by Anita DiGregory

“A Tribute to Horrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Years”

Have you ever had one of those years when you literally could not wait for the clock to strike midnight, the ball to drop, and the year to be officially over?

Well, 2019 has unmistakably been one of those years for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were beautiful moments sprinkled throughout: sacraments made, memory-making trips taken, heartwarming firsts experienced, celebrations of children’s successes enjoyed. But even so, 2019 will definitely not go down in history as one of my favorite years. 

On top of all the regular stressors, the medical visits, the stacking bills, the unplanned car expenses, the children leaving the nest, we suffered the unimaginable loss of five close family members. I witnessed my faith-, family-, and life-loving cousin lose his courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. I said goodbye to two beloved aunts and one gentle and kind uncle. And, then, shockingly, over Thanksgiving break, we suffered the tremendous loss of my brother-in-law, Sam. 

Only 55 when he passed away, Sam was outgoing, full of life, hardworking, and seemingly healthy.  He left behind a wife and two beautiful children, not to mention a mother, three brothers, three sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and many, many friends. Sam was the kind of guy who knew everyone, and everyone knew him. At his viewing, the funeral home remained packed with people waiting to pay their respects, the line often reaching out of the room, down the hall, and to the entrance.

I was only 16 when I met Sam. The new girl in town, I was happy to make a new friend. He had an infectious smile, and I’d swear he’d get this glint in his eyes when he was about to break the rules just enough to make things interesting for everyone. My friend, my co-worker, my brother-in-law, godfather to my daughter, beloved uncle to my children, and practically twin to my husband, how do you say goodbye when it is way too soon, completely unexpected, and hurts deep down in your soul?

So here I sit, trying to wrap my brain around 2019 and its tremendous losses. Forgive me as I think out loud, trying to make some sense of it all. This year has knocked me over the head and taught me some hard, painful, and priceless lessons.

During Thanksgiving break, when we learned of the passing of my aunt and then my brother-in-law, as we were all walking around in a teary daze, my children looked at me through their pain and asked that hard question: Why?

Why was this happening, and why even when they prayed? Why? Why? Why? This is what I said to them: I don’t know why bad things happen. I don’t understand the reasons. But what I know deep down in the core of my soul is that I love my family, my children, with all of my being. Now, if I can love them so much that I feel it in every fiber of my being, so much so that it controls every single decision I make, and I am a very, very imperfect being, then how much more does the perfect God love each and every one of us? And, I know if God loves us this much, then He wants only the best for each of us. So I trust in that. I may never know “the big picture” or understand why things happen the way they do, but I trust in God and His perfect love for all of us. But, even with this, somehow in the thick of it, we still feel alone or abandoned.

Here again I fall upon that which I know…my role as a mother. One day, when my youngest was still quite little, he was attempting to climb the stairs by himself. I quietly tip-toed closely behind him as he teetered and tottered up the steep steps. I did not physically reach out or help him; in fact, he probably never even knew I was there. But whether he realized it or not, I was there, and the minute he needed me, I would have been there. About halfway up the stairs, I realized that this is how it is with God. No matter how we may feel, He is always there with us deep in the trenches…in the joy and in the sadness…guiding us and helping us.

British writer and lay theologian C.S. Lewis was no stranger to pain, having lost both his mother and wife to cancer. After losing his beloved wife, Joy, he fell into deep sorrow, which left him grappling with his perceptions. From the pit of darkness, his journal, later titled A Grief Observed, is raw and honest about his doubts, his fears, his pain, and his journey through grief. In it, he writes, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

We aren’t promised the next tomorrow or even the next moment.  I know that. Still, I always somehow thought I would have the time to go back and dot all the I’s and cross all the t’s. This year has taught me that sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, you don’t get to say “I love you” one last time.

So, here’s to making 2020 different. Let’s make it a year to be intentional; to put what really matters most first; to work and play hard but to love and pray harder; to be kind; to say “I love you”; to go to church; to say “I am sorry”; to not put off until tomorrow what we should get done today; and to be thankful for all the beautiful, little moments. 

I pray that you and yours have a wonderful and blessed new year.

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