I don't know if we're feeling "survivor guilt" or merely survivor exhaustion, but 2013 was a bad year for people and animals around us.
Our elderly adopted cat Quigley died of bladder cancer; our beloved cat Mabel was diagnosed with large-cell lymphoma at the beginning of the year and in September she was gone. Her passing left a huge hole in the household.
Several friends have had a rough year. I'd like to write a big-picture piece about that (perhaps something publishable, though how I could be both truthful and protective of their privacy I can't imagine).
Some vignettes, with identifying info blurred:
- Last spring we drove to another part of the state to buy some "stuff" from a disabled and impoverished friend, only to discover that the day was her birthday and she has no living relatives or close friends with whom to celebrate. Of course, we took her out to dinner.
- For the past year, we've been part of a group helping a friend with serious health problems (whose only two relatives have even more serious health problems) relocate, only to discover that he has enough possessions to fill two houses and can't face making decisions about getting rid of any of them.
- Since late October, we've been worrying about a young friend whose experience with chronic pain from an "undiagnosable" condition drove him to attempt suicide. Doctors expected him to die, but two weeks later he walked out of the hospital. However, after hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on him in intensive care, the only follow-up care he was offered was a referral to a heroin clinic because — since he had used over-the-counter drugs and whiskey to try to kill himself —"he must be a drug abuser." The clinic told him he didn't belong there.
These are three people I care deeply about. I could easily list a dozen other friends who are sliding into homelessness because of a sequence of either a physical illness or loss of job leading to mental instability which then prevents adequate handling of the physical illness and/or a return to employment. The healthcare, economy and social systems today are such that you have to sink so low to get help that by the time you get there, the help can't help you because you are irreparably damaged.
Exactly one of all the people we know who has slipped into this situation has climbed back out. Though she pulled herself out on her own, I suspect it was because she knew that if she was faced with loss of her apartment, she could resort to retirement savings or ask a relative for a loan. Her complete recovery is something to celebrate, and we're trying.
But, really, what kind of year can we have with all this going on around us?
Tom and I are grateful every day that we enjoy doing the very basic things in life together, from going to the store, cooking, taking a walk, playing with our cats, volunteering, and working with our clients. We are grateful for our warm house, our safe neighborhood, and for the good health of my mother and his brothers. I'm very pleased that we are in frequent contact with my cousins from my late father's side of the family.
While we've both been appalled by the instability of some of the businesses we work with as contractors, we've also had some great experiences and are continually reminding each other to do more for the good clients and "fire" the bad ones (even if turning away business can initially seem counterintuitive).
One wish for the new year is good things for our friends in need. We just don't see how things can go on this way for another year.
Our resolution is to make sure we spend time with friends who are fortunate (and strategic) enough to be doing well. To often we see them across the room, also helping someone with problems, and all we find time to do is wave and smile at each other. We realize that we need to spend more time with these folks, regrouping and regathering our strength.
So, here's to 2014.