Usually, looking back on a year is something I leave to the bloggers and the self-absorbed. This time feels different. So, at the risk of being a self-absorbed blogger, let me just say that 2018 sucked in so many freaking ways. Completely.
In December 2017 my 84-year-old father was put on a new chemotherapy treatment, which did not work. He had lymphoma with a life expectancy of 3-5 years. The chemotherapy paralysed him with muscle weakness, disoriented him, destroyed his appetite, and in a final insult, literally stripped the skin off his body. By January he was in ICU and on 10th February he passed away. I got the call at 5am NZ time from my sister at his bedside in South Africa.
I had known the end was near and had been applying for a passport and visa, as it would be my first trip outside of NZ as a naturalised NZ citizen. The passport was delivered to me in 1 hour, and the visa took 2 days. Both of these are miracles in their own right, but tragically the visa process was started on a Friday and competed on a Monday, and my precious father passed away on the Saturday in between.
The loss of a father is a bitter thing. Trying to be there for final goodbyes, and missing it by 3 days, is hard. 10 months later it is still a difficult thing to process for me. Part of the pain was its unnecessariness. The chemo regime was “new”; a bit of an experiment. My dad was in the unlucky tiny percentage for whom that experimental regime was toxic. He had a good life, and we were all grateful, but it was cut short in such a horribly painful and hurtful way. I don’t at all blame the oncologist – he was and is amazing; and was doing the best he could. Doctors like him strive to bring life to impossible situations; he is a hero, regardless of this tragedy.
This was compounded by a difficult work place situation. My boss was encouraging me to go back to South Africa (I wasn’t sure I could go, as financially we were at our limits and I had already travelled back two years earlier to say goodbye). He knew my situation, and told me that no matter what the finances that would be required, he felt there might be huge regrets if I didn’t go. He kept pushing for this, and at the time I felt he was being very caring, so we found the money by maxing out our overdraft and credit card, and I went.
When I got back after 3 weeks (I think it was the very first day back) he wandered over to my desk and handed me my notice of redundancy, owing to an impending merger and restructure of the executive team. “I had this in my desk before you left, but I thought you had enough on your plate” he said. Fair enough, but with all our finances maxed out and knee deep in debt, redundancy was a very, very hard situation to find ourselves in.
Finding the grace to be ok with the sense of betrayal in the midst of my grieving was a very hard ask; I am not sure I always got it right in the early days. I was never unprofessional, but I was hurting so badly…
So, by April, I had lost my father and my job, and had taken a complete and devastating hit financially. In all of this, I was 14,000 kms away from my mother and sister, who were of course struggling with their own grief (my mother’s grief was unimaginably immense after 55 years of marriage) and we were unable to care for each other meaningfully.
The following months of unemployment were devastating for me. The NZ HR market was tight, and living in Wellington, a government services dominated city, the opportunities for private HR work was very limited. Living on benefits is humbling. Truly humbling. Beneficiaries are all in the same boat together financially, on the bones of our butts and just trying to feed our families, keep a roof over our heads and prevent credit ratings going south. Sitting in seminars with every possible down and out sector of society, from recent ex-cons to drug-wasted middle aged ladies and homeless people, inspired me to appreciate that even in time of great need, I was still blessed in so many ways. But it was hard, and hard to be gracious in that time.
I found work in July, but a week after starting a young friend I had met through each of us owning a husky, unexpectedly committed suicide. I had been at his house the night before; we had chatted long into the evening about everything and nothing, until he got a call from some friends in need and went to help them restart their car somewhere.
The next morning, before 10, I got a call that he had hanged himself in his garage. I was devastated, and so lost. How had I spent 4 hours with him the night before and not seen a thing, felt a thing, anything at all? I still don’t have an answer to that. We care for his husky now, and the old boy is a constant reminder of that young life gone.
At the same time, I needed new glasses in July but by August the prescription was wrong again. I went back twice and was diagnosed with aggressive cataracts in both eyes, causing huge vision difficulties for me. With such a rapidly changing prescription, new lenses were decided to be a waste of money and I am still awaiting possible surgery to have my lenses replaced. My vision is now the worst it has been in 20 years and is getting worse every week. This will be a further, and huge financial cost on us. I have difficulty working and struggle to drive at night.
Marriage and parenting have been hard this year too. Most days have been an emotional drain on both of us. The financial strain has not helped, and at times we have been hard on each other too. It’s tough to find grace for the ups and downs of parenting, when balancing job stress, financial stress, grieving, vision difficulties. I have not always had the reserves I needed for these stresses. My wife has not had the best of me, not by a long shot. There has been very little to give, and that must change.
It’s good to build up reserves for tough times by looking after ourselves in advance, and having some steadying disciplines that keep us grounded. I will do this.
I guess through all of this, I have been running on empty for a while.
Like I said, 2018 sucked. But it didn’t take me down. Not even close.
So, 2019, bring it. I don’t have any resolutions. I just don’t. But I have some realisations; some ideas of making each day count more than the one before. I will try to love better, care deeper, and to guard my heart. I have kept myself from bitterness and anger, I will continue to do so. I will work hard, I will rest better and get back to nature. I will connect with people, and find the beauty in small everyday things. I will find time, space and grace to replenish.
I will love the Lord. He is worthy. With every breath that He gives me, I will praise Him.