Boy, this year was a doozy.

And that’s putting it mildly!

So much happened in 2021. Truth and Justice made themselves known multiple times this year. Wrongdoings such as the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and Josh Duggar’s disgusting choices were met with firm condemnations. And thank goodness!

This was a year of painful loss for so many of us. Just in January alone, my friends, family, and I experienced completely unexpected heartbreak.

I’d known that Hannah, an adored member of our old high school Youth Group, had been in an ICU for a couple of weeks in December. But never did I imagine for a second that she wouldn’t make it.

On January 6, I found out that Hannah had tragically lost her battle.

It was a devastating loss. Hannah was always so kind, so positive, and a nurse who wanted to help others always. At the public gathering our church held for her (in the parking lot with masks), people from all corners of her life came to share their memories of her.

I still cry over Hannah. And some days, I can’t rationalize that she left us.

Our Youth Pastor, who loves each of us like we’re her own children, told us that evening that “memories are a gift from God”. We all needed to hear those comforting words in the wake of Hannah’s passing.

I hear this whispered stanza from the power ballad “Angel” by Eurythmics, and it captures everything we feel. Hannah will always be cherished and missed.

"Close your eyes, 
and go to sleep.
Forever in my heart,
I'll keep you safe.

...I'll keep you safe."

At the end of January, our family suffered a horrific loss. My beloved Scottish Uncle Mike and his amazing wife Sam lost their twin boys, Charlie and Rory. Our hearts were broken, and still hurt for what they’ve endured. Mike and Sam deserved so much better than this nightmare.

On October 15, our family around the world lit candles as a vigil in memory of Charlie and Rory. They will never be forgotten.

2021 didn’t let up. At the end of July, leading into August, we were hit with a triple-header. In the course of one week, we lost my Grandma Kingcade, followed by Grandpa Kingcade, and then the completely unexpected passing of Dad’s cat Harvey.

Grandma and Grandpa had both been receiving medical attention for the pain they were in. Unfortunately, they lost their battles. We take solace in knowing that they’re no longer suffering.

I truly believe that after Grandma passed, Grandpa yearned to be with her again so much that he stopped fighting. He was tough, but losing Grandma, especially when they were in the same facility, broke his heart.

And I’ll never forget going to see him for what sadly would be my last time, and him calmly asking me, “How’s my grandson doing?” So chill, like nothing was wrong.

Mom showed me her old photo albums, and I found these gems! They were a huge help in the grieving process.

This year was filled with so much sadness, and there will always be days when I weep for the loved ones we lost. In my lowest moments, I try to remember the moments of sunshine, both literal and figurative.

I’m grateful accordingly for the wondrous sunrises I got to see this year. This is hands-down my favorite sunrise from this year, which we saw in the parking lot at work, on my birthday in January no less! I used Google’s photo editor to attach this Bible verse to it, a reminder that Love and Mercy are with us always.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;

Great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

My coworkers have been a rock for me this year, as we’ve dealt with the stress of the pandemic and the uncertainty over what the future may hold. During my lowest moments, they have always been a shoulder to lean and cry on. They truly are my second family.

It became absolutely important for me to get pictures with them this year. I don’t take for granted how close-knit we all are, and how much we’ve raised each other up through these tumultuous times.

I was thrilled and so lucky to reunite with two former coworkers this Summer! Dina and Natalie showed up practically back-to-back and brightened my day with their warm smiles and hugs.

My love for my teammates makes it so much harder to say goodbye to them. After spending several months praying and deliberating over what I felt was necessary for my future and wellbeing, I made the bittersweet decision to quit in mid-December. It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. At the time of this newsletter, my last day is approaching, and I know that there will be many tears to be shed from all of us.

Our group photo from our Christmas party!

After our whole family got vaccinated, we were able to have wonderful reunions! I got to see beloved family members from other states that I haven’t seen in a couple years, and we had a magical time together.

Hilton Head Island is our family’s favorite vacation spot, and we were relieved that we could return there this Summer in safety! I was lucky to find several great pictures to take, including a family of deer near the path to the beach.

One of my other favorite moments from 2021 was when I went exploring Highbanks, one of the most beautiful parks in our city! I was able to request the day off from work, and took an Uber to walk there by myself. I apparently spent 3 hours there, and walked over 4 miles! And naturally, there were plenty of great pictures to be taken.

Another fun highlight was when me, Dad, our stepmom Colleen, and my sisters went to the Funny Bone comedy show! We had a blast, and our sides were sore from laughing so hard. Dale Jones especially is an amazing, entertaining comedian.

Another patron kindly offered to take a group picture of us!

My family has kept me going in the darkest nights. And not even death can stop them from lifting me up.

One of the most beautifully ephemeral moments of 2021 happened while my sister Amanda drove me to my first vaccine appointment. I was feeling crushed with hopelessness, and the sense that things would never get better.

Just as we entered the town where my appointment was, I suddenly had a vision against a grey backdrop of my beloved Great-Grandma Josephine. It was a 3rd person image of her as her younger, high school self taking me by the hand and leading me in a joyful dance, wearing a warm smile.

It was a poignant, spiritual way of telling me that I was going to be ok. I love and appreciate you, Great-Grandma. Always.

Great-Grandma Josephine, from her senior year of high school I believe.
I love this picture so much! This was when I was probably 4 years old, most likely a big reunion around Easter. That’s Great-Grandma Josephine sitting on my right! Heck, it looks like we wore matching colors!

Ah, and this segues perfectly into one of the biggest triumphs our family celebrated this year!

2021 was full of turmoil and grief. But even with all of the darkness surrounding us, there was still light to be found. My beloved Grandma Aber, who I affectionately refer to as “The O.G. Superwoman”, triumphantly came through treatment for a serious illness this year. It picked the wrong woman to mess with!

So grateful that we were able to have Thanksgiving in person this year, and for this pic of me and the grandparents!

Thanksgiving this year was made that much more wonderful and became not only a day of gratitude for our blessings, but a day to celebrate her victory. Grandma Aber is our family hero, a woman who inspires us all to keep marching forward, even in the darkest night. She is, as Annie Lennox once sang, our beloved “Shining Light”.

"Roman candles that burn in the night,
yeah, you are a shining light!
You lit a torch in the empty night,
yeah, you are a shining light!
Yeah, you light up my life!"

At the end of the year, as a boy who loves photography, I try to pick my favorite shots I was lucky to take. Boy, that’s a tough one this time! 2021 was the year my love for photography really took off. I think I honestly may have taken over 2000 pictures this year! It helped me remain grounded in the face of my depression, and everything else 2021 threw at us.

I know that for my last two end-of-the-year posts, I chose my favorite song of that year. This year, it came down to a tie. “One Love” by Pat Benatar, an uplifting power ballad that lifted me up through some weary mornings. And “Angel” by Eurythmics, Annie Lennox’s heartbreaking tribute to her beloved aunt, and a song that echoes with me as we remember all those we lost this year.

Their 1989 Rome performance of “Angel” is one of my favorite live versions of a song, ever. At the end, seeing Annie’s face light up as she beams at the sky fills my spirit with comfort. After all, that’s what “Angel” is also about: the comfort that our loved ones are watching over us now.

2021 has been a nightmare for so many. Thank goodness it’s almost over. I’m grateful that Christmas is almost here. It will be a Christmas filled with relief and gratitude, for sure!

Love and peace to you all. And Happy Holidays!