grief, life lessons

I WILL REMEMBER YOU

Mom, my head is killing me, the text said at 6:00am after I responded to the preceding text of, Are you awake? 

My son, Michael, never really calls about things like this so I sit here trying not to go to the dark side. 

But it is hard for me. As much as everyone says how much he looks like his father, David, and as much as I see this, I also see my brother in him more and more as he gets older. His voice, his mannerisms, even his handwriting is similar. Maybe it is just wishful thinking that he resembles my beautiful brother. 

He is my brother’s namesake, Michael. 

My brother was a seemingly healthy, strapping young man when he was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer three months before his twenty-fourth birthday. He died just one month after he turned twenty-five. Needless to say, the loss was unbearable and almost twenty-five years later, as I sit with that loss, it shows up in my worry about my son. 

There is this lingering vapor that surrounds me and as much as I try not to give it my attention, it is there. My son is going to be twenty two in almost two months. And that is almost twenty three. Then I have two more years to be reminded of the deep crevices left from my brother’s death as I watch my son enter into the realm of his age. 

There is no positive affirming this away. I am not the type of person who projects bad things. This is just a trauma that is here. Death of a young person is like this. 

It sits there. 

And waits. 

And we can go through our days and our lives and have moments where it is not such a prominent thought, but it is always there. And when it decides to remind you of the pain, the dark feelings are real. 

So when my son calls me at six in the morning, not usually a complainer, I take the call seriously. We go to the doctor, the walkin because these days unless you have some boutique doctor that you have decided to pay an annual fee for the “privilege” of being able to actually see them without an appointment, you slog along to the walkin with the majority of the population. 

We sit and wait and as luck would have it, my own doctor happens to walk by and we start talking about why we are there. In a nanosecond she figures out the problem and in a nano second we are both semi relieved. When he was called for his appointment, it was weird to not go in to the office with him, it was one of those funny mom transitional moments. The kid is almost twenty two for goodness sake; I was traveling for a month alone through Paris with only one thousand dollars in my pocket and no credit cards when I was this age. 

He would have to fend for himself or else the likely eye rolls from the medical team of helicopter mom would prevail. Thankfully, the prognosis was that he had a past sinus issue that decided to keep residence in his head causing this severe headache. It wasn’t a brain tumor, it wasn’t an eye tumor. He wasn’t going to have to have chemo and radiation and lie dying while his body wilted away to nothing.  

This language sounds extreme; I fully realize how dramatic this sounds. The funny thing is that when he was a little boy and even into his teens, I was never the worrying parent. As a matter of reflection, I was about the only parent I knew who was elated at the prospect of him obtaining his driver’s license and getting his own car. 

Michael always showed up when he said he would, he would text me if he was going to be late, which was hardly ever. He was who parents would call a good kid. He still is. Responsible, kind, considerate. My brother was like this too, but the difference was that he died when he was only twenty five. My maternal worry has started this year and I can’t shake it. When most parents are breathing a sigh of relief that their children are almost across the finish line to graduate college, I am in a slightly unnerved state. 

This is trauma. Waiting like a patient tiger for its prey, ready to jump at just the right moment. October is like that tiger because it is the start of many defining moments. October 20. My brother’s birthday. Born in 1970, it is strange when I meet someone who is was born the same year. When I hear or see someone’s birth year as 1970, I look at them and am immediately struck by their normal aging face. 

Losing a twenty five year old makes time stand still because I only remember my brother young. He said this to me before he died as being the only benefit- like there could be any benefit- to dying young- that people would always remember him young. 

As time keeps ticking, I am struck by the fragility of life as I recall the birthdays of the people I love who have passed. October 24, my Grandmother Kitsie, the grandmother who always had a typewriter in her bedroom where she typed hundreds of recipes for me for my twenty first birthday. November 1st my Grandmother Isabelle, who encouraged my writing always telling me what a great writer I was. She kept all of my letters and writings discovered on the day of her funeral when all of the grandchildren found a three tiered storage box where all memories of us were kept. We had such a good time reveling in her love of each of us by what she kept all of the years.

November 10th, Lesa Turillo, a young woman who was an active part of my adolescence because she was the daughter of my first love when I was only a child myself. She died from an overdose almost two years ago. 

Then there are the birthdays of the people I love who are still here. My former husband, Dave, November 11th who I spent twenty years of my life  and the most positive end result being our son. And of course my Grandfather, Herbie, who at almost 102 is still going as strong as a 102 year old man who has seen much death in the last twenty five years can be. November 20th fast approaching is the anniversary of Michael’s death, the last year he will have been alive more than he will be gone. I remember wondering about that when he died, the feeling that would come to me when he would be gone longer than he was alive. And here we are.

Time travel. October 20th comes and goes each year and each year I sit alone with my memory. My mother struggles to speak of her loss and I get that -so I respectfully don’t mention it. My father has passed away so I don’t have him to just say, Hi Dad, I’m thinking of Michael today on what would have been his 49th birthday. Who will remember as time marches forth? Death is easy to remember. We memorialize death with plaques and Yahrzeit services but I remember your birthday. The day you were born. I will remember your life on this day. I will always remember you. You can count on that. 

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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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DISHES IN THE SINK

DISHES IN THE SINK

After spending over a week writing a eulogy for an old family friend, then reading the eulogy at her very sad funeral filled with my past life like the movie, The Big Chill, I woke up yesterday feeling like I was hit by a mack truck. The part about eulogy writing is that it is a great distraction from the loss itself. I write and rewrite and add and subtract and read and reread. Then I do it all over again and read it aloud so I can be sure to know the piece enough to look up and look at the important people sitting in front of me with their grief in their laps. Eulogy writing is something that channels itself through me so much so that its calling usually wakes me up out of bed at three am to begin its unraveling down the winding writing path.

When I woke up yesterday, I just knew that I couldn’t work; I was drained, sad, emotional and exhausted. As my business is like a living breathing organism always there when I need it, it turned out to be an unusually slow day. So I asked my illustrious team of superchick employees if I could play hookie and they could take the helm. Because they are who they are, they said a resounding yes without a blink of an eye and I made my way back to my house to gather some beach items so I could spend a quiet day in mourning in my private sanctuary and alter called The Beach.

When I got to my house at seven am after spending the evening in Newport with Michael C after the funeral, I was surprised to see Quality Roofing in my driveway. I have been trying to get Kevin, roof Master with a capital M, to fix my roof since I first spotted the three leaks in my ceiling a few months ago. I was surely not going to send him away so after we bantered back and forth for a few moments, the literal roof started to come off, almost a cliché to the way I felt.

There are no coincidences, at least in my neat little world and sense of order of things, not that I necessarily believe the tagline so freely thrown around to solve everyone else’s problems, Everything Happens For A Reason. Fuck that. I can’t stand when people say these things to other people. I mean Fine. If you choose to believe this for yourself and the rambling road you find yourself on, believe away. My personal belief for me and my own personal life experience is that Everything Happens in the Divine Right Order. For some reason, this mantra always grounds and centers me in the worst of times and the best of times giving me prayer like peace and humility. However, I try not to smear and whitewash this personal belief system on others now that I sit in the seat on the other side of two close cancer calls. I am sure I was in the boxing ring of throwing out these one liners BC (before cancer) and I almost cringe at the comments and stupid cards I sent out not having a clue of what to say. Now, though, that I am the winner of the boxing match, I know better. As a matter of fact, I know better about a lot of reflections and life coming at me moments and this is the beautiful side of the aging process.

The other beautiful magical side of the aging process is the freedom of leaving dishes in the sink. I was as pretty much every woman I know programmed from an early age right along with making your bed in the morning not to leave dirty dishes in the sink. I am a bit of a rule breaker so I am not from the school of intense rule following that I never leave dishes in the sink. I actually do this, but my own neat little rule is not to leave so many that they can be seen when I walk into my kitchen. Thanks to the previous homeowners, I have one of those fabulous deep farmhouse stainless steel sinks so hiding the dishes is an easy feat for this busy chick. I don’t do it often, but when I do it usually means one of two things, I am just too chock filled with over booking myself and I literally don’t have the extra time, which is not too often but it does happen. The other reason is because I am in emotional overload and the permission I give myself to just leave the dishes in the sink, piled up like some college age kid is pure freedom. At least temporarily because the fact of the matter is that the dishes at some point need to get done and the longer they sit, the worse they get. Kind of like negative thoughts and sadness. There is the resting period, the need to sit on the couch and wallow, the need to blow off an otherwise planned day and grieve the loss and just feel sad, the soaking period, but at some point, the rolling up your sleeves and getting the scrub brush out has to take place. If it doesn’t the caked on, stuck on greasy mess you left is worse then it was the day before surely. For us women who are the resilient types, the get shit done women, we get this and we eventually sooner than later get off the couch and grab the SOS pads and start scrubbing. Sometimes we do this sooner than we should. Sometimes we need to allow the soaking for just one more day, just giving ourselves the freedom to walk away from the sink and take a breath of fresh air to buy our own bouquet of roses for our table.

The dishes do get done and for this the symbolism of the metaphor as it relates to grief and sadness is the lesson that always propels me to just get them done. Now. Not later. Later and sadness are not a good marriage. Grief cannot be put off, it has to be dealt with or it deals with you. For today when I woke up after leaving the dishes in the sink for two days along with pans and their covers on the counter around the sink, I knew it was time to just move on. People die. It is sad. Life is short and shorter for some, getting those dishes washed this morning reminds me that I am lucky to be alive to wash the dishes for another day. So I did. Mostly.


I love this plaque hanging in front of me when I wash the dishes. Given to me by my mother, there is a certain irony in it, but it makes me happy as I scrub away at the caked on pile.