My 'Year of Less' started with loss--the sudden and unexpected death of my grandmother on Thanksgiving Day. I had hoped for the opposite, more time to visit with my grandmother after resigning from my full-time job. My Year of Less was supposed to be a semi-sabbatical year of working part-time with a new employer. I had submitted my resignation from a full-time position that was adding more stress than value to my life. During this semi-sabbatical year, I was supposed to work a week at a time for up to two weeks a month. I was supposed to have increased flexibility in my time and schedule to spend more time with my family and my friends. I envisioned several cross-country road trips for a week at a time. I was supposed to have time to reposition my career. These were the dreams I had for my ‘Year of Less’. Instead of this new season starting off with less stress it started with the loss of my grandmother.
In the last years of her life, my grandmother became my daughter in some ways. Yes, you read that right. My husband and I took my grandmother into our home and cared for her like she was our adult offspring. We thought about her needs before our own; catered to her changing palate as she lost her sense of taste; took her shopping and to hair and nail salon appointments; created entertainment and activities for her to stay engaged--which became harder when COVID-19 locked down her senior center; looked after her safety in our home by adding accessibility features; we went with her to all her doctor appointments and advocated to make sure she was not being overmedicated or neglected. My grandmother went with us everywhere: church, game nights with friends, dinner invites, vacation, you name it. One of the funniest memories was playing Cards Against Humanity with her and a group of my friends where she was the oldest person in the game by a margin of 30 years. She made the rest of the group blush with some of her answer choices!
After the arrival of our child, the range of needs in the home, between a newborn and an 84-year-old, became too great for me and my husband. My grandmother needed more attention than we could continue to give. We needed a greater village of support that we did not have. My husband and I had moved to the Midwest for my career, but our family and support was on the east coast. We had no family or friends in the region before relocating there. So, when my grandmother lived in our home, we were her family, and our newly acquired friends were her community.
My grandmother moved out of our home at the beginning of 2021, and into a senior residence in the state and community where her daughter lives. The season that followed was shorter than expected. Early into the honeymoon stage of this season, we were all glad that my grandmother did not have to compete with an infant for attention. Then over time, new challenges surfaced. The environment my husband and I had curated for my grandmother had kept her physically active and engaged in personal connections with us, her family. In the new residence, she became less and less active. She was also not seeing her family daily. She had lost the support of those who helped her use her phone to call friends or her Grandpad to see photos and videos of the family. By the summer she had declined noticeably.
As I made my plans to resign from my full-time job, I envisioned the opportunity to spend more time with my grandmother. I would have the flexibility to drive down and see her for extended periods of time. A month after I submitted my letter of resignation, my grandmother's health started declining significantly. She was hospitalized for a week with an infection and then required discharge to a rehabilitation facility. While in the rehabilitation facility she declined rapidly, and it did not seem like she would be able to leave or improve her activity level. After a month, she was hospitalized again, and the situation was critical. Then, on the Sunday of my last scheduled week of work, I realized that my grandmother was dying. I called my supervisor and asked to be released from work a few days early to go and look after my grandmother. My husband and I packed for a trip that day and hit the road with our baby girl in tow.
When I arrived at the hospital my grandmother was unresponsive. For the next 3 days, I held her hand, stroked her hair and cried. I mourned the inevitable while her body was warm. We called some family who wanted to say their goodbyes. And on the Thursday of that week, Thanksgiving Day in the USA, my grandmother died.
Thanksgiving was supposed to have been my first day after my resignation was final. It was supposed to have been the first day of my new season. It did in fact start a new season, just not the one I had expected. Later I received a sympathy card from a friend and a phrase inside gave me comfort. She wrote about my ‘year of mourning’. In her culture, after someone dies, the first season of mourning is a year. When I read the words, 'year of mourning' it gave me such freedom to allow myself a minimum of a year to mourn, to not rush the season. Somehow despite previous losses, I still needed to give myself permission to grieve for more than a few days or a month. I needed to grieve the loss of all the hopes I had envisioned for us. I needed to grieve not only the death of my grandmother but of the dreams I had hoped we would live out.
As you follow me in this semi-sabbatical year, I have named my 'Year of Less', know that I am also in my first ‘year of mourning’. Join me on this journey of letting go of stressful relationships or commitments, coming to terms with disappointment when life throws curveballs at your hopes and dreams and prioritizing loved ones and your peace of mind and body.