2021 was a year of tough lessons. It was also a year of phenomenal personal growth for me. It seems that I had a lot to learn about loss and letting go and acceptance of what is, not what I wish it were. As much as I struggled through this year, and despite all the cursing I had towards 2021, today, this last day of 2021, I want to thank it for being such a powerful force in my transformation.
This post is a musical homage to the lessons of the past year, as inspired by my son Ozzie’s 12-month playlist challenge. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to take up his challenge of choosing one song to represent every month of the past year that you lived. And then I invite you to share your playlist with a loved one to discuss the meaning of each song (or maybe you’d prefer to write it down and process the meaning personally as I’m about to do here).
It turns out that a 4.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City to Boise is the perfect amount of time needed to listen to and discuss 4 2021 playlists, as we did last week on our way home for Ozzie’s first home visit in nearly a year. We found that although we all lived the same events, we experienced them from different perspectives. And as my brother and I shared our playlists with each other, I also discovered that an approach to a playlist from a musician (my brother) and a dreamer (me) are quite different: he often chose songs for their musical and instrumental progressions whereas I always choose songs lyrically.
What I know for sure is that there’s transformative power in extracting lessons from the events of your past, both good and bad. So without further ado, you’re invited to put on some headphones, and come along on my musical journey through this past year which I call 2021 Hindsight.
January: Wake Me Up by Avicii
In January of last year, like many of you, I was so ready to bid farewell to 2020 and step into what I thought would be a brighter, easier year. We were three days into the year when Ozzie made a suicide attempt in my home. My two youngest and I were awakened at 1am by police sirens and knocking on my front door; apparently a friend of Ozzie’s knew about the attempt and called 911 and saved his life. I was asleep in my bedroom. The title Wake Me Up is both literal and metaphorical. There’s a lot of anguish in my heart for sleeping while my son was in the other room attempting to escape the pain of his reality. Avicii sings “Feeling my way through the darkness, guided by a beating heart, I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start.” I woke up quickly to the fact that my son needed help, and that I would be unable to provide that for him. It was my first lesson in letting go.
February: Falling Slowly by Marketa Igrlova & Glen Hansard
By February Ozzie was living in a treatment center in Southern California and I was catching my breath. He was in a safe place and my mission was now to regulate our lives while trying to understand how our life went from a family of 5 to a family of 3 in the matter of 12 short months? And my dog had diabetes. I felt like a sinking boat, but I was trying to hold strong for my other two kids. At that time, there was a hopeful voice in my life in the form of Jack. T Colton. He sent me this song one day and it resonated on many levels. “Take this sinking boat and point it home, we’ve still got time. Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice, you’ll make it now. Falling slowly, eyes that know me and I can’t go back. And moods that take me and erase me and I’m painted black.” Jack T. Colton was a bright light in my dark mental space last February. He helped me to focus on what was working in my life and ultimately, his generous heart allowed me to slowly open mine to new love.
March: Losing the Plot by Alanis Morissette
“Welcome back insomnia, unushered back into silence only when everyone else is sleeping….’cause I am losing the plot. I am grieving the end of superwomaning. I have laid down my cape. As though I haven’t risen like a Phoenix from a thousand deaths, as though I have not been reborn to notice that my mission is not dead yet.” I was hopeful in March. I had come to a place where I accepted where I was in my life and I was learning to ask for help…help with my dog, with my kids, with my heavy mental load. March also marked one year of life with COVID and I was learning to make peace with not only COVID, but my divorce. It felt like a month of rebirth: I had a sweet man encouraging me along the sidelines while I saw improvements in my son at his treatment center and I had found a rhythm to the daily doses of insulin for my dog and the back and forth custody with my kids. In March I got my first glimpse of forgiveness, acceptance and new purpose and I was ready to rise again.
April: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday by Jason Mraz
Just as I was feeling hopeful and like I was going to rise like a Phoenix into a happy new life, April brought me a back-to-back blow. The first was saying goodbye to sweet Crosby; his life, even with the insulin and homemade dog food, was a daily struggle. He was falling regularly again and I knew that he was ready to leave his body. I believe that he was holding on to see Ozzie come home from treatment, which was anticipated to be in the second week in April. However, after a heartbreaking family therapy call, we learned that Ozzie wasn’t planning to make any positive changes in the way he lived his life, so instead of bringing him home, in the silence of the night he was transported to a year-long therapeutic boarding school. The day when that decision was made, was the day that Crosby died. Two heart-breaking losses that would take me months to recover from. I felt like a terrible Mom. How had I failed at parenting? Why did my constant 4-legged companion have to leave at the very same time? I was so scared. And sad. And heartbroken. And even as I type this, tears are forming in my eyes when I think about last April. More loss. More grief. More opportunities to let go. That’s when I started Let Love Rise.
May: I believe by Christina Perri
May is my birth month, something that I share with Ozzie. In choosing this month’s song, I wanted it be something that was representative for the both of us and that’s how I chose “I believe” by Christina Perri. At the end of the song she repeats (as if trying to convince herself and the listener of this truth) “This is not the end of me, this is the beginning.” And that’s something that I do believe. Not even half way through the year I had already faced so many challenges and losses, but like she sings in the song “I have died so many times, but I am still alive….this is not the end of me, this is the beginning“. All the losses, all the mini deaths were a part of my journey. They were going to teach me how to love and let go. At the end of May I was able to visit Ozzie at his school and when I came home from that one-day visit, I was relieved; I was certain that we chose the right place for him to learn the lessons that he needed to learn while being safely supported. Not being able to raise my son for his final year as a child was really hard to come to terms with, but it is not the end of me. It’s not the end of motherhood. It’s just different…and it’s the beginning of a new way to approach parenting.
June: Use Somebody by Kings of Leon
The tumultuous 2020-2021 school year ended, and one week later I voluntarily went in for foot surgery, a medical necessity that would leave me bed-ridden for the remainder of the summer. Being helpless is not something I do well. Being still is also something that I didn’t do very well, minus the few minutes a day that I would devote to meditation or yoga. My post-surgery recovery was like an all-day forced meditation period. I couldn’t walk, which meant I couldn’t do simple tasks such as cooking or cleaning. I couldn’t do yoga or dance or hike. I had to simply sit with my thoughts (and with a whole lot of movies and TV shows on Netflix.) This is the month where I learned to ask for help and where I learned to surrender to the Art of Nothingness. I was so grateful to all the people in my life who stepped up to help me without asking, and those who helped after I learned to express my need for something.
July: Her by Alanis Morissette
I was not expecting to be as bed-ridden as I still was in July. I thought I’d be back to “normal” after 6 weeks, but apparently the word “healed” means something entirely different to the foot surgeon than it does to the patient. My foot required daily icing and elevation, which I grew accustomed to by July and in fact, I had learned to enjoy my forced down-time. Perhaps for the first time in my adult life, I was off-duty. As I laid on my back with ice on my foot I read, I dreamt, I processed, I prayed. This song by Alanis is representative of my mood and my seeking for the next (literal) step in my life. It was in this stillness that I dreamt of moving from our former family home to a place of my own. Almost as quickly as I put that thought into the Universe, it was met with affirmation. A dream home for me to start over became available and despite the crazy housing market in Boise, my offer was accepted without entertaining any other offers. Just like that, my dream and my prayer became a reality. Oh shit, how am I going to pack up an entire house while hobbling on one foot? I think I’ll pray a little bit more to Her.
August: Home by Phillip Phillips
With the help of my tribe of friends and my Mom and step-dad, we managed to move me out of my 3000 square foot home into my sweet new 1700 square foot abode. Nothing has felt so right as this home, this new space for dreams to grow and for me and my kids to start over. There are so many songs about “home” and the reason for this choice is the opening lyrics “Hold on to me as we go, as we roll down this unfamiliar road. And although this wave is stringing us along, just know you’re not alone, ’cause I’m going to make this place your home.” Buying my new home felt like my first true step as an independent single woman/mom. It was scary as all get-out and definitely overwhelming, but I knew that it’s what our family needed to start over. I began the summer without a thought of moving, and despite my foot surgery (or perhaps because of my foot surgery!), I ended the summer living in a brand new place. August reminded me that when you really want something and when it’s in the best interest of your higher self, the universe will conspire to make it happen (my paraphrasing from the Alchemist).
September: I Can Still Feel You by Michael Franti
Just as I thought my life was rising to meet me and my fresh new start, I was dealt a blow that I still haven’t recovered from. It was the morning of September 8th and I was so excited to have my former student Calvin come talk with my students about his incredible life story later that day. But he never woke up from his sleep. At age 19, my beloved student Calvin died in his sleep. One week to the day after his untimely death, I went to see Michael Franti & Spearhead where they sang this song. “I can feel you when I look at the stars and in the tremble of the falling rain. I can feel you in all of my joy and in all of my pain. I can still feel you, even after you’re gone gone gone.” Through Calvin’s death, I’ve learned to look more closely at the subtle signs of the Universe and to seek out messages from the other side. His death put me back in touch with my spirituality and there’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t talk to my Angel Named Calvin. It still doesn’t make sense, and I still feel like he had so much life to live and love to share. Knowing Calvin, then losing him has forever changed me as a teacher and a student of life.
October: Wind Beneath my Wings by Bette Midler
In October I went on my annual retreat with my three girlfriends, this year to the Oregon Coast. We were all dealing with death and grief and loss this year, and looking for signs from the Universe was a major theme of our time together. At one incredibly powerful moment, my friend and I were on the deck of our chalet, looking out over the ocean when a bald eagle flew directly over our heads. It took our breath away and left us both speechless (which, if you know me and Sarah is a pretty mighty feat!). The eagle is symbolic in so many ways; for me it was representative of my wings that, after a long, tough fall from my divorce, had grown back. I felt whole, even though my heart was still broken from all the loss of the year. I knew that I would always be supported by my tribe of friends, my family and most recently, my newest angel. “Fly, you let me fly so high…thank you, thank you, thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.” October put gratitude right back into the center of my soul and being.
November: To Be Loved by Adele
November brought our family back to the Zion area of Utah where we spent Thanksgiving with Ozzie. We stayed in a tiny Airbnb where I shared a room of 4 bunkbeds with my kiddos while my Mom and Step dad stayed in the other room. We ordered a Thanksgiving feast from the local grocery store and embraced our untraditional Thanksgiving. As wonderful as it was to be with my kids and parents in one of the most beautiful landscapes that our country has to offer, my heart was heavy. My relationship with Jack T Colton had recently ended, and I felt an extra sting as my ex and his girlfriend were together in Vegas, sending pictures to my kids via text. I wasn’t prepared for that and all kinds of anger, jealousy and bitterness rose to the surface. I was surprised by the onslaught of these emotions on my most favorite holiday of gratitude. I had recently made steps in forgiving my ex, but in a matter of an unexpected (and unwelcomed) text, I was made aware that I still had a long way to go on the road of forgiveness. Adele’s newest album was just released and I remember listening to her express the pain of her divorce while I walked around the neighborhood of our Airbnb with Jasper. “To be loved and love at the highest count means to lose all the things I can’t live without. Let it be known that I will choose to lose. “ And that pretty much sums up my November and my year. Another loss ,the loss of love. Compounded by the reality that my ex had moved on and was happy. Like Adele, I will choose to lose so that I can get to the essence of who I am and what I want. But please, Universe, no more loss for my weary soul. Please.
December: Better Boat by Kenny Chesney
“I ain’t lonely, but I spend a lot of time alone. More than I’d like to, but I’m OK with stayin’ home. My how the last few months have changed. I’m smilin’ more despite the pain. I breathe in, I breathe out. Got friends to call who let me talk about what ain’t workin’, what’s still hurtin’, all the things I feel like cussin’ out. Now and then I let it go, I ride the waves I can’t control. I’m learning how to build a better boat.” –Kenny Chesney. I really cannot say it any better than Kenny Chesney does in this beautiful song. This song doesn’t just represent my December, it speaks for my entire year in hindsight. Back in January, I had no idea where the waves would blow me and I thought I had a pretty good boat. But the waves knocked me over and sideways and upside down. But I always got back up, and each and every time I did, I was building a better boat.
There are 6 hours left in this year. I am grateful that it’s almost over, but am not going to put any expectations on 2022 for being any gentler of a teacher. I am, however, courageously sailing into 2022 in a better boat. Cheers to a new year, new adventures, new beginnings, new life after loss or perhaps a better way to say it is new life strengthened by loss. It’s all a part of the journey. What’s on your playlist? Namaste.