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EMILIE CHIASSON: What a difference a year makes - especially when it's 2020

Columnist Emilie Chiasson with friends in Nazare, Portugal, where waves and love crashed together.
Columnist Emilie Chiasson with friends in Nazare, Portugal, where waves and love crashed together. - Contributed

We’ve all heard the saying a hundred times — what a difference a year makes.

When applied to this past year, unlike any other year in recent history, that saying really has meaning.

On this date last year, I was just returning from an epic trip to Portugal and a stint in London with two of my wonderful friends. 

The two friends went on the trip in what one would call a “grey zone.” He was in love with her and she wasn’t diving in headfirst, but thought he was perhaps “just her friend.”

As the story goes, we all went to Portugal single and two of us came back with a different status.

I am not sure if it was the copious amounts of port and wine or his superior navigational skills that caused a change of heart, but on a fateful night in Nazare (where the highest waves in the world crash in) we took a funicular tram to the top of a cliff and she fell head over heels … for him.

Fast forward a year.

I just recently visited that sweet couple. They are no longer a party of two … there has been a third member added to the mix. A baby. On top of a new addition they opted to move out of the city and renovate a big old house in rural Nova Scotia.

A new relationship, a new baby and a new location. No big trips planned, but a whole new adventure is unfolding.

What a difference a year makes.

WORK CHANGES

From our trip to Europe, I flew direct from London to Toronto for a week of intense planning meetings with my colleagues from across the country. In an ordinary year we get together three times to plan, learn and connect with each other in person.

During our November visit we usually have our holiday party. Seeing as I work for a charity, the budget for our party is somewhat like that of a 10-year-old’s shopping budget for Christmas. Small.

You can’t stomp out creativity — out of nothing my creative colleagues create a hilarious night for us all to enjoy. Costumes, food, music, foolish Christmas-themed games and the ever-popular Secret Santa draw.

Seeing as we are a staff of 90 per cent women, the gifts are usually quite thoughtful and clever even with a $20 spending limit.

Last year I picked one of my two male colleagues (happy to report we have since added another male to the mix). I got him a big bag of delicious gold coin chocolates (he works in the accounting department). I put them in a beautiful sparkly box and within that sparkly box I buried a pair of red thong underwear. As he ate his way through the coins, somewhere in mid-January, he discovered the underwear and was terribly confused. We laugh a lot. 

Now we find ourselves meeting on Google Teams and developing documents on Sharepoint. Though we thought seeing each other in person developed camaraderie — we’ve been extraordinarily supportive and creative during these virtual times.

A few colleagues have joined our team during COVID and though they haven’t met any of us in person, they feel the most connected they ever have to a team. 

The holiday party will still go on though we won’t clink our glasses together, instead we will say “cheers” from afar, play virtual games and somehow pull off a new version of Secret Santa pranks.

What a difference a year makes.

MISSING GRANDMA

Just prior to my departure for Portugal my 94-year-old grandmother started to not feel well. What she thought was perhaps a bladder infection turned out to be something far more complex — pancreatic and bile duct cancer.

Grandma Fody making her famous sugar cookies for her seniors group. Her sugar cookie recipe was included in her funeral card — a year later, many people make them and think of her. - Emilie Chiasson
Grandma Fody making her famous sugar cookies for her seniors group. Her sugar cookie recipe was included in her funeral card — a year later, many people make them and think of her. - Emilie Chiasson

 

While I was away for the month of November she was in hospital and steadily declined. I arrived back on Dec. 1 to visit her in palliative care.

To help my mom out during that stressful time, I found myself in Antigonish a lot. I worked remotely and took extra vacation days. I spent a lot of time at the hospital with grandma.

Last December was different than any I had experienced before — in a hospital, no parties and next to no shopping.

Grandma died just before Christmas. Dealing with a death is such an incredibly consuming event. Beyond the emotional side of it there are so many logistics involved: planning the funeral, writing her obituary, letting family and friends know and keeping up with company, food drop-offs and phone calls.  

A year later, had grandma been sick now, it would have been a whole other story — there wouldn’t have been any visitors in the hospital and her wake and funeral would have been conducted according to COVID rules. She would have hated that.

LIFE CHANGES

Who would have thought that my December this year would be strange in a very different way?

Just a year ago COVID wasn’t even a thought. Words like social distancing, lock down, hand sanitizing, quarantining, face masks and “Stay the blazes home” were not part of our vocabulary.

Figuratively (and literally) I find myself being more grounded because of COVID.

Instead of looking to where I am going next — I find myself doing more here instead of there. I find myself more settled — I bought a house. If you had asked me if I would be a homeowner a year ago … I would have said no with great certainty.

Instead of seeking out a mystic man from a foreign country — I found myself a man in the town I am from. If you had asked me if that was a possibility, I would have said no with certainty. If you had asked me a year ago if I would be writing a weekly column for SaltWire Network — I would have said no with certainty.

What a difference a year makes!

With an insatiable love for human behaviour and circumstance, Emilie Chiasson absorbs the world around her, and turns her experiences into relatable stories.  From her home town of Antigonish to her travels around the world, she never fails to connect with the characters and perspectives that make life a bit more colourful. Read more at emiliechiasson.wordpress.com.

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