coping with loss

The end of 2011

If this were any other year, I’d join a million other bloggers in trying to start a discussion about the year in arts & entertainment, or news, or anything we’ve experienced as a community and can talk about.

But 2011 was a year like no other for me.

At the risk of invoking a cliché (and being a plagarist) few words fit this year for me like the opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way. 

For me, it was a year of high highs and low lows. It was a year where it truly, deeply sucked to be a grown-up.

A few great things happened. My partner and I bought our first home. Being a home owner is not without stress, and the search for a home was incredibly stressful. But there’s a security in owning a home that I haven’t experienced before.

I returned to college this year. My complete and utter wipeout during the first go-round at university has always haunted me, and while I’ve managed to carve out a successful career without a degree, the whole experience felt completely unfinished.

This fall was one of the most intensely stressful periods in my life, but it was incredibly redemptive when I met with success in my classes.

I continued my genealogy research, and made some really compelling discoveries along the way. But the worst of times of this year was losing several family members. It was definitely a year of loss for our family tree, as we lost an aunt and an uncle.

And, unthinkably, my sister took her own life in April.

I haven’t written about my sister since I initially wrote about her death. Losing her, and the events that followed, made for some of the ugliest moments I’ve ever experienced.

The story of what led my sister to this point, and to this irrevocable decision, continues to be more and more complicated, with more points of view than Rashomon. And at the end of the day, my sister is no longer with us. Part of me wants to let go completely. And part of me thinks writing about her will honor her memory.

And speaking of clichés – like the Dickens I invoked at the beginning of this post – the loss of my dear, sweet sister and the effect it had on all of us revealed to me the truth of many clichés.

Value the family and the people in your life, and let them know how much they mean to you.

Having a positive point of view – or positive people in your life – makes a difference. 

Value the time you’re here on Earth, and don’t let fear prevent you from experiencing life and embracing new adventures. 

And maybe that’s the lesson I will take away from 2011. Maybe the conventional wisdoms and definitions I’ve lived by – of what a cliché is, of what a grown-up is – should be discarded and left to rot.

I’m still processing what’s happened this year, but what I can tell you is that I am out of a long corporate cubicle slumber. I may not be ecstatically happy or completely content at this moment. But I am alive, awake and aware. And that is a good place to start 2012.