Sunday, January 4, 2009

2008 was a year like no other for me. I learned more from the last 12 months than I have in my entire 36 years.

The year started off with a blazing vengeance. I prayed the adage "in like a lion, out like a lamb" was true. My husband and I were in financial ruin, like so many other American families. Our children were going without, our house was in the process of foreclosure, the cars were set for repossession. Food was becoming more and more of a struggle to provide and to add insult to injury, our company that both of us were employed by was going through a very nasty contract with a new company that bought us. It appeared that it was going to close the doors, like so many others had.

Later in the spring my best and dearest friend lost his older sister. She was the glue of the family. His mother passed when he was a very young teen and his father followed only a couple of years later. She was the one that stepped in and filled the shoes of head of household. To see him so broken was hard on me. I had nothing but hugs and tender loving words and it just didn't feel to be enough. I held this hulking man as he sobbed on my shoulder. My heart wept with him.

Other things have happened over the early months, but they all shadow in comparison to the news my sister delivered to me over the phone one normal day. She called to tell me she was having some tests, she had found a lump during a routine mammogram. Nothing to worry about. Our mom had some similar things in the past.
I put it out of my mind, after all, my sister was a good person. She always played by the rules, no way would she be the one to be struck with such an awful disease.

It was a few days later when she called again, this time her voice was somber. She had the results, and it was cancer.
The big 'C' word. My sister. The one that took care of herself, never did drugs or drank. Ate healthy and watched her salt intake. She was sick. Her body was eating itself. I stood there in total silence, listening to her voice like it was coming through a tunnel.
"don't worry, it's gonna be FINE. I have more tests next week....." I honestly don't know what she said after that. My mind was reeling, my heart was racing, I could hear the blood whoosh in my ears.
The cancer was very aggressive and spread extremely fast. Within a month it was infecting the tissue all around. Within 2 months it had eaten into her pectoral muscle and consumed lymph nodes in the armpit area. It was eating her faster than they could work to get the surgery set up.

After surgery, chemo, radiation and one more surgery, she is cancer free. But the toll it took is still very alive and well. I cry at the drop of a hat when the conversation comes up. Not out of fear, but relief. I know how close I came to losing her.

Summer came and with it came a nasty bankruptcy that left us with nothing. I watched them take my cars away on wreckers and felt the panic set in. I read the letters stating how long I had to be out of my house and my insides turned to a whirlpool of bubbling acid. I had no idea where I would take my family. With 5 kids the places to rent were limited and the cost per month were more than we were paying on our mortgage. I had almost lost hope, but I am a swimmer. There are 2 kinds of people in the world....ones that sink and ones that swim. Thanks to my genetics, I was born to be a swimmer.
Husband and I put together a plan. We would tap out our retirement savings and see if we could capitalize on someone elses misfortune. We filed the paperwork and called a real estate agent. Surprisingly, there were several houses we looked at. We were still unsure how we would fund the payments, but we were determined to do this with a large down payment.
Then the market dipped. We lost a few hundred dollars but pushed even harder to get it all done. The paperwork was finalized and signed the day before the market actually crashed. We made it under the wire by less than 24 hours.

We thought that this was an omen, a small stroke of luck in our favor for once, until my husband lost his job.
Now the house was paid off completely with our savings. So we will always have a roof over our heads, but it was closing in on Christmas time and the task of feeding 8 (we 'picked one up' along the way) was daunting for me. One income for that many is a real struggle.

The year was coming to a close, the kids had a slim Christmas, but they were happy. Lori and my brothers came to visit a few days after the holiday and stayed for several days.
We laughed, shared mirrors, visited her family and my was one event after another. All of them positive. The first meeting with my parents and Lori was a huge success. My sister thoroughly enjoyed her time telling stories of my brattiness. My sister in law also came to stay a night and I got to hug, kiss and just plain out harass my younger brothers.

On New Years Eve, we sat and watched the ball drop, ending one of the most emotional journeys of my life. My kids threw stringy paper confetti in the room until it looked like a thick blanket of snow. Everyone had it plastered in their hair and clothing. Dick Clark droned from the tv, and I sat and took it all in. I didn't parade around screaming, I didn't toast the new year in a drunken haze. I didn't feel the flutter of anticipation in my stomach.

I just took it all in. I felt a calm, serene aura come over me.

No the year itself did not go out like a lamb. It was filled with emotional roller coaster rides. It was hectic and explosive. It was riddled with anticipations and worries, first times and good times. It was loud, messy and covered in paper snow.

And I have never felt so at peace in my life.

I learned how impotent my family is. Be them blood or not is unimportant. I love them with the same fierceness. I learned that just having them there is a blessing within itself. I learned that even if people are timid on the surface, their spirit and fight can not be underestimated when dire times stares them in the eye. I learned how much I was loved.
That was a big one for me. I knew people loved me. But I never realized just how much. To see both sides of my family come together was very healing. To hear the words my biological father had to say to me solidified my place in his world. To have my brothers just reach out to me for a hug or put their arm around me just because I happen to be walking past. To know my husband is willing to open his house and heart to all my family. To see my children's faces light up when any of their grandparents enter the room. To sit on the couch with Lori and just be with her.
To see my sister and finally, after all these years be able to tell her I love her.

To not feel alone or like a visitor in my own home any more.

As I reflect back....I would not trade 2008 for the world. It gave me hope, purpose and the drive to do the things I didn't think I had the courage to do.

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