Bring it on, 33

Bring it on, 33 photo

I guess I should have known it was going to be a messy year when I got food poisoning on the walk home from dinner on my 32nd birthday.

And as my 33rd approaches, I'm reflecting back on a year of true highs and devastating lows -- I guess this is what Dickens meant when he wrote it was the best of times and the worst of times.

Since that unfortunate birthday dinner, my toddler son took his first steps, celebrated his first birthday, and grew into a hilarious and immensely smart tiny human with big opinions, little friends and his own voice. My family left our life in the city for our forever home in the burbs. I became an aunt to a beautiful baby girl. I danced. I laughed with old friends and made memories with family. I made wonderful new friends. There was sunshine. There was a lot of good.

But there was also a lot of loss.

My father-in-law passed away suddenly in November. His presence and personality were larger than life and his death left a huge void in our lives. Just one month later, my mother-in-law, who had suffered a debilitating stroke two years prior, also passed away. While it was a heart attack that took my father-in-law's life, I'm pretty sure they both died of broken hearts.

It was, and still is, tragic. And so, so hard. My husband is an orphan and my son will never know his paternal grandparents. There's just nothing more to say.

Then, just a few months later, I lost my grandma -- my number one fan. One minute, she was my sweet, adorable, fun-loving nana, and the next she quickly faded away as her cancer took over. Even when you know a loved one has lived a long, full, and rich life, it's never enough -- you always want more time. I miss her.

With each loss, I lost a piece of myself. Physically, these experiences took a toll on me -- I put on weight and I felt exhausted. These are not things one just easily bounces back from and I'm trying not to be too hard on myself. And while I know chronologically I'm only 12 months older, I've aged much more than that in the past year.

But it also caused me to appreciate those good times -- to not take those happy moments for granted. And while I may be exhausted, I do find that my son's giggles, his "I luvooh, Mommy!" and his appreciation for the little things in life are that much sweeter. Maybe it's cliché, but it's true.

When I celebrate my 33rd birthday next week, I don't want to forget this all happened or start over with a clean slate this year. I can't make it all unhappen. So, what can I do?

Honestly, I have no idea. But here's my best guess:

I can learn from it all. Learn to better appreciate the good parts of each day and each experience, and try not to get bogged down by the negative or by my anxiety. It's another cliché for sure, but life is short but sweet for certain (thanks Dave Matthews) and I want to make the most of each day.

I can remember. Sometimes I'll be somewhere, hear a phrase, eat a particular food, and I can hear my father-in-law's voice or imagine what my mother-in-law might say. When my son does something particularly adorable, I can hear my grandma on the other end of the phone calling him her gorgeous genius baby boy.

I can be present. I can be more in the moment with my son and not always glancing over at a screen to check my email. I can make more time for my relationship and to support my husband during this difficult time in his life. I can be more focused at work. I can be there for my friends and family.

I can take a little bit of myself back. I have started taking the time to exercise and eat healthier so I can to start to feel like myself again. I want to spend my time doing things that make me happy with people who make me happy. It's something so simple, yet so hard to do.

My wish this birthday won't be for a perfect year, free from sadness or disappointment, because I know that's not possible. Though if it were a birthday free of food poisoning that'd be cool. And while, thankfully, not every year will be like my 32nd, it's pretty safe to say that every year will be a little bit messy and a little bit wonderful, and that's okay with me.

Stefanie Bregman photo 375
Stefanie is the co-founding editor of Oy! and the assistant vice president of marketing communications at the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. She is the editor of Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation, a collection of personal essays and memo... Read More

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