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NOVEMBER 20, 2018


NOVEMBER 20, 2018

My brother, Michael Andrew Horowitz would have been 48 this year as I remember his life on this exact day he died 23 years ago. In two more years he will be gone the same amount of time he lived for. This is the strange thing about death and anniversaries, you start doing all kinds of weird math. Like the times when a client comes into my business and when asked their birthday, they give me the day along with the year. 1970, they say. I look up expecting to see a familiar face, but realize quickly that their face is someone who has had the luxury of aging. My brother’s face is still 25. I don’t know what he would have looked like if he was standing before me at 48.

The day my brother died 23 years ago today, my father had called me to let me know. It was early in the morning and I sobbed all day deciding a good use of tears would be to put together a photo album. Creation is a perfect task for grief. Writing, art, being in nature, all of this helps the grief come out of those dark crevices releasing it to move through and out. Out is relative, out is small drips from the kitchen faucet because you forgot to turn the handle off completely. Initially grief pours out uncontrollably like a tsunami, chaotic, screaming, disbelieving even though you knew it was coming. The pain is intense and in your face that first day, that first week, that first of all firsts. Birthdays, holidays, watching college graduations and marriages and births of babies. Knowing that life goes on, but just not for Michael. Not this lifetime anyway.

I occasionally see his friends and this is always a mixed bag of happiness and sadness. I love knowing people who knew him, who remembered him, it is a connection I both cherish and grieve. Often when I see a friend of his, a tear comes to my eye unexpectedly. I have learned to allow its presence in my eye, and its movement down my cheek with no worry that I am causing feelings of worry in the person staring back at me. After all, my brother died so many years ago. Enough with the crying already, I can hear my stoic grandmother saying to me a few months after he died. I will never stop crying for his loss in my life. This I know. This is what makes me human. This is what makes me remember his life so that my son knows of him, so that my little cousins know they had another cousin who is not here. Loss of someone who has aged in the normal progression of life is sad enough. I miss my father who despite the fact that he died too young, he died a life he loved living. Not everyone can say this. I miss my grandmother every day and she lived a full rich life dying at almost 93. Look at my grandfather who just turned 101. I will cry like a little baby when he finally goes. Sometimes a rich full life means a boatload of memories and this can make grief even more intense.

There is no time limit on grief. This I know for sure. Maybe it gets less intense over time, maybe the sobs turn into whimpers and the whimpers turn into sniffles, but they are always there. Frankly, I welcome them. I like their reminders because it connects my soul to my brother’s soul even for just a brief moment. I like to feel his presence around me and my tender heart. I know he can feel mine. Till we meet again, my dear brother. I miss you every day.




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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL

“Get Out!” my six year old brother at the time screamed at me. I was ten and in his room taunting him like any bored older sister would be doing. I can’t remember the weather, the circumstance or why he was trying to boot me and why I would not be booted. I just remember him yelling at me to get out of his room, reasonable in hindsight as he surely was entitled to his privacy. I was his older sister, though and I had to save face, after all, who is the boss here? I dug in and wouldn’t budge. This was around 1976 when to tell time, you actually had a clock by the side of your bed rather than a cell phone. And a small orange and white circular plastic clock was what came flying at me slamming into my face. Right below my upper lip causing the bottom long part of the stand to make a connection with my skin causing a nice diagonal slice.

I can still see his face, somewhat disbelieving he had done this coupled with total satisfaction that he would indeed have the last word at last. That was until I bolted downstairs to report to my unsuspecting father of his crime, bloody face to prove it. I am not sure what became of my brother’s punishment for this, but I am sure my father was upset by this. This is how it often went with my brother and I imagine many siblings have stories that fall into the theme of protagonist and antagonist between the stages of their lives. My brother though was usually the one who got into trouble, but at the same time, I was a fierce protector of him in the outside world. He was my little brother and I loved him until the day he died which unfortunately was almost twenty three years ago, one month to the day of his 25th birthday. Today would have been his forty eighth year and the age difference is not as great, but this is something I will never know. I remember like it was yesterday having the conversation with him about death because it was at the time where we knew he would not be getting out alive. He was obsessed with videoing his every waking move with those old big cantankerous video recorders that held a full size tape. I was interviewing him Oprah style, tripod and all. We were both baked, smoking pot out of some gigantic water bong, better for the lungs, he would say and I was asking him questions. 
 “Are you afraid of dying?” I asked him this so matter of factly like I was asking him to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up milk and eggs. It was a courageous question for a 29 year old sister to be asking her 24 year old soon to die of advanced lung cancer baby brother. He never smoked a day in his life other than marijuana once he was diagnosed to help the pain. Before medical marijuana became legal.

He paused, took a long bubbly hit off the water bong, held his breath to feel the soothing effects of the THC that would be a saving grace for him. As he released the smoke he said, “The one good thing about dying young is that people will always remember you at this age.” Always had a funny twist to his words, usually looked at the bright side, old soul for sure, my brother Michael was. I know these words almost verbatim because I videoed him and have the videos to refresh my memory anytime there is a chance I could possibly forget. Unless I got dementia this conversation is not something I will ever forget. No one gets out alive, but burying the love of my life when he hadn’t even started his was one of those moments in time that will never leave my memory.

My brother knew the idiosyncrasies of our inside lives as only a sibling can understand. When he died, so did my personal collaborator of the mom and dad stories that only he would be able to recall. I can see us in my fantasy world of sitting around the dinner table at my fantasy relationship with our mother recalling all of our childhood adventures that she never likely knew about, that mothers shouldn’t know about until this very time. Of course even if our mother would have known, she couldn’t have because we lived with my father for most of our adolescence, my brother when he was ten, me when I was fifteen. But that is for another story, this story is to celebrate his memory on what would have been his forty eighth year today.

He was the first white boy most of us knew to have dreadlocks, back in 1985 in Portsmouth, RI back when white boys didn’t have dreadlocks. He also had a tattoo of a wizard smoking out of a bong that covered almost the entire right side of his very muscular and long back that made my grandparents in Florida demand full t shirt coverage when he visited. Michael was charming, handsome, kind. He had a sense of humor and a pragmatism about him that made him a desired friend to have around. He also lived on the edge, taking way more risks that I surely did at his young age, diving naked off of Fort Wetherhill cliffs with his friends, tossing fireworks back and forth causing my father to have to take him to the hospital for a burn that could have been much worse, BMX racing and stunts, skateboarding all over Jamestown when he was little. There was always an air of mischief around him and he seldom got caught doing anything unless it was something with his older sister so she could blame him. He loved peaches and cottage cheese as a snack and white cake with chocolate frosting and frozen chocolate chip cookies just like I did. He loved Reggae music and Seal and Lenny Kravitz. Michael Andrew Horowitz was an amazing human being and since November 20, 1995, i have never had a day go by when I haven’t thought of him.

As my own son comes into his 21st year, I try to stay calm for the next few years as I watch him climb his early twenties praying that he sails through 23–25 unscathed, undiagnosed. I am fully aware that everything is out of my control, that worrying about this is not helpful, but no matter how much I breathe, write, meditate, it looms. Trauma is like this, scars heal, but they show up like a tattoo. Every time I look in the mirror, that scar from that clock under my lip is a tattoo my brother gave me and I smile every single time I look at it. I will never know what would have become of my brother and my relationship if he had the chance to age right alongside me, but I do know that the time we had is etched into my heart and my face until the day I die.


hard to believe this was taken in 1992 when Michael Horowitz was 22.
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WRITING CLASS

I am taking a six week writing class with the theme of Memoir Writing. There are about twelve incredible writers in the class and we are all feeding off of each other’s stories as writing classes often do. They propel thoughts from others making all of our writings better. The first three assignments listed below are in the order I wrote them. The task was to isolate a word or a phrase from each story and write another story from that jumping off point. I have highlighted the phrase both in each assignment and at the beginning of the following one. The first one was written right after I had learned that my friend Lesa had died and I have highlighted the phrases chosen in each of the two that follows. The third one’s task was to write about a role model and I decided to continue the exercise including a phrase from the previous. I am including the first three from the first three weeks, the remaining will follow in the next few days and weeks as the conclusion of the class is fast approaching. Sigh.

If writing is your addiction like it is mine, this is a great exercise and I attribute it to one of my writing mentors, Hannah Goodman, who introduced the idea to me in a random writing class well over fifteen years ago. As you read these, if any other words or phrases speak to you, please send them along to me as I love the challenge of writing pieces from phrases and words; it is a great discipline that helps me improve my skills.

MEMOIR CLASS WRITINGS

June 6, 2018

1. YOU DIED

You died. It didn’t really strike me in my heart until I spoke with your dad and heard his words, the words of the pain of your death, that the pain of your death caused.

And its relief. At first it was the What? She died? Kathy, you read about it on Facebook?

When Kathy called to let me know I called your father right away to find out the whats, the whys, the whens.

Yes. He confirmed. But, Alayne, she really died, really, twenty years ago, when she started on the wrong path taking the turn to the left in the fork instead of the one on the right. The turn not beckoning with love and light, but with darkness and sadness and empty promises.

Now it is the weight of the conversations, the memories being dredged up the way the beach shoreline looks after a nor’easter- fragments of chips and wood and trash and weird oddities scattered like a flea market gone terribly wrong. Reflections like it was just yesterday you were three and I was sixteen and I was trying to help you understand that it wasn’t normal to smell like pee when your dad would pick you up from your mother’s without actually saying it aloud. That is was actually a joy to read to you, not a chore like you had been taught. That baking you a cheesecake that you loved and homemade lunches to take to school was a normal expectation of a childhood. That asking for school meetings with the teachers and therapists when I was only twenty one to help you feel anything but dumb. Teaching you to put your napkin on your lap and basic table manners to help you along your way in your little shaky life. That none of it really made a difference in the end because in the end it was the end because in the end it was the addiction that took place of everyone else’s help. That in the end it was the addiction that took up the real estate in your heart. Because you chose to take the fork on the left instead of the one on the right.

June 13, 2018

2. The memories being dredged up the way the beach shoreline looks after a nor’easter- fragments of chips and wood and trash and weird oddities scattered like a flea market gone terribly wrong.

Memories have a way, don’t they? The good ones bring smiles and happy sparkly bright white teeth as we think about them, our hearts opening wide like an extra large tin can of sweetly condensed milk getting ready to be poured into a recipe for your grandmother’s dessert. Pictures of the beach, family picnics, sunscreenless kids dressed in their bathing suits covered in sand, wrapped in terry cloth towels, Dr. Scholls sandals on the moms, cigarette in one hand, glass of Chablis in the other, tans that only summers of bain de soleil and foil blankets can produce, tans of the past before we knew about the sun and the downside of its beautiful yet dangerous light.

Light is like this. It has its moments of bright and happy, but too much can cause a ruckus, sleeplessness, sunburns, dehydration to name a few. Memories too are like this. It is always an interesting trip down memory lane reflecting on history and moments in time. Bam. They confront with the most vivid of recollection and Ahhh, that too. And ahhhh and bam mushed together. Not sure if the memory is truth or filled with artistic liberties because it is so much easier to make them kinder and sweeter in reflection.

Memories have a way of being dredged up the way a beach shoreline looks after a noreaster loaded with fragments of wood and trash and weird oddities like a flea market gone terribly wrong. Whole families can take part in lively discussions about the same memory and all have a different perspective because of course memories get mixed with our own editorializing to make them fit into the box we want to open with glee rather than seal up and bury in the back yard.

We don’t get to pick and choose though. Memories. The past sits and waits. For maybe a dream to wake up a dormant thought from the old days, the past days. Or maybe a smell of something or a mannerism that reminds you of a person you haven’t thought of for sometime. Or a song, those blasted songs, Freebird. When the lights go down in the city…. Journey bellows and I am sent back in time to the sweeter days of my youth. The simpler days of a hot cup of coffee when I used to drink it with cream, smoking a joint, and playing a game of backgammon on the back deck on an early morning joint with a childhood friend before she stopped.

Cold and Abrupt.

Without Warning.

Our daily conversations forty years later.

June 20, 2018

3. Without Warning

Anna Quindlen wrote a piece about motherhood that had this quote in it,

“I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”

Somehow I remembered the quote being more about wishing she knew the last time her child would be wanting a hug and a kiss as the last time so she could have kissed and hugged just a few moments more, but maybe this was in a different piece. Regardless though, the essence of the essay is the looking back and reflecting on our child rearing years if we are the lucky moms who get to have the rear view mirror to look back in. Some mothers don’t get that chance. I did and I don’t have the same feeling she did that has just a slight tinge of regret. But I get her commentary as it is so easy to get stuck in the vortex of laundry and dishes and working instead of the fantasy world of setting up lemonade stands and forts using all of the living room pillows.

I’ll never forget the night my son didn’t want that nighttime hug. I didn’t know it would come that soon. I think he was in fifth grade. I am sure I must have written about the moment. If I didn’t, it doesn’t really matter because the memory is etched upon my heart until many years later. Now though, college age, he allows me a little more freedom in the hugging. Probably because of the breast cancer more than anything else. And maturity. And he loves me. And I love him with a feeling in my heart I never thought was part of the map that would be the road to parenting an almost twenty one year old soon to be junior in college.

My son is my role model. There is nothing like being the recipient of shitty parenting to teach you how to be a better parent. Or a worse one. But in my case, I am confident in my parenting but it is also because I have a son who was born to be a nice person. He has character and strength and a deep sense of calmness. He is self assured but not cocky or narcissistic. He’s the type of kid my aunt says, “He’s going to go places.”

He has shown a deep sense of maturity and growth since his dad, Dave and I separated six months before his Bar Mitzvah back in 2011 and I have watched him teach David and me how to be the best divorced parents. Michael was the one who came up with a more efficient visiting schedule. “Mom, why don’t I do one full week at Dad’s, one full week with you. This three day/ four day schedule is annoying.” He suggested this in seventh or eighth grade and Dave and I went with it. This taught Dave how to parent fully and me how to parent fully, each alone. At the same time we each developed our own new relationship with our son that was different if we had stayed as a couple. I suggest this to all parents who are getting divorced. It was a perfect balance and it also helped the two of us to heal our own wounds separately and together. I don’t know how he instinctively knew, but his honesty coupled with his directness has opened my eyes to what happens when a parent actually can release their know it all attitude realizing our children teach us as much if not more than we teach them.

He’s the type of young man who let’s me know without ever having to ask when he’s going somewhere, when he’s home with a simple text knowing that if I wake up at one in the morning I will check my phone and this alleviates the fear factor. “Going to Lane’s,” the short and to the point text message says when he decided at ten pm to head out knowing I have been asleep for two hours likely already. “Home,” the even shorter message says when he arrives back knowing I will be relieved when I check my phone later after the second or third bathroom run.

As Michael gets closer to the age of my brother’s age when my brother’s age was the age of his own cancer diagnosis, I am finding myself a little more anxious. I am trying to stay conscious and present to it and not allow it to take over my energy field, but it is not easy. My brother was twenty three. My son is going to be twenty one this year and I have been trying to just stay in the moment instead of projector head swirling into the what if’s. My cancer diagnosis, unlike my brother’s cancer diagnosis came without warning. My brother’s came as the result of his excruciating leg pain that was misdiagnosed for a month before we got the news. Why would anyone think that a healthy strong twenty three year old strapping young man would have advanced lung cancer? My son also named Michael for obvious reasons is my go to rockstar for not worrying. I am not sure if he ever worries. Life just happens and he just enjoys life, whatever it seems to bring towards him, around him, he doesn’t seem at least on the outside to fret or let things vex him.

I never thought during my starry eyed pregnancy that almost twenty one years later, I would be writing from the seat as the student of parenting rather than the teacher. Parenting my son, Michael has been humbling and joyful because the lessons he has taught me have far exceeded any expectations I surely had when I was belly full, waiting for my due date to roll in. December 27th the day when my future role model was actually born. Right on time, just like he has always been since.

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WATCHING HERBIE HOROWITZ

WATCHING HERBIE HOROWITZ

Being in the presence of a 100 year old WWII Veteran is a force to be reckoned with. He is old. He is shrinking both literally and figuratively, as his stance does not command the height it once did, nor does his appetite. His sleep patterns have reverted to an infant as he is on a three hour schedule of fitful and inconsistent patterns that are a recipe for exhaustion. I have threatened him, jokingly of course, that to keep him awake during the day, I would wipe cold wash cloths on his forehead to get him back on a schedule of night time rather than day time routine. But he is not an infant and I am not his mother, but a granddaughter who is deeply in love with her grandfather and can’t imagine my fifty three year old life without him. This is an emotional response, not the pragmatic one he has taught me over all of these years of banter and instruction from my role model and mentor, Herbert H. Horowitz.

Herbie, my grandfather whom I have written about so often and has inspired me in business, parenting and life is winding down. It isn’t sad to watch, he has led an incredible life filled with all of the ups and downs that not many people can say happen in a one hundred year span of time. I just reminded him to remember to call his sister, who is also still alive and who also still lives on her own. She is his older sister, Helen Hurwitz, two years his senior and I just suggested between naps that perhaps they were in competition to see who could outlive each other.

Some of the dialogue we have about end of life likely shocks Herb’s more conservative caregivers. They seem to shy away from mentioning the word death like it may wish away his life. I don’t share this thinking and neither does Herb or the rest of my family for that matter. We are after all a pragmatic lot who has lost both my brother and my father too young. In some ways one might say I am desensitized, but in truth I am a realist. I don’t wallow. I do cry. I am sad, but as Judaism says, we keep the memories and this is really a celebration of a good life lived. We are all going to die, some younger than others, it is what we do with the life while we are living it that really matters. Herbie has done this with his own life and as a result done it for ours. We are the lucky ones here because we get to be in his tremendous life watching him wrap it up slow and steady and patient, just like the way he is.

This is fitting and I like the neatness of this. How his exit matches who he is ultimately and it makes me wonder if this is part of the overall plan from birth to death, how we lived is how we die? That can’t be true actually as I consider all of the young people we have lost, they didn’t have time to live so forget that silly esoteric thought. I will just keep this one for Herbie’s life. It is an apropos way to see it and I cherish the view. Just like I cherish my grandfather, every single day this week of my visit when he graces me with his unique presence and outlook.

Watching someone wind down is an honor that so many of us don’t get to see up close and personal. As I watch him take his fourth nap at 12:30pm today after he binge watched Pinky Blinders on Netflix until 4:30am, (yes my grandmother is rolling over in her grave no doubt), I am so happy I added extra days on to my time here. Not only did I get to spend my 53rd birthday on Siesta Key beach but I also got to spend it with one of the men I adore most. I am so used to leaving with the assumption that another trip is around the corner, next month, next fall and so on, but when someone is 100, you just never know. When I say every moment is a gift, just hang out with a 100 year old and this will be closer to the truth than any five minutes of mindful meditation. Every time.




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NO FREE PASS

NO FREE PASS

At my fifth year or maybe it was the ten year high school reunion, (it all blends together almost forty five years later, eeeh gads), I spotted her from her literal behind. Her beautiful figure would in an earlier era be referred to as svelte. Smooth, curvy, but not bodacious at all, highly feminine, ballet-esque. She was kind of like the waif version of the Jessica Rabbit character who played in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Her pale sunless skin with her vibrant red locks cascading down her back gave her appearance away immediately but so did the shimmery fabric adorning her skin. The handmade fabric she had invented just for the occasion of the reunion stood out like the bright light she was in high school- creative, inventive, confident. She had designed a dress (of course) that she had screen printed on the stretchiest of fabric all of our senior photos from our North Kingstown High School class of 83 yearbook. We, well mostly the men, spent the evening trying to find where their early eighties hairstyles and faces, but still looked like late seventies, had landed. It was the hit of the evening and she sauntered around with the air of understated, hippy elegance, egoless, calm and kind. This was how I knew her when we graced the halls of the A, B, C, D and E buildings for the four years at North Kingstown High together. She went on to RISD and I connected her to my father in Fall River, Mass as he was very familiar with the textile industry and I think he helped her with some connections there. Eventually she began designing dresses for women who chose to strip for their profession and on and on with her magical creative life I could never wrap my head around, but admired greatly.

Keri Haas, who transformed herself into her alter name, Sarah Good and I were friends in high school. We had a nice connection and though never really stayed in touch, there was a familiar thread between us so when we would see each other at reunions, it was comfortable and comforting. She grew up in the woods of Exeter, and I grew up in Jamestown, worlds apart back then and we somehow found each other in the world of high school that mixed lots of different towns together for the first time in a hot bed of hormones. Back then a ride from Exeter to Jamestown without a drivers license may as well have been a rocket to the moon and the likelihood of getting a parent to deliver to and fro was next to impossible. There was also no public transportation so it was hard to become friends with anyone outside of our own hometowns. But we did somehow.

Somehow she read something I wrote and found out about my cancer experience and mentioned to me that she too had been part of the tribe of cancer chicks and we got together this past June. We met for lunch and shared our war stories, bummed out that this was our link, but nonetheless grateful for the excuse to be together. She told me about the latest discovery of cancer in a different part of her body, a dreaded spot on her lung and we talked about the things we wanted to still do in our young lives. She shared her typical Keri creative world, deciding to make her own wig after her last bout with chemo, actually going to New York to meet with a famous wig designer to learn the art of wig making and actually used her own hair that she cut before chemo to create a wig. Keri was like this. Thrifty is an insult. She was unabashedly one of the most artistic people I have known. Jewelry, clothing, living off the radar in Maine in a house I meant to visit, nothing surprised me about her ability. I sat in awe as she filled in the holes of the time that had passed between us with her endless love of creation. We left each other that day, sad that cancer was the excuse, but happy knowing each other and the shared camaraderie we always have had.

Life gets busy. I went on healing from my surgery, she went on trying to grapple with her diagnosis and our lives again separated as we both went on. I saw she got married typical shotgun style and sent her a comment that I didn’t hear back from her on and time marched on. So this morning for some reason, I went on Facebook which I seldom do and started to see mentions of her in the past. I quickly realized that she had passed away and reached out to her oldest friend, Kim who called me apologetically and promptly for not letting me know. Not knowing about someone dying and then missing an opportunity to celebrate their life among friends is one thing, feeling bad about is another. I don’t feel bad because I know that Keri knew I cared for her. I know that the people who know me who went to the memorial would know that too. This is the glory of ego release. I had a generous conversation with Kim about the service and Keri’s remaining weeks on this planet. This was enough. What I have been grappling with today is deep sadness for her loss and a fresh wound opening that just because I am ok now does not mean I get a free pass. I am not being negative or pessimistic. It just really has freaked me out that Keri died in less than the seven months that I saw her and she really didn’t know that the “little spot” on her lung would be her final coast into today without her.

When I was getting radiation, the thought process was that surgery takes out what is there, but even though they caught it early, there is always a chance that something could be missed and radiation is one more line of defense. When the cancer came back the second time, it disproved the radiation theory to me and I actually wondered if the radiation caused its return. Who knows, really. I was starting to buy into the idea that this is over for me. I am healthy, strong, fearless. When I found out today that Keri died last week, it reminded me that I haven’t even gotten to the one year mark each of the last two we caught it early times yet. So today as I allow myself to wallow, to write, to sit on the couch with tea and a robust fire, I feel vulnerable and heavy hearted. I allow this. I accept it and know that all of “it” is completely out of my control so I march forth again into the rest of the day and the weeks and the months.

I remember Keri and I think of all of the people who knew her and were inspired by her grit. She went too soon. She had a lot left to do and as she said when I last saw her and Kim said she said the same, “this sucks.” Yes Keri Haas, Sarah Good, it very much does.

god speed Sarah Good. A rockstar has left the building.
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THE AWAKE WAKE

THE AWAKE WAKE

“I am thinking about having a party while I am still alive,” my dad on his almost death bed, cancer ridden, stated with almost Zig Zigler salesman like conviction. I had gotten “the call” that my father had been rushed to the hospital by Dad himself who sounded for the first time unsure if this hospital visit would be the last one. I rushed up there, ‘there’ being New Hampshire, Dartmouth Hospital, near the college where I found my father and my stepmother dealing with the ramifications of esophagus cancer that would soon take his young life. Once we realized that this was not the end, my stepmother had decided to head back to the cabin situated on my Dad’s beloved 100 acre campground in the Great Woods of Northern New Hampshire, Strafford, north of Lancaster. I stayed put so she could have a much needed break as she had become his primary caretaker, a task surely not for the fainthearted, but for a person who loved the other with all her heart. My father was lucky to have her, surely, as I chuckled at the notion of my mother ever taking on this selfless role. Not a chance. Not a chance of his mother, my grandmother doing this either, those two women were just not made of that fabric. Bernadette was, is, and I felt so happy she was his wife. I am not sure I would have had it in me either, especially since my cancer ridden father continued to smoke his disgusting cigarettes until almost his last breath. “What’s it going to do, kill me?” he would say with his twisted sarcasm. I had been going up to visit him pretty regularly before his cancer more like a freak show exhibit as once again my father was on some business venture and I, like the rest of my very white collar family of lawyers, doctors and business people, was intrigued by his never ending gumption.

My father was fearless in his quest to find the business that would give him the combination of livelihood and joy and the campground would be the winner for him. He loved the woods, he loved the social, he loved the community and his ability to make a small living doing what he loved was the best way for him to move into his seventies. Until he got the cancer diagnosis. Dad always thought that he would blast through his life living well into his eighties like his other grandfather, Joe, his father’s father who smoked at least a pack of cigarettes and drank scotch like water every day. It was a fifty fifty shot. The grandfather he was super close to, the one who died while Dad was at boarding school in Maine at Hebron Academy, when he was only 59 also of cancer. Stomach cancer was the diagnosis back then, but in 1959 who knows if that was the cancer. Almost sixty years later, cancer diagnosis’ have evolved and become much more specific and the genetic realities that have made cancer more prevalent are only within the last twenty years. My father didn’t know about genetic mutations and drank and smoked with a Joi De Vivre since he was about thirteen years young. I hadn’t been around the endless smoke of cigarettes since I was 16 and reentering the haze and smell triggered me. I couldn’t stand to be around it and Dad as usual didn’t really give a shit. Dad was the black sheep in the family doing all of the opposite that was expected of him and this used to drive my Grandfather crazy.

My Grandfather Herbie, ran a textile company in Fall River like so many other Jewish men in the fifties and sixties and my father ended up working there. I don’t think my Dad ever really enjoyed this, but because he eloped at twenty to a Irish Scottish German Catholic girl from Newton, Mass and I came along a year later, I don’t think his track in the management career at Woolworths in Burlington, Vermont was feeding his soul or his wallet. He now had a family to support and since he dropped out of University of Vermont and totally pissed off my grandfather, I think this was his cross to bear. With his tail between his legs, hat in his hand, he went back to Fall River and began his career at the factory where he unhappily resided until I was at least fourteen. He had some other businesses afterwards but when he found this campground and purchased it I finally saw him living his truth. I loved the campground, it was a bizarre collection of camouflage, ATV’S guntoting, pot smoking Libertarians and they loved my Dad and he loved them. I don’t know how he managed to be part of the party as quickly as he did, but Dad was a gregarious outgoing and super smart guy. Super likeable too and his ability to live his life how he chose was a great example for me. He was a curious soul and the longer he resided there, the more he became a Fox loving Libertarian along with the rest of them. I was in awe.

So when he came up with this idea to have a party, I immediately jumped in and came up with the name and all we had to do was convince Bernadette. I’ll never forget her face when we both proposed the concept. It would be potluck. It would be a huge all day event, we would invite all the New Hampshire folks, all the Jewish family, all the Portugese contingent and whoever else wanted to jump on the party bandwagon. A bonfire would also be part of this wacky event, of course. And besides food, there would me much alcohol and lots of clothing layers. After all it was Northern New Hampshire in November. As we began the guest list, Dad determined who we would be asking and who we wouldn’t be asking. A couple of his first cousins would be left off the list which was fine by me. Hell when someone is dying of cancer, they make the rules, social correctness goes out the window and I was just the messenger. Little did I know that this decision would cause a war on the day of the event with me being the recipient of the fire. Of course the two cousins got wind of it and showed up anyway thinking it was me who left them off the list. Me in my codependent protective state took the brunt of their anger like it was right out of Seinfeld episode as they showed up in their Lexus with their high heels and Prada bags. Amusing and in hindsight added humor to the heaviness of the day. It didn’t feel funny on the day, but it definitely has been a topic at every family get together.

What is an awake wake? It is a celebration of life when you know someone is dying and they get to be the main guest while they are still alive. As one might imagine, this was a difficult concept for many of our family to swallow, but I was the cheer leader and no one was going to change our plans. I think losing my brother at such a young age made me look at dying with such a unique vantage point and if this was one of the gifts of losing my brother, an awake wake would soon be in the history books as one of the greatest celebrations ever. Imagine my grandparents traipsing up to New Hampshire from sunny and warm and wealthy Sarasota in the middle of November to “celebrate” their son’s life knowing he was going to die of a cancer that also took their first born grandson only fifteen years earlier. Heavy and hesistant hearts I am sure they had. Of all of the people who attended and there were at least 150, my grandparents couldn’t stop talking about this in the most positive of terms after the weekend experience. I think this gave my father a great feeling of peace. Why do we wait until someone dies to tell them all of the glorious things we learned and loved about them in a postmortem eulogy? The only advantage to knowing you are going to lose someone is that you know ahead of time. Why wait to celebrate their lives? Why not celebrate them so they know their importance on this planet and how they affected people and places by their short existence. I know this idea isn’t for everyone, but this experience with my father was life changing for not only him, but for the people in attendance.

We shared food, stories and life together with Dad and he knew his contributions without a doubt. He got to live two more months with the knowledge that he made a difference in many peoples’ lives and I think when he finally checked out, he was more at peace then he imagined. Less pissed off that his plan of smoking and drinking and outliving us all would throw our theories of health and fitness out the window, he was happy when he died. Isn’t this the point? And typical of loss, I miss my father more at each year that passes. I find myself really asking what would Dad have said, done, but I am so glad I was able to tell him what I loved about him while he was still around and coherent to hear it. Anytime I find out someone close to someone I know is dying, I always boldly suggest that they sit with the person privately and let them know all of the wonderful things they learned from them and loved about them. It is a real gift for the dying, but often it is surprising at what a gift it becomes for the ones left behind.










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TO CHILDHOOD FRIENDS

TO CHILDHOOD FRIENDS

Standing in the line to go into the church, I came across a young woman I hadn’t seen in awhile. We affectionately recognized each other as we made our way to the guest book together talking about the sad and sudden funeral we were about to be a part of. Random conversations between the awkward silence of a funeral line have a loudness to them that is almost contradictory. Cremation versus burial was a brief topic. “How’s your son?” she asked me followed by “Where are you working these days? I asked her. Lightness to the questions trying to fill the time and space of the sadness. “How do you know the now deceased?” I asked her. She asks me the same and these become part of the typical types of conversation that happens in a funeral line easing for only a moment the time spent in it. She asks me the same and we continue until we reach the guest book where we sign our name and address that likely no one will look at again at least in the near future. The thing about guest books at a funeral is that you think you want to know and remember each and every person who attended, but in all reality your grief takes over afterwards and memories of the funeral of a forty seven year young woman overshadow. One moment she is sharing her life with everyone who knew her, sistering her sibling, daughtering her parents, mothering her children, working with her peers and being a childhood friend to her childhood friend, Jane for over forty years. One day she is here then within a few short months she is diagnosed with a rare heart condition and she is no longer.

When you have been blessed to keep a childhood friend for most of your life, the loss is almost unbearable. Even more than a sibling loss, because siblings you inherit by being born together, a childhood friend is a choice you make to keep this person in your realm. They know your depths like no other. A childhood friend is someone you can be all truth with- vulnerable, weak, honest, painfully direct at times exchanging advice whether we ask for it or not. Daily visits if you live close by or daily phone calls if you don’t. Texting “are you awake?” when you both know it is past each others bedtime but need some power and love from the other during a down turn in emotion. Sharing life’s events-jobs, moves, relationships, family bullshit, beauty advice, book discussions, movies, music, work problems and joys- this list never ends because there is never a time when you run out of things to say or feel. The love is so deep it is almost on the same level you feel for your own child or children.

I watched my dear friend, Jane have to struggle with the pain of such intense loss as she buried her best friend, Thelma at Thelma’s funeral this past weekend. I thought about my own childhood friend, Melissa who I have had the privilege of friendship since we met in sixth grade when I first moved to Jamestown, RI in 1976. I thought about the times we are so close it almost hurts thinking about our connection and I felt Jane’s pain from the luxury of my own view. Our friends are not supposed to die in our young worlds but they do. The anticipation of the emptiness I would feel in losing my friend, Melissa is an unbearable notion. Childhood friends know the insides of our homes, the traumas and the dramas, the successes and the failures. It would be like losing all of your most precious photos in a fire; you can never get that history back, it goes with the loss when they die.

Being at Thelma’s Catholic funeral this past weekend and all of the discussion of going home to Jesus didn’t seem comforting to me in any way. Perhaps it is not supposed to in this early time of grief. Perhaps it is more of a seed planting for the time in the future when you can smile again. I watched my friend Jane, through the eyes of my friendship with Melissa and her loss had depths of despair she didn’t even know yet. Priests and Rabbis can say life remembrances and back to God in all of their sermons, but the profound loss of a best friend way too young can never be comforted. There is no time limit on grief- there is also no fairness in its world. A smiley, bright, shiny personality who brightened the energy of the people she came in contact with is no longer the north star of the people she knew and loved. The only brightness is the selfish reminder to people like me who still get to share the life of their own childhood friend and to not take them for granted. This is the only light I see for a life much too young to leave us so soon.

I love my best friend Melissa more than I think I could ever love a sister I never got to have within the pockets of my clothes. Her friendship I always carry proudly and with honor. The only gift I can give to my friend Jane besides my own friendship (and flowers from my garden and the home baked brownies she loves) is to never stop the deep appreciation I have for my own dear childhood friend. If this is one speck of light because of her own loss then Thelma’s young passing had at least some random significance. I hope the specks of light turn into sparks and the sparks turn into stars in the dark sky that is everyone’s grief right now. I hope the stars in that dark sky turn into a bright sun at some point. For now though I know it is too soon to even consider the possibility.

But the darkness always turns to light and this is the anticipation of comfort I know for sure.

my dear friend Jane and her childhood friend, Thelma.

me and my childhood friend, Melissa
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WHY DOES UNIVERSAL FLOW ALWAYS SURPRISE ME?

WHY DOES UNIVERSAL FLOW ALWAYS SURPRISE ME?

When my brother was alive, he had a girlfriend whose name was Eva. She was in a PhD program at Duke studying something brilliant that had to do with the ocean, something like the way barnacles interact with certain paint types on the bottom of boats. I am sure this was not her main thesis, but whatever it was she was studying, it was certainly way over my head. She loved my brother and my brother loved her. They were in their early twenties and living in an apartment together near Duke in a neighborhood near Ninth St. in Durham, NC. I am sure that twenty two years later, this neighborhood has become trendy and overpriced, but back then it was just cool and affordable. The two of them would move to Beaufort, NC in the summers where Eva would continue her studies at the Duke program near the beach and my brother would work at the docks. They had a really nice life, one that was easy and the way it should be in your early twenties as you try to find your way. They made lots of great friends along the way and when my brother was diagnosed, these friends would become family as we all tried to navigate this foreign territory of dealing with fatal cancer in a twenty three year old healthy full of life young man.

Eva was a really special young woman. Her family was from Germany and she had a slight accent, I think she was probably born there, but I can’t remember. I remember her parents thinking that taking care of my brother was too much to expect while she was trying to work on her PhD, but she would not hear of anything else. She had an undying work ethic and an incredible sense of core value. She wasn’t going anywhere. She really cared for my brother and she really took care of him in their tiny apartments like a committed partner.

Ann, aka our mother, tried to take care of him, but she hadn’t had the experience of going through what being a mother was to a teenager since both of us had left to move in with my father, mothering was kind of lost to her. My brother tried to live with her when he was first diagnosed, but it was too stressful as Ann was freaked out. Any mother would certainly be freaked out at the prospect of losing your child, especially when you had already lost him once before because he moved in with our father when he was ten. Ann never really had the skill set in raising young adults; she really struggled with dealing with children who weren’t children anymore. So when Michael was diagnosed, she tackled the trauma head on, but as the sad novelty wore off and the harsh reality of Michael’s inevitable mortality became apparent, the grief became unbearable.

In my personal psycho analysis of Ann, pain and Ann were never a match. Pain for Ann meant flight, not fight and so flight was what she was good at. Her history was when the going got tough, we would move. I think probably always in search of looking to fill the hole with things and places and change. This had been going on since I was born so it is not because of my brother. Like all grief, when you run, it shows up over and over forcing you to move through it. The power of grief is in its refusal to allow you to circle around it. At least this has been my experience, but who am I? I can only speak of my own dealings with grief and I have knock on wood never lost a child.

Our mother in her dealing with the fact that her son would be leaving our lives turned her grief into blame. Blaming someone else for your personal pain is so much easier than facing the reality of grief at the moment. She became really resentful of Eva which of course as I write this sounds totally fucking crazy. One of Ann’s character traits that she learned from her mother for sure was the way she struggled with love coming at her. Love for Ann was with strings attached or never enough to go around. This seemed to be her own experience of love. Love would leave, love would desert, love was never good enough. Love was not one of those emotions to be totally trusted and Eva unconditionally caring and loving my brother put our mother’s blatant inadequacies front and center in the Snow White Magic Mirror. It was like Ann could never be happy for either of us being loved wholly and unconditionally by someone else. If she were reading this I am sure this analysis would jolt her. Perception is reality and for me and my brother recovering from the trauma of our parents terrible divorce and their behavior towards each other was clinging to each other deeper and more intensely. Losing my brother was the final insult to my mother and my fragile relationship. If there was even a thread of hope for my mother and I to repair anything, it ended when I showed appreciation for Eva’s care for Michael.

About ten years ago, my father tried to find Eva and I can’t remember if he did, I heard from her maybe when my father died or sometime that caused me to keep the envelope with her return address. I think I wrote to her and the letter came back with “unable to forward.” This past year I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a message. I didn’t hear back from her, thinking maybe my reach or my father’s reach drummed up some serious sadness that had long been put to rest. I think that recently finding all of my old writings about Michael coupled with my own son approaching twenty, this whole nonsense with Ann and my own cancer experience has put me in a time machine propelling me back to 1995. So in my EIGHT WEEKS TODAY piece, bringing back my reflections on the day my brother died, I put some universal flow out there in the planet.

So yesterday, it shouldn’t have surprised me when I got a note from Eva on Facebook. The note didn’t mention the writing, as a matter of fact, I don’t even think she had read it. She was responding to my message dated September 4, 2016 mentioning my son going to college on his first day. She being a professor, after all she is probably 47 now, and super busy seldom going on Facebook finally checked her message now that school is over.

After all this time on the exact time I rewrote the sadness of the day my brother died is the exact day I hear from Eva, I love universal flow, I am humbled by its power every single time it happens and so grateful.

I bow in appreciation.




Eva and Michael BC, the note I sent to Eva on sept 4, 2016, her reply to me yesterday on EIGHT WEEKS TODAY. 🙏

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LETTER TO ANN

LETTER TO ANN

I wish the things that can so easily be said on paper, were things that a face to face meeting to work through as two adult women could possibly solve. I wish we could both go through all of the painful experiences like we were at an alanon meeting, pouring out our soul with no defenses, no criticisms or judgements but just a way to get it all out in the open and move to forgiveness.

Is the relationship not worth the work?

When you and your husband of sixteen years got divorced, you were put in a super vulnerable place, but managed to come out of it surviving and figuring out how to be self-sufficient. This was no small feat as a woman with two children who needed both physical and emotional shelter. He left you. That must have been incredibly scary. People in your circle weren’t getting divorced at the rate that would soon follow.

There were no textbooks for what to do and what not to do. In hindsight, selling the family home, moving to a new community, getting your kids set up in a new school within a few months of your husband moving out was probably not what the textbook that hadn’t been written would have said. Emotions were high. Therapy wasn’t the go to solution like it is today. The tension was thick. Emotionally scarring being left by a man. Frightening as hell to be unsure of your financial survival and even worse that you had to depend on archaic alimony creating a dependence that likely did not give you a sense of inner strength. Meanwhile you had two kids, 14 and 9, trying to wrap their own heads around their new paradigm. They were holding on the best they could separately and together. They were trying to learn how to satisfy the demands of having 2 parents separately who one minute were going for long walks after dinner and in the next battling with such hatred for each other. In your anger you both forgot about the needs of your two struggling children. You were both responsible for this.

When your two children ended up living with their father 6 months into the new world of divorce, it must have been one of the most painful experiences a mother could have. This must have laid the groundwork for layers of resentment that would soon follow. A good therapist may have said to you to stop personalizing every single thing and start focusing on parenting.

Stop yelling.

Stop using the silent treatment as a defense.

Stop.

Once two people get divorced, the worst part is that kids have options. Living with their father becomes an option, a way out from the emotional rollercoaster that was going on in your life as you tried to figure out your new role.

The problem with kids moving out is that the organic process of raising them past the teen years stops too and you never had a chance to see what it was like to move through the teen years. The distance and the resentment kept growing. Living with you again never seemed to be a possibility as you had moved on with your life, meeting a new man, finding your sense of purpose in a new career, becoming economically self sufficient.

When your daughter decided to move in with your sister instead of you, you took it so personally. You never got over that. You never forgave her, or forgave your sisters for not telling you or asking you because your daughter wanted to be the one to tell you.

When your daughter was procrastinating, your brother in law took it upon himself to tell you and you never got over that. It must have really hurt your feelings being left out of this decision, but your 19 year old daughter felt like she had no place to live and you and your former husband were not ever a consideration for her. It never seemed to occur to you to consider the pain that she may have been going through as the priority of your pain, your role as victim, was always the main event. But the reality is that it was your ego that was bruised because if you had really considered it you would have known it was more of the fantasy rather than the reality that bothered you the most.

It was at that moment where the hurts and buttons of your younger life of feeling left out of your two sisters connection began its climb. Instead of feeling happy that your daughter had found a place to live where she could feel safe and loved, you resented her for not allowing you a chance to mother her. You resented that she didn’t give you a chance to get back 5 years lost. So the resentments not yet realized lay dormant and your sister and daughter formed a bond like the sisters you never bonded with. You probably felt left out, but you never talked about your feelings so they went inward again.

As time went on, you moved. Around the time your daughter planned on getting married, leaving her to fend for herself for her wedding dress, her bridal shower and the entire planning of the wedding. This didn’t seem odd to you nor did it seem odd to your daughter until people started asking where you were. Your daughter would just reply like it was perfectly normal, “my mother doesn’t do things like this.” Oddly your daughter thought it was perfectly normal until the day she realized it wasn’t, but it was too late.

Your son moved back with you and you got another chance to mother, it seemed as if there was some healing, but then your baby, your only son was diagnosed with cancer and within a year, died. Not in your arms, after all he was 25, but in his apartment with his girlfriend who had been tending his broken body and spirit. You resented this too, but your son died knowing unconditional love from a woman and this was a gift.

You personalized the abandonment and another layer of resentment grew. All this time you and your former husband spoke only twice in the fifteen years of being divorced, at your daughter’s wedding and at your son’s funeral and both were brief and awkward and tense. Your children were watching and it broke their hearts again. You were both responsible.

Once your son died, there was your grief, YOUR grief. We all grieved. There was never a time during this grieving period that you and your surviving child and your former husband came together to process the pain. Each one did it on their own. Your daughter and your former husband were able to bond with the grief as the catalyst, the only positive that came from your son’s death. You went into a deeper despair and the very mention of his name would cause you to go silent in an awkward way so that your daughter never felt like she could speak of her pain and her loss to her mother. You both never had a chance to heal and bond from this terrible experience together. So your daughter figured out how to grieve the loss with her father, with her aunts, with her grandparents and the distance between you both grew more distant. Another missed opportunity for some healing.

Shutting down became the new norm and the distance grew until your daughter had her son, your grandson, same name as your son and there began joy again. A distraction. Your daughter tried to ignore your absence at her baby shower, at your son’s bris, afterall you didn’t do these things. Her bond with your sisters continued to strengthen and your relationship with your daughter was “fine” as your grandson became the light and the joy and all seemed well.

Then your daughter left her husband after 20 years and though you seemed supportive of her decision, the fact that she moved out seemed to trigger some serious old wounds that you could not name and the distance opened up like a scar from years past. The feelings that you had been stuffing with drinking for over 20 years started to bubble and you did not like this. It was uncomfortable, scary, you had moved far away from all family to escape this, it wasn’t supposed to follow you. But this is the thing with feelings, they only move on when you move through and there is no running away. You can run away from a fire in a building, but at some point the fire has to be put out with water or else it will consume everything around it.

Your relationship with alcohol was what grew deeper and the slings at your daughter began with the bar mitzvah of her son all the way to her buying her own house. Occasionally you would let out some of the pain in a screaming match or a nasty letter but it was never constructive, always filled with rage and disappointment instead of a grownup conversation. Through bouts of silence, unspoken resentments grew. Years of unspoken resentments. When your daughter received the news of breast cancer two years ago you had both not been speaking for awhile. When she called to tell you, there was a small chance for the relationship.

She with her ex-husband and her son came for a visit to your new house and it was a terrible visit, sad, painful. Alcohol was the force to be reckoned with and even if there was a sliver of hope, the force of the drink usurped the visit. The fact that your daughter came with her ex-husband and that their relationship was a mature one must have dug old wounds even deeper. The visit gave you a chance to witness what could have been in your own past. It was like Dickens ghost of Christmas past.

The thing about unspoken feelings is that there is always light on the other side, but you have to be willing to do the work, to move through the darkness and it can be really dark. Alcohol makes the darkness seemingly disappear, but that of course is the illusion of addiction. The sadness of shutting off the lights permanently is you never get to the light, to see what is on the other side, Yes there will always be more pain, but there is also so much more pleasure and joy and lessons. You will never know how your daughter coped with her double mastectomy or the way she handled this next phase of her life because you found the pain and the work to be something you wanted to go around instead of through.

Your relationship with your daughter never had a chance to heal because you never gave yourself a chance to heal. You were the parent and you never considered your role as the line leader to work through and help the relationship grow. It stayed stuck in old thought patterns and old sadness where it still sits.

Until one day when you decided that the pain was never going to go away unless you ceased any connection with your daughter.

And so you did.