12/30/2014 10:38 am ET Updated Mar 01, 2015

Turning a Rough Year Into a Happy Ending

There were those years I'd heard people say things like, "I'm so ready for this year to be over." "This year was the worst!" "I can't wait to forget this year." "I don't think one more bad thing can happen to me this year." And honestly, I'd never been able to relate.

Not that I hadn't been through rough years along the way, I just thought that sounded so... well, dramatic. Then in 2011, I realized it was going to be my year. My turn to feel sorry for myself. To focus on all the things that went wrong. To look forward to a fresh start.

But as I started adding up all the heartache, pain and struggle, I realized that if you're going to love deeply and laugh hard, you're going to lose deeply and hurt hard too. So here's how decided to look at 2011. As my year.

In 1976, my dad wished for a little girl with blue eyes. In 2011, he wished the same for me. Both wishes came true.

In 1979, I was given the gift of a baby brother -- with 10 adorable little fingers that formed perfect little fists. (Perfect for making him punch himself in the face, that is.) And in 2011, after a scary accident at work, he still miraculously had all those fingers and continues to use them to make my kids fly, my mom's yard lovely and all the tasty pilsner people will buy.

In 2003, I married my college sweetheart. In 2011, he started an exciting new job. Sure, it had him collecting more frequent flier miles then I cared to count, but it was also the one that lit a fire in him. And I couldn't help but love watching that.

In 2003, I got a job offer that changed my world. It gave me the opportunity to make wonderful friends. To gain newfound confidence in myself, and my writing. To thrive as a professional -- and a mom. And eventually, to move into an entirely new role that allowed me to meet the bloggers who inspired me to take yet another path. So when I was laid off in 2011, I had friends waiting in the wings with more freelance work than I could possibly do and more words of encouragement than I could possibly absorb.

In 2004, my husband and I bought a cute house in a wonderfully kid-oriented neighborhood, figuring it would be a great starter house. In 2011, we didn't get that perfect house down the street we bid on, but we continued to grow into and create new memories in our own home.

In 2005, my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer and given six months to a year to live. In 2011, he became one of the 2%. Yes, only 2% of people with his type of cancer live for more than five years. During that time, he also became 100% infatuated with three grandchildren.

And as if the cancer weren't enough, between 2005 and 2010 he survived a pulmonary embolism, gall bladder surgery, pneumonia multiple times over, major falls and broken bones. Then in January of 2011, he had a massive heart attack, as if to remind us that just when you think you -- your mind, body, spirit -- can't take one more thing, one more thing comes along. And it may shake you, but it doesn't have to break you.

In March of 2006, a baby boy entered my life and made my heart feel like it might burst as he turned my world right side up. In March of 2011, a baby girl made my heart heavy and turned my world upside down by threatening to come too early -- at just 31 weeks. But I see now that she knew. She knew that I needed rest. That I needed to be taken care of rather than being the caretaker. She knew her brothers would have each other -- that my husband would shine as a single-ish dad. She knew my parents could manage weekly visits for just a little while longer. And she knew that she'd been difficult on the inside, so when she joined us on the outside, she was quiet and peaceful -- even angelic at times.

In 2009, my firstborn started preschool. By 2011, we'd both learned more than we could have imagined and celebrated big come "graduation." So big that I fell and separated my tailbone. And while I had to manage the pain from a potato sack race gone awry for quite awhile, I absolutely cherished the fact that I was able to be more a part of my kids' everyday lives that year than ever before.

In 2011, I got a call from my brother. The one I'd dreaded for years. Something was wrong -- really wrong. I knew it would come. In fact, every time the phone rang all those years, a piece of me couldn't help but wonder if this was it. In 2011, I had to tell my sweet, sensitive son that one of his best friends died. In 2011, worry was replaced by a sense of peace. In 2011, two of my dad's friends spoke to hundreds of other friends about the funny, talented, kind, loving man we all adored. In 2011, I was united with family and friends by stories and memories. In 2011, I received an email from a stranger telling me how my dad had touched his life. In 2011, I sat in an elementary school multipurpose room listening to hundreds of kids sing All You Need is Love with tears flowing freely down my face. Because this time, it wasn't my dad on the guitar, but four adorable little boys who are going to grow up to tell their kids and grandkids about how cool they were back in the day. And they were.

I guess what I realized is that no one year stands alone. Somehow they all weave together to create something truly spectacular. So while we can try to wish away all the bad stuff -- to hurry past it and just start over -- there's no such thing as a clean slate. But that's ok, because there's depth. And depth is what makes each of our stories ours alone.

So, if 2014 was your year -- the one you're looking forward to leaving behind -- I hope you're able to find the moments of silver lining. And I wish you many happy memories to come as you build upon the experiences that brought you pain this year.

A version of this post originally appeared on Using Our Words.

Amy Heinz is a San Francisco Bay Area mom of three and the writer behind Using Our Words -- a parenting blog filled with lessons she's learned (usually the hard way), laughs she's enjoyed (mostly at her own expense), and tears she's shed (this mama's got heart). You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.