Be Yourself, No Matter What They Say.

So as I travel around my new location and being unable to find a decent radio station to listen to (oh, WCBS-FM and Scott Shannon, how I miss you!), I’ve taken to listening to my iTunes library on my phone while I learn to navigate the lay of the land out here. And today through the randomness of iTunes shuffle, a song I hadn’t listened to in ever so long popped up and its words resonated with me.

Last week I got caught up in some drama that I didn’t create and didn’t want to be party to. The details are unimportant but the stress it caused not only to me but to people I love was almost crippling, both emotionally and even physically. For several long days I felt like I was walking on eggshells and I ultimately came to the conclusion that the mess that had been created had to be ended and I had to end it, consequences be damned. And I did and there were consequences. But I am confident in my belief that I did the right thing for the right reason.

So when I heard the great Sting today singing the words “Takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile. Be yourself, no matter what they say”, it was kind of a gut punch. Confrontation and facing unpleasant situations are not my strong suit. In fact, I have always been a “go along to get along” kind of person. I’ve had relationships of all types with too many people who are too volatile, too always inclined to believe their position is the only position, too quick to criticize, too slow to forgive. And I’m not going to be the person any more who accepts that as normal behavior or stays silent when someone else is behaving badly. I’m too old to accept that a lack of civility or empathy or coming together to find a common solution is normal or right. Not on my watch; not any more.

I did what I truly believed I had to do. I honored the memory of someone I loved and lost and took flack – a lot of it from a few folks – who thought they knew better than me. And maybe they do and maybe their intentions were as pure as mine. It doesn’t really matter in the end. What matters is that I can live with my decision even though it has cost me dearly.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on all things. I’m not even close to being an expert on most things. But I am an expert on honoring your commitment, on treating others the way you want to be treated, on being civil when you disagree, on loving someone even if you don’t always like them and on walking away when you have no more fight in you to wage a losing battle. I have my parents to thank for that, people who taught me that being honorable is more important than being right and that, ultimately, no matter what someone thinks or says about you, you have only yourself – and your God in heaven one day – to answer to for your behavior, your actions, the choices you make.

So while I may have lost the battle this past week, I was true to myself. And that I can live with.

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Twenty-Five Years

So this time 25 years ago I was in the maternity ward at the late and lamented St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. My due date for my one and only baby was 2+ weeks past and my wonderful obstetrician had told me the day before that the time had come to help my son make his entrance into the world. (My son’s father was there too but this is his one and only mention in my story because he is a father in name only and gets no recognition in the celebration of my great kid’s birth).

At 2:08 am my son was born. As many mothers have told me before and since, you don’t remember any of the pain or anguish you go through when you’re in labor. Those sensations and the ability to recollect them are gone the moment a baby, your baby is placed in your arms and, if God is good and all is well, you’re told he is healthy and perfect.

I was very fortunate to be in a position where I could spend the first 6 months home with my son, learning about him. What he liked (baths and the soundtrack from The Little Mermaid) and what he didn’t (apricots mostly). What worked (the baby swing) and what didn’t (overly bright lights). What made him laugh (kisses on the top of his head from the dog) and what made him cry (too many to list. If you’re a parent, you’ll know that’s true).

I have been blessed to have been able to have many good people – my parents, my sisters, my friends, his pediatrician, his teachers, his friends – share their wisdom, shape his life, sharpen his skills. What they’ve given him, what they’ve given me has helped me be a better mother and helped him travel the path that has led him forward even when looking back seemed like a better choice for both of us.

Many of you know him personally and some of you only know him through my words. My words can never truly do him justice but they are all I have to celebrate the joy and happiness he has brought me for 25 years.

He is kind to everyone and polite to a fault. He checks in with me every day and when his adopted city, Las Vegas, suffered through that most unspeakable tragedy a few weeks ago, he told me that he needed to come home to be with my mother and me in order to feel safe again. To have someone love you that much, to know that you have been the center of someone’s world since the day he was born is both humbling and rewarding.

He knows  – or at least I hope he does – that no matter what he says or does, thinks or believes, feels or doesn’t feel, telling me is safe. He knows that there is no mountain I wouldn’t try to move, no battle I wouldn’t try to fight, no dragon I wouldn’t try to slay to make him happy. He knows that he can lean on me when he needs to and can trust me to give him space when that’s what he needs.

He gives people the gift of his time, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen. He volunteers for causes he believes in and doesn’t shirk from responsibility or bad news. He studies hard and works harder. He makes me laugh and sometimes he makes me cry. He makes commitments and he keeps them. He knows that when you make a promise, a true and good man keeps it. He is a gentleman.

I always want him to look at me and see love and hope, trust and pride, gratitude and blessings reflected back. I want him to know that my first thought every morning and my last thought every night is of him. I want him to feel the prayers I say for him every day. And I want him to one day have children who bring him even part of the joy he brings me.

I hope, I think, I trust that as a single parent I have done the best job I could possibly do. There are things I might have done differently with the perspective of hindsight. There are mistakes I’m sure I’ve made. There are choices I wish I hadn’t picked. But the one thing I would never change, the main thing I treasure, the exclamation point to my life always has, always is and always will be my great kid. Happy 25th birthday, Brendan. The best 25 years of my life.

 

 

 

 

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How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

So I am reeling this week, overwhelmed by such sadness and anger and fear. My friend of nearly 50 years, the incomparable and irreplaceable Miss Beans, unexpectedly lost her battle – her third battle – with cancer. I can’t seem to accept it. I’m distracted. I’m aimless. My Mom talks to me and I don’t even register what she’s saying. I’m lost. I’m brokenhearted.

And logically I know that death is a part of life. We’re taught that from the time we’re young. The Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible (and then the great Pete Seeger via song) tells us that “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.”

I’ve experienced death before, of course. I lost my maternal grandmother before I even knew her and my maternal grandfather when I was a toddler. I’ve lost cousins and acquaintances. I lost the love of my life a few short weeks before what was the hardest loss of all:  my darling Dad, who is gone over 6 years now. Each one of these losses takes a little piece of your heart, leaves a little scar that doesn’t really heal, imprints sadness on your soul that never goes away.

Even though I am older than I can possibly grasp, I never think of myself as old. Perhaps it is because I am lucky enough to still have my Mom with me and I believe that you always think of yourself as a child when your parent is still there for you. But old is what I am and this untimely death of Miss Beans has made me face my mortality – and the mortality of those I love – in a way I haven’t before.

Most of my closest friends are from high school so I have known them for decades, almost half a century. And I know that is a blessing from above. The random good fortune that all of our parents chose the same great Catholic high school for us and the randomness of us being grouped alphabetically in class in many cases means that I was connected to some of these girls from the time I was 14 and they have become the cornerstone of my very existence.

But this also means that all of these girls – and my Mom and my sisters and my cousins – are all facing down our mortality and I’m going to ultimately have to deal with losing people I love dearly far more often than I can possibly prepare for. I’m not sure I’m ready to face that. I’m not sure I know how to do it. I am sure I don’t want to do it.

My contemporaries and I are aging and beginning to feel the effects of that aging. We all have various ailments and conditions that we’ll try to manage and control but, like a wind-up toy, eventually we – and everyone we know and love – will slow down and stop. The circle of life and all that.

As we age, it gets harder to connect with new people, to make new friends. I knew someone a long time ago who told me that he knew within 5 minutes of meeting someone whether they’d be friends or not. He believed that life was too short to spend on people who wouldn’t be able to be your friend for whatever reason. I sort of agree with his theory. Life is short and the chances to establish a true friendship, a kinship with someone who gets who you are is rare. And the chance of me ever meeting another person who measures up to my love and connecting with that person for a happily-ever-after is remote as well. I accept that as my reality and it makes me cling to my friends here now even tighter.

So to lose one – and to know that I (and they) will be faced with losing others – is very hard. But it being hard is filtering it through what I feel and I know that’s selfish. My friend was suffering and wasn’t going to get better. She is in a better place now and I know our paths will cross again. I know that in dying we are born to eternal life. I just wish, selfishly, it didn’t have to happen this soon.

Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter. Don’t hold grudges. Hug each other. Make that call. Go to church and thank God for your blessings. Get enough sleep. Forgive and forget. Love one another and hold on for dear life for we may never pass this way again.

Goodbye, my friend. You made my life better in so many ways. I’ll keep talking to you even though you can’t answer back any more. I know you’ll be the little voice in my shoulder encouraging me, kicking my butt when needed, letting me know you’re still here even if I can’t see you. Because there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

I’m going to weep and laugh and mourn and dance for you, Miss Beans. I’ll see you again one day. Godspeed, my friend.

 

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Don’t You Dare Look Back, Just Keep Your Eyes On Me

So the new adventure begins for me soon. The moving van will arrive to pack our belongings and make the long trek across the country. I will pack my puppy and my great kid and my Mary Poppins snow globe up in his car and send them on their way to meet up with me in a few days. The car will be en route and I will be too soon. To quote the Peter, Paul and Mary song, I’m leaving on a jet plane; don’t know when I’ll be back again.

Emotions and feelings are flooding my senses now. These past few weeks every time I’ve done something, every time I’ve talked to someone, every task I’ve tackled, every thought I’ve had has had a pounding beat behind it: the last time, the last time, the last time. I don’t know if I’ll ever visit my father’s grave again. I don’t know how many of the people I interact with on a daily, weekly, monthly basis will ever cross my path again. I don’t know if the roads I’ve driven on for years will ever be beneath my feet again. I don’t know if the local radio station (the great CBS-FM led by the equally great Scott Shannon) or the local television station (WNBC and the morning crew which wakes me up and entertains me every day) will be available for me to listen to or watch where I’m going.

I don’t know if the sun setting on Point Pleasant Beach will look the same where I am, or if I’ll see the Atlantic Ocean again. I don’t know when I’ll get to go to see the Somerset Patriots again, that wonderful minor league ball team that has $1 hot dog nights, fantastic seats behind home plate for $10 and encourages people to get up and do the chicken dance between innings.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see the wonderful women who help me keep myself presentable when I visit their salons. I don’t know if I’ll get to talk again to the great and beautiful woman at Dunkin Donuts who hears my voice say “hello” and knows what I want to order that day without me telling her.

And I don’t know when I’ll see my DC girls and my Burke cousins and my best friend, Jimmy Courage, again and that is the toughest part of all. The person I am, the person I was, the person I became, the person I’ll always be could not exist without their support and friendship and kindness and love. And I know – because I wrote about it recently – that social media means we are all only a click away from each other. But even if I didn’t see all these special people often, it’s the idea, the notion, the life raft I cling to that I could see them when I wanted or needed. And now it will require more effort, more planning, more money, more time and spontaneity and “just because” will be removed from the equation.

So even though I’m sad, I’m also happy that there is a great future waiting out there for me. There’s a new adventure, a promise of new experiences, a dream of a happily ever after. And isn’t that what we all want? We want to know, or at least hope, that our best times are not behind us, that beyond the blue horizon waits a beautiful day. I believe that; I have to believe that; I will believe that.

Off I’ll go soon. Wish me luck and know when I leave here in a few days that, like Peter Pan, I’ll be headed to the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

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So Long, Farewell

So I have arrived at that point in my life so beautifully described by Robert Frost in his glorious poem The Road Not Taken. I have come to where two roads diverged in the wood and I have chosen the one less traveled by, a decision I neither ever thought I would make nor take lightly now that I have made it.

As a lifelong resident of the east coast and a person who is a New Yorker by birth and, even though I have lived in New Jersey for many years now, a person who will always be a New Yorker in my heart and soul, I will be leaving my home and everything I have known to head across the country to a new city, a new state, a new way of life. I am a charter member of that sandwich generation that cares for our parents and our children simultaneously and what I am doing and why is because of that.

If you are someone who is blessed to have one or both of your parents, you know that eventually, inevitably the role of parent and child is turned on its head and we begin to parent our parents. Aging can be a cruel process where your mind, your heart, your core tell you “yes, I can” but the realities and the frailties of our bodies cannot be ignored. And my mother, a very healthy 85-year-old woman, all things considered, needs not to be alone any longer.

For years, my sister and her husband have tried to convince first my parents together and then my Mom alone after my Dad left us to move closer to them. They wanted to participate in her care, to help share in the process and to spend more time with her at a time in all of our lives where the days speed by and the years seem to go even faster. And, truth be told, the past more-than-a-few years have not been kind ones to me for many reasons, each accompanied by a story I am tired of telling and the outcome of which doesn’t change no matter how often I recount it. The opportunity to do for my mother what she has done for me, for my sisters, for my great kid and niece and nephew all of our lives as well as to turn the page in the story of my life, to start a new chapter which may have that happy ending I’m still looking for was impossible to resist.

So we’ve sold our homes, are purging, sorting, donating, repurposing and packing our pared down belongings and will be headed to our new adventure in a few weeks. Life will be different for sure where I’m headed but I like to think I can and will adapt and grow and flourish in this new garden I’m planting myself in.

Most of the people I’ve shared my news with have been incredibly kind and happy for me. Even though they’ll miss me, they are genuinely supportive of this and want what is best for me. Others are surprised at my decision and view it through the prism of their experiences and I understand that but cannot let it factor into my hopes, dreams, excitement, challenges or – ultimately – belief that what I do and why I’m doing it and what it will mean for my family and me is right.

So many of you I know on social media are people who have befriended me or reached out to me because of some mutual friend or connection or some other commonality. And that I am part of that large social media community means I will never truly lose touch with anyone. All of you who have agreed (or disagreed) with things I’ve posted, who have supported my writings, who have stepped up with a kind word or thought or prayer, who have sent me private messages of comfort and professed public support are woven forever into the fabric of my life and I will never, ever not be grateful to you.

So please wish me well, know I am a mere keystroke away, believe that I won’t be gone forever and trust that I know how blessed I am to be surrounded by so many good people in my life. Until we meet again, thank you all.

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Be Sorry For the Right Reason

So yesterday I went to a funeral Mass – the first one since my darling Dad left us 6 years ago – for a good man, a great man who was beloved by so many and who had been so kind and generous of spirit to my great kid and me over the years. The church was filled with family, friends, acquaintances and admirers, all there to honor this man and the legacy he left behind.

One of his eulogists talked about how much this man had accomplished in his life, how he gave and gave and gave even when he had nothing left to give. And then he talked about how the last day or so of this gentleman’s life he said that he was sorry to everyone who came to see him. His apology was not for anything he had done, or any hurt he had caused anyone. He was saying he was sorry that he wasn’t strong enough to fight any longer against the horrible disease that racked his body. I believe – in my heart of hearts – that he was trying to tell those he loved that he had done the best he could and hoped they could understand that he knew his time here was coming to an end.

That concept made me fill up with tears. Not only could I understand the sentiment – because my Dad had in essence let us know at the very end that he could not go on any more – but it made me think about how much of our time, our lives are wasted either being sorry for the wrong things or neglecting to reach out to those who we love and who love us to share how we feel with them.

I spent far too much time in my ill-advised marriage apologizing for things great and small because it was easier to do that and keep the peace than deal with the underlying issues and my inability – then, not now – to stand up for myself. And it’s an easy habit to get into, to say “I’m sorry” without even thinking about the words or why we are saying them.

We all hurt people occasionally, hopefully unintentionally, and those times warrant an apology. But we should focus instead on sharing out affection, our appreciation, our love for those we have chosen to surround ourselves with throughout our lives. I have tried so hard to do that these last few years, to tell people who have given me so much, both material and spiritual, that I am humbled by their kindness. That I appreciate their unconditional and unwavering support. That their words of encouragement lighten my load and lift my spirit. That I hope that their investment in me as my friend is worth it.

I have not always been successful in this pursuit. There are some people, very few in reality, who are not receptive to apologies, nor inclined to offer them. But I keep trying because I must. I want no words unsaid, no apology not offered, no kindness not repaid, no loose ends when all is said and done.

What I want is to be able to do what this good and kind man did and have my only apology when my time comes be that I cannot fight any more, that I wish I had more time with them, that I wanted another day, another chance, another beginning, another goodbye. I want my “I’m sorry” to mean what it meant to this man whose passing we mourned yesterday. Because, in the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make.

Goodbye, Mr. Hoos, and thank you for being a shining example of a life lived well and a heart and spirit filled with kindness and love.

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A Day In the Life

So I heard a story so profoundly sad recently about an acquaintance and all I could think was of The Beatles’ song A Day In the Life. The opening lines – “I heard the news today, oh boy” – kept running through my head. I can’t shake the sadness I feel and the whole thing has made me wonder about the safety net we all should have and what happens if we don’t.

For many years, my parents went out several times a week to a local restaurant. It was really the equivalent of Cheers for them because they knew everyone and everyone knew them. When they walked in, the bartender – the great and glorious Lenny – had their sodas waiting for them at the bar. (They always sat at the bar for dinner so they could chat and interact with the folks around them). Over the years, my great kid and I would join them there several times a month and got to know – although not as well as my parents – the eclectic mix of people who populated the bar.

One of these interesting people was a gentleman who always tipped his cap to the women, chatted up anyone who sat near him and had unique stories to share. He was a bit of a loner, coming to the bar a few times a week to have a burger and a few beers and then head home. He shared with my Mom once that he was estranged from his daughters and that it pained him so.

When my darling Dad died, they hung his picture at the bar for years in honor of his memory. My Mom, a baker of muffins and the occasional cake, would always bring a muffin for Lenny (because she loves him so) and then started bringing a muffin for this gentleman as well. He was always grateful to my Mom for what was really just a small gesture.

As I’ve shared before, the last conversation I had with my Dad about 2 hours before he died was him asking me to promise I would always give my Mom flowers from him on their wedding anniversary (a promise I am proud to have honored and always will). On my Dad’s first anniversary in heaven, I went with my Mom to the restaurant to celebrate my Dad’s life by having dinner and toasting him with our glasses of soda. I brought her a huge bouquet of tulips and reminded her that they were from him.

This gentleman was seated across the bar from us and he must have asked our friend, Lenny, what the occasion was. Lenny explained that it was my parents’ anniversary and that I was giving my Mom those flowers from my Dad. (I found out about this conversation from Lenny after the fact). As we finished our meal and got ready to leave, we asked for the check and Lenny told us that this gentleman had paid our bill to honor my Dad and to make my Mom smile. And we couldn’t even thank him because he had managed to sneak out without us noticing. His gesture of kindness and generosity was extraordinary, a lovely thing to do by someone who truly was not someone we knew well at all.

This restaurant closed a few months ago and Lenny had left and moved too far away a few months before that so we had lost touch with this man who had been so kind and who so appreciated the smallest of conversations with the person sitting next to him at the bar.

And then, a week or so ago, I heard that this man had died. He died on his 70th birthday and he died because he chose to end his life that day. And that makes me so deeply sad.

We never know what is going on in someone’s life or what thoughts are raging in someone’s head or what pain is piercing their heart. We only see, we only know, we can only react to what they tell us. But hopefully we all have parents, siblings, children, clergy, acquaintance and friends (whether real or the social media kind) that make up our safety net. We are not alone, we should not be alone, we do not have to be alone. And that this gentleman did not think he had someone to lean on, to reach out to, to ask for help or comfort or a kind word makes me weep that the world has lost a kind soul.

If you need help, if you need a shoulder to cry on, if you need a hand to hold, if you need a prayer, whatever you need, I beg you to ask. Please don’t let fear or shame or isolation or the passage of time deter you from reaching out. Don’t let time or distance or the walls we’ve built to protect ourselves from hurt limit you. We are all in this together. It is easy to be a friend to those you know. It is harder to be a friend to someone you don’t really know but the rewards are enormous. The good you do will come back to you so many times over. To quote the genius of Stephen Sondheim, “people make mistakes . . . thinking they’re alone . . . someone is on your side . . . no one is alone.”

Rest in peace, Bob. And, with thanks to Sarah McLachlan, “you’re in the arms of the angel. May you find some comfort here”.

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