Dreams and Nightmares

It's been a little over eight months now since I lost my husband to pancreatic cancer. Overall, I think I'm doing fairly well.  The house is still standing. I am still standing. Those both seem like significant wins. 

I get through most days now without hardly a tear but there are those other days, days when I find myself unexpectedly crying.  Maybe it's a song on the radio or a touching scene on the screen setting off memories or reminding me of dreams unfulfilled. I cry then. It's impossible to hold back the grief, the self-pity, the wishes for more, or the distress at what happened in those last few weeks.   

But for the most part, I think I am functioning fairly well. I am keeping my shit together. I am getting stuff done. I am taking care of what needs to be taken care of, whether that's the house, the bills, the car, the camper, the day job, the kids, or the grandbaby. 

Every now and again I give myself permission to do nothing, though, because the loss of a partner is hard. So this last Saturday I sat on the couch almost the whole day. I binged television shows, played games on my phone, and lounged around in my PJs. When I finally got into the bath, I read a book for a good hour or more. I relaxed. I recharged. I indulged my need for solitude and stillness without feeling even a tad bit guilty. It was needed.  Heck, it's probably needed a lot more often. 

The truth is I'm afraid of falling into a debilitating depression, so I limit my do-nothing see-nobody go-nowhere days. But sometimes you just need to stop. Pause. Recharge.

I think these things - the doing and the being still - are all signs that I'm doing better. 

Or so I hope.

I am concerned, though, that while my waking brain is doing a better job of coping, my subconscious is still struggling to come to terms with everything. In the beginning, Ken would visit me in dreams. We would talk. We would snuggle. We would drive down the road and chit-chat about the kids. They were good, reassuring dreams. 

Lately, though, the dreams have been replaced by nightmares. He is sick and dying. He is in pain. Those are hard enough but I lived through that very reality so I can usually console myself with the idea that his misery is over and he's in a better place. The nightmares where he is absent are more difficult. I've seen my kids killed.  My dad. More loss and more pain.  Anguished by these too real nightmares, I lay awake for too long trying to regain some measure of peace. I talk to myself or hug my dog. I turn on the lights. I've even found that guided imagery helps push out the horrific images by replacing car accidents and health crises with sandy beaches or autumn forests. The gentle music underlying the narrator's gentle suggestions eases tension from clenched muscles.  

I think these nightmares are signs that I still have a long way to go until I'm truly okay. Right now, I'm wondering if I'm just not faking it more than a little bit even when I don't feel like I'm faking it. If that makes sense..



2021 Reading Challenge - Complete Fail

This likely comes as no surprise given the year it has been, but I did not successfully complete my 2021 reading challenge.

I started out strong. I even decided to have some fun with it and create a dedicated Instagram account  to help catalog my reading adventures. That didn't last beyond April 2021.  Considering what was going on in my life then, this is no surprise.  

So...here's hoping next year's challenge goes much better. 

Coping

 

I shared a post on Facebook yesterday about how different people express and process their grief. It resonated because I recognized not only myself in it but those grieving around me.  All of us are struggling in our own way.  My boys seem to find some solace in the distraction video games provide but they are burdened with bouts of sadness and anger, too. A good friend of ours has decided to remodel his entire house. Others have made it their mission to take care of me and the boys as much as we will allow it. 

I welcome the distractions my friends and family provide. The things we do and the places we go bring much-needed smiles and laughter. They give me something to focus on other than the empty recliner in the living room or Ken's clothes hanging in our bedroom closet. 

In the months since Ken has been gone, I've done so much. It wasn't always easy but I'm glad I pushed myself to say yes even when I really wanted to say no. Saying yes kept me connected to the people most important to me and my boys. Saying yes has kept me sane. 

It would be easy, too easy, to sit home and do nothing. To go into seclusion. To disconnect.  To submit to sadness.

Not that I don't have my moments when the loss doesn't hit me like a sledgehammer.  It most certainly does. The truth is, though, I cry mostly when I'm alone. Sometimes, I'll be in bed, snuggled up with my dog.  Other times, I'm watching tv by myself or I'm driving alone. Tears aren't the only physical expression of my heartache, either. On a few occasions, I've screamed into my pillow. Heck, I've even talked myself out of panic attacks, assuring myself the tightening in my chest and the difficulty in breathing is an emotional response and not a heart attack in the making.  

I've gone into therapy. 

I've taken up journaling. 

I've also indulged in some retail therapy, which is probably less healthy. But you should see my bookshelves! Also, who doesn't need new clothes every now and again? And shopping for others serves a purpose when you (mostly) save the gifts for Christmas. 

I know my grieving journey has just begun. I am well aware that darker days, weeks, or even months may be ahead of me. There are, after all, many things I can't yet bring myself to do. The idea of cleaning out his dresser, the closet, even his bathroom drawers, is too much right now. Figuring out how to include him in the upcoming holidays is a puzzle I still don't think I've fully solved.

Each day brings a new challenge. Each day, I do my best to cope. 

What Happened?


My updates here on the blog were almost non-existent during Ken's cancer diagnosis and treatment. I realized this today when I was looking back through some of my previous posts.  I've only written a handful of times about what the beginning of 2021 looked like for our family.  Our rough start was written almost three months into Ken's journey. Then I shared a bit in early May about the ups and downs of pancreatic cancer. A little over a month after that post, I put up a brief announcement regarding Ken's passing. 

Writing about Ken's cancer here was difficult for a few reasons. First and foremost, he didn't want to plaster the news all over social media because he didn't want complete strangers reaching out. So we created a Facebook group for our family, friends, and coworkers. It was there where he and I most often posted about things.  Funny enough, the man was so well-loved, that group had over 100 members. I made my first post there on February 6, 2021, and pinned it to the top of the page for newcomers to acquaint themselves with his story. 

In a nutshell, after several tests culminating in a PET scan, Ken had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The cancer was in the tail end of the pancreas and had spread to his liver and lymph nodes.  

My memories of the month or so it took us to get from the agony he experienced on New Years Day to a diagnosis are a bit chaotic for the most part.  A few things stand out. First, I remember him walking downstairs crying when he found out about the masses on his liver and me struggling to come up with any explanation other than cancer. Then, a week later, I remember sitting in the little room at our family doctor's office, holding his hand, while the doctor read us the lab results for the bloodwork that all but guaranteed it was, in fact, cancer. Next, I recall sitting in the parking lot outside the GI specialist's office when Ken gave me the good news about the colonoscopy results, the first bit of good news we had had since the New Year.  The worst memory I have is hearing about how high the pancreatic cancer marker numbers were; I cried and cried while he held me on the couch. We didn't have a confirmed diagnosis from the oncologist yet but those numbers told us all we needed to know. Sitting in the oncologist's office and listening to them discuss their findings and a plan of attack was difficult, too, but by then we had had time to ingest the probability of his diagnosis. We fully expected them to tell us is was pancreatic cancer at that time but finding out it was in the lymph nodes as well as the liver was a blow.

We had so many conversations after his diagnosis.  Some had to do with what to tell our boys and how. Many, once that task was handled, focused on what life without him in it might look like for me and the kids. These discussions were so necessary. Painful but necessary. How could we not have them? No matter how well this round of chemotherapy went, we were well aware there is no cure for pancreatic cancer.  Even if he could put it into remission for a few years, it would be back. His time with us would be limited. He wanted to prepare us as best he could. He wanted - no, needed - to know we could function without him. 

He made me promise to eat more than just cereal and frozen pizza for dinner.

He showed me how to change the filter in the furnace. 

He told me I'd have to leave the broken old grill on the back deck because there was no shut-off valve for the direct propane line from our tank. 

He showed me how to operate the mower on the John Deere. 

Those are just a few examples of the many things we talked about and the instructions I received. I knew what he wanted me to do with a portion of the life insurance money should he pass.  I've done all of them but one.  The only thing left to do is to get a big dog for protection. I opted not to do that right now.  Instead, I gave my son and his girlfriend permission to bring home a big dog of their own, one they will be taking with them when they eventually move out and get a place of their own.

Those experiences and discussions were the second reason I found it so difficult to write about things as they transpired. I was overwhelmed. I was struggling to hold myself together when everything seemed to be falling apart. 

It is so damned hard to be positive in the face of a terminal disease.  

It's even harder to watch someone you love suffer. No amount of care and comfort could overcome the ravages of this dreadful disease. Getting him to eat was a challenge not only because of the chemotherapy but because pancreatic cancer interferes with the body's ability to produce the necessary enzymes needed to properly break down solids and liquids. 

It got a bit easier, though, to be optimistic when we were getting promising biweekly cancer marker updates. He was responding so well to chemotherapy! The cancer marker numbers were dropping exponentially treatment after treatment. In the beginning, they were over 500,000.  When he passed away, they were down to 350. 

So what happened then?  If the numbers continually dropped, why isn't he still here with us? I'm no doctor, so I can't explain what happened inside his body.  I can only tell you what happened in his last few days.

He ended up with pancreatitis at the end of April 2021.  He was hospitalized twice for it and sent home. During his pancreatitis flare-ups, he developed ascites, which, in really simple terms, means he had fluid on the stomach. By the time we got him down to one of the better university hospitals in our home state, he was in really bad shape. He had lost so much weight he looked skeletal. His cognitive abilities were severely impaired. In his confusion, he couldn't remember his birthday or say who the President of the United States was. He was jaundiced and incredibly bloated with fluid from the waist down. 

The hospital drained some of the fluid off his stomach in hopes of alleviating his pain and had it tested for infection and cancer cells.  I don't know if there were cancer cells. They never mentioned it but they did confirm there was a great deal of infection. They also told me he was at end-of-life care and advised me to set up hospice care at home for him. 

I will admit I was stunned. In my naivete, I expected them to get the infection under control, get the fluid drained, and maybe put him on a feeding tube. I thought he'd be hospitalized for a week or so, and then, like the times before, I'd pick him up and bring him home. I thought this was just another temporary, if thoroughly terrifying, setback. I didn't think he was dying. 

I was wrong. Within two days, he was gone and our hospice plans never came to fruition. He never made it home again. 

Luckily, the boys, their girls, and our grandson got to visit Ken in the hospital before he passed. They got to talk to him and say their I-love-yous.  I think there were hugs and kisses, too. I'm sure there were. 

I am grateful for that fact. It was a blessing the hospital let them in despite the fact that COVID was once more on the rise. Special accommodations were made for them and I will always hold that institution in the highest regard for their compassion during those horrible days. 

I'm also very thankful I was able to stay with him overnight. It was a terrible night, one that has, quite frankly, given me nightmares, but I was there for him when he needed me most. He did not die alone. I was there with him, taking care of him as best I could, until he took his last breath.  I will never forget that moment or the heartbreak I felt. It is etched into my mind, heart, and soul. 

He was my love.  I was blessed to have built a life with him and will do my best to take care of the treasures he left me. 




Finding My New Normal

It's been just a little over five months now since I lost my husband to pancreatic cancer.  In some ways, it feels so much longer.  It feels like an endless stretch of days without his input or guidance, his problem-solving skills, his companionship. I miss his laugh. His hugs. I miss watching television together, camping trips, and family vacations. I miss our talks about work, the kids, the grandbaby, and life in general. I miss him. I miss our life together. 

Strangely, I cry less now.  But it takes longer to fall asleep. 

There's a part of me that feels bad that I don't cry as often or as easily as I first did.  My tears seem to be held in reserve, appearing only when I stop to think about how much he is missing.  The main triggers are our boys and grandson. When I stop and think about how much Ken would have loved being able to be here and take part in their lives, my control lapses. It always makes me recall those heartwrenching conversations we had in his last few months. He was heartbroken by what he would miss should the cancer win. 

Weddings. 
Graduations.
Birthdays. 
Holidays.
New additions to the family.
Cheering from the sidelines.
Hunting trips.
Fishing trips. 
Watching Riley grow up. 

There are times when I'm babysitting that take my breath away and I find the tears falling without warning. Bittersweet moments for sure. For me, I feel so blessed to be able to witness our little man's growth, to feel his sticky fingers in mine, or to have his little head nestled on my shoulder while he falls asleep. For Ken, I feel only sorrow that he couldn't experience these precious moments and angry that cancer robbed him of all these opportunities. 

It's still so hard to believe any of this is real. He can't really be gone forever, can he?

Not that I don't have plenty of examples to share that show just how real it all is. Planning his memorial, navigating the financial implications of his passing, honoring his last wishes, dealing with bats in the attic, pre-buying propane for the winter ahead, transferring titles from his name to mine, trading in our camper and buying a small class C motorhome, mowing the lawn and doing some damage to the blades when I hit a giant rock by mistake..the list goes on. 

I think he would be proud of the decisions I've made and how much I've been able to accomplish. 

Granted, he probably is watching from that otherworldly realm and judging my lack of culinary skills.  Not that I mind my efforts, but I'm sure he would be appalled. He was such a foodie and I am not!

Of course, he wouldn't be happy with everything going on at home. He would be pissed about some interpersonal problems we're dealing with in the wake of his death. He'd be knocking heads together, which would likely be a lot more effective than my approach.  But I am who I am and he was who he was. We never approached the kids the same way. We each had our preferred method of communication and conflict resolution. Right now, if I'm honest, I think his way would have been more effective.  Instead, we muddle our way through and try to determine how we want our futures to look and feel. 

Learning to let the kids grieve in their own way has been hard. The one I thought would be angry is depressed and the one I feared would be severely depressed is angry.  Grief is strange. It's such an isolating experience even when you struggle to stay connected to those most important to you. The source of our grief is the same but our emotional and mental states are so different. We are grieving in tandem but from different vantages. It makes his loss even more difficult to navigate.

Checking In

 I'm here. I'm functioning. I'm trying my best.  

























Right now...that feels like a win. 

Heartbroken

On May 20, 2021, my husband lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. I lost the love of my life, my best friend, my person. My boys lost their father, their rock. 

We are devastated. 




Ups and Downs of Pancreatic Cancer

 

The last time I posted it was late March. Ken was undergoing chemotherapy and managing it fairly well, even though some of the side effects were rather unpleasant.

We soon got into the rhythm of living with cancer. We had chemo weeks and "good" weeks. During chemo weeks, Ken was often fatigued and lacking any kind of appetite. He lost weight, as we expected he would but had hoped he would not. He kept most of his hair; it thinned a bit but still has not fully fallen out. The neuropathy worsened with each chemotherapy session, even affecting his feet. 

His good weeks were, well, good.  He would go visit friends and family he felt safe around - mostly those that took COVID seriously. After all, if they were taking COVID seriously, we figured it also meant they were more likely to be protected against the common cold and flu viruses. An immune-compromised system is susceptible to so many things. Keeping him healthy was our main concern, which meant some of the more careless or COVID-defiant people made us a bit nervous. Our desire to protect him is also the reason why Ken, Gage, and I all opted for the vaccine as soon as we could get it.  Of the three of us, only Ken was not able to get fully vaccinated. 

Yes, there's a story there. 

As I write this, Ken is at Ascension Genesys Hospital. He had first been admitted for acute pancreatitis on April 19, 2021. He spent nine days in the hospital. He came home on Wednesday, April 28th.  By Sunday, May 2, 20201, he was once again readmitted. Same diagnosis, only this time it was complicated by approximately twenty pounds of water weight. From his belly down, he was so swollen. You can see the water retention in his belly if you look at the picture up above. That is not a well-fed belly, it's an uncomfortably bloated belly with fluid you could hear moving every time he would rock or sway. 

When Ken is in pain, he sits on the edge of the recliner and sways from side to side or rocks to and fro.  There has been so much rocking and swaying in the last month. Too much. He has been miserable for almost a month and a half now. He dealt with the pain for nearly two weeks before going to the ER the first time. During those two weeks prior to getting admitted to the hospital, we attributed his pain to the cancer, to gas and constipation, to the blood clot in the vein leading into the spleen. We never suspected pancreatitis, mostly because we hadn't heard of it and had no idea what it entailed. It is agony is what it is.

Everyone keeps asking me how I'm doing and how are the boys. Not great, people, not great. It is emotionally and mentally draining to watch someone you love suffer.  Not being able to do anything to alleviate his pain, to help him get even an hour of sleep, is its own special kind of torture. We are crushed that he's in constant pain, that he has lost so much weight, that his laugh has been stolen. We want him to be better. We hope and pray for it constantly and it feels as if our heartfelt pleas and prayers are not being heard. That's how we are. 

In addition to being worried about my suddenly frail husband, I worry about the boys, too. I worry about their emotional and mental health right now. I don't think either of them is doing well, but I think they're both trying to be strong for me. I know I'm a big softie who cries a lot, but I don't want them to think of that as a weakness. My tears are a release valve. They help me cope. I want them to be able to have the same freedom to cry when they need to cry. I want to hold them and tell them it's going to be alright, even if we don't know that for sure. 

Right now, we cling to the silver linings.  Ken is getting the help he needs at the hospital. His pain is being managed and he's finally getting some rest. He is able to eat solids right away this time.  They are running tests in order to figure out a plan of attack. His cancer numbers were down to 7500 last we knew.   

Silver linings. They sustain us right now.

2021 Is Off to a Rough Start

 Even with COVID still plaguing the U.S., we had a lovely Christmas and New Year's Eve. While the large family gatherings were cancelled, we still got to spend time with a small number of people during the holidays. The gathering pictured below was the most important one and I was so relieved when everything worked out and we were able to have our Christmas Eve exchange with my oldest boy and his family. I would have been devastated if we had had to miss our grandbaby's first Christmas. Luckily, we were fully recovered from COVID and everyone felt healthy. 



Things didn't go sideways until after the holidays.  On New Year's Day, Ken woke up feeling terrible. We thought he was having a gall bladder attack. He was in so much pain I offered to take him to the Emergency Room. He refused and somehow managed to make it over to his mom and dad's for Christmas with them. 

The gallbladder attacks continued. Our doctor was on vacation and didn't return until the second week of January. Ken had a virtual appointment, describing his pain, and what he believed would trigger it. The doctor agreed.  It sounded like a gallbladder issue. An ultrasound was scheduled to check for gallstones. 

The results of that ultrasound changed our lives. 

In addition to some thickening of the gallbladder walls, the ultrasound picked up a couple of masses in the liver.  The doctor wanted bloodwork and a CT scan done right away. The CT scan confirmed the masses on the liver but nothing truly noteworthy in nearby organs. The bloodwork, though, told a different story. Cancer marker numbers were high for both colorectal and pancreatic cancers. This prompted a colonoscopy and a referral to an oncologist. Before we met with the oncologist, we got the colonoscopy results back; not a sign of cancer anywhere. The oncologist, while relieved by the colonoscopy results, still wanted Ken to have a liver biopsy and a PET scan done. 

The liver biopsy was so very painful. Ken was still dealing with a lingering COVID cough and every time he coughed, the biopsy site was aggravated. It got so bad the night after the procedure that we called for an ambulance. They assured us he was not bleeding internally, which was our fear. They were also able to help him get his breathing under control so that he didn't feel quite so desperate to get enough oxygen to keep himself from passing out. 

The results from the biopsy were not great. The PET scan, though, told the true story. Ken was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.  On February 9th, we sat through a phone call to discuss the chemo treatments and the possible side effects.  Then, on Febraury 15th, Ken started his first round of treatment. 

It was rough. He was so miserable that first week. It was torture for him going through it and torture for us watching him go through it and not being able to do much beyond making sure he took his meds, ate, and drank as much as his body would allow.  Pancreatic cancer interferes with the pancreas's ability to produce the enzymes necessary to break down fatty foods. This means he has to be very careful when it comes to his diet. Anything above 2.5 - 3.0 grams of saturated fat gives him stomach pain. He does have some pills that mimic the missing enzymes but they haven't been failproof, sometimes giving him stomach cramps, so he tries to avoid most fatty foods.

His second treatment, two weeks to the day after his first, had some new unexpected side effects. His tongue became partially paralyzed and the neuropathy in his hands worsened. Drinking room-temperature water caused his throat to spasm, resulting in a mild case of vomiting. So far, that's the only instance of vomiting he has had and it wasn't from nausea but from his esophagus freaking out. I won't lie, that was scary. 

He just finished his third round of chemo.  He has nine more rounds to go. 

Possibly. 

We don't really know if he will require all six months worth of treatment because after his second treatment we got some good news.  His pancreatic cancer marker numbers have already dropped from 500,000 to right around 100,000.  The chemo is working! Knowing that the chemo is working to shrink the tumors is such a blessing. It makes the misery more bearable for him and for us. We know we still have a long way to go before he's into remission. Yet, knowing the numbers are dropping, we feel as if remission is a real possibility. In the beginning, we weren't so sure. 

As I write this, he's just finished up his third chemo treatment.  





Our COVID Experience

 I have an admission.  Back in November 2020, our little household tested positive for COVID-19.

While we were definitely not the only people in America to test positive for it, it still feels shameful to admit we had it.  This may be because I figure if we had just stayed home for the holidays, we likely would have avoided contracting the illness.  We're not 100% certain where we got it and it really doesn't matter.  No one in our circle of friends and family would knowingly and willingly expose anyone else. Also, I did go shopping.  Maybe it was from being in stores that were fairly busy hours earlier...

Where we got it from really doesn't matter now, a month and a half later.  But you might be curious to know how it went because it seems COVID affects everyone differently. 

Here's what I can tell you about our experience.  We were lucky.  I feel very blessed because our experience was one of mild inconvenience. Ken and I both ran slight fevers for about twelve to twenty-four hours. I had full body aches for only a day but then had to contend with a persistent backache for about two weeks.  Near the end of my bout with COVID, I had some painful headaches that caused my neck to knot up. I had some phlegm and light coughing during the two weeks I felt less than stellar.  Ken ended up with a post-COVID cough he still hasn't managed to kick.

Gage had no symptoms that we are aware of because the kid is always coughing up phlegm thanks to year-round allergies. 

Hallie, Gage's girlfriend, had a few minor symptoms but she seemed to kick it fairly quickly.  

We found out much later that some of the people we had seen on Thanksgiving day also got sick. Like us, they had very mild cases.  

Luckily, KC, Allie, and baby Riley never developed any symptoms.  We hadn't seen them Thanksgiving day and, apparently, when we did see them the next night, we weren't yet carrying a high viral load.  Like I said, we were blessed. I would have been devastated had Riley gotten sick because of us.  For two weeks, I obsessively worried about their little family developing symptoms.  My prayers were almost manic. 

I am coming to realize I may have a slight catastrophizing anxiety disorder. That's a thing, right?  I'm sure it must be. 

Post-COVID quarantine testing came back negative, which was a relief.  I like Thanksgiving, but I love Christmas. Not getting to see my new grandbaby on his first Christmas would have been heartbreaking. Luckily we were good to go and sporting some antibodies. (You have to wonder where herd immunity is at now that so many people have gotten sick over the last nine months..). We celebrated Christmas and New Year, but we tried to keep our gatherings small and safe.  We canceled Christmas with my brothers, sisters, and their families; we're still considering an outside bonfire in the snow.  We didn't travel up north to see my mom or step-dad and their houseful of kids and grandkids. Instead, we invited my dad over on Christmas Eve so he could see his first great-grandchild's first Christmas at our house. 


We spent Christmas night with people who had already had COVID and recovered. Then, on New Year's Eve, we spent even more time with COVID-recovered patients.  Seriously, looking back on our New Year's Eve, there were only two people in the house who hadn't contracted COVID at some point in the fall.  

New Year's Day we spent with Ken's mom and dad.  Again, they were the only non-COVID recovered people in the house. Everyone else had had it and recovered already. Not that I'm not concerned about them. I am. Tomorrow will be one week since we've seen them. So far, they're fine.  I'll feel better, though, when it's been a full two weeks. 

With the holidays over, I think our exposure to people will go right back down to nothing. We're still working from home and Gage is still laid off.  Our only routine visitor is Gage's girlfriend, Hallie. We see KC, Allie, and the baby from time to time. They don't need a sitter like they did when both KC and Allie were working, so even my babysitting has been limited.  When Allie got laid off, babysitting requests died right down.  (This makes me sad because I love babysitting!)

So, we are recovered. Now I just pray we don't develop any of those ominous post-COVID ailments that plague some people.

2021 Reading Challenge




















This year I aim to complete the PopSugar Reading Challenge


I intend to use a mix of ebooks, hardcovers, and paperbacks to complete this challenge.  I'm not assigning anything in advance. I'm going to let my mood choose as I go. However, I am going to do my best to read books I already own and haven't yet read. Wish me luck! 


2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

  1. A book that's published in 2021
  2. An Afrofuturist book
  3. A book that has a heart, diamond, club, or spade on the cover
  4. A book by an author who shares your zodiac sign
  5. A dark academia book
  6. A book with a gem, mineral, or rock in the title
  7. A book where the main character works at your current or dream job
  8. A book that has won the Women's Prize For Fiction
  9. A book with a family tree
  10. A bestseller from the 1990s
  11. A book about forgetting
  12. A book you have seen on someone's bookshelf (in real life, on a Zoom call, in a TV show, etc.)
  13. A locked-room mystery
  14. A book set in a restaurant
  15. A book with a black-and-white cover
  16. A book by an Indigenous author
  17. A book that has the same title as a song
  18. A book about a subject you are passionate about
  19. A book that discusses body positivity
  20. A book found on a Black Lives Matter reading list
  21. A genre hybrid
  22. A book set mostly or entirely outdoors
  23. A book with something broken on the cover
  24. A book by a Muslim American author
  25. A book that was published anonymously
  26. A book with an oxymoron in the title
  27. A book about do-overs or fresh starts
  28. A magical realism book
  29. A book set in multiple countries
  30. A book set somewhere you'd like to visit in 2021
  31. A book by a blogger, vlogger, YouTube video creator, or other online personality
  32. A book whose title starts with "Q," "X," or "Z"
  33. A book featuring three generations (grandparent, parent, child)
  34. A book about a social justice issue
  35. A book in a different format than what you normally read (audiobooks, ebooks, graphic novels)
  36. A book that has fewer than 1,000 reviews on Amazon or Goodreads
  37. A book you think your best friend would like
  38. A book about art or an artist
  39. A book everyone seems to have read but you
  40. Your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

Advanced

  1. The longest book (by pages) on your TBR list
  2. The shortest book (by pages) on your TBR list
  3. The book on your TBR list with the prettiest cover
  4. The book on your TBR list with the ugliest cover
  5. The book that's been on your TBR list for the longest amount of time
  6. A book from your TBR list you meant to read last year but didn't
  7. A book from your TBR list you associate with a favorite person, place, or thing
  8. A book from your TBR list chosen at random
  9. A DNF book from your TBR list
  10. A free book from your TBR list (gifted, borrowed, library)

2020 Reading Challenge Wrap-up


Back in late December of 2019, I wrote a blog post about my 2020 reading goals.  My main objective was to read some of the books I already owned at that time.  I own hundreds of unread books, so setting aside around 40-50 titles seemed the least I could do to tackle the overflowing TBR.   

I picked paperbacks and a hardcover. 

I picked ebooks from my Kindle Cloud. 

I did a fairly good job of reading from these pre-selections, but I definitely didn't read them all.  And I definitely strayed!  I read some newly purchased titles and some library loans. For a full accounting of my reading year, you can visit my 2020 Goodread's Reading Challenge page.  

One of the bigger challenges I set for myself this year was to finally read some of the trilogies or series I've been slowly collecting over the years.  This meant that I needed to not only read the one or two titles already sitting in my TBR, but that I needed to procure the other titles so that I could mark that trilogy or series finished. Also, if you've never read a fantasy or science fiction trilogy, they really cannot be read out of order. So, if I had book 1 & 3, I would have to find book 2 before moving on to book 3. This meant I had to purchase a number of books in order to get through a few series.

Take Hade's Daughter by Sara Douglass, for instance.  It's the first in a tetralogy (or quartet, if you prefer).  I only had the first book on my TBR shelf, but knowing the series was complete, I wanted to finish it. I'm glad I did, too.  It actually got better with each book. So much so that I went from thinking the characters were hopeless one-dimensional placeholders to being impressed by the amount of character growth each displayed by the end of the final book. They felt like actual people by the final book, complex like most humans are.  

I also had The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan sitting unread on my shelf.  It was not in my 2020 physical TBR picks, but for some reason I picked up that first book and then proceeded to read up through book #7. I'm not sure I'll finish this particular series in 2021, but it's something I'd like to try.  This is, after all, one of the most well-recognized series in the genre, second only to The Lord of the Rings. How I'm only now picking it up and experiencing it for myself isn't really a mystery, though.  I love fantasy, but this series with its fifteen books was a tad bit intimidating.  I knew a lot of time, energy, and money would have to be put into reading the entire series.  

So...in just these two series alone, I added a total of ten paperback books to my original picks.

Considering how thick those books were, I'm pleased that I was able to still get through so many of the other books I had put on the 2020 physical TBR.  Let's take a look at how I did. 


I read the three Mistborn books I already owned; I just learned there are more books in this series. However, Mistborn The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of the Ages work as a stand-alone trilogy. The next book, from what little I've read, is set 300 years later, so there's no rush to hurry up and buy it. 

I also read the Star Wars trilogy. That was an interesting experience. I've seen those movies so many times.  As you might imagine, I was a bit nervous about reading the books.  I am happy to report they were better than I had anticipated even if there were a few discrepancies that took me out of the story from time to time. 

The other three books pictured above were fun, light reads meant to serve as palate cleansers between my science fiction and fantasy binges.  They served their purpose.  I liked some more than others. You can read those reviews over on Goodreads if you wish. 




After several years of avoiding his stuff, I finally picked up some new Terry Goodkind. Yes, I'm aware of his love of Ayn Rand and that his ego was oversized. That doesn't change the fact that I really enjoyed the first four or five books in the Sword of Truth series and had high hopes for a new spin-off series. I won't go into detail here, but let's just say I didn't rush right over and pick up Shroud of Eternity as soon as I finished Death's Mistress.  Don't get me wrong, I still plan on reading the second book in the Nicci Chronicles, but I need some space first.  There's only so much heavy-handed moralizing I can handle at one time. 

A more pleasant read was Anne Bishop's The Invisible Ring. While set in the Dark Jewels world, this read very much like a stand-alone book. Dreams Made Flesh, by contrast, was a short story collection that I think is best read after the original trilogy as it features the main cast of those books.  

I also really liked Firefly: Magnificent Nine.  If I can't have new episodes to watch, I can at least visit these favorite characters in the books.  

The Moon is a Hard Mistress was first published in 1966 and it read like a science fiction tale created in 1966.  Once I got past the technology and focused instead on the characters and their plight, I was reasonably entertained. Not my favorite Heinlein book, but I'm glad I read it. 

The Best of All Possible Worlds was an interesting little book.  It wasn't perfect, but I think it was worth the time and effort I invested.

So...those were the physical books I hoped to read in 2020.  I think I did fairly well.  I mean, I only have two that I failed to complete and those will both be moved to my 2021 TBR.

Let's move over to my ebook collection and the TBRs I created there.  Yikes. 

On the bright side, I managed to complete two complete trilogies on my Kindle.  The first was The Bone Witch trilogy by Rin Chupeco, which was comprised of The Bone Witch, The Heart Forger, and The Shadow Glass.  I really enjoyed this story and will definitely pick up more of Chupeco's work. I enjoy her writing style and storytelling approach.


The next trilogy I completed was Penryn and the End of Days.  This trilogy had been sitting in my cloud for a crazy long time and I figured it was time to actually check it out. I was intrigued by the idea of angels massacring mankind and pushing humanity into a post-apocalyptic scenario where they struggle to survive against God's merciless winged warriors.  My only concern was that it was Young Adult, which can overuse certain tropes that drive me a little crazy.  Luckily, this trilogy was actually really entertaining and deserves more love than it gets.
 

Unfortunately, that means I did not finish these other trilogies or series from my Cloud. I think this means they should automatically be moved to the top of my 2021 list, don't you?



Since we're still talking about my Kindle books, I guess we should take a look at the stand-alone titles I had selected.  I did a fair job of reading through these books, but there were quite a few that will be moving to my 2021 TBR as well. Of the 20 titles I set aside, I managed to read twelve them. Reviews can be found on Goodreads.