Day Nine – My Angel

So my experience has been that you can never anticipate when just the right person somehow magically is placed in your path but miraculously it happens when we least expect it but most need it.

A few years ago I was visiting the most magical place on earth and fortunate enough to be staying at their most wonderful hotel. After a very long plane trip that involved switching planes and a long delay marked by weather and mechanical problems, my great kid and I arrived at the hotel many, many hours after we should have. While flying is almost always the fastest way to get anywhere, the side effects of sitting and not moving  for too many hours are tired muscles and swollen ankles. Because of a broken foot I had suffered a few years earlier, the swollen ankle syndrome tends to be exacerbated on a plane and I’m afraid by the time we checked in, I was in a lot of pain.

Bed rest helped a lot but the next day I was still limping a bit and walking on it seemed to make it worse. I needed to retrieve my rental car so I could head to the local CVS Minute Clinic and get checked out but my rental car was parked an incredibly far distance from the entrance to the hotel. I asked one of the people at bell services if they could take me to the car in a golf cart and they promised they would and asked me to have a seat. I did and I waited. And waited. And waited some more. After about 40 minutes, I didn’t see any sign of a golf cart so I went back to bell services and found out the person who had spoken to me had apparently gone off duty and forgotten to call for the cart.

It wasn’t a big deal and I figured I’d just head back to the room and ice my foot and try again later. And that’s when the young lady I spoke to – Angel – told me to sit down and ran off to get a golf cart right away to take me to my car. She hurried back, got me settled in, took me to my car and helped me out of the cart. She couldn’t have been nicer and I made sure to get her name so I could let the management at the hotel know how great she’d been.

But the next day showed me how much of a truly great person she really was. She called our room and asked who my favorite Disney character was (Wall-E, by the way) and a few hours later I got a delivery to my room with a Wall-E figure and a photo signed by Mickey Mouse (the real one, I promise) saying he hoped I felt better. When I called bell services to thank Angel, she brushed it off as no big deal and then told me she had arranged for us to have valet parking at the hotel for the rest of the week so that we wouldn’t have to walk a long way to retrieve my car, just in case my ankle didn’t get better as quickly as I hoped.

I know we are all surprised these days when we get great customer service because too many companies don’t place the emphasis on that when training their employees. What used to be something that was the norm is now the exception. And Disney is a company famous for its great customer service, as I have experienced many, many times. But this went beyond fantastic customer service. Angel took care of me, followed up with me, checked in with me and inspired me with her kindness and extraordinary commitment to providing a great experience to all of the lucky customers who crossed paths with her.

I am blessed to still have Angel in my life these many years later. She still sends me a text on Mother’s Day and Christmas and I still try to pay back her kindness to me every year by sending her a little thank you gift to remind her how much her one simple act mattered and how I will never forget how God placed an Angel in my path when I needed one.



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Day Eight – My Dad’s Doctor

So the last time my darling Dad was hospitalized before his death we had a revolving door full of doctors in and out of his hospital room at the great St. Peter’s Hospital. He had a doctor for his heart condition, another for his breathing issues. There was someone for his circulation issues and another doctor whose function we never really understood. Each doctor told us a different story and, despite our repeated attempts to get clarity and clarification, their suggestions and advice seemed to contradict each other.

I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert in medical procedures or diagnoses or treatments but it seemed to me then likes it seems to me now that there should be some kind of attempt by doctors treating the same patient to communicate and coordinate their plan of care so the family can receive consistent information and make informed decisions. During that last week my mother and I were dizzy from the conflicting things we were being told. Tests were being prescribed (most of which we declined), promises were sort of being made, and we were given what turned out to be false hope that this was just another misstep and that he would be going home.

About 48 hours after my Dad got to the hospital one of his doctors asked to speak to my mother and me privately. He was honest and blunt with us when being blunt and honest was what we needed. He told us that there was nothing that could be done and that my father was not leaving the hospital. He suggested to us that the only thing we should focus on at that point was keeping my Dad comfortable and surrounded by people he loved and to not allow him to be tested or treated any longer.

Not only was it overwhelming to hear but it was freeing. We finally had a doctor tell us what we needed to hear as opposed to what we hoped we would hear. My Mom and I told my Dad what the doctor had said but, not surprisingly, in his heart of hearts he already knew. My Dad never spent another moment alone for the next 7 days until he died. There was always one of us with him and friends and family came to say goodbye. It was heartbreaking and wonderful all at the same time. And when my Dad died, he did so surrounded by love and without pain. What more can any of us ask?

So thank you to Dr. Patel who spared my Dad suffering and who was honest with my Mom and me when we needed that more than anything. He was and is our hero.

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Day Seven – Virginia

So I first met Virginia when we started kindergarten together a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We were in virtually every class together and became great friends. She was one of the most popular girls in our school and I was happy to be part of her circle. She hosted the best sleepover parties, lived in an incredible three-story townhouse (which seemed like a mansion to me compared to the apartment my family shared) and had much older siblings who gave our 10 year-old selves makeup and dating advice. She lost her mother while still at a young age but was lucky enough to be surrounded by her father, her Aunt Bernice (who died her hair green every St. Patrick’s Day and wore false eyelashes when no one else did) and her brother and sisters.

Back when we were 12 and – fortunately while my entire family was gone for the day – a terrible fire tore through our building a week before Christmas. We lost everything we owned. We had no clothes, no furniture, no toys. And no place to stay. We had to start over, and start over quickly. My parents and youngest sister went one place, my other sister went to stay with her friend. Virginia and I happened to live just a few blocks away and I was able to stay with her for a few days until my parents could find a place where we all could be back together and try to rebuild our lives.

What we all remember from that horrible day are two things. First was that we were all safe and all together. Like my mother always liked to remind us, anything can be replaced except people. And the second thing we learned was that, when things are bad and you need a friend, your true friends come through and are there for you, especially during one of the worst times in your life.

Today is Virginia ’s birthday and we are still friends. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked her adequately enough for taking me in that cold and awful December night but she was the best possible friend anyone could hope to have.

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Day Six – The Lady at McDonald’s

So sometimes you have (much like Alexander of the beloved children’s book) a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It happens to all of us. From the minute you get up, you’re doomed. Everything that can go wrong, whether major or minor, does go wrong and quickly sours your mood. Just let me make it through this day, I’ve said on more than one occasion. And in totality, these days hopefully just add up to a blip on life’s radar. I know for sure I have had many more great and even just OK days in my life than terrible ones.

But a few months ago I was having one of those truly awful days. I was sad, I was missing my great kid who was off at school, I was struggling with something big that left me grasping at straws for a solution I knew was not there. And it finally got to me and while I was driving home from my visit with my Mom, I started to cry, although crying is not really an adequate word for what I was doing. It was more like deep, gulping sobs of built-up emotion and I couldn’t seem to stop. Knowing that letting my emotions get the best of me was not the safest way to drive, I pulled into McDonald’s and decided to order a drink, pull into a parking spot and get myself back together.

And I got to the order window and, between tears, placed my order. Calmly placed my order, I thought. But there must have been something in my voice that got the attention of the young lady who took my order because when I got to the window to pick up my frozen lemonade she asked me if I was OK and was there anything she could do to help. I apologized and said I was just having a bad day and she responded by saying that she’d be on her break in 15 minutes if I wanted to wait and she’d come and talk to me. And then she told me that I didn’t have to pay for my drink. She wanted to give it to me because she wanted me to know that there are people out there who are good and kind, people placed in our path when we seem to need them most.

In this world where it’s far too easy to be jaded and disillusioned about what we see and experience every day, I cannot tell you enough how much the kindness this person – who didn’t know me at all – extended to me that rainy night meant to me then, means to me now, will always mean to me. She was my hero that day and what she did, as small a gesture at it may seem, helped me get through my bad day. I will do my best to pay her gift forward to someone who may be having their own bad day because saying “thank you” is not nearly enough to honor what she did.

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Day Five – The Dog

So a long time ago we lost our dog, Sandy, after a brief illness. It was 2007 and a tough year for us. Someone I had trusted had betrayed me, cheated me, broken my spirit and left me with an inability to know my own abilities about who to trust. It was an unhappy time around here and, after we lost our dog, we were kind of drifting along waiting for the next shoe to drop.

And then my great kid convinced me we needed another dog so that we could go forward and direct our energy into something that truly needed us. If you’re a pet owner, you know how your heart breaks when you lose your pet and, if you’re like me, you may be reluctant to open your heart again to another one. But we did, a tiny beagle puppy that a breeder decided was the runt of the litter and couldn’t be sold. We ended up with him. He was the size of a beanie baby and, within days of getting him home, he became dreadfully ill. Kennel cough and pneumonia were diagnosed and he ended up in the animal hospital. It was very touch and go for a long while. My Dad, God bless him, went there every day to visit with him and I did too, on my way home from work. We saw this tiny creature struggling to breathe with an IV in his leg. None of the treatments were working and my great vet finally said to us that they had only one more option to save him. I told them to try and, miraculously, it worked and after a 6-week stay at the animal hospital he finally came home.

He was a great dog, although he did have a propensity as puppies often do of eating anything and everything in his path, including a piece of furniture in my living room and 2 pair of my eyeglasses. Why does he do that, I asked my vet. He’s lonely and bored, she told us. Get another dog to keep him company. We did and the snacking on furniture ended.

And then about 2 years ago he was diagnosed with epilepsy which we managed for a long time with medications. He was good natured about the frequent vet visits he had to endure, the (what I can only imagine was) horrible tasting medicine he got twice a day, the side effects he had to endure. But no matter what he remained a great pet who loved to sleep on the bed, eat baby carrots and grass, and cuddle up next to me on the couch. He filled an empty space in our hearts many times over. He made us smile, laugh, be happy again.

Today that dog, my dog who helped us get through a difficult time, my puppy who was suffering so much for the past few days crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. I’m brokenhearted and my great kid even more so because he couldn’t be here to say his goodbyes in person. It is an awful thing to have to make that decision. It would be very easy to try and keep him around longer but that would be selfish. So I did what my great kid asked and stayed with him until the end, telling him what a great dog he was and how much we loved him and that my Dad would be waiting for him on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. And I truly believe that.

This great dog saved us when we needed something positive in our lives. As sad as I am, I am ever so grateful for the nearly 10 years I had with him. Goodbye, my good dog. I’ll see you again one day.


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Days Two, Three and Four – Karen, Janice and John Edward

So a few years ago I entered a raffle on a whim to win 2 tickets to a taping of The View on which John Edward, the psychic, was going to be doing readings for people in the audience. Amazingly, I won the tickets but as it turned out the day of the taping conflicted with something else and I wasn’t going to be able to use them.

I sent a note out to my high school friends offering them to whomever claimed them first. And the first girl to send me a note back was my friend, Karen (who I affectionately call Baby since she is officially the youngest member of our graduating class). “They’re yours”, I told her and was happy that someone was going to be able to use them.

And then a few hours later my dear friend, Janice, said she wanted them, not knowing Karen had already claimed them. Janice is as strong a woman as I know and had lost her daughter, the heroic Jenn, to leukemia in 2011. She wanted to attend the show for obvious reasons. By that time, I had already forwarded on the e-mail with the tickets to Karen and a few minutes after Janice expressed interested I received an e-mail from Karen telling me she had passed the tickets on to Janice because she knew how much she really wanted and needed to go to the reading. (As a side note, Janice and her amazing family have raised tens of thousands of dollars over the years since Jenn’s passing for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They have taken the worst possible tragedy a family can experience and tried to make something good out of it. Bravo, Esposito Family).

I’ve kept Karen’s e-mail in my e-mail folder for nearly 4 years because it touched me so much. It proved to me that true love – whether it’s for your spouse, your partner, your parents, your children, your friends – is selfless. You want what’s good for the other person. And that is what my friend Karen did that day, without any wish to draw attention to herself for giving up the tickets. She shared her love for her friend and proved that a gesture, no matter how great or small, matters.

I’ve never forgotten this moment. Karen thought of her friend, Janice got to the reading and I got to experience what the world needs more of: kindness, empathy, compassion. I am blessed to be in the company of these 2 amazing women.


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Day One – My Dad

So tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday and, despite the predicted frosty weather, my Mom and I will take a drive to the beautiful Veterans cemetery where he was laid to rest amidst all of the other brave men and women who served our country. It is a sad day for me but I always try to remember the happy things about his long life because I know that is what he wants me to do. And my hopes in sharing this with you is that I can pay forward his indomitable spirit, his everlasting curiosity about people, his compassion, his kindness.

The thing about my Dad that always makes me smile is how much he loved kids and dogs. When my great kid and my niece and nephew were little, he loved going with us to the tiny amusement parks with their crazy rides and climbing aboard each ride with them to enjoy the fun. He’d stand side-by-side with them at all the arcade games, pretending to try to win but ultimately deliberately losing so one of the kids could win the 99 cent toy that we had invested $20 in playing the game multiple times. His idea of the perfect meal while there was to split a hot dog, fries and a soft-serve chocolate cone with sprinkles with my great kid.

Many of these amusement parks were at the various towns at the Jersey Shore so a trip up and down the boardwalk was always part of our day. Inevitably some police department or fire department or ambulance squad would be raffling off tickets to win a car or a motorcycle and he always bought multiple tickets because supporting our first responders (and maybe winning too) was always top of his mind. (And crazier things can and actually have happened. During one visit to his church’s carnival where he bought one of these raffle tickets, he and my Mom actually did win a car!)

But the thing he really enjoyed was the opportunity to share time talking to his grandkids about what was going on in their lives, or striking up a conversation with the random person sitting on a bench with him, or thanking a police officer or soldier for their service, or petting the dog strolling down the boardwalk with its owner. He had an offbeat sense of humor as evidenced by the time he and my Mom were visiting my sister and her family. They were playing a board game and the question was something along the lines of “what do you admire about Superman”? The others talked about his x-ray vision, his ability to fly, his search for truth, justice and the American way. And when it was my Dad’s turn? His answer was “I like his boots”. Everyone got a good laugh at that, although my father probably didn’t get why the others thought that was funny but he said what he felt, conventional wisdom be damned.

As my mother has always told me, the times when we were kids (and his grandkids were young) were the happiest times of my father’s life. He brightened the day of anyone he met and, if he were still here, he’d be asking me how soon we could go down to Point Pleasant and have clams and corn-on-the-cob and play the arcade games. Because, deep down, he was all about his kids and his grandkids and his words and deeds and example of a life well lived make me want to be a better person tomorrow than I am today. I wish you could have met him.

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