had to sit in a hospital for days on end, you could never fully grasp the depths of compassion, knowledge, and hard work these people do every day.  I was astounded, over and over again, by the kindness shown to my Mom, and to our family, by these wonderful people who were complete strangers but cared for my Mom as if she was their own mother.  The biggest gift that 2010 gave me was the gift of my Mom:  she’s still here with us, and we remain optimistic that she will be cancer-free.

Beyond the obvious, Mom’s illness has also had an impact on my relationship with my family.  Since moving to North Carolina almost 13 years ago, my time with my family has been limited. I have been able to spend so much time with my Mom this year and feel much closer to her.  The same goes for my brother and sister, who have been unbelievably strong through this whole ordeal, bearing a lot of the burden because they area geographically closer to Mom.  There was hardly a day that went by during Mom’s six weeks in the hospital this year that one of us wasn’t there with her, and a lot of times, it was them.   My Dad and my stepmom have been incredible resources and pillars of strength for me.  Anytime I had a medical question, I was lucky enough to have them to turn to, and they were there, no matter what time of night I needed them.  My Gran, despite fighting through a severe illness of her own this year, was her same strong self, insisting upon feeding us when we were home, giving us money, and making what couldn’t have been easy physical trips for her up to the hospital to see my Mom. My Uncle Bull, my Mom’s brother, was so supportive and although his work schedule is extremely taxing, he took what little free time he had to visit Mom in the hospital, drive me to the airport, send text messages to check in, take care of stuff at Mom’s house while she was sick, or whatever we needed from him. My great Uncle Jack and Aunt Barb, who would do anything for their family, doing the same, making sure we were fed, checking on us constantly.  Not a day went by when my Aunt Nina, my Dad’s sister-in-law, who has remained friends with my Mom over the years, didn’t check in during Mom’s illness.  The same holds true for our extended family of friends and neighbors, who reached out over and over again to let us know we weren’t alone and to help whenever we needed it.  I am forever grateful for that, and count my family among the biggest gifts of 2010.

With everything that happened with my Mom, my own friendships really got neglected.  But that didn’t stop my friends – my other family – from being the most incredibly supportive group of people on the planet.  It’s true what they say; that when you’re in crisis, you find out who your true friends are.  I will never be able to repay my friends for what they’ve done for me and my Mom over the past few months.  From sending Mom cards, flowers and gifts (Christy and Andrew, Michelle, Kelly and Matt, Stacy, Lee, Kim, Peter, Jen, Shelia, Denise and Sue), to offering and giving me air miles to fly home at the last minute (Christy, Kelly and Matt), just calling to tell me they were thinking about my Mom (so many of you!), letting me cry on their shoulder (too many to list), cooking me dinner (Annie and Brad), or getting me out of the house for a few hours to forget about everything for awhile (a whole wide range of you and the staff at The Gin Mill, of course).   I would give my right arm (and leg) to be able to give back to my friends an ounce of the love they have showed me and my family.  My friends are always some of my biggest blessings, but this year, they are even more so.

I don’t often talk about work because I prefer to keep my work life and personal life separate, but I can’t possibly talk about the gifts of this last year without talking about my job.  I am so very lucky to have an employer who from the very moment I told them about my Mom’s illness, has been absolutely incredible.  At every level, from my direct manager on up to the CEO and founder of the company, I have received nothing but support.  Not once did I question my job’s security.  They allowed me the flexibility to take the time I needed to be with my Mom during her illness and work remotely when I could.  And, to top it all off, despite being out more than I have been in nearly 13 years with the company, I received a promotion at the end of the year.  I cannot be anything but grateful for working for a company that puts family first.

No blog from me would be complete without talking about music.  Music always inspires me, makes me happy, consoles me, and provides a soundtrack to my life.  This year, it did all those things, but with even more intensity.  I had a spectacular music year – where do I even begin to talk about it?  The highlight of my music year was finally, FINALLY getting to meet and see Christopher Jak perform.  Jak has been in my Top 5 artists since I first heard him in 2003, but I’d never been able to see him live.  So when the team at Rock by the Sea invited him to perform, I was without words.  His two performances were everything I expected and more.  A close second was seeing Alpha Rev live for the first time – the other band in my Top 10 that I’d never seen before.   Let’s just say that Casey McPherson is even more magical live…and I have a massive musical crush on Brian Batch.  If you ever want to watch someone absolutely crush an electric violin performance, I highly recommend getting your ass out to see this band.   The Influence continues to become a bigger and bigger part of my musical landscape, and the release of their new album, Falling Objects, was one of my favorite musical moments this year – the best release of the year, in my opinion.  Grace Potter – new album and two live shows this year.  Hello amazing.  And let’s not forget those Sequoyah Prep School kids.  The second half of the year was sadly a little lacking in shows from them, but they managed to tie The Influence boys for the band I saw most this year – six times in total. I’m eagerly anticipating the release of their new album in 2011.  And, lastly, thanks to the generosity of my bestie Christy and her wonderful fiance, I closed out the year with an intimate performance from the ever talented Emerson Hart, sitting less than 10 feet away from the man himself…there are worse ways to spend a New Year’s Eve, my friends.  Yes, indeed, music is a big gift from 2010.

One thing that has been missing from my life for a long time is writing.  I write every day for work, and occasionally here for the blog, but I haven’t earnestly tried to write anything for enjoyment in years.  Thanks to a challenge from my partner-in-crime Shelia, that changed this year.  The gauntlet was thrown:  sign up for NaNoWriMo and write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I completely and totally failed – only managed to get to 10K.  But, in failing, I succeeded.  I brought writing back to my life.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it, how exhilarating the process could be, how much I enjoyed creating characters.  In 2011, writing will be more a part of my life.  So thank you Shelia for encouraging the writer in me, and giving me the gift of writing again.

I could go into a list of a million other things that brought me happiness in 2010 – being asked to be the maid-of-honor at Christy and Andrew’s wedding, photography, silly things like Guinness and Hawaii Five-0 – and it would probably take pages and pages.  As I sweep 2010 out the door and welcome 2011, I can only hope that 2011 brings me more gifts like the ones I received in 2010.  2010 may have been the worst year of my life, but somehow, that makes the good things, big and small, matter even more.

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