As 2017 winds down its final week, I find myself – like so many of you – reflecting on the year we experienced and thinking about what’s ahead.
We can never be fully prepared for the inevitable changes, even those that are a part of the ever-moving circle of life, and 2017 really drove that home. There were final goodbyes – to people, to lifestyles, to a family home – and best wishes and love to those in our family who made new homes, some close by and some a farther distance away.
For a family that has been enmeshed in close proximity and lots of time together, it’s been an adjustment. If anything, though, it has allowed us to determine the lengths we’ll go to ensure binds remain solid and what we’re willing to do to be together at special times.
Nearly a year ago – January 4, to be exact – life changed dramatically with a simple phone call telling me my mother had taken a fall. Now, in the normal course of our lives, this was just one more event that didn’t seem catastrophic. She’s been known to take a fall, sometimes several over a year. We’re used to this news, but this time was different. She had broken her pelvis on both sides and her elbow, and in the months ahead, she would be in and out of two hospitals, two rehabs and stay with my brother for a short time and then me for several months. It was difficult, laden with emotion on all sides and would eventually determine a massive change in her life and ours – with the sale of her home, the donation of her car to a young woman in need and finally, a new home in an assisted living community. None of it was easy, and particularly for her. At times she was ready to give up and I was angry she felt this way – I wasn’t ready to let go. She persevered and has created a new life that is far from the independent one she enjoyed, but my mother has taught us all that you make the best of the circumstance you are in and find pleasure in as much of it as you can.
Early in her convalescence – and the New Year – my youngest son, the last to live at home, found his own independence in Brooklyn, NYC, moving into a studio apartment in the city. While my heart was heavy to have him move to another state, one visit to his new neighborhood quickly allowed me to see this was where he belonged if he was ever to pursue his own aspirations. He was ready to spread his wings and as a parent, as hard as it is, that’s what we want: for our children to move toward their own goals and be able to experience independence and adventure.
Within a few short weeks, we also learned my daughter’s husband was approached with a new position, a promotion well worth pursuing, but in a neighboring state. While we celebrated his success and the hard work that allowed him this opportunity, it was particularly difficult for my daughter to embrace, given she had never wanted to live more than an hour from her family. She, too, is exceptionally proud of her husband and all he has achieved professionally and as they made plans to move three or so hours away, it seemed like the family was being stretched far beyond our comfort zone.
There was a lot to deal with, and even more so as a decades-long health battle came to an end early in late February. My children finally lost their father, a man who had been largely lost in spirit and physical presence for a very long time, but now – he was really gone and there was much to deal with that we hadn’t anticipated, emotionally, psychologically and perhaps even physically.
For the first half of the year, all of this was swirling about. It’s not surprising that I had major stomach issues happening, which led to speculation of dietary problems, food allergies or sensitivities, perhaps my gallbladder, maybe something more nefarious. I was finishing up my master’s, dealing with everything else and undergoing changes at work, at home and in every area of my personal life. Suddenly, by June, many things were resolved and moving forward in positive directions. My mom was settled in a new home, her home sold. My daughter and her family had found a beautiful new house in Vermont and we looked forward to seeing their new digs. My youngest was settled in the city. My other two sons were doing really well in their lives. I was done school. Life should be far simpler now.
Yet the summer felt almost paralyzing at times. I was exhausted, although I had little on my plate to deal with. I lacked ambition although I had so much to do to, so much to catch up on that had fallen to the wayside for six months, a year, maybe ten? I slept a lot, watched a lot of Netflix and didn’t accomplish much of anything. It took a while to understand the toll the first six months of 2017 had taken not just on me but everyone in the family. We’re still recuperating and by mid-fall, my stomach maladies seemingly disappeared.
And here we are, closing out a year of many changes. Here’s what I know:
Our family is resilient, loving and enormously attached to one another. What affects one affects us all deeply. We are committed to each other and to the newer members of our family, too. While we have been blessed to have new partners enter the fray over the past couple of years, this year they truly became family – and their families have become vital parts of our greater family, too.
My friends continue to sustain me. I am fortunate to have a tight group of some of the very best friends anyone could ask for. They embrace each year, and each other, and make getting older fun and memorable, even when we can’t remember the simplest words, where we’ve been or where we’re supposed to meet and when. It becomes more comical by the year. And then there are our collective friends; each of us has a full circle of friends who have become family over the years, not just individually to use but to our family as a whole. We can’t even imagine life without a single one.
The changes we’ve encountered geographically – whether it’s a move to Vermont, to Brooklyn or just to a new home or job – allow us to grow, sometimes in ways we don’t necessarily want, yet it helps us broaden our horizons, pull deep from places we aren’t even aware of and become better, stronger and more pliable.
We have had such fun throughout the past year, too: A mother-daughter road trip to Brooklyn and Manhattan, a lake cruise in Vermont and discovering new restaurants there, our perennial favorite – Newfound Lake, lots of music shows – Tom Petty, Seether and TSO, and so many more; lots of texting and FaceTime, great meals, small trips and lots of laughter. There have been really special times, such as an unexpected wedding and a new home in the works, graduation for me, and an incredible joint family fundraising effort in memory of the kids’ father and their uncle, who also passed from Parkinson’s.
We have each had our share of challenges over the past year – some as a family and many that have been deeply personal – and yet we continue to get through them with each other’s support and look forward to the year ahead. As I looked around at Christmas, my first thought was not of the challenges, but rather of how lucky I am to have these children, now grown, their partners and my grandchildren, too. We weren’t quite sure even six months ago whether my mother would be here this Christmas, and yet she is, feisty as ever and an integral part of our family.
While I can’t predict what 2018 will bring, I know, in my gut, that there are some incredible things to come. I’m thankful for the growth of the past year, as hard as it sometimes was, but appreciative of everyone that made the journey over 2017 with me. What a wild ride it was!