Someone I care a lot about asked me on New Year’s Eve, “What are you looking forward to in 2023?” This question was the follow up to another question, which was, “What are you grateful for from 2022?”
I was able to come up with many gratitudes for 2022 even as it was a tough year. I lost my mom on February 3. I lost my mother-in-law on October 25. These losses of the mothers in my life have generated an untethered sensation in my spirit. My center of gravity feels gone, dissolved, undone. I am a pastor, so I walked through more and more and more loss in my community. There were many deaths, all of them with their own unique load of grief.
There was the death of a man in his 80s, a faithful church goer until COVID hit in 2020. Then he was profoundly isolated and even when things started to open back up, he didn’t want any visits from the church. His line was he didn’t want us to go to any trouble. Even when we expressed how much we would love to see him, he held us off over and over again.
His son let me know when he was in his final transition. I asked if I could come pray and share Communion. The next I heard he was gone. The grief was loaded with all the loss of relationship, the loss of connection. Someone who had been so integral to the church, died without those final rituals. That loss holds so much anguish for me that doesn’t seem to metabolize along with grieving that he is gone.
Then there were the untimely deaths in tragic circumstances in my community. Jarring, unspeakable, and mournful in ways that never leave you. Irredeemable, unresolvable, and unrelenting in the ways grief then shapes lives from there. These deaths turned on harrowing moments and things like split seconds, excruciating waits in the hospital, and shattering realizations.
The ways communities rise up to embrace grieving ones is a stirring testimony to the human spirit, and there is comfort there to be sure. At the same time, our humanity includes a default switch. Many go back to the forgetfulness of day-to-day life, when others are left with the shards of lives that just won’t fit back together again.
Then there were other kinds of losses in 2022. My house is what they call an “empty nest” now. My time as a mother with children at home is over. I lost my mother, my mother-in-law, and I said goodbye to the childhood of my youngest. I also officially entered menopause over the summer, my body shifting into a new phase without the rhythms of menstruating and childbearing. And while that is the natural course of the turning of time in the life of a parent and of a body, I feel the tenderness of it, the sorrow of fading moments and shifts in proximity and connection.
It has all been a poignant refraction back and forth between these mothering energies. I lose my mother as my kids put more distance between us. I say goodbye to the embodied cycles of mothering as I feel the regret of how much I didn’t see my mother for so many years that she was alive. Those years were captive to the fever of life of raising little ones, moving multiple times all over the country for my husband’s work, and trying to piece together a career. One of my gratitudes was that I took the time to be there with my mom the last ten days of her life. But, the second she was gone, I was filled with the pain of regret for all the time I had missed with her that now would never be.
The grief and gratitude of 2022 linger as 2023 begins and I really can’t think of anything I am looking forward to in this new year. It’s not that I am not grateful to be alive. I am. And there are many blessings in my life that I savor each day. It’s just that whole “looking forward to” part for me. I can’t seem to look forward anymore. I am in the moment. And I feel out of time—caught in the conflation of past, present, and future, carrying memory and tragedy, walking still with the staying power of long-ago trauma and the call of simple pleasures at home when I can go slow and even be still with it all.
The feminist impulse to anticipate a better world seems to have dulled in me as this new year dawns. Maybe I am burned out. Maybe I am grieving. Maybe it’s my chronic PTSD activated by the stress and strain of life these days. Maybe it’s the state of the world—it’s unceasing cruelty and it’s obstinance around transformation and learning new ways for us to be human together.
Whatever it is that makes the question of what there is to look forward to in 2023 impossible for me to answer, I am assuming it is here to help me grow, to somehow support healing. Maybe that’s the best I can hope for in 2023—growth and healing for us all.
Marcia Mount Shoop is an author, theologian, and minister. She is the Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC. Her books include, A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, co-authored with Mary McClintock Fulkerson (Cascade, 2015), Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010), and Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade, 2014). She also has chapters published in several anthologies on motherhood, trauma, whiteness, and much more. Find out more at www.marciamountshoop.com