Why 2020 was the BEST, WORST year of my life

December 19, 2020
Judy and Joe Fiduccia

Written by: Joe Fiduccia

30 years from now, what will you think of when people mention the year “2020”?  Will you think of your job? Or perhaps the job loss you suffered as a result of a worldwide pandemic?

Will you think of all the plans you had at the beginning of the year? Or all of the opportunities you never got a chance to seize because COVID-19 shut them all down?

Will you think of your dreams? Or how an economic shutdown forced upon us by our government has literally slaughtered the small business dreams of millions of hard-working Americans?

Will you think of your family?  The vacations you never got a chance to take with them?  Or the memories you never got a chance to create because of the “social-distancing” anxiety and fear created by the news and media?

Regardless of what comes to mind when you remember 2020, one thing is for certain: you will remember COVID-19. You will remember the impact it had on all of us, from the economy to suffering to personal loss. And you will likely remember this year as one of the most challenging years across several generations.

But me…?  I will remember it as the BEST, WORST year of my life.

Like countless others, COVID-19 devastated our family in more ways than you can imagine. On the heels of a very strenuous few years of financial struggle, we were finally poised to kick off 2020 on a high note. My wife’s business All Service Concierge had grown to 2-dozen contractors and over 4-dozen active clients, with plenty of new opportunities on the table. Her passion for wine education and her desire to sell wine while making a positive impact across the globe was finally beginning to shine through.

Now 6 years old, and at the request of many, my business America’s Footprints finally made the move to a fully mobile-friendly platform. In the hopes more people would see the benefit of preserving their story. And my journey with Optimus Prime had finally yielded some incredible plans, events, and presentations that would have impacted tens of thousands of families and children around the country. 

After a long and challenging few years, we were finally gaining momentum in our life. We were finally starting to see that light at the end of a very dark and stressful tunnel. We were finally getting to the point of financial stability again.

Then…COVID-19 hit. And it all came crashing down.

Virtually all of our businesses stopped production overnight. Every single client could no longer utilize our services, every single event we were scheduled to appear at was cancelled, and everyone immediately started panicking…and thus stopped supporting everything we worked so hard for.

In what seemed like a single day, all of a sudden every means we had of keeping a roof over our heads was essentially shut down. Measly government assistance kicked in, and we found ourselves living day-to-day instead of month-to-month.

And even now in present day, this uncertainty continues to drag much longer than we anticipated. Our country is at odds, our businesses are hanging by a thread, and there is no relief in sight.

COVID-19 made 2020 the absolute WORST YEAR of my life. And yet, there was a blessing in disguise we didn’t see coming until 2020 was almost over.

It gave us more time with a loved one we would ultimate say goodbye to.

On November 25th, my wife Ania went to my mom’s house (Judy Fiduccia, a.k.a. “Nana’s”) to help prepare all of the Thanksgiving food we purchased just 2 days prior. And that’s when I received the gut-wrenching call you never want to get. A haunting call that is now forever ingrained in my mind.  And a sight that no child, regardless of age, should ever see.

Our Nana took her last breath, passing unexpectedly in her home literally one day before Thanksgiving 2020. It was a total shock to us all. She was healthy, mentally stable, no trauma, of sound mind and body, and very much looking forward to Thanksgiving weekend. In fact it was her favorite holiday of the year.

But even though Nana was very excited to spend the next 5 days with us, it turns out her angels had other plans to celebrate the holidays at God’s heavenly table. And after an already tumultuous year, this was like pouring salt mixed in lemon juice on a gaping wound. Her loss hurts more to us than you can imagine.

So by adding this loss to the struggles of 2020, you may ask yourself the same question I ask: “with everything that has happened, WHY do you consider 2020 your ‘best’ year, Joe?”

And my answer is simple: because 2020 gave us time with Nana. Way more than we ever would’ve had in a non-pandemic year. In fact, suffice to say that we spent more time with Nana this year than the past 3 years combined.

2020 has essentially shut everything down in our family. Every business we managed, every friend we would visit, and every place we would travel to was no longer an option. We were forced to stay home 24/7.

So what did we do? The only thing we could do. We spent that time together as a family…myself, my wife, our son, and our Nana.

First off, we were adamant about protecting Nana (and all of us) from COVID. We went into high gear from day one to keep her safe. We did all of her shopping. We ran all of her errands. We sanitized everything that entered her home. We even maintained the house on our own and handled all repairs without the need for 3rd party contractors.

We provided her with enough sanitizer for a lifetime. We showered before seeing or hugging her. Ultimately we went above and beyond to protect her and prevent the spread.

And I am proud to say we succeeded on that front.

But moreover, we spent a lot of time with her. Because both school and work were shut down, instead of spending a two-day weekend with Nana, we would spend a 4-day weekend at her place. When it came to celebrating birthdays, we spanned the celebration across five days instead of just one. In fact we decorated her home with more “special occasion” trinkets, signs and banners than any other year. Even though the only people celebrating would be the four of us.

We created new traditions and holidays. One example being ‘Son’s Day’ in July. Like Mother’s Day, Son’s Day became a chance for us to reflect on the reasons why we love our son. It’s a new annual tradition we started in 2020…and one we still plan on doing every year.

Since we could no longer go out to eat, we also created “Joe’s Java”. Which became our version of an ‘indoor dining’ experience at our home. We would invite Nana here every Friday night, creating beautiful appetizer plates, with menus, wine, and a delicious dinner by music and candlelight. I was the ‘chef/waiter’, and catered to them just as if it were a real restaurant.

Along the same lines, Nana figured out how to create some of our son’s favorite restaurant recipes. These include BBQ wings, KFC chicken, Olive Garden breadsticks and the delicious cinnamon butter from Texas Roadhouse. She just about mastered every single recipe, with my wife Ania watching closely to absorb and master the same recipes.

We were fortunate enough to have a friend visit and setup a photoshoot earlier in the Fall at Nana’s favorite local winery. This would actually become the first family photoshoot we enjoyed together since 2016. And unknown to us at the time, the last we would ever take with Nana.

Because of the added time, we started doing a lot of work and renovations to Nana’s home. We built her a beautiful firepit area in the back yard (and she even helped). We planted a garden again at her house for the first time in 3 years. And we started some major renovations in her basement, bedroom, and bathrooms as a result of deteriorating conditions and failing appliances.

Only some of which we were able to complete before her passing.

But you see, 2020 gave us the gift of TIME with our Nana. Extra time. And not just time, but also MEMORIES. We created so many new memories and traditions together with her. Moments that likely would never have transpired if this was an ordinary year.

Sure, in a non-pandemic era, we would spend time with her. We would visit often. We would celebrate holidays together. But we never would have done everything we did with her this year because quite frankly, time would not have allowed it to happen under normal circumstances.

For those reasons and more, I would like to think we gave Nana a reason to feel happy at a time when happiness was hard to find. Because her world also crumbled as a result of COVID.

For example, she was an avid ballroom dancer that socialized at dances across the region almost weekly. She would host parties at her house regularly that people would drive 90 minutes just to attend. And like everything else, the pandemic brought that to a sudden halt. She was no longer able to get out and just ‘live life’. She was isolated at home.

So we did our best to bring that life into her home. She smiled, she laughed, and she truly enjoyed the moments we created with her. Ultimately I know in my heart that she was happy, and content, at the time of her final breath.

That is why 2020 was also the BEST year of my lifetime. Because it gifted me, my family, and Nana the blessing of extra time. Unbeknown to us, the universe was preparing us for the day in November when her time would end. When the moments we shared with her became memories we would forever cherish. When life would remind us how delicate our souls truly are. And how important it is to live every day like it’s our last.

The pandemic of 2020 has devastated our family. It quickly destroyed any hope we started the year with, it continues to force us into a state of living we are struggling with, and it took away our Nana.

And yet the pandemic of 2020 also blessed our family. It forced us to pause our ‘normal’ way of life, giving us a different perspective on the importance of creating these moments together.  And it gave us the time we with Nana that we would ultimately crave. Time we can sadly never get back.

So thank you 2020…and to the pandemic that changed a generation. You took everything from us. But you can never take away the memories we made as a result. Milestones in our journey that now will last us an eternity.

I hope ALL of you reading this will realize the value of life, and the importance of living it up while you still have an opportunity to do so. Perhaps that is God’s plan with this pandemic all along. To pause life, and to help us realize the true value of living it.

R.I.P. Nana. We miss you. And we love you.

My family – Ania, Ryan, myself, and Nana. Photo courtesy of Frame Life Photography.