It took a couple of days for me to shrug off the remnants of 2018 before I could fully embrace 2019. But, it was harder to close the door on 2018 than I thought.
I have a tradition of making a list every December of the experiences I’ve had during the year. It’s kind of a way to be accountable for what happened and didn’t happen, good and bad before I move on into the new year. Often this list becomes a list of things I’m grateful for, however this year the overriding tone of joy and accomplishment was overshadowed by sadness and grief. In 2018 I said goodbye to three relatives and a good friend.
One loss struck me like a sucker-punch to the stomach. As I was waiting in the airport to head home after attending one relative’s funeral – I learned another relative who was also a very good friend had died.
I had just spoken to Helen the previous week. Our chat was upbeat and promising. We spoke of her family, her grandchildren, how my family on the other coast were, and made plans for me to visit her in NYC. At the time we spoke I had no indication the cancer had already decided her fate. I don’t know if she knew – but that day she seemed to want to stay on the phone with me even though we kept losing the connection…one of us calling back and picking up where the other left off. I hung up feeling hopeful.
She was a true force-of-nature, a good friend, and she made me feel welcome, loved and important. I cherish the times we sat on her couch talking for hours about life, the world and our experiences. I didn’t know her growing up, even though we are related, but I got to know her when I moved to NYC and we connected as if she had always been a part of my life.
I am so grateful for that last phone conversation.
Then guilt and doubt set in. Could I have done more, visited more, tell her I loved her enough? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt guilt after losing someone close. For some reason Helen’s death brought up feelings I had when my grandmother passed some 20 years ago, but I couldn’t figure out why. I spent many hours meditating trying to find the connection while grieving those lost this last year.
I finally realized what I was feeling now and when my grandmother passed – was guilt and shame. I was very close to my grandmother, but I have always felt uneasy about her dying alone and guilty and shameful for not seeing her in the weeks before she passed. I remember rushing over to her mobile home when I got the call. I walked into the door to find her sitting in her recliner, head tilted, with her eyes closed as if she was sleeping. A melted bowl of ice cream sat on her ottoman. Her cheeks were clammy and cold…they were always clammy. She died peacefully.
I was feeling guilt and shame again with Helen’s passing. Finding an old Christmas card she had sent confirmed my feelings. She had written inside, “I hold out hope that you’ll come out for a visit”.
There were a million reasons why I didn’t get out to see her…after her diagnosis it was mainly not wanting to interfere with her time with her family…but none of that mattered now and I had to find a way to live with the fact that I didn’t make more of an effort – with Helen or my grandmother.
I have to learn how to forgive myself.
I’m still working on that. Right now, I can’t look at a photo of Helen without tears welling up. I can look at my grandmother’s photo without crying but it’s taken over 20 years.
So looking back at 2018 I’m grateful for so many things. I’m grateful that I had that last conversation with Helen, that she knows I loved her and that she was truly my friend. I know she felt the same about me. I’m grateful that through her passing I came to realize I was holding onto guilt and shame that served no purpose in my life.
I get a heavy feeling in my chest when I think of Helen, the same feeling I get when I think of my grandmother. I choose to believe it’s because they are both in the deepest part of my heart.
I will miss Helen and the others for a very long time, but they all played an important role in my life and the lives of so many others. I can only hope I have a fraction of that impact in my lifetime.
So, I’m ready to say goodbye to 2018, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, but thanks for showing me lessons needed to move on into 2019.