Life Update 2020: The Good, The Bad, & The Optimistic

2020, amirite?!?! Seems like only yesterday we were going to, you know, PLACES and doing things beyond raiding the closet of toys your mom kept from when you were kids and jumping around in Nickelodeon moon shoes. Just me? Okay, cool.

Beyond the pandemic that has killed thousands and upended life for all of us, 2020 has certainly been a year of…something. Change? Opportunity? Grief? All of the above? Everything has happened so fast that it’s been hard to find time to sit down and write a life update. Well now I’ve got nothing BUT time due to lockdown, so I have zero excuses. So here we go.

Living in Canada was amazing, and El and I are so grateful to have explored so much of it in the 2+ years we were there. We hit 9/13 provinces and territories, made friends we’ll have for life, and both pushed ourselves professionally. But Canada isn’t home, and we knew that we’d eventually make our way back south of the border. So El started the conversation with work about opportunities back in Chicago (where HQ is), and I started my own job search. It wasn’t long before I found, and applied for, an awesome job with an established and respected health club company. I went through the interview process, loved the culture and the people I met there, and decided that this was an incredible opportunity for me professionally and personally. Not only was it a widened scope in terms of the number of people I’d impact, but it was a brand-new industry for me to test my learning and development chops. El was also offered a “can’t say no” opportunity at his current company, so we decided that I’d head to Chicago to start work the last week of January, and he’d join me at the beginning of March. We have renters in our East Village place through the end of June, so we had to figure out living arrangements until then. Because I have awesome parents, I was going to stay with them until El joined me, and then his company would pay for a temporary apartment downtown to drastically shorten our commutes. Our furniture and most of our things would then stay in storage in Canada until we moved into our home. 2020 was looking like it was going to be off to a good start.

El had to go to Calgary for the months of January and February, so I spent the first few weeks of January having goodbye dinners/drinks with friends, wrapping up things at Uber, and enjoying the rest of my time in Toronto. We had our rental lease through February, and El was going to take care of arranging movers with work, so I really only needed to pack things to last me five months. The plan was for my mom to drive up to Toronto on a Thursday, drive me to Chicago on Saturday, and I’d start work on Monday. A week before that was supposed to happen though, I got a phone call that changed everything.

El, Ross, and me a few years ago

El, Ross, and me a few years ago

Elliot’s dad, Ross, died on Saturday, January 18th after a week in the hospital following a heart attack. He was 83 years old and loved by so many people, including me. To get an understanding of how unique Ross was, and how much he was loved, you can read my tribute to him, originally posted on Facebook, below. His death devastated all of us, and El immediately flew to Minnesota to be with his mom and siblings. I joined a day later after confirming with my new boss that I could push back my start date a week. But I still needed to pack my things and get ready to move, so I came back to Toronto a few days later. Since the funeral wasn’t going to be until February 1st, the new plan was for my mom to pick up some things to drive back to Chicago on Friday the 24th, I’d fly to Minnesota the Wednesday before the funeral, and then I’d fly to Chicago on the 2nd to start my new job on the 3rd. Then I got another phone call.

My Uncle Lanny was diagnosed three and a half years ago with stage 4 kidney cancer but, against all odds, was doing great. So it came as a surprise to my mom and I when she got a call while she was in Toronto from her sister, my Aunt Mary Ann. Lanny had been rushed to the ICU in Erie (where they live) because he was having trouble breathing and was acting confused. The medical staff in Erie determined he needed to be in Pittsburgh because they had the equipment needed to diagnose the issue. So he was transferred to Pittsburgh’s ICU, and his prognosis was not good. My family is really close, and I love my uncle a lot, so plans changed yet again.

  • On Monday, I packed up my shit.
  • On Tuesday, I took a 6.5 hour Greyhound bus ride to Erie.
  • On Wednesday, my cousin Tori (Lanny’s daughter) drove me down to Pittsburgh to, what I thought at the time, say goodbye to Lanny.
  • On Thursday, I flew to Minnesota.
  • On Saturday, we all said goodbye to Ross.
  • On Sunday, I “moved” to Chicago, and on Monday I started my new job.

A month later, shit got really real with coronavirus, and all our clubs had to close and consequentially temporarily lay off over 2,000 people. And now we’re learning a new reality filled with terms like “social distancing” and “isolation”.

You might be thinking, “Jesus, Courtney, I was depressed enough before I started this post. What’s with the newly found pessimism?”, and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. But pessimism isn’t my style; I’m optimistic to a fault, admittedly bordering on naive. So this isn’t going to be a “woe is me, life’s so hard, blah blah blah” post. Because despite all that’s happened, I am well aware of how lucky I am and how much I have to be grateful for. And 2020 hasn’t been all bad! Let’s talk about the good!

The biggest mercy the year has granted is the fact that Uncle Lanny is basically a phoenix, defying all medical expectations and is back in Erie, thriving. El and I are reunited after almost two months apart! I love my new job and am excited for the clubs to reopen so my projects can get going again. El is, unsurprisingly, kicking ass and overall just being awesome in his new role, despite the chaos. I get to spend more time with my family, and my mom and I do the crossword puzzle together every day now. I’ve reconnected with old friends via trivia nights, and have cried laughing on virtual happy hours and coffee dates with friends. I’ve been blown away by how people are finding ways to reconnect, and build new relationships, with one another. I’m trying to learn random skills, and I decided to take up knot-tying because why the hell not? GET IT?! Why the hell KNOT?! ::taps mic:: “Oof. Tough crowd.” ANYWAY, things may seem pretty bleak right now, but this too shall pass. We’ll get through this; I know it. Stay safe out there, and don’t worry, I’ll be back to my normal travel blogging soon… [Note: I don’t know why there’s a big space below, but keep scrolling to see the tribute to my incredible father-in-law!]

Tribute to my father-in-law, originally posted on Facebook:

Yesterday, I was sitting on my bed playing ‘No Woman, No Cry’ by Bob Marley, and I knew that I had to write. Not because I had some wacky mountain adventure to share, or some cheeky travel advice to give, but because it’s the only way I know how to grieve. And today, and pretty much forever, I grieve my father in law, Ross.

Ross was a man of many stories, most of which I was not a participant but he told them so vividly and with such humor that I felt like I was. I could see the cabin porch in Duluth where he slept under heavy blankets when the temperature was below zero. I could hear his grandfather, Willie, shouting to his grandmother, Maude, about a nearby bear cub (because where the baby goes, the mama ain’t far behind). I could hear the splash as his boot, one of the pair his parents had traded food rations for during World War II, hit the water after it accidentally flew off his foot when he was kicking the ground. Despite a frantic search, that boot was forever lost to the depths of Lake Superior. I could picture the blackness of Baltimore when he was a kid and the city went dark because of fears the Nazis were off the coast. I can imagine the silence as he sat in his plane at Andrews Air Force Base and watched John F. Kennedy’s casket come off Air Force One after it arrived from Dallas. What a truly remarkable life lived.

But stories are only a small part of what makes a life remarkable. Ross certainly made this world more entertaining with his stories, but it was how he treated people that made it so much kinder. Ross was beloved by so many people because he was kind, wise, and had the sweetest smile you can imagine. He also just knew so much about everything; El would call him for advice about everything from making pumpkin pies to woodworking. The man just KNEW things and would often surprise people with his interests. When we were in Minnesota a few years ago, I was watching some true crime documentary with him. It occurred to me that he probably was just being polite and wasn’t actually interested in the show, so I was like “Oh my gosh, we don’t have to watch this! What do you want to watch?” He replied, “No, no, I like this stuff.” Elliot forever gives me shit about my true crime obsession, so I got to gloat that his dad, his hero, was also into it.

Ross has been in my life since I first met him and Michele, El’s mom, for dinner almost twelve years ago in DC. I liked them immediately. When El and I got engaged, I learned that after that dinner, when Ross and Michele were alone, Ross said to her, “That’s the one.” I feel incredibly proud and humbled that he wanted me and his son to be together.

Over the years, I got to have my own stories with Ross. I think about the time an angry Portuguese woman whacked him and Michele with her cane when we were on a trolley in Lisbon. We still have no idea what the hell she was so pissed about. I remember the time they stayed with us for a month in Spain. I laugh about the four hour triple Yahtzee game we recently played in October. When we move back into our Chicago house, I’ll put books on the shelves of the closet library he and Elliot built for me. I smile when I think about his awesome 80th birthday party where we all got tours of planes and dozens of people came to celebrate an incredible man. I think about the “witching hour” in their house when the three dogs knew it was time to go out before bed (and their treat) and would run to Ross and bark like crazy. My mouth drools when I think about the buffet Chinese restaurant we took him to in Toronto that he talked about for months after their visit.

Recently, I asked El what kind of father he’d like to eventually be, and he responded that he wanted to have something special with each of his kids, whether that be a sport, an activity, or art, something that was just between the two of them. Just like his dad did. I also had my own special “thing” with Ross. Like I said, the man had some GREAT stories, and no one but him can do them justice. So I showed him how to record his stories on his laptop so we could enjoy them for years to come. That was our thing, and my favorite memory of Ross is when he and I were sitting in my Toronto kitchen, watching a video he recorded that day. In the video, he was smacking his lips a lot, and Ross looked at me and said, “I must have been eating something when I did this.” Immediately after he said that, video Ross said, “I’m eating a pecan roll”, and he and I looked at each other and just burst out laughing. That memory will bring me joy for the rest of my life.

Ross was a great man and his legacy lives on through his wife, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, and community. The world lost one hell of a guy, a true original, and we will miss him forever. I’m grateful for the time I had with him and for the lessons I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m filled with immense sadness, but I’m comforted knowing that he’s enjoying Portguese hard rolls, Vikings football, golf, fried potatoes, pottery, and true crime shows in heaven…

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