2023 Word of the Year


Back in January of 2023, I attended a church service where we were all invited to pick a word (printed on a piece of paper cut out in a star shape) to carry us through the year.  I had done this before and I would put the word on my refrigerator so that I could be reminded of it throughout the year.   The word I picked was "righteous" and I'll admit I didn't like it.  It's not a negative word by any means.  Merriam-webster.com says:  acting in accord with divine or moral law.  That's pretty darned good, but the word seems to be most commonly used to reflect someone who is snobby or wears righteousness as a badge of honor.  (The phrase righteous indignation comes to mind which for me conjures up negativity.) 

In my mind, the word of the year for me is LOSS. (With a side order of guilt.) I have experienced so much loss in 2023 that I'll admit I've been unable to process it all.  Too many loved ones have been lost over too short of a time.  It's actually hard to remember all of those who have died this year.  When I make a list in my mind, I find that I've left out people and it becomes too much.

In all honesty, loss is really a word that encapsulates the past 18-20 months and not just the calendar year. It begins with my mother's declining health in May/June of 2022 and her death on July 9th of that year. There was grief on my part, but I think I mostly kept that in check as I had so much I had to take care of.  Frustrating paperwork and financial institutions that said they were sorry for my loss but continued to make my life more complicated.

Then in January it was obvious that my father had lost the ability to do many physical things.  Thankfully he had a live in caregiver to take care of most of his needs, but I would have to go down once a week to take care of financial matters; making sure that bills got paid and that income was properly recorded in his ledger.  (A total pain in the ass.)  Then he was in the hospital.  Then he came home.  And then he ended up in the hospital again.  Then it was to a rehab facility.  After several months it was back to the hospital.  Then to a different rehab facility.  Back to the hospital.  This was life for 5 or so months until a nurse finally said to me that he wasn't going to heal fully EVER and I wondered why he needed to go to rehab.  I had him come home on hospice care and I feel the loss of all those months.  Months where perhaps he could have been more comfortable.  Months that I feel I should have done something but didn't.  I might even grieve that more than I grieve his death.

I lost my dad 357 days after my mom.  I was on vacation when he died, so talk about loss and GUILT.  (I was well aware this would be a possibility, but really did think he would hang on a little longer.)  While I was dealing with that loss, I also found out that one of his good friends passed away just 4 days afterwards and then my beloved cousin's wife died a day later.  Talk about loss!  (There was the guilt that I wasn't as aware as I should have been about how bad her health had been.  Guilt that I wasn't there to support my cousin as he cared for his wife.  Guilt that she didn't know how much she meant to use, even though we didn't see her often.  Guilt that my cousin still doesn't know how much he means to us and how we wish to spend more time with him.)  All of this happening within 7 days was overwhelming.  (And probably why I haven't processed it all yet.)

While I am thrilled that my son is having an incredible time at college (Mom Brag:  He did REALLY well in his first semester), it's been difficult adjusting to him not being here.  (And difficult adjusting when he IS here.)  I have come to despise the term "empty nester," as it emphasizes what is missing in my life.  (Even if it is not a loss.)

As the year went on there was more loss.  My aunt in Colorado (guilt that I didn't know how unwell she was), two neighbors who were more like family than just friends.  A friend from the time I was born died and I was sick so I didn't attend her memorial service.  (More guilt.)  Friends lost loved ones too and I carry the guilt that I wasn't there (or there enough) to ease their pain.

So much loss packed into one horrible year.  (And I thought 2022 was my annus horribilis.  Boy was I wrong!  I should have never tempted fate.)  I KNOW that I have tucked much of my grief away as I deal with the challenges that life continues to throw at me (as it does to all of us) and I wonder when it will all come spilling out.  (That will be ugly!)  Or will it continue to trickle down, hitting me at the most inopportune times?  (Is there an opportune time?)

Perhaps I should write down the words loss and guilt and burn them.  Would that take away the hold they have on me?

I need a new word for 2024.  Joy?  Hope?  Calm?  Whatever it might be, let it be positive and let it be true.


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