As Years Go

I performed the Heimlich Maneuver on an unhoused woman earlier this year as she choked on a chicken burrito. She thinks I saved her life, and perhaps I did; however, as years go, this barely made my top ten. I am so ready to leave 2022 behind.

While nothing magical happens between December 31 and January 1, it feels like a fresh start. 

I’ve watched helplessly as someone near and dear suffered through treatment-resistant depression most of the year. The constant worry and the overwhelming sadness never goes away.

My younger sister made multiple trips to the ER. She suffered three falls over eight months while trying to get out of bed and endured other medical maladies. Her advancing MS is taking a toll. She’s fought hard to retain independence, but in October, she finally agreed that she needed daily help.

Together we made one of the trips to the hospital on foot (I walked, and she used her mobility scooter) because Paratransit couldn’t accommodate a same-day appointment. Crossing two freeway entrances without the benefit of a traffic light proved harrowing. Every bump caused her pain. It’s not something either of us cares to repeat.

In June, I found myself alone in a building with a mentally unstable man who had set fire to the church sanctuary. I volunteered in the back half of the property. The sound of a distant smoke alarm and the smell of smoke sent me to explore the outer corridor. The man emerged, engulfed in a cloud of white smoke, holding a lighter in each hand.

Fire at St. Paul's United Methodist Church
St. Paul’s UMC Sanctuary Fire

My fumbling fingers managed to call 911, and I safely exited the building without another encounter. The fire went to two alarms, but thankfully there were no injuries, and they arrested the arsonist at the scene.

In the aftermath, we learned that Lifted Spirits’ entire inventory of donated clothing, masks, blankets, and more would be a loss. In addition, exposure to lead and asbestos rendered the building and most of its content unsafe.

Former Lifted Spirits Serving Room, Gutted and waiting for rebuild

At the time, I served as one of two lead volunteers. We moved the program outside, rallied our resources, and rented a portable storage container to continue helping vulnerable men and women from the parking lot. Unfortunately, San Jose had several days with triple-digit temperatures this summer, making for a few long months.

POD (Portable on Demand) storage delivery

For various reasons I won’t go into, I tendered my resignation from Lifted Spirits at the end of October. I had hoped to stay through year-end, but that didn’t work out. After nearly five years of service as a volunteer, program lead, former board member, and donor, my last month felt demoralizing. The executive director showed up on my last day of volunteering (at my request), so I could hand over keys and other property. She called “thank you” as she raced to her next appointment. It’s been painful letting go of something I’ve been passionate about for so long. I miss the program, my fellow volunteers, and, of course, the women we served. I’m disheartened to hear how quickly things changed.

While outdoors this past summer, our volunteers put lifting spirits first. We welcomed women through the gate, set out pretty paper placemats, and offered them water or lemonade and a scone. They requested hygiene items from a private station, then “shopped” in our clothing area. I enjoyed selecting outfits and setting aside clothing favorites as they came in. We also had a few food staples provided by our local food bank. We knew the women by name and were there to listen and offer support.

Since my departure, all of the offerings have been reduced to efficiencies. Clothing remains in the POD, and women climb a small ramp to view them in an unlit space. Hygiene items are pre-packaged, and they hand women a lunch instead of serving them at the table.

Last year at this time, we created a party-like atmosphere. We decorated the canopies, played Christmas music, and passed out hot chocolate and tea. In addition, we provided a hot, seasonal lunch, and one of our volunteers made soap and donated earrings so our clients could give someone else a gift and a card. Everyone received a generously portioned gift bag and left with a smile.

This year they put plexiglass barriers at the gate, and two volunteers asked if they “wanted a gift” and then passed it through the opening.

I’m heartsick when I hear of these changes. I’m trying to process my anger and grief, my sense of loss for a program I poured my heart and soul into, and an enveloping sadness for my sister, who I moved to an assisted living facility two weeks ago, just a few weeks after she turned 62.

As years go, it’s been a doozy.

44 thoughts on “As Years Go

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss and the negativity you’ve experienced this past year. Thank you for feeling you could share it. I hope that this coming year is a happier and more fulfilling one for you all. Hugs

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  2. I remember these details except for the demise of Lifted Spirits. It is hard to see a project that you have put so much of yourself into deteriorate under different management. I hope moving on from this will come. I also hope Sharon is settling in. Have a much better 2023. Love, Derrick XX

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  3. Dear heart, don’t be sad. You made a difference, and offered water to the thirsty, food to the hungry and love to the unloved. Now your well is dry, and it’s time to rest and let the deep waters restore you. I mourn the passing of the beautiful thing you helped to make, but all things change and change can be very painful… You will be back, offering service in some other way, because that is how you are made.

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  4. Sending hugs Alys. You must be downhearted but, as Kate has said much more eloquently, you will find your inner strength again and, because you are you, you will use it to help those in need of it – just remember to keep some for yourself.
    xx

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  5. Oh my gosh, Alys, this is more than anyone should have to endure in one year. And to have put so much of yourself in trying to make a difference and then to have it end so in such a sad way. I hope you can regroup and find an organization that needs your skills and caring, and is also already on a solid footing. In the meantime, it sounds like it’s time for some serious self-care.

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    • Thank you, Jane! Self-care is at the top of my list. Writing all this has been cathartic and also a way to process and to start letting go. Perspective is everything, and I’ve learned that that takes time. I’m trying to combat the bitterness I feel having let go of something that has meant so much to me for five years. In the end it’s the women we serve that have been let down and that hurts the most. As for my sister, the passage of time will conversely be unkind. I will continue to love and support and grieve the mounting losses from her debilitating MS. I’m so glad you’re here. xo

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  6. Over the years of my husbands military career we left many things behind and each one left a tiny hole in my heart. One time a gentleman I loved very much said to me that it what I was about to leave behind was not mine to keep and that there would be someone to take it over. It would change for sure but that was not my worry, my worry was what lay before me. What could I take over from someone somewhere and change and make different from what it had been? At first I was offended but over the years I have come to realize that it’s all true. I have left my light where I could and moved on to make something new elsewhere. You’ll do the same Alys. Your sweet sister will adjust and make a different life. There will be love and light and happiness. We grieve because we love but we don’t stop loving. Take care my friend. You are loved.

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    • Amy, thank you for sharing your beautiful story. Perspective is everything, eh? I’m glad you could look back and embrace your friend’s words and see them play out in your life. That said, your losses were real. We move forward in our lives, shaped by the past and hopeful for the future, but the grief and loss are sad. You are a wise woman, and I’m grateful for all you’ve shared. I look forward to finding that next experience, and I’m dreaming and exploring ideas. Thank you for your love, Amy. I’m sending it back your way with a hug.

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    • Thank you, Laurie. I’m trying to find a combination yoga and meditation class that will help keep me centered. I’ve studied both in the past and they really help. There are hundreds of websites, but I need the discipline of class. Thank you for the virtual hugs. I’m sending one back your way. xo

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  7. Oh, Alys, I’m dismayed to learn of your difficult year, for you, your sister and the how changed Lifted Spirits has become. I pray that 2023 provides you with hope and renewal. 🙏🏼💕🌈

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    • Thank you, Eliza, for your kind words of support. It’s been good to write about this year as it helps to process and move ahead. Once I finish settling some of my sisters affairs (selling the condo, selling her mobility van) I can return my focus to other things. I want to craft more, spend time in the garden, read, write, meditate, and travel with Mike. Happy New Year to you and yours. xo

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  8. To put it bluntly, it’s been a shit-show (pardon moi). I’m so disheartened by Sharon, who has little control over her situation and declining health. Sharon’s just one year older the me and I can’t even imagine the fear of losing my health this way. Arms around her and you as you navigate through.

    Sounds like things at Lifted Spirits are changing for everyone. I’m sure the ladies visiting the service have noticed too. But you did your utmost for them while you were there and that’s a wonderful take-away. I’m sure sorry it ended so unfavourably for you.

    Can it get any worse? Well yes, it always can right? But I’m wishing with all my heart that the coming months will give you a renewed focus for things that bring you joy and happiness and 2023 brings you peace of mind. Much Love and hugs xoK

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    • You made me laugh (and I agree). Sharon’s life is hard, day by day and often minute by minute. MS is a cruel and unforgiving disease. She’s lost so much. That said, she’s now living in a safer place, that’s warm and cozy, surrounded by supportive and caring people. Queen B is back with her, all her special pictures are on the wall, she’s getting a regular shower and hot meals three times a day instead of living on granola bars and applesauce. None of these are a cure for her MS or a solution to her pain, but they have improved her quality of life.

      I’m proud of the work we accomplished at Lifted Spirits. I really wanted to be a part of moving back into the building (still unoccupied) for a fresh start. But I will look for other opportunities early next year, when I’m feeling more rested and focused. Much love and hugs back your way. I’m excited for our next get-together in the new year. xo

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  9. Sending so much love, dear Alys. I am always here for you, my friend. I deeply hope that the days ahead will bring some gentle healing for you and your beautiful family. Holding you close to my heart each and every day! ❤️

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    • Thank you, Dawn. I loved your letter (which I’ve read twice) and appreciate all your support and love and kindness. I’m so glad we found each other in this blogging world. Sending you love and light and renewed hope for the year ahead. xo

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  10. Alys
    That is a lot of drama for one person to handle in the space of a year, particularly if you add the layers of world events bith political and environmental. My heart goes out to you. There is a common thread in your recounting of the year…your generosity caring, kind spirit and your loyalty. I am glad to know you. I wish you positivity and calm for the coming year. …hugs

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    • Dear Wilma, you’ve had your own share of grief. Thank you for taking the time to read and share your kind thoughts and words. It has been a year of terrible strife in our fragile world. It seeps in to one’s pores. I try to take breaks from the news, especially since I feel helpless to effect meaningful change.

      I hope we can visit again in the not-too-distant future. It’s been fun forging a friendship across the miles. I admire the way you live your life, your amazing art, and your kid should. xo

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  11. I am so sorry, for your sister, for you, and for Lifted Spirits. It is terrible to put your heart and soul into something so worthwhile only to have it be unappreciated. You have to remember the people you helped and realize, in the end, this is something no one can change or take away from you. I am so sorry about your sister. She is so young for this to happen. This must be very painful for you too. I hope that 2023 shines more brightly on both of you. Sending you Love & Hopes for A Happy New Year.

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    • Thank you, Cindy, for your words of support and kindness. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between supporting my sister who is resourced and supporting women who have virtually nothing. I need to get back to mediating to help lighten my constricted heart, and getting to the idea of helping when and where I can, while at the same time, letting things go.

      Sharon is far too young for assisted living, but I’m grateful that such places exist. It requires two people and a Hoyer lift to get her safely in and out of bed. Knowing she can safely shower and rest and get the help she needs a few steps away will ease the worry for all of us. Cindy, sending you love and light and my wishes for a calmer year ahead. Thank you for sharing the beauty of nature with us via your amazing blog. You are a gem. xo

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  12. I think Kate said it best and I can’t do better. Life is about change whether we like it or not. If we don’t do the changing on our own, the Universe steps in and does the way Kelly described. You are wise in looking for a yoga and meditation class. It’s time for inward work or you will have nothing left when your family needs you even more. Yes, that’s entirely possible. It’s not over yet. Hopefully in smaller chunks. Life is messy and glorious all at the same time. We do it best with the hands that hold ours. You have a lot of them reaching out to you so don’t be afraid to take hold so you can hang on. It’s an E-ticket ride.

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    • (((Marlene))) “We do it best with the hands that hold ours.” That’s lovely and so true. Thank you for your ongoing love and support, your gorgeous blog posts, the cards and emails and wonderful surprised that grace my doorstep.

      Sending you love and light and my hope for a more peaceful world in the year ahead. xo

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  13. I remember the fire and the aftermath but hadn’t realised you’d “had enough” and resigned. As for your sister, you can see that things are better for her, giving her a better life for now…
    Now as 2023 arrives, may it be better all round …cheers Catherine in NZ

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  14. Dear Alys, I hope you can say goodbye to 2022 and look forward… 2023 can only get better, can’t it?! I hope your sister is settling into her new home and being cared for. Let’s hope the coming year will bring you all some joyful moments and good memories. Hugs! 🤗

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    • Thank you, Cathy. The transition to assisted living has had its bumps, but seeing how loving and caring everyone is has been extraordinary. I feel better now that she has “eyes” on her 24/7 and the support of a nurse on staff. Sharon enjoys hot meals three times a day, help in and out of bed, the luxury of a shower, and even in-house PT. It’s not a cure for MS, but it does provide a healthier and safer way to live.

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      • That sounds good Alys, that she has 24 hour access to caring professionals and a nurse. It must surely give her that extra security she needs. She has managed to be independent for so long that it must have been hard giving that up though. All the best!

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  15. I’m so sorry, Alys. I really feel for you and your sister.

    Such a shame about the Lifted Spirits project going downhill. However, think of all the women whose lives were filled with a moment of sunshine by the work that you did.

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    • Thank you, Helen. I learned so much from working with these vulnerable women about myself and them. I miss it. Once things are a bit more settled with my sister, I will explore new opportunities. I hope your new year is off to a good start.

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      • I hope looking after your sister will still allow you some space for yourself, Alys.

        The first few days of the new year always seem a bit lack-lustre to me but I’m pampering myself with lots of reading time 😊

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  16. Gosh, Alys, I’m sorry I missed this blog. And really sorry there’s been so much trouble, heartache, and sadness in the past year. I had been thinking about Lifted Spirits recently and can see how bad you would feel about the changes. I’m also sorry about Sharon, but glad she is in a safe place now. I can’t imagine what that must be like for her at her age. Really at any age that’s grievously hard. And for you–with all your memories of her from your shared youth, and also fearing what could be coming, it has to be a grief as well. I’m so sorry, and hope that you can take care of yourself in ways you mentioned and move forward in a way you can envision.

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