Last year was the hardest year of my life. To be sure, I’ve led a pretty easy life, and even 2014 wasn’t near what other people I’ve known have gone through. But for me, it was the hardest, and I have never wanted to welcome a New Year as much as this one.
Most of what made the year so difficult started in June when I lost my dad to a five-year struggle with Frontal Temporal Dementia, a rare type of dementia. Watching him progressively lose so much and suffer at the end was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done. One month later, I lost another person I loved, and in August, my family got the news that there was nothing more doctors could do to treat my aunt’s cancer, an aunt I’m particularly close to. The two events following my dad’s death felt like sucker punches at what was already a difficult time.
Throughout all of this, I have never identified so much with Jesus on the way to Calvary — falling again and again. I began to feel like Jesus on the ground, staring at the rocky soil while the jeers from the crowd become distant and muffled. I, like Jesus, was trying to figure out if I was going to get up again or if I could get up again. I did get up and kept going, though the falls had taken their toll.
By December, I was quite ready to put 2014 behind me. But eventually, I had to make a distinction. Putting a year like that behind me didn’t mean forgetting. How could I ever forget any one of the things that had happened? So, I had to search for a different way to cope. After much time spent talking to God — and much time spent, what I call, sitting across a table and staring at God in silence — I realized the only lasting thing that could truly pull me up off the rocky soil was peace.
Finding peace among a lot of emotions is tough. I felt so many last year: sadness and anger were two predominant ones. Numbness made an appearance, too. Things started to turn a corner when I was on Facebook one day. I was scrolling through my newsfeed, and came upon the posts from when I announced my dad had died. There were hundreds of likes and hundreds of comments on that status — an outpouring of love from people I had talked to last week and some I had not spoken to in years. I kept scrolling. I came to posts of graduating with my master’s degree, pictures of my mom and brother with me in Boston, and comments from friends about the commencement speech I delivered. Earlier in the year, I had received my certification as a Lamaze childbirth educator, and I had nearly forgotten that happened in the year’s early months. Seeing all of this, the corners of my mouth turned up into a small, but genuine, smile. Despite some really bad ones, there had been some really good times in 2014.
Few people might describe Facebook as a spiritual experience. In fact, many might say that it’s a lot of false pretenses — people showing only the parts of their lives they wish to show or concocting a life they want to have. I’ve certainly agreed with this, and I’ve even been that person from time to time, but in truth, there’s a lot of genuine love, too. At a time when my words to God were few, I think God wanted to remind me that 2014 was not all bad. Instead, it was kind of a mixed bag.
The crucifixion and death of Jesus wasn’t all bad, either. We can easily focus on his suffering and death and forget his mother and apostle at the foot of the cross; Veronica, who wiped his face and gave him a moment’s relief; or Simon, who helped him carry the cross.
In 2014, there were people who helped me carry my cross, gave me a moment’s relief and stood beside me during the most difficult moments. I was reminded that it wasn’t all bad. I was genuinely loved. And I wasn’t alone.
Upon hearing my dad had died, a friend of mine who lost her dad told me that the year my dad died would be the best and worst year of my life — the worst for obvious reasons and the best because “you will be surrounded by so much love from those who love you.” She was right. To leave 2014 behind would mean leaving the bad behind but also the tremendous amount of good. And I want to take that with me into 2015.