A Year of Death and Uncertainty

While it seems wrong to paint a whole year with a such a broad and gloomy brushstroke, hindsight can sort of do that. This year, my 43rd, will undoubtedly go down as one of the most tumultuous years of my life, and yet, it was amazing. Like a year of training for some kind of well being triathlon.

It began with losing Clayde and caring for her at home as she died of Alzheimer’s. That disease is a bitch, and I could go on and on about it, but I won’t. While Clayde was dying downstairs, Indy was diagnosed with a learning disability, and I had a lump removed from my breast (not cancer). They became small things in comparison, but, in their moments, felt large.  

The grief after Clayde’s death brought a wave of change. Sage lost his patience for the business world and decided to step out of SageRock and work as a Homeless Advocate. I took on SageRock and the responsibility to bring home all the bacon, which I did happily, and yet… I began to slow. More napping, less dog walks, chores sliding, 8:00 bedtimes.

Was I overwhelmed by my new responsibilities? No. I was not making blood.

By the time summer arrived, I needed blood transfusions to stay alive. The obvious answer (and not just by Google standards) was bone cancer. So our family spent July to October delving into this awful question and the expensive testing needed to answer it.

I began this year, 44, with the best gift ever. No Cancer. A rare bone marrow disease instead — Autoimmune Myelofibrosis. Treatable and with no 5-year death prognosis.

As a professional writer and online storyteller, I am always trying to overlay a narrative arc onto my story. It’s a work hazard. This year I made friends with uncertainty, hung out regularly with death, and was stripped of entitlements. Is any of this experience worth sharing? Perhaps these three tidbits.

I learned that I am more joyful and resilient than I realized. When faced with a 50+% chance of dying in 5 years, I did not fall apart. In fact, I felt at ease because nothing felt undone or misaligned. I looked at my life and felt like I was living it well. I was overwhelmed by my incredible 43 years of luck and found a deep well of gratitude that I didn’t realize existed.

I learned to let uncertainty be. I am an anxious person by nature, which means I prefer lots of resolution. I love lists and plans and well structured paragraphs with conclusions. Alzheimer’s, cancer screenings, and learning disabilities do not operate well in these parameters. Instead of spinning my wheels, I stopped and stood and listened. It felt like I was wading into a swamp, obsessed with getting to solid ground, and then suddenly just stopped and appreciated where I was — lily pads, frogs, sun on my face and the like. It wasn’t where I wanted to be, but there was a lot of good stuff around me to take in if I stayed in the moment.

I learned to let go of expectations. Mostly ones that were weighing me down. Entitlements. Like that I deserved to be healthy and live until I am 80 or 90. After all, only 43% of the population of earth lives past 70. Over 38% of us will get cancer. 1 out of every 33 babies in the US has a birth defect. And 700,000 women a year lose their husbands. That’s just whitewashed Western world tragedy. It’s a real shit show out there.

And while I can wring my hands and despair, I can also just live out into it with generosity and kindness for as long as I am able. I have learned, this year, that shelving the fear serves me as well, or just better, than clinging to it.

So, here’s to 44. Whether I stumble into another swamp or continue on a well marked trail, I think I packed well, and I’m excited for the journey. And thank you to all the kind souls that walked with me in that swamp collecting tadpoles and parting reeds. I love you.

11 Comments

  1. You are incredible as I had no knowledge of your personal disrupting crazy life-threatening ills. You are amazing. Myself walked away from the death of Clade, my dearest friend, the pain still a year later still exists. Since moving to Frederick, MD there have been major health issues. Financially we have hit bottom. With my experience in the healthcare and fitness field for 30 years, I contact agencies for guidance. Having been reluctant to call you….your response would be helpful. Fondly, Pat

  2. What a beautiful piece from a beautiful woman, inside and out. Happy 44th birthday, my dear!

  3. I think about you too Betty and I miss the gang. Hoping to get my shit together and get back over there soon. 🙂

  4. I’m sorry your struggling, Micky. We’re all going through something, aren’t we? Or somethings! You’re right about family & friends. They’re my rock too. I’ll be thinking of you.

  5. I had no idea all you have been going through. I only knew I missed you. When I started reading this I kept thinking oh, no. But by the time I finished it, you had reminded me of all that is important. Serenity Prayer pretty well says it all.
    Know I am thinking of you.

  6. Rocky, you have survived Hell. You are stronger then most people. I turn 57 today with fear of premature Alzheimer’s, which my mother got in her late 50s. She didn’t live to see 70. My dad died of lung cancer one year later, 3 days before his 70th bday. Although I think it was heartbreak for him.
    I started my auction business this year, with 2 lousy consignment auctions. My husband survived 2 surgeries last year. I’m worried that he may not make it to 70, he is 66 in December.
    My only sibling lives in Philly, PA.
    If it weren’t for my friends I don’t know what I would do.
    Hang on to your family…in the end it’s all we have.

  7. Hugs to you, girl. That’s more than one is equipped to (or should need to) endure in one year! I’m glad to hear you have received a “good” diagnosis. I know that you and Sage are doing great work and am glad that you’re able to keep on keepin’ on.

  8. Thanks Kim. I hear you. The learning piece can feel big sometimes when the kid is discouraged or failing, but I do know it’s a blip on the ole radar. And yeah, that LD label is borderline BS across the board for so many. I spent a long time avoiding it knowing what a ridiculous quagmire it can be. But alas… here we are. 🙂

  9. Learning issues are nothing. Both of our girls had dyslexia and were never going to read. Period. They’re both college grads. As you say, pick and choose your battles. The U.S. is the only country I know of that has reduced stubbing one’s toe = to a learning diability.

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