It doesn’t happen all the time, but it does happen often enough. Someone will say to me, “you are such a good writer” and while I appreciate the compliment, I never took writing classes. I just speak from my heart. It does, however, put a little pressure on me to turn out a “good” Christmas letter. I often re-read my letter from the previous year before I sit down to write the current year and this year was no different. And at the end I found myself crying and maybe next year when I read this letter, I will find myself emotional as well. I write these letters almost for myself as much as for you because when I read them years later it’s like a diary entry. My year in review so to speak. So, with that said, let me dive into this year’s letter and hope it turns out well.
I think we all went into 2020 with hope because it was the start of a new DECADE and there is something about a new decade that makes one feel like they are closing one chapter and starting a new chapter. And, in many ways 2020 did not fail in that regard. Life after 2020 will never be the same as life before 2020. I heard a comedian ask, “When will “2020” become a curse word? That’s a bunch of 2020!” And while this year hasn’t been easy, on any of us, I don’t think 2020 deserves to be thought of as “shit”. I 100% believe that challenges either make us or break us. Very rarely do we learn things when times are easy. It’s when times are tough that we learn who we really are and 2020 gave us an abundance of opportunities to look at ourselves and it gave us some pretty great gifts. We have a new appreciation for touch and for time in nature. We have a new appreciation for toilet paper and fully stocked grocery shelves. We have a new appreciation for front line and essential workers. There were many things in our lives that we have taken for granted and didn’t appreciate that we do now. As well as a host of things we thought were important but now realize really aren’t that important after all.
I will never forget this conversation; it was November 2017 and my father had just celebrated his 80th birthday. It was a few days after the party during a visit that he asked me if I was going to throw my mother an 80th birthday party. I assured him that I would do something to commemorate the milestone and he said, “My goal is to make it to her 80th.” “Daddy, that’s almost two years away. Do you want to live that long?” “No” was his answer. I found myself thinking about that conversation so many times. I would see him decline and think “ok, here we go” and then he would rebound and keep going and I would think there is no way he will make it to her birthday. They say that the spirit is strong and people will make it to milestones and then “let go”. My mother’s 80th birthday was February 13, 2020 and my dad died on March 11th. Less than one month after making it to my mom’s 80th birthday. My father was always stubborn and this was no exception. He did not die of covid-19. He died from PSP. When he first became ill, I told him that I would have his back no matter what happened. It wasn’t easy, there were many instances where having his back meant angering my family but at the heart of all my decisions was what would Dad want? Shortly before he died my mother called me and told me that he had been non-responsive for 24 hours and that hospice said he was “transitioning”. Mary and I came down and within 5 minutes of getting there he came back to us. Mary and I spent two days with him and they were profound. That was the first of March and he rebounded again. On Tuesday March 10th I came for my regular visit and took one look at him and decided I needed to spend the night. I knew he needed me to get up throughout the night to administer his morphine to keep him comfortable and that is what I did. My dad was adamant that I not be there when he died so when I left the next morning I said, “Daddy, I am going home so you can too. I love you.” And I left. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wanted to be there with him at the end but that wasn’t what he wanted. Staying that night and fulfilling my promise to have his back right up until the end is one of my proudest moments and if I do nothing else with my life fulfilling that promise to him is enough.
Because my focus was on my Dad and the end of his life, I wasn’t paying attention to the news. My first inkling something was wrong was a comment from a friend about toilet paper. I had no idea what she was talking about. Daddy died on a Wednesday, we went to the mortuary on Thursday and made arrangements, on Friday they called and said we couldn’t have the reception and the number of people were limited to 14, on Tuesday night while we were at the viewing the governor closed the restaurants so mom’s back up plan now needed a back up plan. Mike and Cyndi got up early on the morning of Dad’s service and went to the store and bought everything they needed to do a lunch at home. We couldn’t have people at the viewing, or the funeral and it made me so mad. I thought they were over reacting. There was plenty of room to social distance and still have more than 14 people at the service. I look back and realize how naïve I was. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And I certainly didn’t know what was coming down the line. At the time I was being selfish and wanted my friends with me during my grief. I had two friends show up for the viewing and one really great friend at the funeral and that was it. I wrote Dad’s eulogy and as I stood up there facing just my family it seemed redundant to give a eulogy but I knew my Dad deserved to hear what I had to say and I know that he was there with us so I gave it for him.
When they closed everything up, I started sewing masks for the nursing home that took great care of Dad, then it was my vet, then another assisted living facility and then finally for my students. I became a “mask maker”. Therese and Mary helped me along the way and all told I had a hand in making and distributing over 800 masks. It felt good to keep people safe and it was a great distraction from my fresh grief.
In June Michael’s sister, Micheel, died from cancer. She was diagnosed in November 2019, just two months after Edie died and she fought a hard short battle. 6 months. I think of her husband and kids. How quickly their life was altered then shattered. 6 months. She was 52 years old. 6 months. Life can turn on a dime. 8 months and Michael lost his mother and sister.
After she died, I realized that in four years Michael and I have lost two dogs, two parents, a sibling and a niece. We have had a crash course on death and grief.
The initial close down was hard on us financially but “pandemic puppies” were a real thing. Hell, they still are. Once I was able to open back up and teach it was puppies, puppies, and more puppies. They were everywhere! And they saved our bacon. Being able to teach outside made group classes low risk and a much-needed social outlet for the humans and my classes were full to the brim. I spent my summer in the hot sun with a mask on and was grateful to be working. Since Michael works in medical equipment, he is considered essential. We were lucky. I know other small business owners who didn’t make it.
In September we went to Lake Powell. It was the first time for Walter and Athena and it was an interesting trip. We had a day with thick smoke from the forest fires that prevented you from seeing the canyon wall across the bay as well as some really bad, cold weather that forced us to stay in the boat for two days. But, despite the weather it was refreshing to be at the lake again. I’m so grateful Daddy gave us the lake as a lasting legacy. It was great fun to watch Walter and Athena experience “the lake”. Not to mention Robert brought his girlfriend so it was great to meet her. For a year now I wasn’t quite sure this mythical “Andrea” even existed.
In October Monica, Corey and Athena moved to Bella Vista, Arkansas. Corey received a big promotion and we are quite proud of him. The only downside to the promotion was the relocation to Arkansas. They purchased a really lovely brand-new home and Monica can be a full-time mommy now. It’s such a bittersweet thing. I was looking forward to spending more time with Athena after my Dad died and now, they are 12 hours away. I’m happy for them, but sad for me.
Walter continues to come into his own. He’s turning out to be quite a character as well as a snuggle on the couch kind of pup. Stanley is rocking it as he ages. He has arthritis but he doesn’t let that keep him down. We still hike and snowshoe and stay active.
As I sit here and think about the year the theme that comes to mind is “resilient”. As I grow older and experience more death and grief, I realize that I am quite resilient. It’s not that I don’t feel deep grief. I do. To my core. But I also feel deep love and gratitude. To my core. Both of these shape me. In his new book Matthew McConaughey said, “you have three choices. Concede, proceed or pivot.” I choose to pivot. Over and over again. Some would call it pivoting and some would call it growth. It is my belief that 2020 forced many people to learn to be resilient. To pivot. To grow. Who I am today is not who I was last year. And it won’t be who I am next year.
I think life is like water. If it isn’t flowing it becomes stagnant. I won’t become stagnant. I will take what life throws at me and use it to keep on flowing.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
As we all step into a new year, may we all remember to let reality be reality and let things flow naturally. May we all look back at 2020 not with distain but with gratitude for all the opportunities it gave us to grow. To develop our own resiliency. I know many of you may think I am just being a positive Polly Anna. That 2020 really was a shitty year but it does remind me of this old joke.
Worried that their son was too optimistic, the parents of a little boy took him to a psychiatrist. In an attempt to dampen the boy’s spirits, the psychiatrist showed him into a room piled high with nothing but horse manure. Instead of displaying distaste, the little boy clambered to the top of the pile and began digging.
“What are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked.
“With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”
Where was YOUR pony in 2020? Mine was Daddy being released from a body that was insufferable at the end. A friend wrote in her sympathy card, “I hope when your Daddy passed, his soul said “Wheeeeee!” and left behind that body. You will miss him every day, for the rest of your life, but keep your eyes open. He’ll be back for visits.” And he has been.
There has been so much death this year, for so many people but I believe many of those who passed said, “Wheeeee!”
Life is a continuous thread.
It weaves itself through love and memory and remains a part of everyone it has touched.
All the death this year has touched us all and will remain with us for the rest of our lives.
2020 has changed us in ways that most years don’t. We just have choice…
whether we look at the shit or search for the pony.
I hope you search for the pony.
May the new year bring you more joy than sorrow,
more health than illness,
more prosperity than scarcity,
and may you always know how much you are loved.