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Stay Calm and Begin Anew

Hand holding sparkler. Text says if all you did this year was hold yourself together, I’m proud of you.

As my family discussed New Year’s Eve, an interesting theme emerged. All we feel is a heavy sigh of relief and a desire to quietly, almost solemnly begin anew. I think we’re getting Mod Pizza and watching a movie. 

Tomorrow the newspaper headlines will be the same, hospitals will still be overflowing, people will still be denying the severity of the virus, politicians will still be fighting, and protests will still be raging. The world won’t have changed overnight, but we can. Tomorrow we can take a deep breath… and begin anew.

On March 1, while going cheerfully along seemingly on track for a fantastic year, suddenly everything went literally sideways. Lives were threatened and fear skyrocketed. Sound familiar? This wasn’t 2020; it was 2014 and arguably the worst year of my life.

Two 21-year old women with me at the wheel of a truck and trailer. Black ice. Jackknifed. Semi-truck headlights. “Get out and RUN!!!” One hand on the door, one on the wheel. Fractions of seconds agonizing. “They’re out. Run NOW!!” Shattering glass and metal, bones and dreams, philosophies and lies we tell ourselves.

My body was identified by a tattoo. Massive internal injuries, pelvis folded in half, eyes fixed and dilated, and a heartrate of six. Just. Six.

2020 bombarded us with more talk of ventilators and ICUs than most people could ever imagine in a lifetime. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

After seven weeks in the ICU with much of it on a ventilator, a medical Lear Jet flight, five weeks in a long term care hospital, and three weeks in a rehab unit at another hospital, in mid-June I finally made it home. Tubes and bandages were still my constant companions. Our once familiar house was poorly suited to the woman unable to use her left leg or either hand to much effect, on dialysis, frail and wondering what in the world had happened to her life. Then came news of needing another major surgery. The excruciating effort to re-learn how to walk had just been a rehearsal. “Stop walking. Your pelvis isn’t attached to your spine.” Yeah that’s bad.

2020 showed us tragic images of Covid-19 patients lying face down on ventilators. That too feels familiar.

Nine days before Christmas, surgeons worked for nine hours on a fragile lumbar spine and pelvis as I lay face down in the operating room, on a ventilator. Again. Two days before Christmas the family took me home, unable to walk, in stunning pain, with a face still burning from a grotesque allergic reaction to the foam donut I had lain on during surgery. Although calm, smiling (mostly), grateful, and finding joy at every inkling of an opportunity, there was no denying that the year had just plain sucked. 

2020 brought us laughter, celebrations, gratitude, AND it has just plain sucked. No one is coming out of this unscathed. It is okay to feel however you do.

New Year’s Eve 2014, my journal simply says, “2014 has ended. Thank you God for allowing me to see all 365 days of it. I’m ready to sleep and be at peace.”

As we close the door on 2020 and lock that baby tight, what are you going to write? How are you reflecting? Surviving threatening circumstances takes enormous mental and physical energy. It is okay to be tired, if that is how you feel. It is also good to celebrate that it is over, even when we must keep going. 

Family on couch wearing New Year’s hats and throwing fake birds in the airOn January 1, 2015, my friend and professional photographer Michele Render helped us celebrate the opportunity to keep going. I told my family, “We’re going to wear party hats and toss fake birds.” Without a note of surprise or curiosity, our oldest simply replied, “Of course we are.” We flipped the bird to 2014 with humor and style! And then kept going.

This year, go ahead and give the bird to 2020. Laugh and celebrate in whatever way suits you (masked and distanced of course). Then sleep and be at peace. Tomorrow we begin anew.

2 replies
  1. Matt Sullivan
    Matt Sullivan says:

    This is a strongly woven narrative tying those years, and the accompanying challenges, together. I still had to choke back tears reading these words. I’m so grateful you’re still here to flip a bird to 2020 as well. Love you, sister.

    • Elisa
      Elisa says:

      It is a hard read when you lived that time with me. ❤️ It’s funny to say, but I am seriously grateful to be flipping the bird to 2020 with you! Love you too brother!


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