The Internet has no shortage of memes and gifs about how 2016 has been full of tragedy with so many celebrities taken from us way too soon. Apparently aging pop icons are now discovering that fame and fortune buys them no exemption from time and age any more than the rest of us. While this will be the common theme online as 2016 comes to a close, it’s very low on my list as I reflect. The past year has been a bit of a rollercoaster and I’ve hesitated to share my thoughts because some things are still pretty bitter and raw, but here it goes….
I have a great family and a job I love. I don’t fight 401 traffic, I’m proud to represent the company I work for and I have a passion for the industry I’m in. I started 2016 with some exciting new projects both professionally and personally, which I tackled, characteristically, with more enthusiasm and energy than attention to detail. Then, one Sunday in July we got a call from my brother-in-law asking if we could watch their 3 and 1 year old while he took my sister to the doctor because she wasn’t feeling herself. We only live a few blocks away so it wasn’t long until we got there, but by then it was obvious something was seriously wrong. At the hospital, I was worried, but I was also thinking about the jobs around home that I was going to get to that pleasant, summer afternoon and my schedule for the upcoming week. Then a doctor spoke and everything came crashing down around me. Less than 24 hours later, my youngest sister died, 2 months shy of her 40th birthday.
A very matter of fact doctor explained that my sister had been living with a ticking time bomb in the form of a brain aneurism. No injury, no cause and nothing that could have been done and so she left behind a husband, 2 beautiful little girls and a long to-do list of partly finished projects and crafts. I have read that losing a loved one is like getting hit with a brick, but for me it was more like being thrown into a lake, treading water and trying not to drift too far from shore. There were calls to make to family, awkwardly blurting out the news. There were arrangements to make always trying to honor my sister’s wishes, but feeling like it was a farce and a show for everyone else. I tried to cling to something normal. Someone told me recently that normal, day to day chores provided her with an anchor as she struggled with health challenges and I found that to be true as well. Even in the first days, I needed those calls to work and the moments of normalcy and talking to strangers and not leading with “My sister just died….”
My initial reaction to the funeral process was that we were simply satisfying the required traditions and going through the motions required by convention and society. What I found was that, at least going through the motions was a task that allowed some direction and eases you into conversations where you say things like “my sister was…” rather than “my sister is…” That week I would catch myself making sure there were 4 chairs for me and my siblings and then remembering we only needed 3. As I talked to more and more people who thought very highly of my sister, I realized there was a lot about her I didn’t know. To me, she was always my bratty, little sister, who needed me to look out for her. Even though, rationally, I knew how smart and successful she was, hearing it from a crowd of strangers impacted me more than I would have guessed.
The return to a normal pattern was gradual and it was little things that would trip me up – posting on Facebook and realizing that she wouldn’t comment, scrolling through text messages and reading a running conversation I was having with her, stumbling across the last picture I have of her and the kids. As life goes on some things are new – my sister would love that we have a close relationship with her girls and that makes me a both happy and sad. The grief is still there, obviously, but it’s become a manageable thing and it’s most present at family events like birthdays and holidays, but it sometimes surprises me and I’m not sure why.
I’m not a deep thinker and writing this has not been easy, but I want to share because I have learned some things this year. It turns out that some of the moral lessons we have be taught are not nearly as cliché as I thought – don’t take people for granted, live for today, don’t sweat the small stuff – turns out not just catch phrases. One of the things that became important to me in 2015 was to be a positive supporter of farmers and agriculture in general. I have questioned, at times, if what I do has any real impact or if I’m doing it right or even if it’s my place to speak up. But, what I have decided is that it’s important to me and I don’t care what other people think. I enjoy doing a blog and a podcast, I enjoy the people I have met as a result and it has fostered my passion for agriculture. My resolution is this – I’m going to be myself and I’m going to keep learning and growing. So 2017- what you see is what you get, but it’s all me.