December 31, 2021

Dear Friends, Family and Innocent Bystanders,

Sometimes there is a banner year in which the Losses exponentially outweigh the Gains. 2008 was one of those years for us: my dad died, Jim was diagnosed with cancer and Stargardt’s, and I was laid off (again).

However, as bad as 2008 was, 2021 now holds the official title: Worst Year Ever or Pretty Darn Close. Just a quick rundown if you want to skip the details: my very dear former mom-in-law Claire died from Alzheimers, the best kitty in the world died (our boy Smitty), and my favorite aunt Mona died right after Thanksgiving. You may now skip to the last paragraph.

We would all like to think that somehow Losses make us stronger, impart wisdom and foster empathy. You know that old saw, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Do I hear a Bah Humbug?!

Early in January, I braved COVID fears and spent a week in Alabama with my former in-laws. This was about a month after Pfizer got an EUA for the brand-new vaccine. We were all learning how to navigate the pandemic. We wore masks on the plane and in the airport, but, unlike California, Alabama was a place where masks were worn only to rob banks and perform surgery.

For over twenty years, I had a loving mother and friend in Claire. We had been out of touch for a while later, I discovered that Claire’s silence was due to her rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s disease.

Every person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and every person who loves them is a pioneer, making their way through a jungle of heartache and despair. Jim and I had enjoyed our visit there in early 2020, although Claire had struggled to understand Jim’s stories. This is not unusual many people struggle to understand Jim’s stories. But, one year later, I was stunned at Claire’s deterioration. I had had no personal experience with this disease, and it took me a while to deal with my own heartbreak. Towards the end of my visit, I started to enjoy our time together. I bounced a napping Claire on the bed, trying to wake her up to go out to lunch with Pat and me. It was fun and I got some wonderful smiles out of her. I massaged lotion into her hands and feet, bathed her. We held hands and said plenty of “I love you”’s. We gazed into each other’s eyes, reaching down into each other’s souls. She was there. She was beautiful and definitely there.

A month later, Claire was dying. I flew back to Alabama and sat with her and Ken. She was in a hospital bed in the living room and slept, waking each morning for a linen and nightgown change. I spent a lot of time just telling her that I loved her, that she was so good and so brave. The evening before my flight home, just 20 minutes after I left for the hotel, Claire passed away.

In August, we scattered her ashes where she was born and grew up, in northern California, Dos Rios, where the Middle Fork River meets the Eel. One week after I returned home, Smitty jumped up on our bed dragging his hindquarters. About an hour later, I was at the veterinary hospital saying goodbye to our boy. His heart murmur had become congestive heart failure.

Smitty was the first kitten who was with me from the beginning to the end for 10 years. He lived with us as an indoor/outdoor cat, ruling the yard, eating tuna, chasing lizards, mice, birds, one snake and one rat (that we know of). He was always very generous with his kills, sharing the excitement by bringing live mice and lizards inside the house for us all to enjoy. I have had other cats, but I couldn’t believe the depth of my grief at losing Smitty. I have never had children, but for one brief moment, before I clamped down on my feelings, I had a tiny glimmer of understanding what a parent goes through when they lose a child.

We also lost Aunt Mona this year. Mona was a special person, family personified. Those of you who have followed HewesNews will have read about her exploits throughout the years, including her one-woman attempt to stop her car from rolling backward after the emergency brake gave way. Mona and her kids, my cousins, always enveloped me in the warmth of their loving family. In 2003, Mona and I successfully schemed to hold an Israel Family Reunion, a first for my side of the family, but a tradition in Mona’s family. I am always impressed with how close their family is, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins...they taught me what family can mean in one's life.

Mona came to San Diego to help us during Jim’s illness. She saved my sanity, filled our freezer with a month’s worth of meals, and listened to Jim’s stories while I was at work. Jim had a new story in his repertoire after he watched my tiny aunt, hands on hips, telling the butcher that she expected a lean brisket, or he’d hear about it from her.

Mona was all about human connections, a champion phone person. She cared about people, even strangers, and helped with rides, shopping trips, places to live, companionship. A die-hard liberal Democrat, many of our conversations focused on my misguided support of Donald Trump. She never gave up trying to convince me of the error of my ways. Our last conversation was a spirited debate about vaccinations (or lack thereof).

Well, here it is New Year’s Eve, 2021. I have shared the heaviness in my heart on this last day of a truly crappy year. However, on an up note, Jim and I just got back from a visit to Sedona, a chance to reboot our systems and recharge our batteries in the vortex of Bell Rock. We easily made the 6-mile hike around the Courthouse and spent a wonderful week in our favorite place on Earth.

2022 awaits!

Libby and Jim