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.