2016 in Review

I’m about to say something that probably borders on heresy, but… 2016 has not been my worst year.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been awful on pretty much all levels. From Aleppo to Zika, from Alan Rickman to Zsa Zsa Gabor, the world has withstood many losses this year. I’ve taken to keeping the news at arm’s length, only tuning in when I’ve mentally prepared myself.  As someone whose usual response to any degree of misfortune is to switch the kettle on and make a cup of tea, the magnitude of these devastating events has robbed me of any inkling as to how to respond. I have helplessly watched horrific images of war-torn Syria; malicious bombs revelling in the destruction of cities; disenfranchised electorates mobilising racist and power-hungry leaders. I have felt utterly insignificant, like a flimsy beach parasol watching the tsunami roll in. Puny. But then, it’s a feeling to which I have become accustomed.

On a personal scale, 2014 was the worst year ever.

That was the year that truly taught me what it means to feel small. I wrote about it at the time in a piece for Tearfund Lifestyle (or Rhythms as it was then known). A lot happened. I began my third and final year at the University of Cambridge with the news that my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer. The tumour had already been present for a while and was causing him great discomfort. Over the months that followed, I heard my Dad howl like a wounded animal. I saw him hallucinate as the heavy-duty opioids he was given for the pain caused him to reach out for numbers and flick away spiders he saw in his mind. I became almost nose-blind to the distinct mixture of bleach and microwaved meals that characterise day-to-day hospital life.

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My hero.

Then there was my Mum. My incredible, exhausted Mum, who was fighting with everything she knew to get Dad the help he needed (occasionally against even his own wishes, because Dad is brilliant but sometimes he can be a right recalcitrant numpty). Just before my Dad was due to be discharged from hospital, my 92-year-old Grandma had a heart attack. She was taken into hospital, and we were told she’d be out in a few days.  Mum began preparing for her coming to live with us, even though the house was in disarray after months of being merely the place where Mum slept, as she was spending most waking hours either in the hospital or travelling to and from there.  Days before she was due to come home, Grandma died. Mum was driving to see her when she received the call.  I could hear her heart break from fifty miles away.

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Darling Grandma

After Dad survived his miraculous and life-changing operation in July and was allowed home to recuperate, Mum’s adrenal glands simply gave up. She became wobbly, hollowed out, forgetful. She would get in the car and not remember where she was going. She was too tired to cook, clean, and even sometimes wash herself. There’s little wonder: on top of all this suffering, Mum had also been researching my chronic pain condition, which appeared to be getting worse. She drove me to get a specialist biopsy and treatment in April. Far from helping matters, the invasive procedure left me unable to walk for weeks. Were it not for my boyfriend at the time, I don’t know how I would have got through those few weeks of fanged, merciless pain.

In July, this same boyfriend and I broke up.

So perhaps it is now less surprising that, in comparison, 2016’s not been too bad a year.

My Dad is still with us (and is making good on the ‘All Clear’ he was given at the end of 2014). Since retiring, Mum’s energy has slowly been returning, and this month even found the wherewithal to bake cakes and scones, something she has been longing to do but fatigue has thus far prevented. I am currently enjoying a few days off from my full-time job, working (mostly from home) for a company that organises educational courses for international students. Our lives are made sunnier by our little Wauzer, Tottie, whose wagging tail is a constant harbinger of joy. I don’t see her everyday, as I moved to a nearby city for work. I have a salary which means I can pay rent on a flat, and enjoy being near pubs and cafés where I can meet with friends.

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Tottie: half-Westie, half-Schaunzer, all teddy bear

Yes, I still feel very small. The world is a dark and scary place, and I have to pray for the wisdom to know how I can help. Some days, I don’t see how I can, especially when my pain levels are bad and my horizons shrink to the edges of my bed (like today). But if 2014 taught me anything, it showed me that feeling small is not the same as being entirely impotent.  I couldn’t cure my Dad’s cancer. I couldn’t pump life into my Grandma’s weak heart. All I could do was keep pressing through my studies, and refuse to let circumstances rob me of every good thing I had in my life: the opportunity to get my degree, my best friend Rachel, my beautiful Mum. I wasn’t as present for her at the time as I wanted to be, but I’ve made it my mission this year to give her all the support I can afford her, from  providing city visits to a car-ferrying service, from Whatsapp messages to – you’ve guessed it – many cups of tea.

Thing is, I’m not holding my breath that 2017 is going to bring a more jovial act to the world’s stage.  But I’m not going to let that steal my hope.  As the song goes, hope is frail, but it’s hard to kill.  I may be little, but I am fierce.  And I am going to keep fighting to action hope in my corner of the world.  One cup of tea at a time.

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