This has been a difficult year for everyone. I do not need to catalog the hardships we all have faced. We have lived through this nightmare together. From a personal standpoint, though, this year has easily been the toughest I’ve faced in my 53 years. The challenge of 2020 was amplified for me by the loss in December 2019 of my wife, Barbara, to cancer after 21 years of marriage. So my three teenage boys and I had to endure the shared tragedy of COVID while dealing with our own personal tragedy of the loss of a wife and mother.
The dawn of 2020 was a bleak one for me. I was overwhelmed by saying farewell to a spouse and having to navigate the logistics of unwinding half a lifetime spent together. I worried about addressing the emotional stress of my sons while supporting them as a solo parent in their school, social and personal lives. I had a high school senior who had just learned his early decision college had turned him down. I had finally launched Rise Gardens after several years of R&D and significant investment. Adding to the usual stress of a startup was the constraint that I was not able to be physically or emotionally present in its day-to-day operation. All this occurred before COVID had unleashed its horrors on us all.
I am not sharing this very personal story to elicit sympathy. There will be readers who, no doubt, have suffered their own losses and hardships that equal or exceed mine. We are all too emotionally exhausted to hear another painful story from 2020. I am sharing it as a backdrop for why I am so thankful at the end of this year. For those feeling worn down and depressed from the weight of what transpired in 2020, I offer a hopeful story that life does not travel in one, inevitable direction.
I have come to more fully appreciate what an amazing legacy my late wife left in our three sons. I have a deeper sense of wonder and admiration for my boys now. They have shown remarkable character and strength. My middle son, Peter, said he is using his mother’s passing as inspiration and is excelling in a challenging International Baccalaureate program, while studying Stoicism and teaching himself to code. My youngest, Luca, was humble and quiet throughout his parent-teacher conferences but his teachers were not. They could not say enough about the quality of his schoolwork and how he is the one they call on when they need class participation on zoom classes. He is also learning to code alongside his brother. I just picked up my oldest, Nicholas, from his first semester at Northeastern University where he thrived socially and academically. You can see all my boys in an earlier blog post, including Nicholas enthusiastically celebrating his just-harvested carrots.
Friends and family were incredibly generous and held me up through my darkest hours. We expanded that family in February with Luna, an Australian Labradoodle, who has brought us unalloyed joy on a daily basis. Another number joined our clan when a tired and hungry parakeet landed on our roof. We brought him inside and gave him a companion, so we now have three pets. I also found solace in my indoor garden. There is something deeply joyful about coaxing a seed to grow into a beautiful, robust plant. Tending my garden was a welcomed and soothing daily ritual.
In May of this year an old friend, John Pleasants, introduced me to True Ventures. They are a terrific venture outfit with an astonishing record of success and they strongly impress upon their investees that they expect us to maintain a high ethical standard. They led a round of investment in Rise Gardens, and Amazon Alexa Ventures followed suit to give us the needed capital to grow our business. They have been terrific partners.
I am surrounded by an outstanding team of committed employees. They certainly carried me on more than one occasion and have delivered excellent work. Apparently, our customers agree, as we have consistently received very high ratings on our product. The crack team at Rise Gardens deserves a lot of credit for launching both Family and Personal Rise Gardens to such acclaim and enthusiasm.
And, of course, I’m thankful for our customers. We had a surge of interest in the spring, and we struggled to catch up with demand. Both because we had new manufacturing partners and a supply chain made brittle by COVID-imposed limitations. Our customers were gracious and patient as we took up to nine weeks to fulfill gardens at the height of the demand surge. In spite of that, we had only 2 cancelations of gardens among hundreds sold in the spring. And our customers have stuck with us as we’ve grown our customer support team and scrambled to address their needs. We have enjoyed a remarkable winter as well and we doubled in size in just the last few months.
So, at the close of this year, I have much for which to be grateful. That’s not to say that I haven’t strained under the enormity of all that we have faced collectively and personally. In late August, as I was driving back from dropping my oldest son off at college for the first time, I cracked a tooth from the stress. Another tooth gave way soon thereafter. On many occasions, the stress made sleep elusive. And nothing will bring back the loss that my boys and I experienced, of course. But all this loss and pain has given me a sense of wonder and appreciation for all that is bright and beautiful in my life. I recently ran across a poem by Kahlil Gibran, On Joy and Sorrow, that expresses this sentiment perfectly: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain”. I sincerely hope that whatever loss and pain you have experienced this year can be turned into a reservoir to fill with gratitude for the beauty that remains in your life and hope for what is yet to come.