A Letter to the Worst Year of My Life

There has been a theme in the last year of my life, and it has gone like this:

 

Character: CLAIRE Diaz-Ortiz (Type A / Planner / INFJ / Enneagram 1) with desire to do all the things in the way she wants to do them.

Action: CLAIRE plans all the things.

Stage Directions: Enter LIFE, stage right.

Action: CLAIRE’S plans go to hell, with confetti.

 

The last year of my life has been this, and only this.

It started with the twins.

On Mother’s Day 2016, while on a work trip to the USA from my home in Argentina, I learned I was pregnant. I took the pregnancy test before going to a Mother’s Day church service by myself, and I sang my heart out.

Over the next three days, I took several blood tests. These blood tests indicated one of two things. 1) Something was very wrong and this pregnancy was going nowhere good; 2) Something was very right, and there was more than one beating heart inside.

Things had gone very right.

At our first ultrasound, the doctor immediately found one fantastic heartbeat.

{Joy}

And then, my husband, Jose: “Are you sure there’s only one? We were told the numbers made it look like there might be another.”

{Pause}

There were two.

The pregnancy, in the beginning, was a mess, as things go. I laid in bed for the better part of three months with extreme nausea, working and reading books about how my life was going to change and how little sleep I’d be getting.

Then things got better. For a while, I waddled around feeling pretty good and fielding sensitive and yet astute questions from people in Starbucks like, “Are you having triplets?”

“No, just twins!”

{Smile}

And then things got worse. In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, the list of complications was very long and very annoying and occasionally very concerning.

As my OB would say when I hugged her on the operating table, knowing my boys were coming into the world 9.5 weeks early, and crying that I had wanted them to stay in longer, “Given everything, we did so well to make it this far.”

I laid there, smelling my own burning flesh (yes, they don’t tell you this about C-sections) as they brought two 3+ pound boys, one by one, to my head for me to kiss.

When babies are born at 30 weeks and 5 days, they go the NICU. This is where they went. That first week, things were great. I learned afterwards, when they were home and I was reflecting on the stress of it all, that this is called the honeymoon period.

I moved into the city, near the hospital, to make sure I was close by. I went home on weekends to our house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, and Jose drove in every day at mid-day to avoid the debilitating traffic. We sat down our daughter, 2.5, to explain as much as anything can be explained to a child of this age where Mama was going to be, and why.

When Jose dropped me off at our apartment that first time he said to me, with total confidence, “I feel like you’re going to be really productive in your time here.”

I agreed, a second idiot in a conversation of idiocy.

One day, in the second week, we went to see the boys on a Sunday. We said hi, and went to a celebration lunch with the whole family. They were doing well. My daughter was seated next to my father in law, who had recently gone through chemo because a cancer he had years ago had come back, when we got a call to come back. “Is everything okay?” Jose asked. “Just come back when you’re done with lunch,” the doctor said.

“I didn’t know they called parents?” I said, hesitatingly.

We didn’t finish lunch.

One of the boys had a thing, and it was not a good thing, and this particular doctor was really bad in talking about it. We freaked out. The next two days were a blur.

The next week, my father-in-law was sitting with me on a couch waiting to go in to see his grandsons for the first time. I told him everything Google was telling me and how it sometimes matched and sometimes conflicted with what the doctors were saying and that I was freaking out and that this was not at all the way I wanted it to be.

Don’t Google things, he said. And then he told me this: “If I Google things, I wonder, ‘How am I still here?’”

I did not think enough about this at the time.

Over the next three weeks, things got incrementally better, and then dramatically worse, and then incrementally better again. The boys improved, and then back-tracked, and then improved again. We found the doctors we could handle talking to, and those we couldn’t, and we tried to stay level-headed.

And then my father in law got more bad news.

I had never felt more stress in my life. Amazingly, in the apartment where I was living by myself during the week, I was sleeping ten hours every night. I was ignoring my email. I was reading lots of books.

On Christmas, we dressed up and took Lucia to the hospital and went in and saw the boys before a big family party. At the party, Lucia sat with her grandfather on a saggy couch eating bread and only bread.

Just before New Year’s, after 48 days in the NICU, we brought the boys home.

The day they told us we could take them, Jose had an important medical appointment he needed to accompany his father to. We asked to the NICU doctors to keep the boys in the hospital an extra day, likely the first parents in the history of the NICU to ever ask this thing. Then we changed our mind, worrying that something terrible could happen if they spent so much as another day in there, and asked to change his father’s important appointment by a day. The logistics of our life were entering scary nightmare stage.

The day they came home was an incredibly emotional day. It took nine hours longer than expected, due to paperwork and reasons I will never understand. The moment they handed us the bill for each child (yes, we had great health insurance; no, we didn’t pay a dime) was the first time I had truly laughed in two months.

We went home with hand sanitizer and hospital gowns and lots of help and immediately threw ourselves into the logistics of life as parents to newborn twins with a toddler. (#3under3)

The months flew by. Aside from one scare that more than anything reflected that I clearly have some PTSD from the past year, the boys thrived. Their grandfather, the incredible man he was, did not.

I finished my maternity leave and went back to work OUTSIDE THE HOME, now fully accepting my home office for the entirely useless room it now is given the army of loud, small individuals and their caretakers that are now camped out in my house. We might as well just fill up this lovely room with wrapping paper, I suggested to Jose. (Cue Tori Spelling’s mother, who did this, apparently, at the 89-roomed Chez Spelling.)

In May, I launched a big new book, One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work with a Mentor and Why You’ll Benefit from Being One, with my mentor, Ken Blanchard.

It was an exciting time. I was working harder than I’d worked in a LONG time when the book released, and it was good. I had lots of plans I was trying to execute.

And then.

I got on a plane for the first time in a year to go to the United States to celebrate the book launch. First, solo, and then again, a week later, with my three-year-old.

In the hours after giving a big presentation in Atlanta on One Minute Mentoring with Ken Blanchard and signing a couple hundred books, I got a call. In California, my sick daughter had a viral infection, and was in the ER with my parents. And then, I got another call. My father-in-law, a man among men, was losing his battle with cancer in Argentina.  It was time to go home.

In the next two weeks, a lot of things happened. I flew immediately to California. I watched Lucia wake up day after day with a random fever (#kids), wondering if that day we could get on the plane. Finally, after flying 12,000 miles in a few short days, I landed in a fog bank in Argentina. We were delayed on the runway, waiting to be towed in to the gate, when I learned my father in law had passed away a few hours before.

The service was bright and cold and even then a mosquito still bit me through my tights. More than 200 people showed up and my brother-in-law read a letter that his father had written him on his 17th birthday. A letter of life and guidance and love written by a man who was a master of the written word, and used it well in his brilliant career as a lawyer.

Afterwards, we went back to our house and shared stories with family about a man among men. The no-longer-preemies, the boys who we learned we were having a year to the day that I got the call about my father in law, stole the show.

It has been a hard year.

I wrote that sentence, and then erased it. It sounds lame. I really should come up with a better one. I haven’t.

So yes, it has been a hard year. But there are some things that I have learned.

For better or for worse, here they are:

Loss is loss is loss and stress is stress is stress.

It’s interesting to me that in a time of hard stuff I realize I DO still worry about the little stuff. Not always, and not all the time, but it is still there. I had a vision that when things get hard you really DO forget everything else, and that isn’t always the case. There have been moments over the past year, say, where I have been really and truly mad about emails from grumpy readers. Let’s read that again. EMAILS FROM GRUMPY READERS. The magnitude of this statement is ridiculous, given that I spent several months legitimately worried my newborns would die, and several months after that not-so legitimately worrying the same thing. But it is true. If anything, this highlights that loss is loss and stress is stress and everyone has a thing and you never know what someone else’s thing is. So yeah, don’t compare and despair when it comes to your grief. Your thing is your thing.

Get help.

This year forced me to proactively look for help in a way I had rarely done before.

This was hard, and it was not always successful. I emailed with one preemie mom who, through no fault of her own, made me feel horrible and freaked out about my boys. I saw one horrific therapist who mostly taught me once again how I have a problem holding my own against people who claim to be authority figures and who I pay to do things. But in general, help is great. Being vulnerable is greater. And yes, even if you feel dumb writing people you don’t know well emails asking them for recommendations for whatever resource you need that you think they might have (a therapist, a coach, a book), you should do it.

I have good people.

In the days after the funeral, in particular, I kept saying this to my husband in a sort of stunned voice. Like, WOW. We have really good friends. Like, WOW. You have a really great brother. Like, WOW. It was astonishing to me how WOW’d I was by this. But it was good to remember. I spend a lot of time probably thinking about the faults of these people, and the crap they do to annoy me. (Corollary: If you don’t have good people who you think would be there for you, make it a priority to find some.)

Life is long and will carry us on its back.

This is a line from a book that I wrote down years ago. I don’t know where.

The other day, I was saying to a dear friend, as I summarized some item on the list of WHY I HATED THE LAST YEAR, “So yeah, basically it’s been the worse year of my life.” She paused. “That’s a strong statement, Claire. Knowing some of your other years, I mean.” (To be clear, I have had a VERY GOOD EASY life. I am not a widow and both my parents are alive and healthy and so are my three children. But if we are going all-in with the “Loss is loss is loss and stress is stress is stress” point, then I’ve had some stuff.) I defended my choice for award-winning year of crap. “Yeah, I see that.” She agreed. The point, of course, is that I’m still here, after it all.

There is a moment in Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, a story of a kind of grief I pray to never know, that stuck with me. It is when the co-author, Sheryl Sandberg, and her kids are at the funeral of her husband, and the kids are lying on the ground, not wanting to get up and go to the gravesite, because this is too hard. “This is the second worst moment of our lives,” she tells them. “We lived through the first and we will live through this.” This is how I feel about my last year. It’s weird that hard stuff happens, and then you get through it, and then it’s a day after, and then it’s a week after, and then it’s a month after and you’re looking back on the thing.

These days, I am looking back on the things. And, depending on the day, and depending on my mood, sometimes those things seem really bad, and sometimes they seem only so-so bad. Either way, the importance of it all, and the affect it had on me, was about what it meant then, when it was happening, and when I was feeling everything all at once.

I have come to the end of my pages now. (A letter, I’ll call it.)

There are probably other things I have learned, but I don’t remember them now.

There is a baby crying. (There always is.)

And maybe that is all that matters today.

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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46 thoughts on “A Letter to the Worst Year of My Life

  1. This was beautiful. I couldn’t stop reading it. I even almost overflowed my coffee (also decaf *fist bump*) as I was reading instead of watching as I poured it.

  2. Great read. One day you will look up and be so far beyond that year that you will see all the things you learned and more like such a beautiful prism. Between 2002 and 2008 I lost both my parents, two brothers, one sister, went through a divorce and lost my home in the meltdown. It is now almost 10 years later and I know the meaning of inner peace, letting go and letting God, continuing to love, trusting my gut and finding inner strength among so many other lessons. My biggest lesson through the help I received and the help I have given others during those years in particular is that we truly are all put on this earth to teach and serve. Thank you for continuing to teach through all of this. You are a very strong person. Peace.

  3. That was a beautiful read. Even through your pain, there is beauty. God will give you beauty for your ashes. Thank you for reflecting on your hard times & deciding to allow transparency to heal you & others.

  4. I love the idea of addressing the worst year. Going to sit down right now and see what perspective I can rustle up today re: mine. Love to you and your beautiful family and – as always – thank you for your candor. xo

    • Thanks Ali. Yes, you really, really should;;;))) Also, have you read “The Rules Do Not Apply?” GET. NOW!!!

  5. Dear Claire,
    Thank you for your oh-so-human post. I’m, of course, sorry for the circumstances but glad you have your family in tact.
    I went through what I call an “I should be dead” illness six years ago. My family learned a lot of lessons and I learned that, as a single parent, I raised pretty tough now adult kids. I am in awe of them! I want to second your point of surrounding yourself with good people. My girlfriends got us through in so many ways. Two of my besties have now survived cancer as well. Yesterday was spend at a party celebrating the second’s treatment culmination. She ceremoniously pulled off her wig, revealing her new still short, but renewed hair growth. Minutes later the wig was retrieved by one of the little girls present who popped it on happily. We all laughed!
    I hope the giggles from your kids remind you and yours of how worth it the stress and hectic times were (and the times to come!). For me, I take a moment each morning to watch the wind blow through the trees and say a send a prayer of gratitude that I get another day.
    I wish you many, many giggles!

    Suzy

  6. Claire,
    Thank you. Hard years come to us all. Your lessons learned are profound. You’ve helped me smile a little at some of my hard years. I’m still here. I’m thankful for the help I received and for the awesome friends who helped along the way.

  7. Claire – as I read your letter I was washed over with memories of my 11 week preemie twin boys and their 22 month old sister at the house, who joined our family more than 26 years ago and the loss of their maternal great grandfather soon after they stabilized. Last year I took a photo of the boys covered in their hospital bills which I retained. I figured when they asked for a car at 16 I could remind them that they were more valuable than a Ferrari. Ha! Certainly loved more.
    Blessings and comfort to you and yours … it is difficult for others to empathize and I suspect that as we experienced, people sometimes say things in the spirit of showing support, that aren’t very supportive.
    Thank you for sharing. Today I lift a prayer for you, your hubby, those three babies and your extended family.
    Mark

  8. Claire, Thank you for your honest post. I always enjoy your transparency. I lost my Mom this year because of an accident caused by someone else. It’s been a tough year and it’s not quite over because of courts and insurance, etc. This is nothing compared to what others have gone through. But, we are all made unique by a loving God who knows every hair on our head. So, everyone’s story has value–who cares about what a reviewer may say? I hope God continues to shape your story so that you can continue to use it to bless others. Prayers for you today and those sweet little ones!

  9. I think you are an incredible person. That is a very busy season filled with many hills and valleys. You have changed because of the experiences- good or bad. Surround yourself with people who support you. As a mother of 6, my tip is always to find 2 women to talk to about child rearing and ignore the rest.
    Best regards,
    Joanne Adams

  10. I’m sorry about your father in law 😢😭 my mother in law passed away when my youngest was 3.5 months. It’s also been very hard.. I discovered you from your summit last year. I think you’re so cute. I guess I can relate more to your emails because it’s more personal and it seems like you’re my friend lol compared to say, Michael hyatt’s emails. Hopefully i can one day start a blog too. I know its just me getting in the way of myself. Wish I could give you a break and watch your twins for a day! My sister and also my friend had twins, so I know it can be exhausting!

  11. Dear Claire ,

    I have been following you on linkedin for some time .

    Thank you for putting words on so many thing that I lived . Professionaly

    and now even personaly ( although only half of it – no twins ) . There are times when you can only do what needs to be done and go through what you have to go through .
    It is only after that kind of experience that I realised that now I know precisely what was the worst day of my life and also what was the best .
    Whatever happens , it will be difficult to get stronger emotions than those .

    Best regards ,

    Alain

  12. This was good.

    We have had hard years but we have been in our hardest yet. We’re about to lose our foster daughter after 19 months of being in our home. When everyone was talking adoption it suddenly switched back to return to parent. I’ll spare the details but he’s not winning father of the year.

    There was so much I appreciated about your words. To declare that it was hard but there was so much good amongst it. These hard things make us stronger, unique and empathetic. While I wouldn’t chose them I wouldn’t chose to change them.

    Thank you for your honesty.

    • I’m so, so sorry Kate. I can’t imagine how devastating that must be. Thinking and praying for you;)

  13. So, so, so very true. Sending you hugs and strength. As the mom of a now 15 and 13 year old (where does the time go???) and recalling losing my dad when my youngest was 17 days old and then my mom after moving into our “forever home” when my boys were 4 and 3. ( after a 3 month long hospital stay where we took up camp there )….😥 And clearly seeing all of the good in the people (family and friends) we still had and still rely on. I second your thought of finding, keeping and actively appreciating the people who will step up. They are the meaning of life. And they will sometimes make us crazy. Best wishes to you and your family. And a prayer for your father-in-law who sounds like he will remain a super inspiration. Do what you can do. Accept a need to rest, or to ask for help. You are young and have many, many, years to accomplish. Do what you need to do for you, your kids and your hubby. I’m almost on the other side and I see ongoing opps I was afraid might “disappear” if I didn’t grab them right away. Some I did, some I didn’t….most are still there! Best wishes and a solid hug from another momma warrior!

    • I love this, Jacki. Yes, the pull of those “once in a lifetime opportunities!”. Mama warrior, indeed!

  14. I Loved your letter, I lost my Husband last year to a blood clot to the brain and reading your letter I could truly understand everything you wanted to say without saying it. It’s like someone truly understands what so many times we don’t know how to express. You’re right Loss is Loss is Loss, but as your twins proved by coming into this world at a moment when you also lost a loved one, Life does go on.

    • Oh I’m so devastated for you. I can’t imagine that type of loss. Please try to read Option B if you haven’t already…;)

  15. I understand!
    My 29 weekers are now 4.5yrs old and are simply amazing.
    It does get easier and now life is just amazing.
    Take it a day at a time.
    x

  16. You’ve had a very hard year, for sure but in all of the hardship, it seems that you’ve learned a lot and that’s what it’s all about. Learning and growing from life’s valuable lessons.
    There is one very important thing you failed to mention and that’s inner strength. No matter what life threw your way, you used your inner strength, your determination and made it through. That in itself shows that you are a true survivor.
    Take care
    Misty
    PS. those pups I mentioned last week, is now crawling in the tub then cries because they can’t get out. They’ve also started whining at my office door.
    I know the two aren’t the same, but I completely understand your aggravation.

  17. You are wonderful and I so enjoy your writing. God bless you and your family. Thank you for some perspective today. I need to write about my last year as well, and you have inspired me, prodded me to just do it. It doesn’t have to be a whole book, maybe just a letter. Thank you. <3

  18. From one mom to another, I just want to give you the biggest hug in the world! Thanks for sharing life and reminding me of the important things.

    P.S. I have a 6-year-old, 5-year-old, and 14 month old, so I totally understand about someone always crying, or fighting, or needing something. But all the trials of motherhood are always worth it. 🙂

  19. I so appreciate your sharing this. Why is is sustaining to know that those we admire go through crappy times just like we do? Hearing again how struggle is universal, even for those who appear to have it all together, makes it feel like I, too, can keep up the struggle in my own darn good life. Thank you, and all the best to you and your family.

    • You are so kind. I honestly really worried about posting because recently I read a review of a memoir (“The Rules Do Not Apply” — about a woman who loses her spouse and goes through a miscarriage) where basically the reviewer was all “50% of people get divorced! 25% of women have miscarriages!”… like as in she shouldn’t have written about her stuff bc everyone has stuff!