“This is where Dad wanted to be!” I called the fourteen of us into a huddle around the pitcher’s mound at Old Yankee Stadium in April 2019.
“Not up at the family headstone in Torrington. So, today we honor his wish.”
My sister opened one of the sandwich bags of ashes I had given out to my three sibs and spread a copious amount of Dad on the pitcher ‘s mound. He had tried out for pitcher when he was 19 years old right there on that spot now dotted with gray. Though Dad didn’t make the team back in 1961, we’d always been impressed that he at least tried out. Because of this, our entire family has always been and will always be Yankee fans.
I quickly looked around the faces of my sibs, our significant others, our children, and nieces the huddle. It was a bit of a miracle that all of us actually got our acts together and converged more or less on time, without any real jangled nerves or bs.
We four had such a long, painful history of not getting along. So much to had to due to our parents’ ugly marriage and divorce. There was Dad’s 26 years of wandering and then managing him the last 14 years of his life as his conservator caused lots of stress.
Yet, when Dad died a week before Thanksgiving I noticed that for the time being, at least, something clicked for the good in his four children. I like to believe Dad had asked God on his way to Heaven, or maybe when he got there, to “Please heal my four kids’ relationships,” I hoped it would last.
But now there we were in the huddle. I asked to my younger brother to give the next instructions to the clan. As the eldest of the four sibs, my role has often as the leader, or in some rougher terms “The Boss.” Yes, I planned the details of this trip, toted Dad’s ashes in my backpack on the train, and I made the pins of dad we all were wearing. Someone else could share in leading.
Andy announced that each of us take our bags to various parts of the field. Someone would tell when it was exactly 12 noon and we would then release Dad at the same time.
Giddy and thrumming with anticipation (and also feeling a little like we were being naughty kids), the four of us took various positions in the outfield. My two adult children and I skipped to left field.
My husband stayed at home plate looking at timer on his cellphone. “Ready, one minute.” Then, “Ten seconds. Then, “Three, two, one.” I opened the zip lock top of the baggie and spun around scattering Dad like I was a twirling ten year old. My two children stood back, laughing. “Go, Dad!” I said.
I glanced over at my brothers, in center and right field. They seemed to be smiling with their families. My sister ran into the infield and sprinkled what she had left in her bag on each of the plates.
Spontaneously, our whole group amassed together just beyond first plate and I passed around York Peppermint Patties, Dad’s ultimate favorite candy. We held them up making a toast, “To Dad.”
After that, with a bolt of energy, I hustled over to home plate. Pretending to hit an imaginary baseball, I ran, well, jogged actually, to first base, then to second, on to third. When I finally rounded to home, I stomped on the plate and threw up my arms in victory.
I make no apologies if you were thinking of going to the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More show this year. Indeed it is the “More” part of the show I feel I need to warn you about if you have never been and were expecting “pure Christmas.”
It’s been about ten years since I first saw them—and loved them—with my husband. We were so impressed we bought a few of their CDs and have listened to them over the years during the holidays. We were looking forward to a great stage show of bigger than life Christmas classics and TSO’s signature Christmas pieces to usher in the season. I was especially excited because we were taking our adult son Chris with us. He is a musician. I thought he would be surprised with TSO’s live, powerful rock/metal take on traditional Christmas classics he’d heard growing up that were normally heard in a church and on our holiday CDs.
We excitedly settled into incredible floor seats six rows back from the stage. The huge billowing purple curtain hung just a few feet before us. “It’s going to be wild,” I said, memories of the intense, huge laser light show a decade ago still dancing in my head.
Well, the first hour was the awesome, traditional Christmas TSO that I remembered. Vocalists, bass, six-strings, keyboards, an incredible electric violinist, drums, and back up singers delivered traditional hymns and classic TSO Christmas tunes in grand, thunderous rock/metal style. It is mind-blowing to hear O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night, What Child is This? and classic TSO This Christmas Day and Christmas Canon Rock . (Listen to this if you are not familiar with TSO). You could feel Christmas reverberating right through you.
Like the last time I saw TSO, there was also a booming baritone narrator who lead us through a lovely Christmas story. This one was about a runaway girl who witnessed Christmas miracles while she sought shelter in an abandoned theater.
The lasers were mesmerizing; you could feel a blast of heat with the pyrotechnics. Again, TSO made “real” snow that drifted down onto our heads. That, and the fog transported you to a believable, magical Christmas place.
So what’s my problem?
The second half of the show! Where the first hour and half I was lulled into a most festive frame of mind, I was suddenly (figuratively) thrown into the fires of hell! Gone with the holy, angelic voices and snowy effects. Instead, a giant lizard with rolling golden eyes took over the screen! And it just went down from there. I mean way down. Like to the portal of hell down. Suddenly the women were wearing impossibly shorter, barely crotch-covering dresses. They were gyrating on a catwalk overhead, strapped to a pole with a chain. The stage lit up with awful red/orange lights. Then out shot out the real flames! Way too many and way too close to be cozy. In fact, I could feel my eyeballs drying out in the instant heat. The guitarists seemed more menacing and lewd. At one point the women singers sang/chanted in Omen-esque Latin. They danced in a circle that conjured images of a coven. I imagined that the gates of hell would soon open and Satan himself would take center stage!
Goodbye, Christmas buzz!
I know there are diehard TSO fans out there who will probably think I’m old-fashioned and a jerk, but why did TSO have to even have that second half of the show? Rife with apocalyptic, illuminati-esque symbols on the screen. It was very medieval (evil), very Game of Thrones with the castle motifs (I admit I’ve never seen Game of Thrones). Am I missing out?
I left the Mohegan Sun theater feeling very disturbed, sad, and that I had been subjected to something that felt icky and dark. My husband, son and I discussed the show all the way home later into the night. Chris “googled” TSO and found there were other people who shared some of my observations. I guess I need to clear my palate with something wholesome and Christmassy. Maybe It’s a Wonderful Life marathon? Any suggestions?
OH MY! Chris Moriarty just moved up to Burlington, VT on Sunday to start a new job. I can’t believe what a gut punch that was. Thought I was ready for it—didn’t even think about it leading up to it, really. Erin Moriarty has been out of the house for three years. We see her almost every month and we’ve gotten accustomed to this. She loves where she lives. Now Chris is going to check out Burlington, too.
Yet, after he pulled out of the driveway I was a mess. I know it is so good for him to spread his wings, so good for all, but those first few hours after he left were almost unbearable. (A weird kind of birthing process?)
It is NOT written in any of the baby books how fast childhood goes or how bittersweet (translation, “wrenching”) it is when they fly out of the nest. It can be mind-blowing to realize that our children really are meant only to be “loaned” to us. In time, they should be encouraged/let go to have their own life to probe, discover, embrace…
I am proud beyond words for him for taking this step. My heart is so full that he and Erin have such a good and solid sibling relationship that they are there for each other.
I know I speak for Sean Moriarty when I say we are so grateful for the many blessings we’ve been given in raising both Erin Moriarty and Chris Moriarty. God has granted them and us two decent (not saying perfect), but two (plus) decent decades growing up as a family. Because of this, every time we get together it will be richer and more precious still. God is so good and merciful…and is watching over them.
“Tyron Rumsowa” (an anagram of is real name) must’ve stood all of four-foot -six in his steel-toed farm boots. Even on the rare times he’d come to church— on his horse he’d tie up on the black iron fence–Tyron always wore what looked like a boy’s size 10 faded denim overalls. He had salt and pepper hair and matching scruff on his small face. His deep-set eyes and slightly crooked nose reminded me of a turtle. Small in physical stature, Tyron made up for it with larger-than-life antics that even 20 years or so after his death, are still remembered as legendary by the over 45 crowd in my hometown.
As a kid in the mid 70s, this Lilliputian neighbor of mine always seemed ancient, but surprisingly spry. He’d drive his big red tractor up and down the road or be dangling from a ladder sprucing up his big red colonial down the street. Tyron farmed several acres that ribboned behind four or five houses on our street, high on a ridge. From our Cape Cod across and at the bottom of one of his pastures, I could make out silhouettes of his cows, horses and sheep grazing high on the hill against the backdrop of the sky.
As a recent assignment at our library’s memoir writer’s group, I immediately thought of this real life character from my childhood. I could expound on several of his antics, but in the spirit of the season, a particular Halloween night when I was in first grade (’71) comes to mind. Thankfully I was too young and innocent to know how deadly this kid holiday might have turned out; I am sure it scared the hell out of my poor mother—thanks to our real life character neighbor!
Mom was leading my younger sister and me as we trick-o-treated around our neighborhood. The pinprick eye-holes of my plastic witch mask that smelled like my cousin’s Lite Brite were hard to see through. It was sweaty, but I could draw in the crisp, late autumn air through the oval mouth hole. Sometimes it made a whistling noise when I exhaled.
We were about to head back to our yard and into the house to count our candy when Tyron came crawling up our street in his late 1950s pick up truck. I heard it sputter along, but I had my mind on more important matters.
“I hope I got lots of Snickers!” I muffled through my mask. I couldn’t wait to dive in my loot after the obligatory examination of potentially tampered candy. We never found any pins and needles. We lived in a safe neighborhood, after all.
“Get down!” Mom screamed all of a sudden. I felt a whoosh behind me and the next thing I knew I was witch-face-down in a pile of leaves. “Stay still!” Mom whispered pulling my sister and me under each of her arms. Too stunned to speak or cry out, we just lay there, clutching our pillowcases of candy.
I could hear my breathing loud and fast inside my witch mask. After a little while, Mom whispered frantically, “Quick, run to the house!”
I stood up, but couldn’t feel the ground beneath me. My legs were flailing behind me like a Raggedy Ann doll as Mom carried us like two sacks under each arm to the house. “My God,” she said, out of breath setting us down in the kitchen.
We took off our masks and looked up at her. “What was that about?” I asked, not sure if I was supposed to laugh or be serious. “I’m scared Mommy,” my sister said tearfully, clinging to my mother’s arm.
“What the hell is going on, Sone-ya?” my father asked, his eyes wide.
“Tyron had a shot gun pointing of his pick up window!” my mother said, her eyes were big. She had her hand on her chest.
“What?” he said. “That crazy old coot!”
I don’t exactly remember what happened after that. There were no cops. My mother or father probably just called Tyron’s son who lived across the street from us. I do recall mom saying that Tyron was angry at kids trespassing that night on his back forty.
Looking back, I have to say that no one was really scarred by this event. We just sat on the braided orange rug in the living sifting through our candy.
Do you remember a colorful character from your childhood? Post about in it the comments below!
How do you unplug? We travel. Sometimes it’s a planned and plotted out vacation, sometimes it’s spur of the moment. Last Tuesday, my husband who is enamored to the point of obsession with his roots, found great last minute airfare and hotel to Ireland. A police captain on the force for 28 years and caregiver to many, Sean finds his happy place on the Emerald Isle. Who am I to stand in his way? Like the lyrics to Eddie Money’s “(I’ve got) Two Tickets to Paradise, Pack your bags we’ll leave tonight!” we stuffed two carry-ons and left on Thursday 18 Sept spending a long-weekend in Dublin returning Tuesday, 22 Sept. Our main purpose was to attend the album launch of our friend Lughaidh “Louie” O Broin’s wife and her band The Evolution Project‘s new album, Outta the Blue at the hip Odessa in Temple Bar. (Read more about how we met Louie in “Moriartys in an Irish Bar Fight in 2012!”)
Besides cheering on these up and coming musical stars, we ended up meeting a slew of cool folks along the way. We want to shout out to those we met (and gave our card to) as we dashed through Dublin. Hello to fellow USA travelers Kathy and Rod from Seattle! Have a great next leg of your trip to South Africa! So good to meet you, Carrie and Paul from Yorkshire, England! What insightful conversation in Cassidy’s over our game of Scrabble! To John at the Abbey St. Methodist Church, we thank you for the tour and warm welcome. We were blessed to worship with your congregation representing 25 different nationalities. Sláinte, Larry and Evelyn of western Ireland! So great to chat at the album launch! Bike safe, Larry and all the best on your Master’s Evelyn! Stephen, Gary at the Padriag Pearse Pub, what good craic! We came in “just fer a pint!” but drank in so much more of Dublin’s life, vibe and culture! Hope all is well on the homefront, Stephen! Gary, did all the letters get delivered to the right addresses? LOL! Hats off to Jimmy at our last pub—Sean’s Cuban and bit o’ Jameson’s on the rocks. Sean and I hope to cross paths with each of you again, or at least keep in touch via this blog and/or our Facebook pages. https://www.facebook.com/sean.moriarty.505?fref=ts, https://www.facebook.com/tanja.moriarty.
“May you live as long as you want,
And never want as long as you live.”
Today, (June 10th) I humbly and gratefully observe the three year anniversary of our horrific motorcycle accident where my husband Sean broke his neck in five places. I firmly believe God sent immediate help and spared us from long-term injury, paralysis and even death! Here are two previous posts explaining what happened and why I say Thank You, God! God sent helpMan’s Craving for a Beer Saved My Husband’s Life
Click here to hear Sean’s theme song by Chumbawamba
“I have something kind of awkward to tell you,” our 23-year-old daughter Erin said on speaker phone from Vermont last week. My husband Sean and I held our breath. In a nano-second, my maternal mental Rolodex spun with at least seven or eight “awkward” scenarios she might break to us. Thankfully she came right to the point. “It was me who wrote on that twenty-dollar bill.”
Relieved it wasn’t something grave, I was just flabbergasted. “It was you? Really? Why?” I had tears in my eyes and a smile a mile wide that she couldn’t see.
“When did you do it?”
A few years ago, she said, but she had forgotten that she had done it at all until she was reminded by my previous post.
Back in 2011, sometime between her junior-year college breaks Erin had gone to our former church with us and was intrigued by this “reverse offering” idea. I recall now that it was a project loosely based on the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30. A woman challenged parishioners to take a sum of money and to go out and invest it so it might yield more money for the church. I remember one woman used her “talents” to buy beads and wire and then made and sold jewelry with the proceeds going to the church.
From what I gather, Erin’s take on this project was to use her own (hard-earned) $20 from her part-time job and sort of invest it in us, her parents! “You and Dad are always doing so much and model devotion, love and perseverance. I just wanted to give this to you.” She explained that the message she wrote back then just flowed and “fit perfectly around the bill.”
When I discovered this money popping out of my bible bag last week, I hadn’t recognize her handwriting. I think I was thrown off because she had written, “Dear Sean and Tan,” and not, “Dear Dad and Mom.” Instead I’d asked a few female friends if they had made this divine deposit. Erin never crossed my mind.
There is only one other time in her life when Erin referred to me as “Tan” and not “mom.” When she was about 2 1/2 I had asked her to pick up her toys or something and she just gave me a look and said, “I don’t think so, Tan.” Needless to say I couldn’t keep a straight face and all parental resolve went out the window.
“I hope you aren’t disappointed,” Erin said.
“Why would I be? Because it was you or that you wrote on money?” I joked. I wasn’t even a little disappointed that the mystery was solved. I was delighted, not disappointed. I explained to her a few reasons why:
First, finding this twenty-dollar bill with the message from “The Holy Spirit” brought me a profound sense of mystery and excitement (just like the still anonymous Valentine’s card from 2013). Who would take the time and thought to write such a lovely, spirit-filled message and give this generous gift of $20? I felt blessed to have such a grand list of possible friends/suspects to wonder about!
Then, there was the reminder of how God still speaks to us and gives us signs and words of encouragement especially at times in our lives when we feel burdened and weary.
I told Erin that my heart was full of joy because I believe that the Holy Spirit in her moved her to write that encouraging message on that $20 three-plus years ago. That it was meant to be found now as words of encouragement to keep us on track. Think about it, three years ago Erin was a “broke college kid”and twenty bucks was no small amount for her to part with!
All in all, I feel so blessed that I have a daughter (and son) who even when they naturally and appropriately question the basics of what they’ve learned in Sunday School (who hasn’t or doesn’t?), that they are, in my heart and understanding living their lives guided consciously or unknowingly by the Holy Spirit. Finding this message, nearly four years after it was planted in my often-used Bible bag was yet another gift of God’s good and perfect timing. Even though it was written in my own daughter’s hand a few years ago, I feel the Holy Spirit was all over it then…and now!
I started going to a women’s Bible study group at the Wethersfield United Methodist Church to be open for what God has planned for me. The group, as well as the whole church, is very welcoming. We have embarked on a nine-week Beth Moore study, “Children of the Day: 1 & 2 Thessalonians.” I didn’t know what to expect, content-wise, but so far, it’s good stuff!
I am learning about the importance of (and am experiencing) a healthy spiritual community. I am gaining strength to get up again after being “knocked down for the count.”
Today’s biggie, to see God/Jesus as my Parent. To be a secure Child of God, I need to embrace and be embraced by God’s paternal and maternal attributes. “To be nurtured, affectionately desired (not just tolerated), exhorted (instructed), encouraged (inspired), and “charged to walk worthy” (get up and do what God charges us to do).
I’ve heard the phrase “Child of God” a thousand times. I just hadn’t wrapped my head around how it applied to me. I have biological parents and God had been more of a go-to “big guy” for mercy, relief, answers, grace and gratitude. I also never quite understood how God can have both female and male characteristics. I’ve struggled with God—the Father in defiance with previously unresolved Daddy issues. I never saw myself as “God’s Baby Girl,” as Beth Moore suggested.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to be a serious, big girl, big-sister, parent-partner to my newly divorced mother in the late 70s. My “childhood” lasted until I was in first or second grade before I was really aware and worried about the dysfunction at home.
For years, I could and did place blame, was a victim, made excuses… but that hasn’t served me too well.
During the video portion of the study, Beth Moore said something that helped bring things into even greater perspective. She compared earthly parents to various kinds of cheeses. Yes, cheeses, but she wasn’t trying to be funny. She pointed out that we’re all human and imperfect. We can be swiss—though we try to be solid for our kids—we might have holes that leave them wanting. We can be bleu, sad parents. Feta, parents that crumble. Cheddar, too sharp or too mild.
Great analogy, Beth! Of course I thought of my earthly parents and what kind of cheese categories they might fit into.
To be fair, I know as a parent myself, that I’ve fallen into various cheese categories, too. I’m sure I’ve left some holes, been too sharp, etc. Though I tried to be a more stable parent in a less chaotic home environment, I know there were times I’ve fallen short.
It seems to me that each of us feel holes left from childhood in some way or another. Nobody has perfect parents or are perfect parents, themselves.
I agree with Beth Moore, that we all could use to connect with God in a parent/child role, to be filled. As she said, “If we have a missing piece, we are missing peace.”
Many of us, especially women, are consummate care-givers to our children, our spouses, our aging parents. I’ve had to assume this role at an early age and later as a conservator.
Even though we may have great life partners we can lean on, they too, are merely human and cannot be there for us 100% of the time. They can let us down, surely as we let them down. But God doesn’t let us down. Anytime we call out, Jesus is there.
As part of trying to see God in a new way, I’m going try to see God as a Parent. To fill the holes that even after years of therapy, still can feel rather sizable. To rub my shoulders, soothe my brow, wipe my tears. Pick me up, dust me off, and put me gently back on the path with a gentle prod.
Hallmark (and other companies) create greeting cards for nearly every occasion. Births, sympathy, encouragement, graduations…but searching racks and racks of prose, I just couldn’t find one that aptly says Good-Bye and Thank You to my retiring psychologist!
The card I finally ended up giving my therapist, I had narrowed it down to four possible but mediocre choices, was a bit wordy. On the front it said, “Finally, a thank-you note that says how I really feel.” Relational enough to give to a therapist, but even after a ton of descriptive words such as “grateful, happy, supported, content, forever in your debt, acknowledged, peaceful…” it still didn’t quite nail it. The writer in me added “thankful” and a deeply personal message. Yet, mere words didn’t fully express the depths of gratitude I wanted to convey to my professional advocate and guiding light for helping to save my sanity, salvage relationships as well as extricate myself from toxic ones, and who knows, possibly extended my very life! Reflecting now, I think that the incredibly accurate, succinct and perfectly-timed lyrics I heard on my car radio as I drove away from my last session fully expresses what is in my heart and pays tribute. Enjoy the song at the end of this post.
I had my very last appointment on August 28th with one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever been blessed to know, clinical psychologist Dr. Ella G. Marks, PSYD. I began seeing Dr. Marks on a weekly basis over four years ago because at 45, all the stuff I tried to keep stuffed down, held back, or tried to hide just wouldn’t stay buried anymore. Four and half decades as an adult child of an alcoholic family, a product of divorce, years of appearing to “fly right” but still over-indulging in risky behaviors, being lost, pressing my luck, and meandering off-track had blurred and scalded into a hot mess. It began oozing out in physical symptoms of panic attacks and heart palpitations. I couldn’t ignore it. It was time to really take care of me and do some very heavy, but very necessary lifting. Or else.
I prayed and researched and left voice messages. There was something about Dr. Mark’s soft-spoken, lovely, Virginian- accented-voice message that gave me courage and lead me to her kind but firm care. When I still rather hesitantly made my way to her creamed-colored office with a bright white couch in the office park in Madison, CT, I was comforted by her soft creased face, her sparkling blue eyes and billowy white hair. I found out by peeking at the dates on her framed diplomas in her office that she had to be in her early 80s. I learned early on that she had studied at first to be a dancer, but then married an Episcopalian preacher, had four children, and then decided to go back to college.
She completed her bachelors in her late forties, her masters in her 50s and fought to enroll in her doctorate program at the tender age 59. She served as a social worker, then earned and hung her shingle as a psychologist and bariatric medicine doctor at the age of 71. How blessed was I to connect with her a decade later!
Quite a head case, I remember saying to her, ” I have lots of anger and confusion. Am I too much for you?” She smiled graciously and said, “No, you are not. You have a lot of mourning to do.”
I would discover over the next four years just how well-equipped this woman was for the likes of me. She guided me to some really tough and ugly places to repair years of damage, grief, and anger stemming from a tumultuous alcoholic environment as a first-born. I worked honestly through confusion, hurt, betrayal, marital challenges, a serious motorcycle accident, extended family woes, and a recent exodus from a church I’d given my soul to for 46 years. She praised me often that I was “what they call a worker,” and reminded me that therapy is a “partnership” whenever I thanked her for helping me. She gave me permission to give myself some credit for my healing, for good things I have done and am doing in my life.
I had written in my card to Dr. Marks that she will forever be a part of “my new psychological DNA.” I will from here on out have greater success with stopping a negative thought and replacing it with a better one. I will think of what she would advise and say in any given situation. A life-long dividend of the work we’ve done.
I know it was hard for Dr. Marks to retire from her beloved work. She who practices Pilates and walks every day is in excellent physical as well as mental shape and “presents herself” as someone at least a decade younger than her actual age. She reluctantly wound down the over 20 years of her practice, extending her calendar for months since she’d first announced earlier this year she’d be retiring. “My family wants me to leave before they ask me to leave,” she’d smile, “but I am going on one more month.” That lead to another and another, until finally the end of August was really it.
I cherished her guidance and wisdom to the very last session. My throat tightened as I pulled into her parking lot. As I climbed the stairs for the last time, I took photos of the waiting room, her office, but out of privacy, I did not take any of her.
So surreal. She lead me in from the waiting room, the one last time. Into her office, one last time. “How are you?” She asked in her customary greeting. “Full of emotion,” I squeaked out. I noticed she was welling up a little, too. “This must be hard for you saying goodbye to everyone,” I said. “It is,” she confided.
Then we settled in across from each other. I gave her my card and photo of me hula-hooping that was taken at the recent Buzzi Reunion at my house. I joked that I wasn’t meaning to be a narcissist, but wanted to show her my happy spirit, celebrating our years of working together. She smiled, “You are a worker!”
As we sat, I said that I hoped we could see each other again, for coffee. Always the good doctor even up to the very last minute, she wanted to impart one last tool to help me hereafter to cope with stress and any mild depression. Meditation. She told me of a study where participants who meditated each morning and evening fared better than the group which took only medication and the other only talking therapy. I balked a bit saying I’ve tried meditating, but my mind wanders like a herd of cats even when I try focusing on a monosyllabic word or sound. Because she knows my faith walk, she said to me, “Just try to say, “Be Still and Know that I am God.”
I smiled because I was wearing that bracelet that very day for extra help knowing I’d be saying goodbye.
Half way through our last session, I had arranged for my husband Sean to come in and meet my Dr. Marks. I had shared so much between the two of them that it only seemed right they’d finally meet in person. It was one of those spiritually-charged, crystallized moments in time as I made the introductions. Sean thanked her as he sat on her white couch next to me. They chatted casually, each feeling as though they’d known each other well—I guess after all this time, they sorta had!
Sean asked her what she had planned now that she was retiring. Without hesitating my heroine said she was going to travel to India where’d she’d gone many times on sabbatical, “but after the monsoon season in September,” and then she was going to join a hiking club!
God bless her!
When it was time to say goodbye, Dr. Marks and I hugged for a very long time. “We can get coffee now, can’t we?” I asked hopefully. “Oh, yes. We will no longer be bound by hippa.”
“We have each others phone numbers.”
As I began driving out of Dr. Mark’s office complex for the very last time, tears of every emotion streaked down my face. Sadness,closing a chapter, a sense of accomplishment, good health, new beginnings, joy!
All of a sudden Kenny Loggins’, “I’m Alright” began playing on my car radio. I kid you not. Sean, who was tuned in to the same station, called me from his car ahead of me. “Can you believe what is playing?” I blurted first. “You are alright,” he said.
I’m alright, Dr. Marks. Thank you, and thank you, God, for Dr. Marks! OK, and thank Heaven for the serendipitous Kenny Loggins’ lyrics as I was driving on!
“Is this the little girl I carried?” I don’t remember growing older. When did she? Happy, wonderful, iconic 30th birthday, Erin! I know I speak for Dad that we couldn’t be more grateful for the experience of having you on March 10, 1991. Raising you has been one of the greatest experiences of our lives! I know that you and Chris were merely “on loan from God” for the first 18 years, but we’re still so blessed that we’re still so close today! “Love you forever, like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.” Happy birthday! Love, Mom
Since the pandemic started in March 2020, I’ve flip-flopped working from home, then going back in the office, and now back at home until I am full vaccinated. I felt too anxious with co-workers who in a vulnerable building, were not wearing masks, or at least not enough of the time. Some didn’t think COVID-19 was real or that the virus could “happen” to them or their loved ones.
Well, COVID-19 did happen to us. Sean’s mom, Sandy, 74, was living in a small and seemingly very COVID-careful convalescent home of 55 beds. For the longest time they had stayed COVID-free. Precautions were such that we could only visit Sandy while sitting six feet away from her, sitting outside on a porch, wearing our masks. Then the last time I saw her, right before Thanksgiving, the convalescent center was even more stringent. Sandy was sitting indoors, six feet from the open window leading to the porch. She was in her wheel chair, behind a wall of Plexiglas-glass, wearing a mask. Sean and I were outside on the porch looking in the open window, wearing masks. A little much, we thought.
That last visit, Sandy seemed the best I’d seen her in a while. Bright, joking, looking forward. I remember telling her to stay well so when things calmed down she could come and stay more weekends with us like she had before COVID hit. We had hoped that after COVID-19, she and Sean could resume looking into Sandy getting into her own apartment with visiting nurse assistance.
Then we hit a wall. A few weeks before Christmas Sandy and a few others had come down with COVID-19. Rumor was that someone (a doctor?) had come in to the building who was infected, without symptoms. At first it seemed Sandy, who was moved into an isolated area, only had a mild case. We prayed she would be OK, but COVID attacked. Her lungs were in such rough shape; she had COPD, emphysema, and was already on oxygen at times. Her blood oxygen dangerously low, Sandy was sent to the intensive care unit at the hospital. She and Sean, who is her conservator came to the anxious conclusion that she would need to be put on a ventilator. Sandy told Sean she was scared, and Sean did his best to assure her that the doctors said she really needed it.
For 17 days we prayed that the medicines they were treating her with would pull her through. At times it looked like she was improving, ever so slightly, but then Sandy’s regular pulmonologist would worn us. If she didn’t turn around soon, she’d have to come off the ventilator. Being on it too long was causing pneumonia and infection.
We kept praying and and tip-toed through very low-key, half-hearted Christmas. My daughter and her son were down from VT after testing negative for COVID. Sean, my son and I were negative, too. We did NOT see any other relatives.
On December 27th Sean made a hard and heart-wrenching decision, after consulting many times with his aunts and uncles and with the doctor, to have Sandy removed from the ventilator. She was getting worse, not better. She would need to be let go. Sean had found a priest who would give his mom last rites, a priest who was subbing in for the hospital’s chaplain who had contracted COVID-19! We were told by the attending pulmonologist that once taken off of the ventilator, Sandy would pass in about ten minutes. Poor Sean was with his mom and the priest when last rites were given. He said his goodbyes and then he and the priest waited in the family room for her to pass so they could go in and offer “prayers for the dead,” in a half hour or so.
In that time, I reached out to my prayer warrior mamas and some family via text that Sandy was off the ventilator and passed around four p.m. That’s what I had been told would happen. NEVER AGAIN will I make that kind of assumption. About an hour and half later I text Sean asking where he was thinking his mom had passed and if he was alright. I could picture him in his truck, distraught, crying. He might have gone for a beer, but where? No bars were open. After another half hour with no response from my text, I called him.
“Where are you?”
“I’m with my mother.”
“Oh, honey, will you be home soon?”
“I am with my mother! She’s is looking around the room. Do you want to talk to her?”
What? At first I thought he was SO distraught that he had lost it. “What? How?”
“She’s here. She’s stubborn.”
“Do you want to talk to my mother?”
“Yes. Hi Sandy. I love you.”
“I love you.” She sounded so weak. So far away.
“It’s OK, Sandy. I have Sean. I love you.”
Sean said he’d call me a little later.
From the waiting room, Sean told me the attending nurse said this it going to be a slow death. That Sandy could live on a few more days. “The nurse said the other pulmonologist never should have told us she’d pass in a few minutes after they took her off the ventilator. They just don’t know.”
“Could she still turn around from this?”
“It’s not likely, but you know my mother! She has always done it her way!”
All I could think was, Oh, my God. Please. Not that I wanted her to die, but I didn’t want her to struggle. For Sean to be in this agony, too.
After I got off the phone I freaked out. I video called my good friends Bobbi and Jops and just blared, “She’s still alive! She didn’t pass yet like I thought, like I told you …and other people. Oh, My God! I feel so—crazy!”
For the next three days we prayed for God’s Will Be Done, and hopefully meaning a complete recovery for Sandy. She had been on the brink more than once over the past four years or so with extreme pneumonias and infections. It astounded us at first how she rallied in the past. My son had said, “I’ve said goodbye to Grandma Sandy at least three times. ” But here she was, off the ventilator, and still with us. She had always been such a headstrong woman, a fighter. I could just imagine her thinking, “The doctor said I’d die after ten minutes? I’ll show him! I’ll go when I’m damn good and ready!” In the past 37 years of knowing her and all of the hard times she’d endured and survived, I was thinking that she might just overcome this!
For the next 48 hours, Sean kept vigil as the ever-dutify son. He explored every option of medicines that might help that hadn’t already been tried. The doctor explained that his mother was dying and all that could be done was to keep her comfortable, any other medicines would just prolong the inevitable. Sean, in spite of COVID-19 restrictions that originally allowed just one “compassion visit” to loved-one who was terminally ill, was able to suit up head to toe and visit his mom two times. He said they were able to talk, but very little. Mostly I Loves Yous. He told me he asked his mom to say hello to his sister (who passed in January 2020).
At home and every time Sean’s phone rang, my heart raced and I froze waiting for news. Sandy was comfortable, but fading. On December 30th around 3 p.m were were sitting in our living room when Sean received a call from a nurse. She said that she had just gone in with the pulmonologist to check on Sandy. They were in the room when she passed, peacefully. Sean thanked her for the call and then got up and walked down the hall to our bedroom where he made the calls to relatives.
I stared out the window at the subdued afternoon light and felt numb. It was surreal as it is always surreal when someone you love dies. I knew and loved Sandy and all of our crazy ups and downs for 37 years. She never ceased to amaze me. Even up until her passing.
That evening, Sean, Chris and I ended up in our rec room with a fire going in the wood stove, toasting Sandy with Guiness as we listened to albums. The very next day Sean retrieved Sandy’s belongings the convalescent home left outside in bags on their front porch.
He spoke with his aunts and uncles and decided we would hold a celebration of Sandy’s life in the late spring 2021 due to COVID. Maybe by then, it would be safer for his elderly relatives to travel to Connecticut, they’d have their vaccines by then.
Speaking of vaccinations? Two weeks after Sandy’s passing, residents at her convalescent home began receiving the first of their two COVID-19 shots.
New adventures in this Covid19 climate. My husband has a barber in Middletown. He goes every six weeks or so, usually very early in the morning because the shop fills up quickly. Sean, like many guys has a preferred cut, a fade, or in the summer, a high and tight style. He is pretty particular about his hair.
Though, I told him I wouldn’t mind at all if he let it grow out the wavy way he wore it when we dated in the 80s.
After Covid19 protocols closed the barbershop, Sean combed the internet for a decent hair clipper set. Hard to find on-line, like rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizers, or fluffy toilet paper. After two failed attempts for home delivery from two different companies, Sean donned mask and gloves and picked up a good set at a local box store.
On an appointed day, Sean who is a very careful reader, laid out the pieces end-to-end and announced,
“Honey, you can do this!”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! The worse that could happen is that I’ll just have to buzz it all off.”
“But what if I cut you? ”
“You really can’t.”
So I read and re-read the directions as he got a chair and towel.
The zzz-zzz of the clipper reminded me of bees. I nervously and lightly ran the clipper guard over his thick hair. Nothing happened. We decided I had to go use a smaller clipper guard. He pushed my hand hard into his scalp with the clipper to illustrate I needed to apply A LOT more pressure to make any hair come off!
I sucked in my breath and felt like I was jamming it into his head. It didn’t shred him so I loosened up and started to play a little.
Sean got up and looked in the mirror and came back laughing. Wasn’t what he had in mind!
Embracing the challenge and with even more instruction from Sean, I managed to blend or fade, or whatever it’s called. He didn’t have to shave it all off and start from a cue-ball.
Both my husband’s cousin Hollyann and I decided we’d embrace turning 55 this February by throwing ourselves a silly birthday party. We needed fun. We wanted to defy aging. It’s just a number, we reasoned. But I went further. “55 is double nickels and 5 +5 =10. Let’s be 10-year-olds with a ten-year-old theme.”
Hollyann and I went over a few themes. Brady Bunch? Superheroes? Costume? Nah… “How ‘bout Willie Wonka, a la Gene Wilder—Not the freakish Johnny Depp one?” I proposed. Hollyann shouted, “I like Willie Wonka!”
Immediately we began brainstorming. How about a Violet Beauregard piñata!
A golden egg relay! Bubble gum bubble blowing contest. Guess the number of Gobstoppers! A chocolate fountain! Ice cream sundae bar! Fizzy Lifting Drinks (ginger ale and raspberry vodka!)
What was the best party you ever went to or have ever thrown?
Still here! Actually even working on a post of my own.
Hey Maggie. Thank you for your loving words. Without friends and faith, I think we’d be toast! Hope we can…
February 25, 2019: I turn 54 today. I’m cool with it. It’s better than the alternative, they say. I’ve had a lot of major changes in the past nine or so months that have made me appreciate how time keeps on tickin’, tickin’ into the future. Changes, huge changes are making me take stock of where I am and what I am doing. What do I want to do? What do I really need to do? I keep coming back to “Choose Joy over Drudgery” whenever possible. If it’s fun or going to bring good health and happiness– and I have a choice–why not listen to my ten-year-old self and choose what she would choose? Something fun. I’m tired of being “too serious” and “on.” Now, after major life changes, I want to chill out a little and be as carefree as a fifth-grader!
One of the biggest changes in my life recently was my husband’s retirement from 31 years on the Middletown Police Department this past summer. It’s really been a couple’s career or lifestyle. Both of us experiencing over three decades of the ups and downs of a noble, exciting, gratifying, yet- sometimes-thankless, public-service career. We’ve dealt with changing schedules, unforeseen emergencies—in short, just a little bit of stress. It has often ramped up anxiety in me, forcing me to my knees. Not a bad thing to pray to keep the fear at bay. Still, over the years, I’ve watched in horror, the change in some of the public sentiment regarding police. When Sean first started in the mid-80s, police were highly respected and revered. In recent times, they’ve been hated and even hunted down, killed in the line of duty! I am beyond grateful and relieved he/we made it to retirement.
No more second phone going off at all hours. No more dangerous SWAT calls (although I know he misses those kinds of adenine scenes the most!) He took a new, basically stress-less job right away as a resource officer at an elementary school. Now instead of managing 83 cops in the patrol division, he high-fives the pre-K to 4th graders as they come in and out of the building. He makes sure visitors are signed-in and accounted for when they leave. He is currently unarmed (which nowadays I wish he was), but he says he finds it less stressful than carrying. I will keep praying for his safety (and that of staff and students there). It is great to see him come home from work smiling, sharing highlights of his day—something funny or cute a kid said or did. Now he gets 13 weeks off including all holidays, weekends and summers. Not a bad gig!
Another huge life-altering thing is that in the past nine months, I’ve gone to seven funerals. Some were relatives of friends, others distant relations, but some were oh, so very close to home and heart. My mother’s husband Paul died in early August, followed by my sweet Aunt Wanda, who died after a short illness just two weeks later. And then, flooring me to the core, my Dad died very unexpectedly two days before Thanksgiving. I found him in his easy-chair. His passing was and still is so surreal to me. We’ve had such a long, bitter/sweet journey, but he died with so much dignity. I’m doing better with my grief. I just didn’t expect it to hit so hard. I’ve been coming up from it by journaling, taking care to just “be” in moment. There’s lots more to unspool.
On the upside, my siblings and I have been banded together like never before since my Dad’s passing. That is no small thing, and I am so incredibly in awe and eternally grateful.
So, as I start my New Year (as my Dad would explain that’s what one’s birthday was, a personal New Year), I am in a fresh, contemplative, if not an odd place. I’m not really sure which way I am going, or what’s next. So, maybe it is a good time to just listen to my inner child and follow her lead for a while.
I encourage you to go quickly to see Rags: An American Musical (by Joseph Stein-book, Charles Strouse-music, Stephen Schwartz-lyrics, and David Thompson (revised book) now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House. There are only a few days left, but it is worth shuffling your schedule around to experience this timely story about immigrants coming to America. Though it is set in 1910 on the Lower East Side, one can see how it applies with immigration issues today. I sincerely hope “Rags” runs at other venues because it is one of those shows that every American needs to see!
The “melting pot” of characters–especially leads Samantha Massell, (Rebecca),Sean MacLaughlin (Sal), Adam Heller (Avram), and Sad Kapner (Bella)— show us their struggles, their tenacity, their cultural assimilation, their traditions. How they had to deal with prejudices of earlier waves of immigrants and the “elite” in society. They were so brave!
I won’t tell too much more as I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the plot, the score, and the stage designs will make you stand-up and cheer for your own immigrant ancestors no matter what time period they came to America. Thank you, Buzzi and Ossola family from Italy, Sammuelson and Granat family from Sweden. Thank you, Richards, Way, Knight, and Morse families from England!
I want to share this quote that was in the playbook by one of the authors, David Thompson who shared a passage he read in one of the guidebooks immigrants were given at Ellis Island:
“Holdfast, this is most necessary in America, forget your customs and your ideals. Select a goal and pursue it with all your might…You will experience a bad time, but sooner or later you will achieve your goal. If you are neglectful, beware the wheel for fortune turns fast. You will lose your grip and be lost. A bit of advice for you: Do not take a moment’s rest. Run, do, work and keep your own good in mind. A final virtue is needed in America—called cheek. Do not say, ‘I cannot, I do not know.'”
I wonder if any of my relatives or yours read this pamphlet? From what I’ve researched and hear through family stories, many of the self-made could have indeed read this and taken this advice to heart.
Thank you— authors, producers and cast of Rags for this truly timeless production. The ending especially made me stand up and cheer for immigrant folks coming into the United States today! They face the same hopes, fears, prejudices as did our ancestors. Maybe even more so with talks of building walls and deportation.
Whether or not you get to see Rags: An American Musical, what more can we do as individuals and as a society to be more welcoming and helpful to those coming in?
You have to have fun in your marriage. Travel, hike, binge watch shows. Honor your anniversary with alone time. Play and dance to your wedding song or favorite couple’s song. Go through your wedding album together. Pray together.
Diane had stopped coming to our bookclub soon after her diagnosis. She’d had brain surgery and was on an intense course of chemotherapy. We were at a loss. Diane had been a “Booksom Babe” for 13 years. We loved her wit and her insights as we discussed literature, sipped wine and shared bits of our lives.
She is only 59, we lamented. She just retired from a successful career in nursing.
We felt numb and inadequate as we continued to meet as a bookclub the past 18 months without her. Care baskets of hand lotions, cards, books, and food were assembled and delivered. Some of us wore tie-dye, psychedelic, cat tee-shirts and brought hand drums to cheer her in her living room. We wanted to make her laugh. We all wanted to forget for a little while.
Because there were few options available, Diane opted for experimental medicines. For a while, the tumor was at bay. We all were a little hopeful. Maybe she’d finally catch a break.
Though she never complained to our bookclub, we were fully aware of all she had endured in such a short time. She lost her husband to lung cancer in 2005. In the past year she’d lost her mother and then very tragically, her son. How did she manage to go on at all? Her wonderful 26-year-old daughter “A” was her “rock”, she said. We marveled at the young woman with so much tragedy and weight on her shoulders.
The tumor came back with a vengence. Soon Diane was moved to Hospice care.
We kept up with her progress feeling all the more helpless. Some of the Babes brought meals to her daughter to warm up after long days at the Hospice center.
Then Diane died. We knew it was coming, yet I think we were all a little stunned. We’d lost book club members to moves or people opting out, but never to death.
Bookclub was scheduled at my house just two days later. I decided we’d still meet, though I wasn’t sure we’d actually talk about the book. Would we be grieving as a group, too distraught to discuss it? I prayed before the women came over that we would find comfort that night. The five who came over greeted one another with the usual hug, but then we each just shook our heads and sighed. As usual as we assembled in my kitchen around the counter. This time, we raised a glass to Diane.
As we sat in my living room, we skirted around the topic of our own mortality. We vowed to travel more. Do the things we’ve been putting off. Ever a practical group, we brainstormed what might do in memory of Diane, and how we might help her daughter.
After a while, someone enthusiastically suggested we discuss the book. Everyone was up to it, so we discussed it late in the evening. I don’t think we were being irreverent or callous. At times of grief, I think people tend to grapple for normalcy. We’re a bookclub, so it was normal to discuss our book, even though Diane had just died.
After everyone left, I ran the night through my head. It was good to get together for bookclub, but I felt a little odd that no one cried.
A week later, four of us Babes attended Diane’s Celebration of Life. The priest remarked to the full church that we all “showed up” because Diane had showed up for so many throughout her life. Her daughter reinforced this in her eulogy giving poignant examples of Diane “being there.” Diane was there for A’s long recovery after her life-threatening ski accident. Diane had argued with reluctant doctors that they needed to perform yet another surgery on A to alleviate her daughter’s constant pain. One time Diane called the high school where her step-daughter attended and demanded the girl be assigned a new partner to walk with in her graduation procession. The kid with whom she was originally paired had bullied her. As a Girl Scout leader, Diane jumped off a bus in Boston on scout field trip so she could apply her medical skills to a bicycle courier who was hit by a car. The list went on and on.
We Babes sat in renewed awe of this strong, vigilant woman we were proud to know and privileged to call a fellow Babe. Our hearts were burning at the total unfairness of her untimely death.
At the end of the service, people were filing out of the pews in an orderly fashion ahead of us making their way to the back of the church.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye to Diane. She had been cremated and her beautiful pearl-colored urn sat on a small table surrounded by purple Irises at the front of the church. I leaned to the Stacey on my right and told her I needed to go to Diane’s ashes.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
I said it was up to her, but I had to go. As I approached the table, sunlight streamed through the ceiling windows casting bright rays around Diane’s island-altar.
I rested my hand on the cover of the Diane’s cool, smooth urn and closed my eyes. I thanked God for the privilege of knowing this awesome woman. Then I whispered “Goodbye.”
At that moment, I felt a warm hand atop of mine. I opened my eyes and saw it was Stacey’s. She had decided to go against the tide and join me. My throat tightened and I started to shake.
I opened my eyes a second time and saw that Ann and Theresa had now joined us. Through bleary eyes, I gazed down at the pile of Babes’ hands stacked on Diane’s urn. Ann’s hand was on top of Stacey’s, and Theresa’s hand on top of Ann’s. This impromptu gesture of solidarity, collective loss and admiration hit us hard in our hearts, right then and there at Diane’s urn. We were crying as we turned to make our way down the aisle toward the receiving line.