This is 2016 we're talking about, so requisite explicit language warning,
and that a new record has been set.
I didn't think it was possible for a year to be worse than 2011, the year I was diagnosed with cancer, but then again, young adults do get cancer. I won't go as far as saying that 2016 was worse than 2013, which is the year when all of the emotional fallout from cancer finally caught up with me, and I spent almost every waking moment in fear, and trying to stay one step ahead of the PTSD that I had developed, but 2016 is definitely down at the bottom of the barrel with these unbelievably awful years. 2016 has been a year for different forms of trauma, the year of the unconscionable.
Forget about the election. If that's the biggest thing you've been upset about this year, consider yourself lucky, and just get the fuck out of here now. Unless someone has died or you've lost someone close to you, just go. On May 22nd of this year, my wife lost both of her parents suddenly in what I'll only describe as a terrible tragedy, and leave it at that. To lose even one parent is a painful part of life, but to effectively lose both at the same time has been unconscionable to us. Much of our year was spent trying to gracefully wind down their business, taking care of numerous property issues both stateside and abroad, and other matters of estate. Caught in the middle of this has been my wife's adult brother, who is permanently disabled from a rare neurological disease, and whose full-time care has also become our responsibility. Recovering from this dual loss, the emotional burden of dual grieving, and learning to care for an individual with special needs is what has defined not just our year, but will shape the course of our lives going forward. I just wish this was all there was to handle this year. It wasn't.
Just two weeks after the tragedy that struck my wife's parents, the world lost "J", the poster child for a nonprofit organization for which I'd blogged for and volunteered hundreds of hours of my time to for a span of several years. It was a miracle that J survived his Stage 4 (3c) testicular cancer originally diagnosed back in 2007, but survive he did, only for its unconscionable return in 2015, discovered prior to what would have been his 7 year follow-up appointment when he wasn't feeling well. J fought the late-recurrence of his cancer with everything he had, and showed us all what it truly means to be a warrior. His fight helped to pave the way for others that will face this, for which he was proud, J's incredibly brave words to me personally, but there wasn't to be a cure for J's cancer. He left our world on June 8th, 2016, a third terrible loss to mourn. I flew out of state to support his family, and to attend his celebration of life service.
Try Grieving Three Losses at the Same Time
Try emotionally processing not one, but three losses, at virtually the same time. You can't do it. You have to grieve sequentially, or put off grieving one in order to support another, and so that's what I did. I was in such a state of shock and disbelief, and grieving so heavily from our own losses, that I didn't actually shed my first tear for J until September 8th, three months after his death. That wasn't due to any lack of empathy, but rather a total and complete state of shock, and resulting emotional lockup.
My heart has ached almost constantly from May through September. I suffered periods of terrible depressions and grieving, but had to put all of this pain away, and refused to let so much emotional wreckage from 2016 spoil our October month of anniversaries and birthdays. We had a wonderful month, but it was the calm before the election storm. The U.S. presidential election in November was going to be awful no matter what. Both candidates were truly terrible (yes, that means Hillary Clinton, too), and don't even fucking try to deny it anymore. What was most upsetting about the election for me wasn't who won, but seeing people that I genuinely loved and cared about tearing other's throats out on social media, and saying the most awful and once again "unconscionable" (and completely untrue!) things about others, all because they voted differently. Bigotry is a very overused word now, and it takes one to know one. If some of these people want to know who the true bigots are, all they need to do is go take a long and hard look in the fucking mirror. I was already well beyond emotional burnout before the election. After the election, self-protective instincts kicked in and I simply stopped reading much of anything on social media, and have never really started again. With how people were reacting, you'd think someone had died. Oh, bad joke maybe? What ever happened to the idea that if you wouldn't say something to someone's face, you shouldn't say it at all? Now everybody goes filter free to the world on social media. If that's how social media is going to be now, count me the fuck out.
The funny thing is that I had started off 2016 with the best of intentions, hoping to bury the hatchet, and finally resolve some long-term standoffs with a few on the fringes of my life. There was just no need for the awkwardness anymore. I tried because I felt it was the right thing to do, only to receive spit on my face, and having to engage in a proxy war of words instead, and having to say things that I'd hoped I'd never have to had said. That was how the year started, and it just kept getting worse and worse. All of the A-list celebrity deaths like music icons, Prince, and David Bowie, didn't even budge the needle with me, but Carrie Fisher and George Michael as I'm writing this? Oh come on!!!
Get me the fuck out of this year already!
We have been hurt this year in most every possible way it is to be hurt, and in ways we didn't even think were possible. Despite how unbelievably painful and traumatic this year has been for my family at so many levels, for people near and dear to us, and for so many people we know, I realized something very important while prepping our annual Christmas card. 2016 has been an unbelievably awesome year, too.
2016 has been an unbelievably awesome year, too.
Despite all of the trauma and heartache, and despite spending over half the year being overwhelmed while grieving multiple simultaneous losses, we also had the time of our lives in 2016. We enjoyed a fantastic family vacation to Singapore and Taiwan to visit relatives over spring break. My wife and I celebrated twenty years together, and enjoyed a blissful getaway just the two of us to Seattle, where we had floor seats to see Adele in concert, and did some hiking around Mt Rainier. We went on a fun-filled getaway to our old stomping grounds in the Midwest as a family, hit the beach a few times, and spent plenty of quality time with friends that have helped to keep us going. I met some amazing people in person for the first time this year that I'd known for awhile, or even for a few years. It's always nice to connect in person, and in each case it felt like we'd known each other for much longer than we had, and not just online. All of this mattered so much to me, and reinforced some very powerful lessons that I'd learned in my years recovering from cancer.
Never stop living your lives, no matter what life might throw your way. It's okay to sit in a corner and cry for awhile, and lord knows we've done plenty of that this year, but don't stay there for very long. Keep living your lives! As awful and rotten as my cancer fight was, my wife and I both agreed after seeing such devastation in our family and with friends, that we had never felt more anguished in our entire lives. Even when I was diagnosed with cancer, we never had to take turns watching our kids so that the other could go cry for awhile, but that happened numerous times this year. After the events of May and June, there's hardly been a single week where I haven't been in tears at one point or another, anywhere from seconds to hours, just continuing to grieve and process so much pain. But we've always picked ourselves back up again, and have kept on keeping on, and living and enjoying our lives at full speed. It's the only way we've known how to live after cancer.
2016, A Year in One Photo of Photos
Where would we have been this year had we not kept living our lives, and not kept moving forward? The year would have truly been lost. How could anyone look at this photo collage of our year, with every single one of these photos having been taken in 2016, and say that the year has been lost? You can't. Despite the pain that we continue to feel, and grief that we continue to process, I'm marking 2016 as a great success. The world threw everything that it could at us, and while the wounds from this year run deep and will take years to fully recover from, we're still standing, still loving, and still living and enjoying our lives. I've said this many times now, but I've lived more each year since cancer than I had in all of my 33 years prior to cancer combined. I turned 39 this year. That's a whole lot of living and enjoyment of life in these now six years since cancer, and despite its best efforts to derail us, 2016 didn't break that trend.
We cancer survivors are quite resilient, and many of us know that it's okay to not be okay, and that if we can merely mark ourselves present and accounted for on a given day, that can be considered a great success. Wounded as I might be, the fact that I'm still standing, am not in a therapists office despite all this, nor on any sort of legal or illegal drugs (lots of wine is legal, right?), nor done anything foolish or destructive this year, is a great testament to our resiliency. I'm not going to say that we're officially unfuckwithable, or some stupid shit like that, because that's seriously tempting fate, and only something I've heard people who haven't been through shit say, to feel more badass. But yeah, something like that. I'd just like a year where nobody I know is diagnosed with cancer or some crazy disease, where nobody we love or care about dies, and nobody becomes seriously ill, physically or mentally, or otherwise. That's what I wished for for my birthday and for Christmas this year. Is that too much to ask?
As I'm wrapping up this blog, the news has just broken that Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher's mom, has died. Unfuckingbelievable. Now there's a good word to describe this year in its entirety. I've already shared my December trauma with the world, last year. I feel the same way about this entire fucking year, but you know what? It didn't break us. It tried its best, but it did not break us. We're only stronger now, more in love, and with greater resolve than ever before. So fuck you, 2016, and don't let the door hit you on your way out.
This is exactly how I intend to depart 2016, and enter 2017. At full afterburner, causing a ruckus and setting car alarms off on takeoff, and then going supersonic and ready to kick some serious ass in 2017. We should all do the same.
Special thanks to all of our friends that have been there for us this year, and I mean really been there, and haven't run away from us. We thank you, and you are loved beyond words. Here's to a better 2017 for all of us!
Cheers, and thanks for reading!