The Worst Day

September 18, 2019

I should have known that it was a metaphor. June 10. The day was miserable from the moment I woke up. For June it was chilly. Torrential downpours, unrelenting all day. I was off to work to a day of meetings and more meetings – something I always dreaded because I had always felt that days like this were at once exhausting and unproductive. My husband was happily ensconced at home. While his health wasn’t great, he was in a good place and he was content. We had a nice routine and things were going along swimmingly. Both our daughters were now living in the south, just twenty miles or so apart. Younger daughter was a newlywed of less than a year and older daughter had just returned to work after the birth of baby #4, whom I will call “Baby J,” a sweet little boy. Hubby and I had been surprised when daughter and son-in-law had announced that Baby J was on the way. They already had two boys and when their third was a daughter, we felt sure they were “done.” But, if any couple is meant to be parents, these two are. They have so much love to give and in my daughter’s words “we just thought, why not add to the chaos?” We all happily anticipated the new addition.

And so, Baby J arrived without fanfare on March 2, but this is not to say he wasn’t loved; because we all adored him. His siblings were so excited and showered him with attention. The grandparents were thrilled of course. And the icing on the proverbial cake was that his middle name was my husband’s name, something that brought my hubby to tears, that’s how proud he was and how he and Baby J seemed to have a special bond from the very beginning. And, as my daughter had alluded, the chaos heightened. When you are child number four, there is no down time; in fact, it’s always go time. By a couple weeks of age, Baby J was going to baseball and soccer games with his siblings, the grocery store, church, you name it. A couple months after he was born, he even got on a plane to visit family in Colorado and there are photos to prove that strapped to his mother’s chest, he hiked in the Rockies. The kid was leading a pretty phenomenal existence. And he had so many people to care for him, teach him, love him and protect him. What a great life. It was a life he led with a perpetual smile. Such a sweet, sweet smile and amazingly sweet disposition. He never seemed to be unhappy. He gave all of us pure, unmitigated joy. And while he didn’t know it, he had so much to look forward to with the family that he had. His was a blessed life.

And then, he died. Just like that. No warning. No illness. No accident. He simply died. Baby J went down for a nap and did not wake up. On a chilly June day with torrential downpours. The call came through to the executive secretary’s desk outside the conference room where I was in my third meeting of the day. It was mid-afternoon. I was summoned out of the meeting by the secretary that there was an emergency call from my daughter. I typically did not bring my cell phone into meetings. Lesson learned. Now it never leaves me. The moment I heard my daughter’s anguished words through her inconsolable tears, I knew in that one moment that our lives had forever been altered. “Mom, Baby J died.” Seen in black and white, one cannot appreciate the level of anguish in her sobs. It was heart wrenching. I was 360 miles away and there was nothing I could do to ease this nightmare for her. Frankly the miles between us had nothing to do with it. A mother always wants to take away her child’s pain. In this case, I was useless, regardless if I was in the same room or on the phone.

The next several hours are a blur. I ran back to my office to call my husband. It was the hardest call I ever had to make and what I had to tell him was something I truly wished I didn’t have to do by telephone, but because we needed to hit the road ASAP, it would be the most efficient, because several things needed to be accomplished before starting the drive south. My husband, “Grandpa” was devastated and kept saying he wished God had taken him instead. And I know he meant it. He loved that little boy so much. The drive down that night was treacherous – heavy rains, hydroplaning, poor visibility – all interspersed with our conversation, tears and often painful silences. The theme was WHY? And WHAT? WHY would God do this to our daughter and son-in-law who are two of the best people we know and WHAT can we do to help them get through this? We had to get through it too, but we needed to focus on them first and foremost. Each of us silently pleaded for strength. And clung to each other throughout the days we spent down south and thereafter. It’s a pain like no other.

As ugly as the weather was on that most awful of days, the subsequent days we spent down there were absolutely stunning with warm temperatures and bright skies. Baby J’s death also brought out the very best in people. Friends, neighbors, co-workers and even complete strangers enveloped Baby J’s family with love, support, food, and much needed alcohol. And there was so much to do as anyone who has had to prepare a funeral knows. And, thanks to organization, and many hands on-deck, we got it done. I had one small melt-down at the neighborhood pharmacy picking up a few prescriptions for my daughter. Her doctor had also called in a prescription for a sleeping aid, which because it was a controlled substance, needed prior insurance authorization and so Mr. Pharmacist refused to release the prescription to me. At this point, our little Baby J had been gone for three days, the viewing was scheduled for the next day and the funeral the following day, and my daughter essentially had not had any useful or restful sleep. I told him firmly what had happened and all he needed to give me was enough to get us through the next three or four days and we could wait on the rest and that I wasn’t going to leave until I had four pills. He initially stood his ground, but this stubborn Irishman stood hers with such a glare on her face which I guess was intimidating because it worked. I walked out of the pharmacy with what we needed to give my daughter some much needed sleep for the days ahead.

One thing that struck me during this time was that daughter and son-in-law, while dealing with this unthinkable loss, were always making sure that the other was doing OK. This has always been the hallmark of their marriage and something I have always admired. They also made it a point to spend one-on-one time with Baby J’s siblings who were having a difficult time grasping the finality of this tragedy. Like I said, they are exceptional parents. I also need to mention my younger daughter and her husband here. She and her sister have always been best friends and for that I have always been grateful. She and her hub truly were the best support system for them during the early days of this nightmare and going forward. They love their nieces and nephews and provided a much-needed distraction for them when Baby J’s parents needed some alone time. I love them for that.

The visitation and funeral mass were jam-packed, I believe a testament to the kind of people my daughter and son-in-law are and the impact they have had on their community, but let’s face it, the death of a three-and-a-half-month-old baby touches everyone in a palpable way, an incredibly sad way. The hymns, the scriptures, the eulogies (delivered by Baby J’s mommy and daddy) were heart-wrenching and beautiful. It was truly a celebration of life – a short life, but a life of meaning and a life that touched all those who loved him.

That was six years ago. He would be starting first grade now. Baby J will always be that smiling little boy who would squeal in delight when his brothers made him laugh. This should not have happened, but I don’t have the right to question God’s plan. It happened. The horror of that day will never leave. I wish I could have done more to ease my daughter’s pain, but I know she doesn’t feel that way. We all remember that debilitating nightmare and somehow can still find joy in our lives again. We must, or we will wither up and have no purpose. But we will never forget it, because it was the worst day.

Bruno, Birds, Bar Stools and Bee Stings

September 3, 2019

What can you say about an 11-pound ball of fur who is so full of anxiety that a Valium that could “take down a horse” in the words of his vet, was intimidated, that is if Valium were capable of feelings, and thus rendered useless? Bruno is my dog, though a couple of my brothers would argue that he is a rodent. One brother defines a REAL dog as one “who can kill me but chooses not to.” Bruno came to me through a rescue organization. I am a strong proponent of dog rescue. I will not go to a breeder. I am not here to disparage those who use breeders, but I would rather share my home with a creature who otherwise might end up euthanized. Plus, there are some adorable pups to be found and usually they are so grateful to be chosen. It’s as if they possess a sixth sense that this may be their last chance. My family and I have always had pets. At one time, we had two dogs and four cats. Hats off to my husband, the saintly one, because he was deathly allergic to cats and yet tolerated these annoying little shitheads for several years. I do love kittens, but when they grow into cats, I almost want to lock my door at night because I fear they are plotting my death. Cats are never grateful. They have a sense of entitlement that annoys the crap out of me. “Oh, you’re home? Get me dinner, now, bitch.” (I know all my cat-owner friends and relatives are now hissing at me. You have always known this about me, so quit whining. Try becoming cold and unfeeling like your cats.) Whereas with dogs, you’re gone for ten minutes to take a shower and they are overjoyed that “you came back, Mommy, you came back!” Bruno’s sense of abandonment is palpable. When I return home, it takes me several minutes to talk him off the cliff and get his blood pressure down to a non-life-threatening level with assurances that “Mommy isn’t going anywhere else today.”

About six months before my husband died, we had to make the difficult decision to put down our final pet, a 15-year-old long-haired Chihuahua, who was both blind and incontinent, and frankly miserable. But he was my hubby’s buddy. In fact, we had a standing joke. I had said to him: “Gun to your head, you, the dog, and I are stranded on a desert island and you could only save one of us, whom would you choose?” He thought for a moment and said with a not well disguised smirk “well, you’ve had a good life.” I think I told him he was an asshole after that and possibly withheld sex, but you get the picture—he loved that damn dog. I had seen the dog’s deterioration while my husband was recuperating in rehab, but I wanted him to make the decision. And as painful as it was, it was pretty easy—and obvious. The animal was suffering and deserved not to be. And frankly for me, as my husband’s caregiver, one less burden made things a bit easier for all concerned. So, a few days later, we gave him a peaceful end to a good life and shed some tears at his absence. Not seeing him in his favorite spot on my hub’s lap was a bit of a shock and in retrospect in some small way prepared me for my husband’s absence a few short months later. To those without four-legged family members, you will never understand the huge presence and comfort our pets provide and when they leave us the profound void that remains.

Now for Bruno, a nine-year-old short-haired Chihuahua. My daughter found him on a rescue site she and I had both been trolling. I had been widowed for about a year and the timing was good. But I kept trying to talk myself out of it. Owning a dog is a commitment. I will give this to cats – they are easier, smarter, and cleaner. Dogs require walking, an outside space to “do their business” and they generally enjoy/require human interaction. Ultimately, after meeting Bruno and being interviewed by the rescue folks, I knew I had to have him. The only problem was that there were at least four other families who were of the same mind. In the end, my charming and guileless personality won them over. Or did I get the pity vote? Or was it because Bruno seemed to need someone who would be there for him more than they were able? It certainly wasn’t by what the rescue people witnessed. Bruno wouldn’t even look at me. He was petrified. Somehow, once I was chosen and they brought him to his new home, it didn’t take long (read 18 hours) for Bruno to warm up to his new Mommy. Either I’m a cheap date, or he is just that needy. I choose to believe the latter, though some of my former boyfriends might argue the first, but that’s for a different discussion and vodka will need to be involved – but I digress.

Because I adopted a rescue, I have little to no information on Bruno (a Chihuahua who believes he is a Rottweiler) and his history, which means I can’t put my finger on or formulate a theory as to why he is so neurotic. The irony is that while other dogs freak out over thunder, lightning, fireworks and other loud noises, Bruno is totally CHILL. He simply doesn’t care, in fact, he seems fascinated by it. BUT, if I leave for a few hours, he loses his shit – sometimes literally. The separation anxiety is unmistakable. There are times it wears on me and I want to yell at him to calm the hell down, but I realize that won’t help but will rather compound his problem. The bottom line is I love the little dude. He is a diva in so many ways. Yes, he sleeps in my bed. He has his own pillow and doesn’t move all night. Sometimes he snores and it’s adorable. I’m not sure why I didn’t feel that way about my hub’s snoring; oh, that’s right, his snoring was akin to the sound of a herd of buffalo running across a frozen fjord during a hurricane while dragging a thousand cinder blocks behind them. Bruno’s is more like a cute little vibrating chirp. His favorite place is on my lap. If I am reading, he may suddenly decide that he’s done with that and will use his head to push the book or Kindle out of the way so that I can give all my attention to him. If I am on my laptop, for instance, writing my blog, the same thing may happen, though his method of showing his annoyance is to nip at my thigh. He’s a turd, but he’s my turd and I adore him. Bruno is my dude and came into my life at the perfect time. He was a distraction initially as I navigated living without my husband. Since then he has become that sweet soul who makes me smile every day and who has a firm grip on my heart. I can’t imagine my life without the little pain in the ass.

Since this is a sort of stream of consciousness blog, I need to quickly mention the other topics in the header. So, let’s move on to BIRDS. Before I moved down south, I had nine bird feeders and enjoyed watching the many varieties of feathered creatures congregating to enjoy the appropriate foods I provided. Moving to my new home, I decided to keep it simple (and cheaper) and put up one feeder. Unfortunately, the birds were boring. I almost looked up on my bird identification app to see if there was a “boring bird” species. There were female cardinals, an occasional male cardinal, a robin here and there, and once or twice a nuthatch, but rarely anything that sparked my attention or was visually interesting. All it took to add more diversity and birds of color was to buy a second feeder and a different feed, thistle to be exact, to attract goldfinches. The quality and quantity has improved considerably. Sitting outside with a cup of coffee early in the morning is the perfect time to quietly watch these wondrous creatures visit the feeders partaking of the repast you have provided and singing their melodies of joy. I highly recommend it. It’s relaxing. It’s therapeutic. It’s restorative. It truly provides a sense of well-being.

We come to BAR STOOLS. As a woman who lives alone and often goes out alone, I have learned to become more comfortable sitting at a bar alone. It’s not always easy. I don’t consider myself a so-called “single” woman. I still feel married, still wear my wedding band. I am perfectly happy with my life and am not searching for “someone.” I do have permission from my crazy friend, who told me I could not identify her even with an initial, but that in a future blog, to tell the story of how she signed me up for a bunch of dating websites. It took me almost a year to straighten that mess out. Thank you, my friend whose name starts with one of those 26 letters. You gave me a lot to laugh about, lightened my bank account, gave me fodder for a lot of alcohol-fueled conversations (and future blogs) and a real questioning of some of the freaks out there in the dating world. One more thing about sitting at a bar alone. I am just there to have a drink and an appetizer. I have no agenda. I don’t have the energy for that. After I leave, I will likely go home and go to bed – with Bruno.

BEE STINGS. I was stung by a bee this morning – twice. The little bastard wasn’t satisfied stinging me once; he came back and got me again in a different location on the same arm, as I was filling the aforementioned birdfeeders. Or maybe it was his wife or disgruntled mistress who got me the second time. Can the same bee sting you twice? I know people can. I don’t know, it just hurt.

So, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. Time to pour a glass of wine, put my feet up, wait for Bruno to jump on my lap – and just BE.

Ch..Ch..Ch..Changes

August 16, 2019

Earlier this week, my grandson started high school. I wasn’t there, but I am guessing his mother, my firstborn, bit her bottom lip and fought back a tear or two. When I saw the photos she posted, I know I did. This handsome boy, who isn’t too cool to still give me a big hug when he sees me or tell me “I love you, Grandma” was off to his next adventure in this thing we call life. He and his new classmates divest themselves of another parental restraint and test new waters while their parents hope and possibly pray that they don’t screw it up. I remember those feelings. When our children hit certain milestones, their Dad and I were sure we had done all we could to prepare them, knowing that we would be there to help them pick up the pieces if needed, but ultimately, they had to carry the load. It was on them. We changed our guiding message as they grew, adjusting it to be age appropriate. “Listen to teacher.” “Use kind words.” “Be good to one another.” “Make good choices.” “Don’t be an idiot.” “If I find out you are (Insert appropriate bad, possibly illegal behavior here.) you will regret it.” “Don’t measure your worth by whether you have a man on your arm.” “Always treat others as you want to be treated.” “If you’ve been drinking, call anytime and we will pick you up, no questions asked.” “This is a home, not a restaurant. Eat what’s being served, or don’t eat. Nothing but water until breakfast.” “It’s not my job to make your existence a fairy tale. Quit your whining. Life is hard. Get used to it.” And my personal favorite: “You better hope the cops get to you before I do.” The list goes on; you get the picture.

So, as I thought about my grandson this week and how he will be navigating new situations, it brought me to my own. After a health scare late last year (separate blog), I made the decision (though the bossier of my two children would beg to differ, claiming it was hers) that it was time to relocate. So, I did. I left the Northeast for the Southeast. No more snow (or very little), warmer (read often stifling) temperatures, slightly cheaper (but not really) cost of living, and a place where everyone calls me “Ma’am.” I arrived in April, Tax Day to be exact, and in some ways, I feel like my 14-year-old high school freshman grandson. The first few weeks, I didn’t know anyone, except for those to whom I was related. I didn’t know my way around, and honestly, I had a real sense of trepidation. And, I didn’t have my partner, my husband, which would have made this new life a lot more fun, because we could do it together. Have I told you that losing your spouse really sucks? It’s been almost four years and some days I swear it’s harder than it was four years ago. I wish I knew why. But I digress.

I had lived in the same place for close to 40 years. Moving and downsizing was a reminder that “stuff” doesn’t make you happy. Get rid of it. What is her name? Marie Kondo? This woman comes in a tiny package of determination to help us get rid of “stuff.” I was never one for accumulating a lot of things, but my husband was, so when we initially started the downsizing process a little over four years ago, it was certainly a daunting task. His health issues had hampered his ability to walk and see and he was quite weak. Thankfully, my daughters and their wonderful husbands took on the gargantuan job of purging the crap out of our large family home. And I am here to tell you, it was a job. They got it done over a long weekend and we were in great shape; a huge dumpster and countless trips to Goodwill notwithstanding. Two weeks later he died. So, a southern expedition was put on hold. I wasn’t ready to make that change without my love. The very thought of doing it by myself gave me angina and a sense of profound loneliness. Fast forward three years and my health scare (a separate blog, I promise) and suddenly I realized that the decision was essentially made for me due to circumstances over which I had little control. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. Change was coming.

So, here I am in the sunny south. All the boxes are unpacked. My place is beginning to feel like home. I am learning my way around and beginning to make some friends. On the friends’ front, it’s likely that my big mouth has helped. I am a people person for sure. I like people and I think/hope people like me.  Yes, I did “audition” several bars/restaurants to see which one would be a suitable replacement for my dear friends at home who always made me feel special and not like a single woman on the prowl (another blog) because she sits alone at the bar. To my good fortune, I found “my place” and I couldn’t be happier, and I have met some lovely people. I have met a few neighbors who are pleasant, seem to get my snarky humor and have welcomed me with open arms. I joined a Rotary Club; again, after auditioning several and feel very much at home and look forward to getting my hands dirty doing some good works for my new community. The biggest trauma for me was finding a new hair salon. I have been using the same stylist for 20 years. She was 19 and fresh out of school when we became a couple. She just turned 40. I will never get over our divorce. Neither of us wanted it and we still email and text. It’s very painful. I love you, Suzanne! New doctors have been procured, a new vet for my rescue Chihuahua, who believes he is a Rottweiler, groceries, pharmacy, malls, you name it. I am still finding my way and trying to achieve a level of comfort in my “new normal.” (I hate these clichés and of course, you guessed it, will be addressing such in a separate blog.)

So, as my adorable 14-year-old grandson is learning to adapt to all the changes in his life, I on some level, can relate. This semi-adorable 69-year-old grandmother is also learning to adapt, albeit slowly to all the Ch..Ch..Ch..Changes in hers. With apologies to David Bowie.

Mom

August 1, 2019

When I was younger, my mother and I had what I would call a cordial relationship. I wouldn’t say we were close. It wasn’t adversarial, but there was unquestionably a polite chasm between us. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just “was.” I knew she loved me and had my back if I ever needed her. She was the proverbial tigress with her cubs. Don’t mess with her. I always admired my mom, but from a distance. I had an inordinate respect for her and all she endured and always wished she knew how strong she was. She constantly protested that she wasn’t. I recently saw a post on Facebook, and I paraphrase: “If I could be half the woman my mother was, I am doing well” or something to that effect. In fact, and I mean this, if I could be ten percent the human being my mom was, I would be an exemplary human being. Let me explain.

My mother was born and raised in New York City. She came from a privileged background, meaning she grew up wanting for nothing and enjoying all the comforts a young girl could, but that doesn’t mean hers was a life without drama. She had virtually no relationship with her own mother until she was an adult and that possibly explains much about her own issues. Her father was a wealthy attorney who married a woman from the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks.” I don’t know the details of their “courtship,” but I have my suspicions. Suffice it to say, “Grandma” was never accepted by the family. The marriage produced two children, my mom and her older brother, my ne’er-do-well uncle who not only looked like his father but also inherited his charming personality and addiction to alcohol. As could have been predicted, the marriage didn’t last and the unlikely couple divorced, which, back in the early 1920s, wasn’t a common step to take. Soon after, my grandfather’s battle with the bottle claimed his life and my mother and uncle were taken in by their two maiden aunts who were deemed more suitable to raise them than their rough-around-the-edges mother. Mom and her brother rarely saw her after that. I think my mom was barely four years old. With her aunts, she grew up pampered, but always kind, sweet, and lovely. That was her nature. But given the life she led, she never understood adversity, what with the finer things in life, private schools, beautiful clothes, exposure to New York City culture, museums and the landed gentry. Even with the advent of World War II, she never really experienced any hardships. This is just how her life was. And then on a rainy Christmas Eve towards the end of the war, while volunteering at a USO reception for lonely enlisted men, she met him, the man who would become her husband and the father of her children – ten children. It was at that moment that her life took a course that forever changed the future that she likely had envisioned from her protected and oh so insulated world of privilege.

A little background: My father grew up one of eight children in the hardscrabble coal and railroad region of western Pennsylvania. It was a far cry from Mom’s world. It was the quintessential Irish Catholic family where the father was in charge and the mother was deferential to his needs showing her support with the slightest hint of submissiveness, and, let’s be real here, his word was law. That’s just how it was in those days. And unfortunately, many fathers in those days were, shall we say, a bit wanting in the showing emotions department and communicated that attribute to their sons. There were no declarations of love and little expressions of empathy. You just suck it up and move on. My grandmother lost three children before they turned age two. How heart wrenching that must have been for her and I am sure she had to suffer in silence for many years. She did have a tremendous Catholic faith, which I do know gave her tremendous comfort. My father was her final child and due to some health issues and a serious injury, a baby nurse was hired to assist her with his care. Unfortunately, this nurse was not a good person and rather than do what was expected of her and provide excellent care and a nurturing environment, she spiked Dad’s formula with paregoric to “encourage” sleep. Later as a toddler, my dad, who was born left-handed, cruelly had his left hand tied to his highchair to force him to use his right. I realize that may have been the “fashion” of the times, but I will never understand the reasoning behind the need to “cure” someone of something that is just natural. I also truly believe that it contributed to some of Dad’s anger issues. I am not here to bash my dad, but I want to present a clear picture of what my mom experienced.

So, after a courtship and with stars in their eyes, they married in a fancy Manhattan wedding. Mom’s mother was not invited, which will give you an idea how much of a relationship they DIDN’T have. And the merging of two wildly divergent families came to be. Dad from a loud, often brash family (except for Grandma) who worked hard for everything they had and were very patriarchal; and then there was Mom, who had no strong male role models, from a family where she felt love every day, where she was constantly told how special she was and where she lived the life of those to the manor born. Not a care in the world, and honestly, at least on the surface, she was ill equipped to handle any real trials and adversities. Well, I am here to tell you, she did and then some. She put us all to shame and as I said at the beginning of this blog, I will always be in awe of this woman I called Mom.

I have often said jokingly that I inherited all my positive personal traits from my mom (empathy, being a people person, helpfulness, compassion) and my less than stellar traits from Dad (being judgmental, though I am definitely improving, sometimes I don’t think before I speak, and I speak too loudly, though I attribute that to a possible hearing loss, and being bossy—just ask my beleaguered siblings, though being the oldest of ten, perhaps I was forced into this situation). The bottom line is they were, first and foremost, just two people who loved each other and were taking a shot at this thing called marriage. Being a Catholic family in the fifties, babies kept coming and coming. As the oldest of this tribe, I was thrust into a caregiving role at a very young age. It was a necessity. Our family worked as a team. Despite so many humans under one roof, it was always organized. There was never a question, however, that Dad was in charge. He ruled the roost and his word was law. It wasn’t always easy or without conflict and I believe it shaped his children’s own childrearing principles. He was a good man, but honestly, I don’t think he was of the right temperament to raise ten children. The pressure was unforgiving. Imagine being the breadwinner for a crew this size.

My mother was at the heart and was the heart of this motley crew. And she never had a moment to herself. If she wasn’t expecting a baby, she was caring for a baby or a toddler—well into her late forties.  It was no wonder that she battled her demons including depression and anxiety throughout her life. There was never enough money, but she made sure her kids, especially her daughters were well dressed. She was a great cook, though to this day, I refuse to eat Spam or anything with the word “helper” attached to it. But she soldiered on and I always marveled at her tenacity, her kindness, her willingness to always put herself last and despite her protestations, exhibit a strength that belied her belief to the contrary.

I could fill a book with the experiences that shaped Mom’s life and hastened her death. She had tragedies that would test a saint, but she somehow made them her own. She lost two sons both at relatively young ages. One died at age 27 of leukemia in very quick fashion. I can still hear her wails in the hospital. She was inconsolable. And she was never the same. The other son died several years later, at age 45, of a heart attack exacerbated by his addictions. My parents had done all they could to help him as they themselves were frail and in their eighties. It was very tough to watch. At that point, I believe, Mom gave up. Two years later, she was gone. Her funeral was a testament to her life and the people she touched, because the church was packed. She never met a stranger. She loved everyone. She loved to dance, especially at our crazy extended family weddings. She had a penchant for mispronouncing common words: Liza Minnelli became LISA Minnelli; Princess Diana was Princess DIANE; Tom Brokaw was Tom BRACKOW and on and on. And she was hilarious. Her New York accent came out at will. “Too bad about cha self.” “I’ll have a cuppa cawfee.” And while we all knew that Dad was in charge and we had better toe the line, once in a while Mom would get him with one of her zingers. They were in a crowd of friends somewhere and she was leaving him to go elsewhere and he shouted after her “Good-bye mother of ten.” And she turned, and ever so sweetly replied, “Good-bye father of eight.”

But, most of all she loved her children and did her best to make each of us feel special. And I think we all did. I mentioned at the beginning that we had what I referred to as a cordial relationship. It never really bothered me too much unless I saw friends with more intimate connections with their mothers. But to be fair, their mothers didn’t have the challenges my mom did.  And while we were never “close” as I mentioned in the beginning, I remember one incident that still makes me smile. I was barely fourteen and had just been awarded a scholarship to a private, Catholic girls’ high school. My father was thrilled. My mother would have preferred that I had accepted the scholarship, and a full scholarship at that, to a private school nearby that was home to the best, most wealthy families, had no religious affiliation and was shall we say, “old money.” Even at fourteen, I knew I didn’t belong there and so, I accepted a less generous partial scholarship to the more familiar, yet still rather exclusive, Catholic school. As was the practice in those days, scholarship winners were honored, along with their mothers at a welcome tea prior to the start of the school year. Now, mind you, I was an outsider. I was entering this school in the ninth grade. Many of the girls had been there since preschool and were continuing a long family tradition of attending the same school as their great grandmothers. Not me. I was fresh meat. I didn’t realize that made me “less than.” As I stood there trying to look sophisticated as I nibbled on a cookie, I recall a woman approaching me and peppering me with questions, because she had no idea who I was. As I politely answered, she eventually said in an obviously even to this pretty naïve 14-year-old, patronizing tone something to the effect of that I was a “first generation and not a legacy.” OK, whatever. As we were getting into the car to drive home, I can still visualize Mom, with a Kent cigarette hanging out of her mouth as she shifts the car into reverse and backs out. I asked her, “Mommy, what did that lady mean when she said that to me?” And Mom, in her best New York accent and attitude, told me, “Honey, if her daughter is anything like her, you’d better be careful, because she thinks she’s better than you. So, watch yourself. Kill the little bitch with kindness.” She took a drag and shifted into drive and drove home. That was Mom. She was the best. And I don’t hold a candle to her.

Atrophy and Divestiture go hand in hand

July 15, 2019

“Hmmm,” she said, with a look of unhurried but oh so professional concern, “it looks like we have some atrophy down here.” First of all what’s this “we” bullshit? I’m the one who has assumed the position, disrobed and shed all dignity and placed my legs into the medical pony stirrups, not you, sister! And, secondly, and, OH SO IMPORTANT, why the hell are you using the word “atrophy” while you’re looking at my nether regions, you perky little sycophant??? I know you have student loans, but please don’t try to impress me with your body of work. I took a shower for this? Get your face out of my lady parts and let’s just move on, shall we? Don’t insult the body part that has proudly produced two outstanding human beings, one without benefit of pain meds. It’s been around awhile so maybe it’s not as youthful as it once was. Neither is the rest of me. Do not insult it or me by using that awful word or various derivations. Atrophy implies it’s dying a slow death. I refuse to accept that.

So, my point is it’s hard enough losing your spouse after years of marriage. It’s a terrible adjustment on so many levels, but when you are hit in the face with your “new normal” (another modern cliché I absolutely abhor) when you’re just minding your own business and a perky little 30 year old catches you in a vulnerable position where you can’t simply run away, you know, because you’re naked and all that,  it’s a royal pain in the ass. Well, to be anatomically correct, it’s a royal pain in the va-jay-jay, the hoo-ha, the whatever you choose to call it. (Please feel free to provide me with additional synonyms) I warned you early on, this was going to be a “don’t get your panties in a wad” blog, so if you are offended by my choice of words, please move on. Actually, in this case, my panties were actually in a wad with the rest of my clothing during the exam. I’m pretty snarky today. Must be the booze.

After I left the gynecologist’s office, a uro-gynecologist at that (any men reading this, for your information, women our age have special gynecologists, because we have special needs.) making sure to give extra care to my sure-to-die-at-any-moment womanly region, I began to understand that while the declaration by that adorable, but annoying nurse practitioner barely out of puberty, that an important part of my sexuality was getting dusty, stiff and could disintegrate at any moment hit me hard, but it also brought back some great memories, memories that will sustain me as I and my “thing” continue to age, but NOT atrophy. Perhaps the memories, and they were great memories that continue to sustain me, will breathe some life back into the old girl. My lady parts have served me well. Perhaps I have premature atrophy as a result of overuse. My daughters are reading this now and probably saying “OMG, Mom, you are so disgusting.” Don’t care. I know certain friends are cheering me on.

The atrophy diagnosis made me revisit the last six months. I relocated to be closer to my kids and grandkids which meant divesting myself of a lot of “stuff.” In essence the stuff had atrophied my existence and was a metaphor for what I no longer needed or wanted. With the help of my daughters and their husbands, I was able to get rid of so many unnecessary objects and things that were simply weighing me down. I was no longer using them and therefore I stepped away from them and never looked back. It was exceedingly freeing. I am not equating furniture, clothing, kitchen gadgets and other dust catchers with the very precious womanly parts my sister friends and I all possess, but it’s a reminder to all of us to appreciate what is really important in life. It’s not the designer handbags, the expensive shoes or the $600 bottle of wine. It’s that vintage part of you that still works like a charm – your brain and your heart. The rest is just an added bonus. My lady parts are fine, thank you very much. And I, for one, refuse to use the word, atrophied. I prefer to use the words aged to perfection.

When the Music Stops

July 5, 2019

As I cleaned up my kitchen this morning, the aftermath of food prep from yesterday’s barbecue, it brought me to this blog. Once the visitation and funeral are over, the last relative has left town, and you have miraculously found space for yet another baked ziti in the freezer, (a quick and merciful aside: when providing food for a grieving family or anyone in need, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, lay off the ziti, lasagna, manicotti, or anything similar! I think I speak for everyone when I say while we appreciate it and recognize that it’s an easy and cost-effective option, it begins to cause a serious gag reflex. I kid you not. Too much of a good thing, folks. After eating the same thing representing varying degrees of culinary aptitude, one begins to loathe anything with a noodle and tomato sauce. Consider a simple meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Perhaps some chicken? A breakfast casserole is nice. Even a gift card would help soothe those pizza cravings. Anything, dear God, anything, but baked ziti! OK?)

But I digress. As I began to put my kitchen back in order and return to normal, I thought back to the day after my husband’s funeral, when my daughter and her family were preparing for the long drive home. The car was loaded, the cooler was packed, and the kids were ready for the trek down I-95. Normally, my son-in-law is the first to kiss and hug me goodbye but this time he hung back until only he and I were left in the house. He told me that he was loathe to ever offer anyone advice because he hated it when people offered him unsolicited words of wisdom. But he, having experienced an unthinkable loss that affected our family a few years earlier (another blog, another time) wanted me to be prepared for something that was sure to occur and it would occur sooner rather than later. What he said was simple, and of course, I paraphrase: “You have a lot of people who care about you and many have demonstrated that in the last week or so. You will be the most popular girl in the room – for about a month. Then life goes on.” I knew exactly what he meant. And I thought I was prepared for it. I wasn’t naïve enough or self-centered enough to think that those who were so good to me didn’t have to return to their own lives and their own responsibilities. It’s life after all. I have done it myself. I have been helpful and solicitous to someone I care about who has lost a relative or is having surgery or just needs a helping hand for a while. That’s what we as compassionate humans do. But there is a limit, right? Of course, there is. What I wasn’t prepared for was crickets. Crickets as in I never heard from some people again after my other half died – do I only come as part of a couple? Do I serve no purpose without my partner? I have tried to understand, but I don’t think I ever will. And, I am sure I am not alone in this, the complete lack of acknowledgement of my husband’s death – send a card, you ass. I will never let that opportunity pass now that I have been on the receiving end, or I should say, LACK of receiving end. Reaching out to someone, even if you don’t know them well is possibly the nicest thing you can do, especially if they are having a particularly dark day. You just never know. And despite those who were or haven’t been there for me and others in my shoes, there are so many who have been and are. And as is typically the case, they are just silent heroes who just go about their days putting out their own fires, dealing with their own issues and problems, but always, always taking the time to think of others. It makes you want to be a better person when they do something special for you.

It’s true what they say that it’s harder a month after it’s over. It truly is. Most of the paperwork has been completed, you’re no longer the most popular girl in the room and you’re sort of looking around with a quizzical view and a questioning of life’s choices and your own expectations when you were young and wide-eyed. When my husband passed away, I was barely at retirement age. We had plans to downsize, travel, relocate, spend more time with the grandchildren, relax, have some fun. Yeah, well, all that was shot to shit. Not as easy when you’re single, alone and not the most popular girl in the room anymore. But enough for now. That’s future blog fodder. Say that three times quickly.

In Sickness and in Health

Let’s get real for a minute. Whether you’ve been married once or more than once, when you are planning for “the big day” it’s likely that while you certainly give at least a passing thought (let’s hope so or your ass shouldn’t be getting married) to the vows you are about to take, my guess is that you might, at least for the immediate future be more focused on the menu, the venue, and can I still look like an ingenue? Am I right? Come on, I know I was. I certainly took marriage seriously, but I was 24 and giddy at the thought of the white dress and veil and all the trappings. The vows, while I spoke them with emotion were quickly forgotten as the party began.

My husband was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 17. This was back in the day before disposable needles and insulin pumps. He was a pioneer. He took care of himself and stuck to the regimen needed to survive this hideous disease. But no matter what one does, the disease ultimately wins and throughout his life and our marriage, he had his challenges and occasional setbacks and hospitalizations. We dealt with it and life went on. We never let it stop us. We had our family. We went to Disney World, put our girls through private school, watched them get married and became grandparents. We lived a contented life. It was all the usual “stuff.” But always lingering in the background was IT. IT was the realization that eventually he was going to deteriorate and the “betes,” as my hilarious and irreverent daughter who also is a Type 1 warrior calls it, would rear its ugly head and declare victory one last time. But it would be sneaky about it–and it would make me not such a nice person sometimes.

Up until the last five years of his life, my guy was doing pretty well. Of course, he was slowing down; we all are, but for the most part, we enjoyed our life together. He did depend on me and admittedly I could get cranky sometimes, but we survived. Where I really shone in the rip-roaring bitch on wheels department, and I am here to tell you that I am not proud of it, is in the last year of his life. I make no excuses. I was tired, overwhelmed, and essentially alone, and unfortunately, he took the brunt of my bad moods when they occurred. To his credit, and my eternal regret, he was so understanding and recognized that I was just having a bad day. Fortunately, my bad days were in the minority. Most of the time, I put on a brave face and adopted a “git ’er done” attitude. Without going into detail, but I am sure those of you who have ever served as a caregiver will understand, the task can be backbreaking—and heartbreaking. Seeing your spouse so vulnerable is soul wrenching and it sometimes just sucks the last bit of resolve out of your psyche. There were days I had nothing left to give. One of my fondest and yet saddest memories is when after performing a particular task, he would look at me and say one of two things. He would say either “Thank you” or “I’m sorry.” My answer to him would always be the same: “Didn’t we take some sort of vow? In sickness and in health or something like that? You’re just cashing it in early.”