For me, 2018 was a very Dickensian year — both the best of times and worst of times. Lots of struggles, lots of joys. Sucked, and was awesome.

But looking back, the biggest lessons I learned weren’t from my experiences, but my sister’s and our family’s.

My sister Laura is two years younger than me. In October 2017, Laura and my brother-in-law Russ were having the time of their life at the Albuquerque International Baloon Festival. Then, when she got off the balloon, she collapsed. She was rushed to one hospital, then medivacked to another. 

Stroke. Brain aneurism. They opened up her skull to relieve the pressure. Russ is going crazy. We’re having family phone calls and text chains, trying to figure out what’s going on, and how we can all get to Albuquerque from Long Island, New Jersey, and Houston. Flurries of activities: From hourly updates among each of us…to their best friends creating Team Laura t-shirts for all of us to wear.

Not much responsiveness from Laura. Paralyzed. Can’t speak. Russ and my nieces are playing and singing her favorite disco tunes to her. Dancing with her in her ICU hospital bed. (Really, Laura? Disco? Didn’t my blasting classic rock when we were growing up teach you anything finer?!) Everyone in the family is in a daze, trying to figure out what’s going on, and trying to remain positive.

Finally, Laura’s stabilized enough to transport her home back to Long Island. Late 2017: Recuperation is going very well! She’s walking with assistance, understanding us, conversing with us, eating solid foods again. And, as Arlo Guthrie sings, we had a Thanksgiving dinner together that couldn’t be beat.

Then one setback. Then another. So much so that much of 2018 was spent trying to figure out why Laura was back to mostly paralyzed, mostly non-communicative, mostly not-comprehending.

And yet we hung in there. Together. Supporting each other. Supporting Laura. (Early on, my niece Jolene asked for a blackout on postings because my sister is such a private person. But so much has leaked out through Facebook posts, I finally feel free to post this.)

Most amazing of all is Laura. Her joyous and determined inner self was always in there, even when she couldn’t express herself. Her eyes light up each time she sees each of us. Through Laura, during this past year I have learned about the power of the human spirt, and what an amazing spirit she has. Laura is 2018’s success story as far as I’m concerned. She is amazing beyond words!

Her current status: At home, eating some solid foods, comprehending lots more everyday, but still unable speak, and slowly regaining some physical control over her body.

Then there’s Russ, her husband. He is the Energizer Bunny. Nonstop dedication to Laura. Sacrificing all for her. Doing anything for her. Through Russ, I have re-learned the true power of love — do-anything-for-another love. Almost daily, he has mini-breakdowns about his own sorrows and pain of missing the ‘old’ Laura, yet each day he keeps doing anything and everything for her.

Then there’s her kids — Jolene, Marc, Brittany, and Courtney. They are hurting. They are missing their mom as she once was. Yet they’re constantly at Mom’s side. Always telling her how beautiful and strong she is. Always singing to her and dancing with her in her wheelchair. Always making sure she knows how much she is loved. Sacrificing whatever they can of their personal lives for their mom. I have seen these four young adults become so much more amazing in the past year. I am in awe of them!

Then there’s the rest of her loving support network. My other sister, Debbie, and me. Debbie’s family: Seth, Samantha, and Alexa. My son, Ian. Extended family members and spouses and cousins and friends — far too many to list. While we’ve certainly had our difficulties, dysfunctions, and squabbles over the past year, we have come together with such love under the banner of Team Laura.

So what have I learned in the past year-plus?

How precious life is. To never forget that.

How amazing people are. Throw adversity at us, and our better angels shine continuously. My sister and Russ and her kids: Wow, just wow!

How important family is. Always is. Always will be.

How each of us has our stupid habits and things we wish we could change about the other person… And yet, in the end, none of that matters. Life matters. People matter. Love matters.

And, oh yeah, that our fucking healthcare system is very, very broken! While my family and I will forever be thankful for the doctors and nurses and caregivers and medical miracles that kept Laura with us — healthcare as a system and the costs of healthcare are definitely broken.

Here’s to a joyful, family-full, love-full, life-full 2019. God bless us, everyone.