This year has been so tough. Jeanette takes us through her year of goodbyes to come out on the other end full of love, gratitude, peace and revealing the Gifts of 2020.

I am walking with a dear friend, and we both have on masks, and we are staying far apart, and we are crying.

We are speaking of another friend whom we just found out is dying.

We are also saying goodbye to each other. Because though we’ve been part of each other’s very tiny “bubble” group these past months, and though we’ve both been very careful and stayed apart and stayed masked and met outside – the numbers have gone up again, and now we are having to take another step backward once more. Now we are staying home and staying safe again.

There have been so many goodbyes this year. And too many of them have been permanent.

It has been a lifeline for both of us, our walks and talks together, once we were able to have them. Our distant socialization kept us sane, as I’d bring beach chairs and we’d sit out on a lawn or in the street in front of our houses after our walk, we’d bring our own coffee or wine, and we’d chat about the stars, or the day, or our dreams, or our hopes.

We rarely spoke about politics or other inflammatory subjects. Not because we didn’t agree – we do – but because we simply didn’t want to spend our time together, what precious little we had, rehashing the troubles we both are only too well aware of in the world.

This was a time to get away from that. To escape the times around us by being present in our time together.

Instead, we focused on uplifting each other. Encouraging each other. Reminding each other about the beauty in life. We’d kvetch with each other about things that ticked us off, or we’d laugh together about things that we found ridiculous or hilarious.

You know. We’d have a conversation, the way friends do. Like normal life.

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We came to love these times of walking together and visiting outside under the stars, even with the masks. We often said that after things go back to “normal” (or whatever it becomes post-Covid) that we wanted to continue these visits, to do these walks and have this time together outside with a bottle of wine and a couple of beach chairs. We loved the simplicity of it. The way it brought us back to when we were young and there were no cell phones or internet or any of this craziness, and the only way you could hang out with your friends was by actually being there with them in person. We loved how everything had slowed down in the city and it seemed calmer, more silent for a time. We loved how it reminded us of what was important in life.

If 2020 has done nothing else, it has given us that – the ability to shut down the noise and shed the unnecessary stuff and recognize what it is that really, honestly matters.

Which is each other.

We’d sit quietly together, we’d look at the trees or sky or stars or moon, we’d talk, we’d listen, we’d enjoy each other’s company, and we’d just be there with one another. We’d be there FOR one another.

And that made life just a little easier.

But this day, as I am walking, it is harder to just be there, because the moment of being there, present, is a moment where we are saying goodbye not just for now, but for a very long time, and have no idea when we’ll see one another again.

She is leaving to go back to stay with her family. As a musician, these times have just been too hard, there’s literally been no work, and they’ve forced her to make a decision. Though she has a Visa to work here for another three years, she has elected to go back to her home country. So she is packed up and going away, to the other side of the world, and I am here on one last walk with her before Southern California locks down again.

I won’t be able to share any holidays with her before she goes

Even though she’s not leaving until mid-December, I won’t have those final beach-chair coffee chats we’d hoped to have under the stars, or one more walk, or be able to hug her before she leaves. And that hurts, especially the “no hugging” bit.

Even more difficult, with the revelation my friend just shared, my present moment awareness is also taken up with thoughts of our other friend whom we will both be saying goodbye to too soon. And she will not be returning, at least not in this body, or at this time, or on this planet. We will not be able to have one last talk with her, or one more walk, or any kind of hug before she leaves either.

We will never have that chance again.

THANK YOU, ALEX TREBEK: With heavy hearts we say goodbye to Jean’s beloved husband

It is difficult to be present in the moment when my mind is thinking of the times gone by and missing them, or the times we thought we’d have and feeling the loss of them.

I have to remind myself to release the past and relax about the future so I can simply enjoy the now.

But how do you stay present when everything around you makes you want to run away? How do you be in the moment when the moment is filled with fear, sadness or anxiety?

These have been my questions for this year, and a theme I’ve come back to again and again. Figuring out how to be truly present in the middle of the darkness.

Normally when I don’t like what is happening, my mind tries to travel to avoid dealing with it. Yet this bit of news my friend just shared suddenly tethers me to the present moment as nothing else could have done.

It floors me, and in so doing, it grounds me.

In this our final walk of so many walks that have held us up and given us so much comfort and joy in the midst of so much chaos, rather than the lighthearted walk we’d both hoped to have, the grief over yet another friend falling ill this year combines with the grief over the ending of our time together, and in some ways it feels like too much and I just have to stop for a moment.

I can’t walk anymore. I just have to stop and breathe and let the tears come out, and listen to her talk. And the impact of that moment slams me into the present so hard that my mind wants to bounce back up and flee. But I don’t let it fly away, I stay there, with her, I listen, I grieve together with her.

And I’m glad I do.

Because as I stand there hearing her voice,

seeing her own eyes filled with droplets of tears just like mine,

my feet planted in the street,

hers on the sidewalk more than six feet away,

trees sprouting from the grass between us stretching down the street in glorious displays of changing colors from dark greens to deep golds to bright reds,

the sky a crystal clear blue above us,

the air crisp and cold where it touches my skin,

my mask keeping my face warm while my hair that got caught inside it tickles my nose,

the smell of warm fireplaces mixed with damp earth in the breeze…

I will never forget this moment.

I will never forget these details.

For I am here.

I have been brought slam-bang into the present by the emotions of the moment, just as has happened on so many occasions this year. And though it doesn’t look like one on the surface, in fact it looks a lot like trash, it is a gift. Yes, this year has brought us many gifts, if we choose to look for them.

Like Easter Eggs or Secret Santa’s, 2020’s gifts are waiting to be discovered, and one of them was shown to me as I stood there breathing through my masked tears with my friend

It’s then I realize that the question I’ve had this year of “how can I be present when times are especially terrible” has been answered.

For as I look back at this year, I see that those moments when the stress, the grief, or anxiety were high, it brought me back to presence. It caused me to notice the details of life around me. To experience it. And to fully appreciate all of it.

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Like that moment of noticing the beautiful multicolored chalk drawings on the sidewalks in our neighborhood as I took my first journey outside of my home in weeks, so many of them with messages of hope, and the delight that filled my soul as I crossed over them.

Or the first Zoom Cocktail Party with our friends, and the bittersweet joy as we laughingly showed each other our home-made facemasks since we weren’t able to purchase any yet. The way my husband simply held me after we ended the call, both of us in tears as we felt the love for them and the pain of separation all at once.

That first day back at the beach after it had reopened, with the dolphins playing in the light of the sunset as my husband and I kept pace with them while we walked along the shoreline. It felt like they were welcoming us back. It was magic.

The night I finished editing a short memorial video about my friend’s mother who was the 5th person in Oakland to die from Covid, and I cried realizing I would never be able to know this amazing woman.

…The long, exhausting, beautiful, horrible, tender, loving night on the phone with my sister singing to my own mother as her life slowly ebbed away…

The genuine delight I felt as I discovered one of the small painted rocks that had begun to appear randomly in our neighborhood right on our doorstep the day after my mother died, with the word “love” on it.

And now… this last walk in 2020 with my friend.

In that space of life in living color, in that moment where grief forced me into being present with every fiber of my being, I saw the beauty of it – the gift within it. The treasure that exists in all of this year, if we allow it.

These and many more moments are imprinted into my consciousness and memories in full-scale 3-D because of the turmoil of emotions and the depth of what I was experiencing.

It is in those most difficult of days that we are given the ability to truly be grounded and aware. Dark times can be a catalyst that causes us to anchor into the “now-ness” of a moment just as much as when we are in a situation where our dreams are coming true or we are seeing something magical or miraculous.

The grief my friend and I shared helped bring me into a state of awareness so that I was able to be there in that time and space completely. And that, in turn, led me to uncover another “Secret Santa” present under the branches of this year.

I saw clearly just what a gift this year gave me when it allowed my friend and I to have this time to spend together.

We were treated to something very rare indeed for the two of us.

Normally we would have both been too busy to do more than meet up every few months, if that. She would have been on the road, I would have been on a show or three, and our schedules would have not allowed for us to go for long walks on a bi-weekly basis, or spend evenings sitting under the stars drinking coffee or wine and talking about our day.

Normally we’d both have many other friends and family and engagements and commitments, and even with the time we were able to carve out we’d often share it with several other people, going out in groups. We are both very social and loved doing this, and though we had our personal time alone, just the two of us, we more often than not liked inviting others to “play” with us when we could be together, joining in the fun.

Normally when we met up we’d be “doing” something – going to the Hollywood Bowl, or a museum, or out to dinner, or to a club to hear a band or some friends play. There was generally some kind of activity, usually involving many people, that we would do together. And while this was a lot of fun, it didn’t necessarily lead to or allow for deep conversation time.

An Engaging Conversation with Maria Shriver & Jean Trebek

We’d never really had a long period of time where it was just the two of us, hanging out, going nowhere, doing nothing but talking and really getting to know one another.

But this year gave us that.

In forcing us to choose to keep it to just us, to keep our bubble very small and safe, and to limit our activity, it gave us this huge spaciousness of time together, where we were able to be there for one another, encouraging, supporting, helping, and healing each other. It gave us the opportunity to grow into our friendship in deeper ways than before. It gave us the ability to create these memories together.

And now – that time is over, as it should be.

I am glad for her, that she is moving on. Going home to be with her family is not a bad thing at all, she’d been feeling it was time to move out from her situation for awhile anyway, and was missing her family, as they were missing her. She was ready and wanting to visit them again, to spend time with them, before the next phase of her life takes her journeying out into the world once more, hopefully touring as she did before, or onto something even greater.

So really, this is a blessing for her.

And it is a blessing for me as well, for I know my life is shifting too, and I am being prepared and made ready for my own next phase. As she leaves, I am turning my own focus onto other projects, and I have a feeling I will be getting very busy very soon.

Every time one thing has exited my life it has only been to open space for something else to enter. Not that she’s gone forever, but it is the significance of the symbolism of her leaving– this year is ending, this time is ending, this situation is ending. And every ending has always led to a better and brighter beginning for me, even if I have no clue what that new direction may be.

And so I am glad for myself also.

It is time for us both to move on. I am excited about the transitions taking place for us both. I am hopeful for the transitions taking place for us all. As I feel the awareness of the details of life, I come into deep gratitude for it all.

And therein lies another gift from 2020. Gratitude.

Yes, gratitude – even as I say yet more goodbyes, with one that is far too permanent.

Even as I feel the ache of having to say that goodbye and not be able to give her a hug, not be able to comfort her or myself, not be able to simply reach out in that most human of ways and share our heartbeats together as we curl into each other’s arms and pat each other’s backs and remind each other of how important touch is to the soul.

Even as we, instead, look past the masks into each other’s eyes, standing far apart but reaching out our arms towards each other, and promise that the next time we see one another, a hug will happen. We swear.

Even as I stand in sadness over what has passed and is passing from this year – my heart is comforted by appreciation for all I’ve been given. Even now, through all that has happened and is happening, I have deep, peaceful gratitude. And that brings me to have hope.

I learned how to do this, you see, because of this year. Because there came a point where it was either train myself to find a way back into peace, hope and joy, or fall apart.

Because I had to. This year required it of me.

You never know how strong you really are until you are required to use all of it just to survive.

So perhaps this is the biggest gift this year has brought me – the opportunity to learn how to hope, no matter what. And not only find a light, but BE a light, even in the depths of the darkest of times.

I will do my best to carry this with me into the coming year. And as soon as we are able, I plan on hugging everyone in my life.

Until then, I sit in the silence and solitude and safety of my home alone with my husband and I am thankful for this time, too, this space, this place of presence in the quiet.

For I need to rest and recover and prepare for all the good things that I know are coming, and all the gifts this next year will bring.

(… and here’s praying they’re delivered wrapped in gold on silver platters of peace, love and joy – and not thrown at us in the dirty beat up boxes of disaster like the 2020 gifts arrived in. Amen.)

By JEANETTE DUBOIS

Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks.  She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends.  She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.

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