Mom.

It’s been three weeks since “the real Jackie O” died. I knew I would get here eventually. Heck, based on some of the comments I’ve had from a few of you, you knew I’d get her eventually. I just didn’t think it would take this long.

And, now that I’m here, I’m not sure I know exactly what to say. So for those of you looking forward to reading this, I hope I’m not going to disappoint you. But then again, this isn’t about you. Or about me. In this case, it’s about her. And that’s what matters most.

So that’s what I’ll talk about — at least for now. There will be plenty of time in the future for me to talk about other things. Stuff like, you know, how I’m now a member of the “no living parent” club. Trust me, it’s not a club you want to join. I’m not sure there’s one person who is happy to be a member of that club.

I suppose you expected me to be here sooner because of all my previous writings about death. Afterall, I’ve gotten to be pretty good at it. Again, not something I’m proud of or something I’m excited to be good at. It just means I’ve had my fair share (well, clearly fair isn’t the right word here) of it to deal with. And this is how I’ve dealt with it. Here. In this space. So why change now?

I guess that’s my point. Maybe I thought things had changed when Mom died. Maybe I didn’t need to be in this space. Well, doesn’t matter. Because here I am. And, well, here you are, too. And, by the way, thanks for that.

Some of you know this, some of you don’t. Bear with me if you’ve heard some of it before.

When my Dad died 16 years ago, I wasn’t there. Renee and I were living in Vermont at the time. It was Super Bowl Sunday when my brother Tom called and said things “didn’t look good” and that we “should come home” as soon as possible. Dad had been sick. Hospice was involved. We knew we were getting close, but this happened fast. I had planned to go home that weekend, but he actually told me not to. So much for listening to your parents. We got things together as quickly as we could and got in the car for the drive home.

We didn’t make it in time. Rather than be home with everyone else, I found out that my Dad died while in a phone booth in Greenfield, MA. We stopped for gas, and I called home to let them know our status. It was too late, my brother Tim said.

Not being there floored me. Catholic guilt to the hilt. It took a long, long time for me to get over that. Therapy played a big part in that, too. It just really affected me — more than I would let on or acknowledge.

The other thing that really bothered me — and had my head spinning for years — was something we learned after Dad died. One of the nurses told us that Dad wanted to write letters to each of us. Again, floored. I wish I hadn’t heard that. Because then I wouldn’t have spent so much time wondering what would have been in that letter. Never have I wanted so desperately to receive a letter. I wish, in hindsight, that I never knew he wanted to do that.

So, what does this have to do with Mom? After all, I did say this was going to be about her.

Well, two things.

First, I wasn’t there when Mom died. And I’m OK with it. Honest. Here’s the thing. My sister and brother weren’t there either. Once we got hospice involved, we started a basically round-the-clock watch in her room. We had great support of family and friends, but of the three of us, we tried to be there as often as possible — ‘just in case.’ In fact, in her last few days, those of us not there got the call to come down twice as ‘things were close.’ But, the real Jackie O had other ideas. Despite there being times when I sat and prayed in her room and told her it was OK to go, that we were going to be OK, nothing. In fact, the last time I told her that was on Monday, June 13, just before I left after covering the overnight shift.

A few hours later, I was at work when my sister called. “It’s over,” she said. And three minutes later I was in the car en route to the nursing home. Even though my sister called me from there, she wasn’t there when Mom passed. And either was my brother. Mom had a plan. And it was clearly for none of us to be present when she passed. She wasn’t alone. She was with her best friend, who said the end was simple and peaceful. But after hearing stories and talking to people about these moments, I am absolutely convinced this was my Mom’s plan. My sister was en route. But she passed right before she got there. She spent her whole life trying never to burden her children with anything. And this was the last example of that. Not burdening us with being there in her final moments. Not having one of us there or two of us there. She did it her way. And would you really expect any different?

The other thing….and this is what completely slayed me. The real Jackie O had everything set and ready for us. We knew what songs she wanted at the funeral. We knew if there was a wake (“you can have one, but nobody will come,” she wrote), what she wanted. We knew so much because she left a book for us. A book filled with logistical things about the arrangements, but also a book filled with memories, important moments and a host of other things she wanted to share with us. It was an absolute treasure and unbelievable gift for her to leave us. The cover had a note on it that said, “To be opened immediately upon my demise……Mumsie.” Can’t make this up.

But here’s where it gets incredible. Remember the letters my father wanted to write? Well, guess what? Yup, Jackie O wrote them. One for Tom. One for Lynn. One for me. What a gift. Part of me wanted to open it right away. But I waited. I waited until we were home later that night. The kids were in bed. Renee was doing some work. I just took the letter into the living room, opened it up, and was immediately overcome with emotion reading her words.

We have never been a verbal family. We just weren’t. So this was perfect. So very perfect. In three pages of her best handwriting, she praised me, scolded me, apologized to me and taught me. It was an unbelievable act of parenting. One last time. In her words. In her voice. I’ve read that letter no less than 25 times now. I hear her voice as I read along. I suppose that will always be the case.

Renee has read it. And that’ll be it. I won’t share it with my siblings. We’ve shared themes and what not, but we won’t share the letters. Far too personal. We don’t know when she wrote them. She referenced Timmy dying, so they had to be done in the last nine years. And her writing is pristine, so I’m thinking they were written at least four to five years ago. There’s no date or any other indicator of timing. Not that that matters. It’s just curiosity.

I’m guessing she wrote them shortly after  Timmy’s death. Again, we weren’t a very verbal family. I’m guessing there were things she wanted to say to each of us and wanted to make sure we knew certain things, and, well, rather than tell us directly (so not her style), she left us the letters to leave no mistake. There’s a part of me that is hugely frustrated that there are some things in the letter that were never said to me in person. However, there’s a hugely satisfied part of me that knows I have this letter for good. And I can open it anytime I want and not just read her words — but hear her words. It is quite simply my most treasured possession. You know, I’m not sure I knew what that was before Mom died. Probably some piece of sports memorabilia. But now, it’s the letter and nothing else comes close.

Mom was a teacher by trade. And she lived that all the way til the end — leaving us — or at least me — with one last lesson. I hope I can complete it. It’s not an easy one for me. And, it’s even a struggle I have in my own way of parenting. Is it earth shattering? No, it’s not. But if I follow through, it’ll make me a better person, and be it as a teacher or as a parent, isn’t that really what Mom always tried to do — make me/us better?

While you think about that, I’m out of here. I’ve got a letter to read. Again.

 


Mom.

I’m really good at writing eulogies. I’m just not really good at giving them. And there was no better example than today at Mom’s funeral. I tried something completely different, in part as a tribute to her, and in part as a way I thought might help get me through it. So much for that idea.

I was so blown up with emotion that I didn’t even get the first line out before Renee had to come up and finish reading it for me. Thank goodness she’s the rock!

There will be more to come about Mom’s passing. Many have asked certain questions and I can answer a lot of that here at once over time. Stand by for that. Meantime, I had a request to post what’s below, so here it is. The background story is this, Mom taught at St. Michael School in Pawcatuck. Every year, at the last faculty gathering, she would read a poem that recapped the entire year.

So….I thought I’d use that approach for my talk about her. I’m super proud of how it came out….I just wish the words had actually come out of my mouth!🙂

More to come….but here it is:

My Gift to Mom

It was just about this time, almost every year
when the teachers of St. Michael gathered to hear
thoughts from my mom on the year that was
it’s something she did annually….just because

The thing of it is, if you haven’t figured it out by now
She always did it in rhyme, though they never knew how
She taught this to me, though I’m not sure she knew
And today I’m going to share our combined gift with you

A walk through the past in which you’ll soon know,
There’s a lot more to learn about the real Jackie O
Or to you maybe she’s an aunt, a colleague or a friend
But no matter what she was to you, she was that to the end

And she’ll be it going forward, of that I have no doubt
Her spirit will always be with us, it will never fade out.
She wouldn’t let us have it any other way
The memories we have? They will definitely stay.

So perhaps the first one I share you assume will be a joke.
The only place to start is with her beloved Diet Coke
Come to the house and you better have one in tow
Because, if you don’t, off to McDonalds you’ll go

Cumby’s if you’re in a pinch, Subway soda, too
If it wasn’t McDonalds Diet, she definitely knew.
So to the nearest Golden Arches we always did flock
But without her as a customer, I worry about the stock!

She loved her time at St. Michaels, it brought her great variety.
Toy parades, field trips and her beloved ROT Society.
Live and Learn and Family Dollar brought many stories to share
My favorite? The customer who asked, “Do you sell shoes in pairs?”

Our mother loved Christmas and she loved to have fun.
One year I opened something and it said “Number One Son!”
We always argued who was the favorite, but here was a clue!
The only problem? Minutes later, Tim and Tom opened one, too!

For me there’s more to show that she loved me the best
In fact, I think this clue is more powerful than the rest.
After all, it’s pretty simple, Mom came to consensus
Of her four children, I’m the only one who is ‘Precious.’

Mom lived simply, it’s really all she knew
And once your were her friend, she was your friend, too
She followed what she taught to her students at school
that the best way to live is to follow the golden rule

Do unto others as you’d have done to you
You do it for her, and she’ll do it for you.
She led by example, work hard and get it done
And when and if you finish, then it’s time for fun.

She may have been frugal, but I’d never call her cheap
Like at Christmas time, the bows…those we always had to keep.
She lived within her means, she wasn’t monetarily rich
but I’m not sure there’s one person, with whose life she’d like to switch.

She loved us through and through, she always did her best.
To us she is the greatest mom, better than the rest.
We’re not very affectionate, we rarely say things out loud
She lived a very content life. I have no doubt she was proud.

And now there’s one last thing that I truly must share
For us I know for sure, mom will always be there
Though now there’s a difference, she’s in heaven up above
joining Dad and Tim, and looking down at us with love.


Happy Birthday, Renee!

So, today is Renee’s birthday. I won’t tell you her age, but it’s no coincidence that this is a list of 45 of my favorite things (in no particular order) about her:

1. She’s beautiful.
2. She grew her hair long – and kept it long.
3. She married me.
4. She puts up with me.
5. She accepts me and all of my ‘things.’
6. She makes us better.
7. She is a fabulous mother.
8. She’d do anything for our kids.
9. She’s a great sister.
10. She makes her parents proud.
11. Her zesty rice lasagna.
12. Her chocolate chip cookies.
13. Her chili.
14. Her sweet rolls.
15. Her oatmeal bread.
16. She likes a good beer.
17. She always makes sure we have good beer in the fridge.
18. She makes an impact on her students.
19. She writes notes to her senior students.
20. She makes an impact on her colleagues.
21. She’s a great reader in church.
22. She’s much more patient than me.
23. She’s the one that fixes stuff.
24. She does the money.
25. She knows how much I value my friends.
26. She doesn’t care what concerts I go to.
27. She goes to Fenway with me once a year.
28. She makes sure we shovel out the mailbox.
29. She became a cross country coach and rocked it.
30. Speaking of rocking it, have you seen her in boots?
31. She understands my new found love of all things Disney.
32. At Christmas, she knows I will not rest until we find the perfect tree.
33. She’s old school where and when it matters.
34. Every now and then, she’ll bring me home a Diet Coke.
35. She doesn’t say anything about my messy closet or desk.
36. She gets the paper from the mailbox each morning.
37. She puts up with my fantasy baseball addiction.
38. She takes care of making sure we’ve got a sitter when we need it.
39. She usually lets me pick what we’re going to do.
40. She’s an awesome role model for Erin.
41. She’s reading Harry Potter with Aidan.
42. She is always thinking of others before herself.
43. She puts up with me (that’s worth mentioning twice).
44. She can name most of the Red Sox from the 70s and 80s.
45. All of the above.

Happy Birthday, Renee! Thanks for making every day better.


My Guy

A lot of you know that I lost someone dear to me recently. My cousin, who is also my godfather, lost a five year battle with cancer last Tuesday. It’s an immeasurable loss not just for me, but for anyone who knew him.

What made this situation unique is that four years ago, Michael asked me to do something for him. He asked me to give his eulogy. But there was a catch. A big catch. He wanted to read it.

So, even though he died last week, I wrote his eulogy, per his request, four years ago. I gave it to him four years ago. And his closest friends and family heard it Saturday when I spoke at the funeral. Or, at least, I tried to speak. I probably read one-third of it. Renee, thankfully, was strong enough to help with the rest because I was such a wreck.

You may think it strange for me to post it here. But I don’t. He was such an influence on me. He is a big part of who I am. So, if you know me, then you know Michael. By sharing this, I just want you to know him a little better.

 

Writing a eulogy isn’t really a difficult thing. It’s simply an expression of feelings. Delivering it, however, is usually the challenging part. At least for me.

But what makes this eulogy unique is that Michael actually knows what I’m going to say. Yup. He’s heard it already. or, I should say, he’s read it already.

That was his request. And how could I deny it? Even though there’s an obvious discomfort in writing a eulogy for someone when that someone is, well, still alive.

Know, please, that part of the way Michael and I dealt with his sickness was with humor. So much, in fact, that when he first asked me to do this, it was election season. You all remember the radio and TV ads that we hear during an election season. Well, Michael, in his own way, wanted to put a special touch on this. While you can rest assured that we didn’t in fact do this, we laughed for quite a while at his idea of him recording a message that I would play at the end of this that says, “I’m Michael Keane, and I approved this message.”

Because he has read it, I know that he did approve it. And, honestly, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Because, for most of my life, I have sought Michael’s approval on so many levels. I don’t know if he realized that or not, but it’s true.

Not only are we cousins, he’s my godfather. He’s my accountant. He’s my friend. He’s my travel agent. He’s who I go to for pretty much anything. In short, he’s my guy.

He’s heard me deliver eulogies to my brother and to my father – and he knows now, only because he’s read this – that neither of those are as difficult for me as this one.

But, this isn’t about me. This is about  Michael. As it should be. And as it will be.

There simply has been no greater male influence in my life than Michael Keane. I don’t make that statement lightly. Yet, it’s true.

He’s been all of what I mentioned earlier. He’s been a big brother. He’s been a father figure. And he’s been so much more. So much that I can’t always find the right words.

He’s taught me more about the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, BlackJack, Rotisserie Baseball, Vegas and good steak – among other things — than anyone.

Michael played fantasy baseball, so I had to play fantasy baseball.

Michael went to Vegas, so I had to go to Vegas.

Michael went on baseball junkets, so I had to go on baseball junkets.

His generosity was incredible. Never asking for a thing in return, yet always giving.

One time, I was at his house, admiring his new man cave in the basement and dreaming about the day I’d have the same set up. A week later, the phone rings.

“Michael,” He said.

“Yeah, hey, how’s it going?” I asked.

“Good” he said.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He told me: “Get yourself to the mall, go into Tweeter and give them your name.”

“Um, why?” I asked.

“Would you just go, please. Don’t ask questions.” And that was it.

So I go. And I give my name to the associate. He types something in to the computer, smiles and says, come this way.

“Seems like you’ve got someone who likes you,” he says and before I realize what he means, he’s telling me, “You get that, that and that.”

What do you mean, I get that, that and that i asked.

Well, it seems Mr. Keane has taken care of this for you.

After the shock wore off, and I got things home and hooked up, I called to thank him.

Don’t thank me, he said. Just enjoy it. Needless to say, that wasn’t going to be a problem. That was just his way. He didn’t need thanks. Knowing that someone would enjoy his generosity – at any level – was enough for him.

As I said, he was my guy. For everything. Trips, steak, Disney advice, financial  advice. Anything. He was the first call I’d make. And he always made sense. Always pointed me in the right direction. He taught me so much. About everything. About life.

And along the way, he would always kid.

He’d say, You know, I wouldn’t have to buy you stuff if you were an accounting major in school. Yup, that was one of his favorites. I’m a PR man by trade and Michael couldn’t understand why I’d want to work with words instead of numbers.

Ironically, I’m standing here because he finally understood why.

As I mentioned, Michael heard me deliver two eulogies – first my Dad’s and most recently my brother’s. After Tim’s funeral, family was gathering outside the church. I was still a wreck. Michael hugged me. Well, not really, but he put his arm around me to comfort me and for us, well, i think that was a hug. Whatever it was, it worked for me.

That wasn’t the most important part. It was what he said that I’ll never forget.

He said, “Now I understand why you do what you do. You have a gift.”

Not that I was seeking his approval, but it sure felt good to get it.

Whom I kidding? Of course, I was seeking his approval.

Which leads me to his request that I write his eulogy – before he died.

No pressure or anything. Not to sound weird, but normally, there wouldn’t be. It’s not like the person being eulogized typically knows what is being said about him.

Just the opposite in this case. He does know. Which brings the pressure.

He asked me to do this and he wanted to read it. Once I gave it to him, in a sealed envelope, I couldn’t help but think — What if I disappointed him? How could it possibly be good enough compared to all he’s done for me? After all, these are just words.

Well, I’m here, so I have to assume that it was good enough for him.  In fact, as strange as it seems, maybe writing a eulogy for someone before they die isn’t such a bad idea.  After all, in an Irish-Catholic family like ours, it’s not like we make a habit of actually sharing our feelings.

So, in a strange sense, for me, if there is one good thing that came out of Michael getting sick, it’s that I was finally able to tell him just how much he means to me.

Just how much he influences my life.

Just how much I love him.

And, because of that, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that he has, in fact, approved this message.


Certain places. Certain times. Certain people.

Maybe it’s because I’m listening — like right now — to the Train song Bruises.

Maybe it’s because my sister posted a couple of old pictures tonight.

Maybe it’s because I’ll be seeing some great life-long friends in about 10 days.

Or, maybe it’s just because I’m, well, a sap. An absolutely positively sentimental sap.

Whatever it is, it’s got me thinking back. I do it a lot, I suppose. Probably more than you do. Maybe not. But probably. Sometimes I do it even more than I realize.

But, really, it’s a good thing to look back. Why? Simple, I think. Looking back helps you figure out where you came from. Knowing where you came from can help you figure out where you’re going. At least I think it can. Or, at least I think it should.

The friends I had then (many of whom I still have) helped build who I am. They (you) must have done something right, because I have always been blessed with an amazing group of friends — new or old. But, I credit that to the friends I grew up with. Those relationships, some of which remain so strong, no doubt have an impact on relationships I have today.

Today, for example, I had lunch with a friend. A ‘newer’ friend, I suppose. Kids went to preschool together. Ran into each other from time to time. Never really hung out, but just good people. Then, this friend becomes friends with another friend. The circle expands. And, at least in this case, as the overall circle gets bigger, the bond gets tighter. And when that happens, it’s fabulous.

I work with amazing people, too. Not just for what they do. But for who they are. Some of them, I believe, are lifelong friends — even though I’ve only known them for a couple years. Is this because of sharing a common bond at work? Maybe. Is it because of me? Well, you’d have a hard time convincing me of that. Rather, I think it has to do with people I grew up with. People I shared the early years with. People that let me be who I am. Having that core, I think, is what makes the cycle continuous.

I guess my point is, if I hadn’t had such a great group of friends early on, would I have had great friends in high school? If I hadn’t had great friends in high school, would I have had them in college? If I didn’t have them in college, would I have them now? Or, more importantly, would I have the ability to have them now?

Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that too much. Because, for whatever reason, I do have them. And I’m crazy blessed to say I’ve always had them. And to say that I’ve been able to keep them. Not all of them. But the strongest ones. The most important ones.

I don’t always understand why many of them are female, but I guess that’s a blog for another day. And wouldn’t that be nice, like if I actually came back to this on a regular basis. I digress….

Some of it, too, is about not just people, but shared experiences. You don’t necessarily have to be super tight with someone right away. But, when you discover a shared experience or theme, that can often times strengthen the bond to one that you’ll never want to end. Why? Because of that connection. I can think of two people in particular that way for me. The point is, there are a number of ways that a friendship can be strong — new or old.

And, there are a number of ways a friendship can grow — new or old. I guess that’s the point of this. And, from there, the most important thing, at least to me, is knowing how to maintain the friendships that have those bonds — or shared experiences — that are so strong.

Is any of this making sense?

But, come on, you’ve had those moments, too. Moments where you hear an old song, see an old picture, anything. Anything that brings you back — often times right to a particular person or a particular moment. And it doesn’t always have to be about that type of ‘relationship’ — it can be about anything. It just has to connect you back. It has to bring back good memories and good thoughts. Of good people. With good people.

Some recent examples…because clearly what I’m explaining isn’t really working — or maybe it is?

Just tonight, while I was writing this, in fact, a Facebook friend made a comment on a picture of my Dad. That brought me back — instantly — to a certain place. A certain time. And, more importantly, to certain people. Am I still tight with all of them? No. But I am with some. Shared experiences. Great bonds. Great friends.

For Halloween, we typically take our kids trick-or-treating where I went as a kid. I’m really happy for the kids to get out and have a great experience. But, with every step, I’m thinking back to when I went to those same houses and, in some cases, to the same people in the same houses. I would try to explain this during the walk, but the kids are too focused on candy. But, again, brought back to a certain place. A certain time. And, more importantly, to certain people.

A couple of weeks ago, someone I used to work with sent a Facebook message to me and another colleague. In the message, she talked about being sentimental and thinking back to our time working together. Could we get together, she asked. I certainly hope so. Because, if we do, we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

I saw another post on Facebook. From a friend I’ve known since first grade. We went to grade school together, but not the same high school. It doesn’t matter. It’s the strength of the bond. He’s going to be home for Thanksgiving. We’ve talked about maybe grabbing a beer with a couple of others. I hope we do. Because if it works, we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

That same weekend, there’s a casual 25th class reunion happening. That’s put me in touch with a lot of people. A few of whom are some of my dearest friends. Do we see each other all the time? No. Do we have to? No. That’s part of the beauty of it. The bond growing up was so strong — it sort of transcends the need for that. I’m beyond looking forward to spending time with these people in a few days. Why? Because we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

There’s another person who is going to read this blog and thank me for writing. This person is going to tell me that he loves reading what I write. He’s going to tell me that it helped him — or someone. He’s going to tell me I should keep writing. Now, I worked with this person — sort of — for a while. We weren’t overly connected — until we discovered a shared experience. An experience neither of us would wish on anyone. But, we’ve got it. And that’s what matters. Does that take me back to a certain place? A certain time? Sure it does. It’s different, but the fact is, the impact is the same. And that’s what’s important. Strong and impactful relationships. I haven’t seen this person in I can’t even remember how many years. Five? Six? More? And I don’t have any plans to see him in the future either. Point is, there’s a bond and a friendship that’s not going away — regardless of anything. I just think that’s cool.

Every Thanksgiving, I think back to high school. Our school was full of tradition. It was such a special time. I am truly grateful for having been part of the experience. But, it’s an experience that I went through with special people. That’s what makes it even better. That’s what takes me back. So, with this reunion thing coming up, I’m a little more sensitive to it than usual. Then, add in the fact that I’m at a Cheap Trick concert the other night and they play The Flame. Well, that came out during high school. And, one of my friends, sends a message about it just as they start playing it. It was kind of weird. But good weird. Why? Because it brought me back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

A friend I’ve know for only a few years is having a hard time dealing with something. I’ve dealt with the same thing. So it helps. I can share some thoughts. Help give some perspective. Be a good friend.

I guess that’s really what this is about. Having good friends and being a good friend.

There’s no doubt I have good friends. Being a good friend? Well, that’s something I take very seriously. And I guess I take it so seriously to let people I know how much I appreciate their friendship and what they’ve done for me.

And, so, it really is pretty easy. For me, being a good friend is a way of saying thanks to all who have not only done the same for me, but whose friendships have actually made me who I am.

(The real thanks goes to those of you who actually made it to the end of this! Haven’t blogged in forever. Maybe this gets me going….)

 


Finally….

I should have written this a month ago. But, can’t change that. So, here we go.

It was Christmas morning. The presents were open. The kids were ecstatic. The tree looked awesome. Renee and I were amazed that it was ‘over’ so quickly, but still enjoying the joy coming from Aidan and Erin.

We were in church, waiting for Mass to begin. My phone buzzed in my pocket. Yes, I checked it. Guilty as charged. But, I was glad I did. Because this is the message I found sent to me via Facebook:

Hope you are having a great Christmas with you and your family! Just thought you should know….the cap on my tooth from your baseball throw many years ago in your backyard fell off today! While eating twizzlers – just brought back a memory of a good time in my life.

Instant smile. Instant flashback. The message, obviously, was from someone that I’ve known most of my life. For so long, in fact, I’m not even sure when he and I first met. Probably when we were seven or eight? I’m not really sure. And it doesn’t really matter. Fact is, it was a message from a lifelong friend.

Sure, we are nowhere near as close as those days of playing together every day. Basketball, bikes, swimming, baseball cards, touch football. Every thing.

Bonds like that never go away, right? Sure, sometimes you may lose touch with someone over time. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t friends anymore. Maybe sometimes it does. But not in this case. Too much history — most all of it good — to change anything. Friends for life. Maybe not every day friends like in the past. But friends for life. Nothing changes there.

We’ve all got friends like that — on multiple levels, based on whenever we first encounter those friends. While this friend and I go way back, probably 35 years, I’ve got new friends within the past five years that I would also proudly call friends for life. Make sense?

So, this all got me thinking. First, how cool it was to just get that message. That this friend thought enough to send it along. Something to simple now, but such an issue back then. Something that is just another way we are connected. Always a story. He shared it because he knew I’d appreciate it. And he was right. And, it was a good time in my life, too. A much simpler, a much easier time.

The next thing I thought about was my kids. Aidan will be 9 in a few months, Erin will be 6 not too far behind him.

I remember those ages — and, more importantly, I remember the people I knew then, some of whom are still very dear friends. I mean, there are people I’ve known since kindergarten (Erin’s class) that I’m still friends with. There are kids from third grade (Aidan’s class) that I’m still tight with, and there are some that I’m ‘Facebook’ friends with. Fact is, the friendship is still there — to some degree.

So, as I look at the kids today and see how they interact with their friends, I can’t help but wonder. In 30 years, will Aidan still be close to some of the kids he’s friends with now? What about Erin?

I think, honestly, that there are some friends they have now that will be with them for a while. And part of that is because they go to a Catholic school, like I did. When you are with a group of people for so long, you can’t help but establish a bond — right Amy, Amy, Mark, Luke and Patrick? And, then if someone new comes in, you establish a bond quickly with them, too, — right Amy, Andrea and Erin? And, if someone starts with you and leaves for another place, you are also still connected, right Ryan, Laura and Michele?

What’s my point? I’m not really sure. I guess I just hope that my kids are blessed with the same type of friendships that I’m beyond blessed with.

Despite what some people think, I don’t ‘know everyone.’ I’ve always been guarded with my friendship. Not letting people in, per se, until I’m comfortable enough to share. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. I said it before, I’m probably one of the shyest people you’ll ever meet — until I’m comfortable. Then I open up.

That’s like Aidan. He’s so reserved and so quiet. Not one to jump right into a situation, but once he does, he’s often fine and with no trouble at all. Erin, on the other hand, is much more of a free spirit. I guess I have that in me, too. So, it seems right that I am their father!

I hope they continue to develop bonds with their friends. I hope that I hear the names Andrew, Patrick, Grover, Charlie, Noah, Julia, Katelyn, Kailani, Julianna and Ava for a long, long time.

And, in 30 years or so, I hope Aidan or Erin get the same type of Christmas morning message that I got. From a friend. A lifelong friend. And I hope that message is like mine was — that it was a good time, for both of us. But, more importantly, that we are still friends, to this day.


18.

For those of you that were at a wedding 18 years ago today, you probably remember the groom sobbed continuously — like a baby.

For those of you that weren’t at that wedding, here’s something you should know.

That groom was me.

I was crying for one simple reason. Tears of joy, if you will, that there was someone in the world who picked me as the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

That someone, of course, is Renee.

So here it is, our anniversary. Our 18th anniversary. And she’s not here. She and the kids are still in Florida, finishing up a visit with her family. Not sure what to give her for a present then. I’ve always got words and thoughts inside me. Always.

So, why not give those.

In some of our most challenging moments, I told Renee that I needed to work harder to make sure that she didn’t learn new things about me on this blog. In my darkest times, this was the place where I could come and just say anything. It still is. But you get my point. I hope.

This time, however, because Renee isn’t here on our actual anniversary, she will be learning something about me on this blog. The biggest thing she’ll be learning?

This is her present!🙂

Well, not really. She’ll get that when she comes home.

No, what I hope she learns today is that there’s a simple reason why I was crying 18 years ago.

It’s mostly because I couldn’t believe I was in that situation. That someone would really ‘pick’ me.

I still have a hard time with it. Why?

Because she’s better than me. Always has been. Probably always will be.

You might find this hard to believe, but I’m not an easy person to live with. For a lot of reasons. I’m stubborn beyond all measure. I’m set in my ways (same thing?). I’m crazy opinionated. I believe my way is the right way. And, my biggest challenge, I’m not always open.

That’s why Renee did learn things here. Because I had a hard time opening up as much as I should. I don’t know why. But it’s true.

A few years ago, I went through the darkest part of my life — dealing with the loss of my brother and finally — truly — dealing with the loss of my father. This has been well documented here. But the person who dealt with this the most? Yeah, Renee.

She dealt with me pulling back. She dealt with my doubts. About a lot of things. And, all the while, she kept doing everything that she does that makes us better. And, by that, I mean makes me better.

And during that time, I didn’t make it easy on her. I didn’t make it easy on anyone. But especially her.

The best thing she did? She let me figure it out. And I did.

It took awhile. But I did.

And I’m better for it now. She’s better for it now. We’re better for it now.

That’s because the two of us figured out some things, too. And, more importantly, we figured them out together.

You might think I’m the most open person in the world. Sometimes I am. And sometimes I pull back — or hold back. I’m trying to change that.

But there has been change. Change for the better. I was in a dark place. And I’m not there anymore.

And that’s a good thing.

Because there’s someone here that let me figure that all out.

So that’s why I was crying 18 years ago.

Because I wasn’t sure I could live up to my end of the deal, like I knew she would live up to hers.

She deserves so much. Probably more than I can ever give her.

So I’m going to try harder.

Why?

Because she picked me.