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ContributorI finally understand New Year's resolutions

I finally understand New Year’s resolutions

I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions…except when I was in high school. All of my resolutions back then revolved around kissing boys that I liked or telling boys that I loved them.

I never understood or had any reason for New Year’s resolutions once I had landed the whale (my husband, at age 20) and the hormones calmed down a little. And I mainly didn’t understand the reason for New Year’s resolutions because most of the ones I heard revolved around losing weight or exercise – and both of those, as someone who had an eating disorder for most of my life, were things I was very good at and didn’t need any help with. Well, psychiatric help, yes, but motivation help, no.

Then, once I had figured out how to live as a basically healed human, I spent several years training to qualify for Olympic Marathon trials and I was the motivation queen. No New Year’s resolutions necessary. I wondered why not everyone wasn’t making lofty goals and reaching for the stars. Until recently.

They say failure is the greatest teacher, and until a few months ago, I thought this was true. And maybe it is true for some, but now, after a catastrophic life event, I am starting to see things differently…

A few months ago, I came to realize that suffering and anguish are the greatest teachers in my lifetime – not the greatest teachers for self-improvement and progress, but the greatest teachers of human compassion and understanding, which, in my estimation as someone who is mildly depressed, or, as I like to call it, keenly aware of my mortality and the futility of life, are the most valuable – or perhaps the only valuable – things to have as a human being. Argue if you will. People have all kinds of philosophies. This just happens to be mine.

My dad died a few months back in a way that I thought I would only hear about in a movie. You know when things happen and you think, Wow, that’s shocking. That would never happen in my family? Well, that thing happened in my family. And it was terrible. My dad died suddenly. Alone.

The good thing about overanalyzing everything that happens in life is that it made me reflect on people in my life who have had devastating losses: my best friend who lost several young relatives to cancer, my husband’s cousin who lost a sister, my sister-in-law who lost a sister…the list goes on and on…

As I have moved through my own grief since September 25 – a traumatic day that is forever singed in my gray matter with a hot branding iron –  I have been comforted by an unimaginable amount of acquaintances who have lost their own fathers far before old age had a chance to give them time to brace themselves for their losses. I have connected on what I daresay to be a spiritual level with several human beings because of this crushing blow, and it has brought my family closer together in ways that have blessed my life immensely.

By the same token, I will say that I now have compassion and a new understanding for those who are struggling, as I am also deeply struggling. Grief is complicated and comes with a huge gamut of emotions. I am a mess. A real mess. I spend some hours of each day paralyzed as I move through the stages of grieving this sudden loss. It feels like I am trapped in a body that no longer wants to live at times. Other times I feel the beauty and connection of it all so deeply that I cry simply from gratitude.

Sometimes, like today, as I sit in my childhood home in my brother’s old bedroom in British Columbia, snowed in on a blustery December afternoon, I have no idea how I am going to get through the rest of the day, and look forward to sleep to escape this life. I feel guilty for this feeling because I have three gorgeous young children downstairs with my mom. I am sure she is having these complicated feelings, too – with her beautiful grandchildren and feeling immensely blessed, but also completely devastated that she can’t share it with the man she has loved faithfully and completely since she was fourteen years old.

I would give up a decade of my short time on this Earth just to hear my dad come through the door one more time and give him a hug. He died alone and all I want to do is have one last conversation with him. I am sure she feels the same. Or, as I fear and know, worse.

At age 34, this is the first time since my teen years that I am making New Year’s Resolutions. I understand them now. I understand that people go through hard things that make it difficult for them to move their bodies. I understand the need for renewal and hope for a future year better than the last. I feel unbelievably grateful and also guilty that I did not understand this all before the age I am now. How does a person get so lucky to not have to understand through their own experiences of heartache and deep loss?

So I have resolutions this year. I look forward to a New Year with anticipation, and also with grace and compassion. What are my resolutions? Well, I have had a very hard time moving my body. I would like to do a little more outdoors, feeling the breeze. I resolve to bring hope and light to those I know are struggling as I am. I resolve to give myself time and space to reflect, but also challenge myself to reach out and allow others to be there for me.

A New Year feels painful, also. It is a new year without my favorite person that has lived on this Earth. But that is the juxtaposition of life. It is beautiful and terrible – covered in tar and dripping with diamonds.

I resolve to mourn the murk and mess that have been poured over my diamonds, and in so doing, value the diamonds all the more and help others to do the same.



Vanessa Dueck
Vanessa Dueck
Vanessa Dueck is a Milpitas resident and local muralist. Find her work at: @vanessahardedge


  1. I just felt like I needed to tell you that your dad didn’t die alone….Jesus was right by his side. I hope you find peace in knowing this. God bless you and your sweet family.


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