I took the Christmas decorations down today. I carefully removed every ornament from the tree and wrapped it in tissue paper before putting it in a box. All of the ornaments on my tree have a special meaning. Many are from places we have visited and trips we have taken. Others are photo ornaments, showing how our family has grown and changed through the years. There are the ornaments my children have made for us at school and ornaments that were given to us as gifts, to commemorate special events – like finishing a marathon, graduating from vet school, our new home, and baby’s first Christmas.
I received two new ornaments as gifts this year, both homemade by very talented friends of mine, both with “2020” prominently displaced. Both were meant to mark this life-changing year and to serve as a reminder of 2020 every December when the family Christmas tree is on display.
The first ornament is meant to be humorous. On it is the green hand of the Grinch holding a mask in his pinched fingers with the words “stink stank stunk”. That pretty much sums up the year. 2020 – the year Australia burnt, Koby Bryant died, and a pandemic shut down our world. The year we were forced to cancel trips, concerts, and sporting events, teach our children from home, and avoid public gatherings. The year many of us lost loved ones, jobs, and our sense of security. The ornament is meant to bring a laugh, but when I look at it, I just see all we have lost.
The second ornament is a photo ornament of a picture I had posted on my personal Facebook page this summer. It was a colored pencil drawing my 9-year-old son and I had worked on together. The drawing depicts a family hike through a local state park. It showed the backs of my three children and our dog surrounded by grass and large trees. When I look at this ornament, my heart is filled with joy and peace. This ornament also sums up 2020 -the year we grew closer as a family. The year we went on hikes together and discovered a love of the great outdoors. The year my children learned to cook dinners together, to be each other’s best friends, and that no matter what, we would be there for each other. It was the year my very artistic son taught me how to draw, my teenage daughter and I grew closer on daily runs together, and my preteen son finally beat his dad in a game of HORSE on our makeshift basketball court. It was the year I grew closer to my extended family with regular zoom calls to check in on each other. It was a year of learning and shifting priorities.
When I opened the Grinch ornament, I commended my friend for her creativity, put the ornament back in the gift bag, and quietly placed it under the tree, where it sat until today. Maybe it will go on my tree next year when I am ready to laugh at this crazy year. When I opened the photo ornament, I immediately texted my friend to thank her and said “THIS is how I want to remember 2020” then proudly displayed the ornament in the front of my tree.
For some of you reading this, 2020 has been a tragic year and my “Tale of the Two Ornaments” does not apply to you. Some of you have experienced inexplicable loss, like my cousin who shared the heartbreaking journey of her husband’s 46-day battle with COVID. Her ornament this year is from the ICU nurses who gave her a piece of paper in a glass bottle. The paper is her husband’s final EKG reading before he died. Some of you couldn’t even think about putting up a Christmas tree because you aren’t sure where your next meal is coming from or if you will be able to pay next month’s rent. Some of you are suffering the long-term effects of a severe case of COVID. Again, this tale doesn’t apply to you. I understand your pain and loss and pray that 2021 will bring you hope and peace.
But for many of us in veterinary medicine, 2020 can be summed up with these two ornaments. The Grinch ornament reminds us of the year that burnt us all out. The year we had to do everything curbside, to work short staffed because team members were ill, to wrestle a 150 pound mastiff while wearing a mask. The year we ate lunch alone so as to avoid spreading a virus we didn’t know we had. The year where we had to do our CE online instead of in a nice hotel with a plethora of snacks during the breaks. It was a year of anxiety, stress, and exhaustion.
But the other ornament is a photo of us in matching “essential” t-shirts reminding us of the year we came together. The year we learned to work as a team to keep each other safe, where we found creative ways to still serve our clients when we couldn’t talk face to face, to ease the anxiety of our patients terrified by the masked strangers taking them from their family. It was the year the shelters emptied out because so many people adopted a new pet. The year our clients finally realized the value of their furry family members and didn’t question why we needed to do diagnostic tests. It was the year we were deemed essential. The year one of our own helped create a vaccine that will hopefully end this pandemic.
As you think back on 2020, it’s okay to display the Grinch ornament on your metaphoric tree, to not forget what a hard year it has been and to think of all we have lost. But I hope that you will also have a photo ornament prominently displayed on the tree to remind you of how much you have grown in 2020, to find the joy in the heartache, and look for the good in this unique year.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the UnchartedVet.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Jennifer Shepherd received her DVM from Colorado State University in 2000. She is currently the owner and head veterinarian at Cloquet Animal Hospital, a small animal practice in Cloquet, Minn.
When she isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her husband Paul, three children, and her dog Coal.