2020…What Could Possibly Come Next?


This year has been a wild ride; and it’s still not finished…so we should all buckle up (and wear our freaking masks).

For me, it is been a year of unraveling my past as I searched for and found my birth mother. The fact that my birth mother wanted no part of me…well, that was unfortunate and made me weep just a bit…but I quickly moved on. My adoptive parents – now both gone – were so loving and devoted to our family; they were my “real” parents my entire life.

I decided that the stranger who accidentally conceived me really doesn’t matter for the most part.

And right as I was processing this new found me (or was it simply the same me without as many questions?) COVID struck, or began to strike…just in time to derail my family from going on a long-planned trip to Japan. The news at the specific time of our planned departure was scary, countries were shutting down (the US was threatening to) and Japan itself was implementing all kinds of business and tourist-related closures and automatic quarantine requirements. After weeks of stressful watching and waiting, we finally pulled the plug literally days before our scheduled trip.

All I could think of at that time was poor us, we don’t get to go to Japan.

Months later, though, with the death toll and infection rates on the increase, the world as we knew it seemed to change right before our eyes; the cancellation of our trip didn’t seem to matter very much as chaos and panic took over our everyday lives. We committed to going to Japan someday in the future, and I pray the world will be such that we can.

I still remember that first trip to the grocery store after COVID became an official threat. I don’t remember what had transpired the days before, but I do recall being fearful of grocery shopping! It felt like a visit to the hospital to see a very ill, quarantined friend. Mask on, gloves on, sanitizer ready and waiting in the car.

Careful what you touch (and don’t touch anything!)!

I had heard there was a shortage of food so didn’t know what to expect. It was strange. Very little meat in the meat department, many empty shelves (certainly no hand sanitizer, wipes or toilet paper!) and people were clearly hoarding. There was both a calmness about it (people seemed somber and serious, at least from what one could see given their masks) as well as a frantic feeling (seeing others hoarding made me question if I should too).

I must admit I did buy some extra food items (that are still in my freezer and pantry, unused). And am I the only one who has those tiny, tiny, tiny – miniature – rolls of toilet paper that showed up when all the stores were out of the regular sized rolls? I’ve never used them, have you used yours?

The new norm. Less emotion, more procedural.

When I came home after those initial days of COVID grocery shopping I also remember the process of washing hands (the right way), sanitizing everything I bought and touched, and being genuinely convinced I was somehow contaminating every surface of my home and fridge. I had great angst about it and disinfected everything, and then everything again. I even remember the panic when I ran out of cleaning supplies for a week…oh, my…

Over time, isn’t it so odd that this has become so much less of an emotional journey and just an everyday procedural thing. People wear their mask, chat with friends, drink their Starbucks and go about their business, no longer somber or panicked (or disinfecting at every touch). And who would have ever thought that masks on everyone, on joggers, on the police, on your UBER driver, would become just part of our everyday life and scenery.

But having said that, the new norm has come with a lot of pain and cost.

During COVID some people’s lives have been forever changed. Family members may have died (not due to COVID necessarily, but often alone during hospital COVID isolation rules), weddings have been postponed; parties and annual traditions cancelled. Funerals have been live streamed (in some cases with even the deaths themselves happening over cellphones or Zoom calls so that loved ones can say goodbye).

The economic hit has also been terrible…luckily all of this initially happened during the spring and summer months given the need for outside dining and well-ventilated activities. The concern of course is what will happen moving forward…what businesses will be able to survive and which ones won’t. Please support your local businesses, as they really need us all.

Social distancing is the new intimacy.

The typical hugs and time spent with family and friends…so much has changed in this “new normal” we are now living in. Our everyday lives have become more isolated and solitary. I remember the first time seeing a good friend during those initial months of the virus, and not hugging hello or goodbye. It seemed so wrong and uncomfortable at the time…yet today, it has become the norm.

To hug someone is now the exception, and an exception you need to be on the same page about! There is now a little societal dance people do to help ascertain the “comfortable safety level” of any particular person. I’ll wear a mask if you do; I’ll take it off if you take off yours; where have you been the past 2 weeks? (and who have you been with!) Been tested recently?

In a few ways amazing and wonderful things have also happened. Parents now working at home have gotten to know their young kids (and have become more appreciative of their kids’ teachers!). Many people have become gardeners and DIY’ers…people are walking and working out in homemade gyms, LOL….a silver lining to the very dark cloud called COVID.

But 2020 isn’t just about the virus…

And if the virus wasn’t enough to give the year 2020 a bad rep, there have been epic natural disasters as well.

In my hometown of San Jose, the summer heat brought terrible fires (several of the largest fires in the area’s history), and with that the threat of evacuation. That was a terrifying experience that I don’t ever want to have to think about or plan for again. My heart goes out to people who have lost their homes, or even their lives; we should all thank fire department personnel everywhere after seeing what they have to do each and every working day.

And of course, all of those fires and the unrelenting heat, resulted in air quality issues that were in some ways completely startling (if you saw any of the photos of the orange skies in California, or if you simply tried to be outside and breathe!) yet most people simply said, “It’s 2020! What else should we expect?

We ran our air conditioner for weeks to keep from opening windows. No-one went outside, it was a ghost town. The already impacted restaurants, with only outside seating due to COVID, were even more economically devastated. Wild animals, fleeing wildfires, heat and smoke, were invading neighborhoods they usually wouldn’t. I can only speak to California, of course, but know that wildfires hit many states this year in increasing numbers and magnitude…and I know that other states are also dealing with hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters (that seem to be “naturally” happening more and more…).

Looking out at the dirty, orange air…the heat….the threat of continued fires…it really did seem like perhaps the world was going to end. One wondered, what would happen next?

Well, for us we went to visit a son in Oregon. While there, the air quality was the world’s worst air quality. Imagine that. The worst air quality in the world, and we were there breathing it in.

We couldn’t see a thing (and that’s sad as Oregon is a beautiful state) and luckily they had indoor dining available as eating (and drinking…and more eating…) was really the only thing a visitor could do. Between closures due to COVID and those due to the dirty air, there just wasn’t anywhere to go and we ended up shortening our trip.

Things are just dirty in 2020.

And of course, during all of this, one must not forget all of the other dirty things going on besides the air quality.

Dirty politics being the primary one.

You know what I mean. The polarized politics. We all have seemingly become party-affiliated zombies, which makes us unwilling – or unable – to listen to the other side (whoever that might be)…

I know we once did listen and were able to believe what we heard! Where is Dan Rather or Walter Cronkite now that we really need to trust what we hear on the news. Instead of facts we offer opinions and pass along our party’s media propaganda. Both sides are doing it. The United States seems to have gone mad (I often wonder what citizens in other countries really think about us!). Throw in the unrest and divisiveness relating to Black Lives Matter and other societal inequities and injustices… and I fear our nation will never mend.

Civil war anyone?

I wonder what 2020 will bring next? Three more months, I fear what may be coming… Halloween may bring real zombies this year…perhaps the murder hornets are really on their way. I think Santa may opt out this Christmas (perhaps his elves can use my tiny toilet paper stash?).

I myself am a little concerned about the approaching time of year. Flu season is coming, the cold or wet weather will mean more people staying indoors. This change in seasons, I think, is going to be bad; the risk of the spread of the virus indoors is thought to be greater. But I also think we all may just really just need some sunshine, fresh air, exercise and vitamin D to keep from exploding!

With people indoors all winter…hmmm…things could get out of hand.

The election is less than a month away. I wonder if passing that milestone will make things better or worse. I fear it will do nothing to help calm the polarization we see today. What will the losing side do? What will everyday people do? I can’t help but think about the Purge…will that be our fate? What about the economy? What about people’s health if COVID lingers on?

So many uncertainties. Yet, some things have remained the same.

Important things.

— Relationships.

— Friendships.

— Our faith, in both God and humanity.

— Appreciation of what we have and the beauty that still exists.

— The love and happiness surrounding our pets, our passions and other simple joys.

We need to hold on to these things. We need to focus on them and nurture them; to not let ourselves become polarized and distorted.

And when the “next thing” comes along, as I’m sure it will (“It is 2020 after all”), take a breath…remind yourself of all that you have…and just hold on to those you love.

I promise you. It will be ok.

Imminent Threat

They say that there are 5 stages associated with a person dealing with any type of significant emotional loss,

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

Yesterday I thought about how potential loss might be very similar, in terms of the emotions one goes through. You grieve the loss before it even occurs.

A raging wildfire (one of the largest on record here in California where I live in the foothills) this past week is now at a safer distance; perhaps still a threat, but today…there is hope on the horizon and I’ve allowed myself time to reflect on a potential loss that now appears unlikely to occur.

Yet…still mindful that winds can shift; still praying for those affected or in the fire’s path; still praying for the firefighters who have taken on a whole new awe for me. How do they do this job, in such heat and smoke, with such danger?

Our family’s evacuation items have been packed for 5 days; the 3 cat crates and cat supplies stand ready in the garage. A pile of bags and a few boxes, and electronics needed for work, are ready at the front door.


Five days ago the imminent threat began with the looming need to abandon our home of some 27 years; a home where we raised two sons and built a family’s life. 

We didn’t know how much time we might have. What to pack? How to prioritize a lifetime of memories and precious things?

What would be the greatest impact to leave behind, especially if we lost the house to the fire?

Important documents were an easy and unemotional first step: passports and various identification cards and records thrown in the first box.  A mental note now made that having birth certificates and our will stored in our nearby bank’s safety deposit box (a bank that would surely burn before our house in this particular fire!) is a mistake that needs future correction.

The cats come next. Mounting emotions start to claim more and more space in my head. I think how much the cats aren’t going to like being evacuated; not the crates, not the car-ride, and not their evacuation destination (a friend’s house with a resident dog). I know it’s only a temporary shelter so my mind starts thinking about longer-term options. Would we have to rent a home? For how long?

That’s when the panic begins. The realization that this is really happening.

What will it look like, if we lose our home? What will it feel like?

I now start to focus on what memories to take. I grab all of the photo albums; but wait, I know that many of these photos are scanned and likely available somewhere in the cloud. I start to sort through the many frayed albums and pick out a few I think are filled with photos I don’t have stored elsewhere; the wedding and honeymoon pics, various functions.  I haven’t looked through these albums in years, yet they seem so vital to me at this moment, as if to lose them means I will forget the memories they have captured.

As I walk through the house I grab a seemingly odd assortment of framed photos. The photo of my husband at a friend’s wedding; the friend gone now for several years, and the photo only one of a handful remaining of the two of them.

dad_twa_optimizedFramed photos of long-gone family including beloved parents; many do not exist digitally so must be saved. My husband as an infant in the arms of his dad. A formal portrait of our family when the boys were young.  A photo collage I made of my dad containing pictures of him as a young man…these don’t exist elsewhere. I look at his smile, confidence and strength and summon some of that to get through what is increasingly feeling overwhelming and terrifying to me.

Framed photos of our family are everywhere in this house…every age and stage captured and proudly displayed. Many likely exist somewhere in a Dropbox, but just in case, a chosen few are grabbed and shoved into a box.

I go room to room. I realize that I still have my kids’ yearbooks and Eagle Scout badges stored in their closets, even if they’ve been gone for years now. Prized school projects, awards and beloved stuffed animals (worn down from hugs and having been toted around by their toddler owners) are still stored up high in the garage rafters. I leave them all, the emotions creeping higher.

At that moment I realize so many precious things will need to remain.

I text my kids, what do they want me to save.

They respond with just you and dad, mom…and of course, the 3 cats.

I move throughout the house. The tears start to come.

How to choose.

In our bedroom, I look around; so many of my mom’s precious things are there. Quilts she crocheted for the boys; her needlepoint roses (so many roses, they were her favorite); things that have kept her close to me over the years. Even a pair of red pajamas, the ones she was wearing when she passed, still sit folded on a shelf. I had intentions to have them sewn into one of her patchwork quilts someday. I laugh at the notion as she has been gone 11 years now. The pajamas and needlepoint (and most of her other possessions) are passed over but I grab a few quilts for my sons.


Precious things surround me everywhere I go. I am a precious things hoarder I know. Precious things adorn this house; that is intentional. I attach so many memories to so many things.

Someone said to grab jewelry, so I go and look at that. My mom’s silver bracelet is really the only emotional treasure I think of, but then I see the necklace I gave her as a child, then her wedding ring…and the charm bracelet my kids and husband gave me many years ago…so many charms given since then, each with a story and precious significance. In a bag they go.

As I walk through the house I pass so many photos. I glance at them but need to move on. I need to focus on the most precious things.

The Christmas boxes are stored high up in the garage and contain my vast collection of ornaments – all precious things with their own unique stories. Handmade ornaments from the kids (two of everything as they went to the same elementary school and made the same gifts over the years). Unique ornaments from special friends or purchased in special places. Most are one of a kind, irreplaceable. They are a tradition each year as we decorate our Christmas tree; each ornament to be admired and its story told once again.

Then there’s the Christmas tree skirt my mom made when I was a young child, each year’s date sewn onto the skirt in the same silver thread. The stitches become erratic and wobbly over time; you can see my mom’s progression as she aged. And then the year she passed, and I took over. I dismiss my urge to retrieve it; I just can’t pack up everything and the garage is now so smoky.

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I finally sit down and start a list. What have I already put aside and what still needs to be retrieved.

Surprisingly, there is actually very little packed up, a few boxes and several bags. Some albums and framed photos. I’m somewhat shocked at this…because it means I am leaving so many precious things.

On the list I become less emotional and more practical. Medications, clothes, glasses (all the different pairs scattered throughout the house!), the list of passwords, the address book, necessary electronics and files related to my work-at-home job. The items that can’t be proactively packed and set aside are marked in yellow highlighter. Hopefully we’ll have time to pack them if evacuated.

Each day since that first day of packing I think of new precious things. It is overwhelming so I try to dismiss the urge to retrieve more and more. A few things do get added, but very few.

There is little comfort knowing I have packed the most important things. Now I become obsessed with watching the fire’s progress. It is scary to imagine losing our home and the surrounding community that has become part of our lives.

I’ve always felt sad for people when watching them on the news in the same situation, but now I feel a whole new affinity for such people. How did they manage; we don’t really know as we’re usually not told. The news only shares the family’s initial shock, their sadness, and perhaps their appreciation that they and their family survived. Later we hear how communities have rebuilt but we don’t know how an individual family moved forward; I think about that. The need to rebuild and move forward. How will that look?

So back to the 5 stages of experiencing loss. I do think they are applicable. I started with denial, a belief it just can’t happen, we won’t lose our home.

I’m not sure I felt anger, but I did feel there was an unfairness about it. Why won’t the governor call out the National Guard, where is all of the mutual aid? I felt irritation over the poor emergency evacuation communication; impatience with the conflicting information.

I definitely bargained. I asked people to pray. I prayed.

And that’s when I think I finally realized that it is the lives that are the precious things. Not just our lives, but the lives of so many others and the firefighters.

With that realization, I somewhat let go of the sadness of losing the things. And there was an acceptance that there really wasn’t anything we could do but wait…and hope…and pray. We knew we could get out with our lives and our cats…and so, the next few days were spent texting nearby friends, many of who were in more imminent danger than us, providing updates, encouragement and love. No more packing. No more worry about precious things that could be forever lost.

Fortunately the weather has been favorable, or perhaps the prayers are really to thank. The fire has become less of a threat.

I am still packed, but feel hopeful.

As I write this I think of all the expensive gadgets we have in this house. Not one was on my list or packed to go.

And as I mentally unpack our evacuation bags and boxes I do have to laugh at its contents. Nothing of real value. But everything completely priceless.