My 2023 in Review

Bond Wang
8 min readDec 27, 2023

It was a year marked by more vulnerability than strength, more losses than gains.

Photo by Moritz Knöringer on Unsplash

2023 is bound to be a big year in my life, in a way that I can’t wait to see it’s over. For the same reason, I can’t let it pass without a review.

I lost two family members

One on the physical level, the other emotional. My wife passed away in July. It was seven days before the sixth anniversary since she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2017. We cheered around her and looked forward to celebrating the anniversary, as well as her birthday in September. A trick that we’d been using throughout the years, as if we were trying to hold one floating log after another amid raging torrents to hold the hope. The trick came to an end this July.

For many years, my wife and I lived separate lives. One was a rising star in a prominent university in China, the other a boring manager in a struggling factory based in South Korea, our lives were set forth as far as two distant planets. Despite all the efforts in the early years, we never managed to find a common point in our trajectories. We became the familiar strangers” in each other’s life.

Then the diagnosis brought us back together. Out of moral and cultural obligations, we could not find any options otherwise. I was still her husband. She spent most of her time in China, where her employer provided the best treatment in the country. I settled in the U.S.. She came to the U.S. only when the medicine lost its effect and she came to seek the new line of treatment. Separated in two countries and immersed in the grim fight against cancer, our status as “familiar strangers” never really improved. I never got the guts to step out of her life — God forbid I ever would. She needed my help when she was in the U.S.

Then she flew to the U.S. in Dec, 2022. We all had the feeling that it could be the last trip of her life. She ran out of the cancer drugs available on the market. The clinic trials in the U.S. were the last hope.

Dec. 2022 — July 2023, these seven months will provide more nightmares than I would battle against in my whole life. The last three months were especially tough. Every day I watched her slipping to a new point. It felt like hearing the loud crank of a locomotive that reminded us it’d shifted into a new gear of grinding.

After all these years of separation, 2023 turned us into an inseparable duo. The clinic trials, though, kept rejecting us one after the other. She shrank every day, and the ties to her network in China slowly faded away. It was just us, living in our little bubble, isolated and free.

When she was not in pain, we would chat, reminisce about the good ol’ days, work in the backyard, and cook up every fancy food that we could think of. It felt like meeting a “stranger” in 2023. Her desire for life burned blindingly bright, her joy for every new day emitted an irresistible charm.

On a hot summer afternoon in 2023, as I held her hand and watched her exhale her last breath, This message hit me –I had fallen in love with this “familiar stranger” all over again, just like the very first time.

My 2023 will be forever marked by a “seven months’ love”. But as they say, God sends you love, only to have you lose it later.

I lost my son in September. He went off to college but it was more than that. The separation between us earned me the “bad guy” label in my wife’s social circle. In that part of the world, people’s network weaves with public and private lives in a complex web. According to tradition, wives are on the victim's side in family conflicts. It was the right label for me. I didn’t plan to escape it. But apparently, this network included my son, who turned 19 in 2023.

I started to feel the resentment of the “bad guy” in my son’s eyes from his teenage years. His mom’s health condition only added more fuel to the fire. Her passing hit him hard. Then I thought maybe it could bring us closer. But I was wrong.

His college was an eight-hour drive away, and as the move-in day neared, he had a mountain of stuff to pack and documents to get in order. Despite that, he was rarely at home. He asked for my help with moving and driving him to campus, but he didn’t return home until 10 pm the night before we were supposed to leave. He came with another car, telling me to transfer the luggage to his friend’s car. It turned into a big fight, and he left with his luggage in his friend’s car. I haven’t heard from him ever since.

Pic Source: The Author

I believe 2023 was one of the tough years when my mental health was put to the ultimate test. The last time I felt this level of despair was back in 2017 — first, I lost my cushy job, and then, two months later, my wife got hit with a cancer diagnosis. But truth be told, nothing comes close to the pain of watching life slip away, especially when it fades in that slow, gnawing agony.

There Were Beautiful Memories Too in 2023

1, I lost two people but got God back. When the pandemic hit, I stopped going to church. The caregiver’s bitterness pushed me further into a “Why me?” mood. But after my wife passed away, there were so many mysterious things that I found myself obsessively searching for answers, spending hours connecting dots that led nowhere.

I realized I must stop it before it took a toll on my mental health. Turning to God seemed like the natural choice — something many do in tough times. And you know what? He never disappoints. God provides answers to questions that social intelligence simply can’t unravel.

2, If there’s one person in the world who could instantly wipe away the “bad guy” label from my face, it would be my mom. Amid all the pain and hopelessness in 2023, I found myself calling her way too often. She was always there. The irony? My mother’s hearing loss was worsening rapidly, so I had to yell into the phone, often losing my voice by the time we hung up. I’ll always remember those nights in 2023 when I tried to find a secret corner while talking to her, just in case others in the house thought I was in the midst of a heated argument.

I often asked my mom, “Am I really the bad guy? Do you believe in me because I am your son or because of the person that I am? ” Her answer was always the latter. I may never know the right answer. She was the light in the darkness in my 2023.

3, I got my Toastmasters DTM title in October. Four and a half years since I started the journey. For those who know it, it’s quite an achievement. Well on my road to getting the second one in 2024.

4, I picked up coding after more than two decades. To better serve my role as the VPPR in a couple of Toastmasters, I dived into some Frontend webpage projects. Big help to my mental health in 2023. One Saturday I spent ten hours on the screen and it felt like ten seconds. I have got certificates in HTML, CSS, and Javascript at Freecodecamp.org, took courses of Bootstrap, REACT, Redux, and Typescript, and set up several online projects using Javascript and REACT. Now I am stuck on a project using REACT. I need more code training in 2024.

5, Career. I opened my Airbnb business in September. The bookings are rolling in, but a major water damage incident in one of the rooms threw a curveball, leading to a two-week repair project. Luckily, my house insurance came to the rescue; otherwise I might’ve been on the brink of bankruptcy. The wild ride of the stock market in 2023 almost brought me back on track with my stocks. I’m not fully in the clear, but at least I can take a deep breath now.

My career plan? I am still lost in 2023. I will leave it to 2024.

6, Workout finally became a routine in 2023. They say to tackle grief you need to keep yourself busy both mentally and physically. Much like my decision to go back to church and delve into coding, I found myself drawn to the little fitness corner in the garage every afternoon.

7, Content creation. In 2023 I managed to stay on track for my reading, writing, and graphic design pursuits. The one-hour reading time every morning is priceless. After accepting that it might not be the way for me to make money from writing at this time, I continued at a slower pace throughout the year. In the meantime, I also delved into more copywriting, particularly for the social media accounts I managed for my Toastmasters clubs.

I grew my digital marketing skills, especially in using the tools like ChatGPT and Canva. I came to realize that the creator’s block is never caused by the lack of tools. I have heard too much among my colleagues that claim “I don’t know this tool……that tool”. At the end of the day, it’s always about ideas and personal touch. Don’t worry about AI, you will be replaced by smarter people way before you are replaced by AI.

Looking back, 2023 was a big year for me. It was a year marked by more vulnerability than strength, more losses than gains. Fear has never been more visible. As the last few days of 2023 wind down, I’m thrilled that it’s coming to an end. It seems 2024 can only be a rebound from the rock bottom. I am so excited.

I remember one day in Sept of 2023 when I was cleaning the house to kick off the Airbnb business. With two people no longer in the house, I found myself hearing the hustle and bustle of all these years behind all the doors. Meanwhile the silence in the air felt daunting. Only a few days later, as the Airbnb guests checked in, the house came back to all its familiar hustle and energy,

This is life. It can’t stay still forever.

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Bond Wang

Forget injuries, never forget kindness. Hey, I write about life, culture, and daydreams. Hope I open a window for you, as well as for myself.