2009: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Let me begin by saying that I’ve had a rough year.

I started a job last fall that brought me back to my hometown. I was (and still am, but not for much longer) living with my parents. Almost immediately, I regretted taking the job. I couldn’t believe I was even hired in the first place. I felt like there must have been a mistake. I didn’t feel confident or qualified. But they hired me, and I took the job for a number of reasons (ones which I’m sure I’ll eventually get to on here). The first few months of this job were hideous. I cried on my way home from work almost every day. In any other situation I probably would have quit, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I contemplated driving my car off a bridge. Terrible, I know. I don’t even like to remember how desperate and depressed those months were.

But things started to improve. I was stashing away every spare cent so that I could buy a house. And in May, I found one I liked. It needed a lot of TLC, but I was up to the challenge, and I had the support of my family, so I went for it.

I had settlement on my house on Tuesday, June 23rd – six months ago today. Immediately after I’d signed my signature 458 times, I went to my new house to show it to family that was visiting from out of town. I was so excited. After a while we headed back to my parents house to get ready to go out for a celebratory dinner. We were barely home when we got a phone call that would change our lives.

The day before, there had been an accident on the Red Line Metro in Washington, DC. I lived right outside of DC for nearly four years and rode the Red Line regularly, so I  read all about the crash and even contacted some friends who lived down there to make sure they weren’t on the train. It didn’t even dawn on me that my aunt and uncle, who live in DC, could have been on that train.

They were. And they were both dead.

I couldn’t, and still can’t, formulate words for what that moment, and the days that followed, was like. The total disbelief. The denial. The horrible sound that came from my father as he heard his older sister and her husband, the recently retired Major General, the former commander of the DC National Guard, were among the nine victims. We had seen them at a family reunion two weeks before. They were new grandparents to a sweet baby girl. They were parents to my two cousins. They were on their way home from training at Walter Reed Army Hospital, where they were going to be volunteers. They were both 62.

The days that followed were a blur, literally and figuratively. I was an emotional wreck. I sat and watched their picture come up on the national news, flashed before me on CNN.com. I work in public relations and marketing, and I was put in charge of e-mailing the more distant relatives with details as they arrived. Reception for the family before the Memorial Service at the DC Armory. Interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

When we went down to DC for services, we were transported everywhere in police escorted limousines . The DC Guard took care of everything. When we arrived in DC and walked into my aunt and uncle’s condo, we were greeted by green uniforms and open arms. I had to remind myself that they had lost someone important to them, too.

They shut down the beltway on our way to Arlington National Cemetery. A line of 5 limousines followed by 3 buses and a trail of cars made our way past nearly all of the national monuments, which my aunt and uncle would have loved. They loved living in DC, and the trip to their final resting place was a fitting one.

I had never been to Arlington before. It was overwhelming and impressive. There was a flyover by 4 fighter jets, there was a horse-drawn caisson that carried their ashes, mixed together in one wooden box. There was an area cordoned off for the press. There was this photo, that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post the next morning.

That’s my grandfather in the middle. My cousins are to his right. My mom is the woman in the red top.

After they died, life slowly returned to normal. I threw myself into my job and working on my house. I wanted to be living there by Christmas.

Then, at the beginning of August, we had to put our sweet 12-year-old Dalmatian, Lucy, to sleep. She was sick, losing weight, and was not going to get better. I couldn’t bring myself to go with my parents to the vet’s office for the appointment. We buried her at our family’s cabin, next to our other dog, Shelby, who had died a few years before. Lucy had always been my favorite, and I always felt like she and I had a special connection.  I sometimes still think I hear the click of her toenails on our floors.

They say bad things come in threes, so I was fully expecting another hammer to drop. And it did. On August 25, my dear great-grandmother, Gigi, passed away. She was 97, and had been slowly declining since May. Her mind was sharp, but her body was giving out. As the oldest of her five great-grandchildren, we shared a special connection. I think I had prepared myself for years for her death, so that when it inevitably happened, I wouldn’t be so distraught. And to a point, it worked. I knew she was ready to go. She needed to know we were OK with it. The Sunday before she died, I told her that I loved her and would miss her terribly, but that I knew she was worn out and ready to go. Two days later, she died. I went over to her apartment before the funeral home came to pick her up. I didn’t think I wanted to see her, but I felt like I might regret it if I didn’t. She looked just like she was sleeping. That was comforting.

I took this picture of her on Mother’s Day, just a few days before she took a fall that would begin her slow demise. It captures her like no other photo did.

I am looking forward to 2010, and am cautiously optimistic that it will turn out better than 2009. I know that this year has made me grow up and realize that my life is not going to always be as idyllic as my childhood was. People are going to get sick and die. People are going to die suddenly. I will probably have moments of darkness that rival what I experienced this year. But I know it’s all a part of life; of growing up. And I think that maybe, at 27, this was the year that I did.


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