Eleven Years

Dear Dad,

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, because I do.

But, usually, when I sit down to write this letter, everything just flows so easily — not because things have been building up, per se. Mostly because, in the past, I’ve been consumed with certain days and events that spark key reminders of your death, which happened 11 years ago today.

This time, it’s different.

And that’s a good thing.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten about today. Oh, no. On the contrary. I can still recall every detail like it was yesterday.

It’s just that I haven’t been as pre-occupied in my thoughts as I have in the past. You know, where I’d start thinking in December how miserable January is going to be. Little (er, no) things like that.

Now, I try to just keep going — remembering milestones, but not dwelling on them and not being consumed by them. And in those milestones become tributes — which is why I share this with others. Yes, this is your day. Our day. But this is also a day that I can remind others about you. Because, well, you had an impact on a number of folks, but they probably aren’t waking up today realizing what happened 11 years ago.

That’s the other part of this, Dad. While I highlight the milestones, I’m doing it because I’ve become even more comfortable with the everday remembrances — like prayers with the kids, thoughts throughout the day, wondering to myself how you would handle a situation.

That comes up a lot more now. And that’s such a good thing.

Oh, I still get sad — and a little of that will even happen today. But, the good news, Dad?

Overall, there is more happiness than sadness. Maybe happiness isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s awareness. No, that’s not it. I’ve always been aware.

What I’m trying to say, Dad, is that I’m trying to live more day-to-day with you. That if in a situation a thought of you comes up, I roll with it. I smile. I laugh. I respond. Somehow — and almost always to myself.

And, well, if a day or two — or a week — goes by and I don’t think of you, it doesn’t mean I care less or that I’ve forgotten.

I promise you that, Dad.

Because I will never forget.

What it means is that you are with me. I know that. And, even though I’ve always known that, it’s like sometimes I’ve felt I’ve had to prove it to others — and even to myself.

There’s nothing to prove, Dad.

In fact, it’s really pretty simple.

You’re my Dad. You always will be.

And while you may not be physically with me anymore, your presence in — and impact on — my life is probably greater now than it ever was.

And, I don’t know about you, Dad, but I like that.

Love,

Mike


Amazing Connections

Sometimes — check that, most of the time — it’s really hard for me to understand that people can take something positive from what I write.

Yet, apparently, it happens.

Hard for me to figure sometimes because of the topics I tend to write about. Let’s face it, it’s not always rainbows and flowers over here at I Got Nothin’.

A lot of it, as you know, is about the challenging things I’ve dealt with — and, well, continue to deal with.

So, that begs the question. How is it possible that some people are actually taking things out of what I’m writing about?

Well, one reason is because other people have gone through similar situations — or even worse. And in the interest of this post, much worse.

Example one is about a sometimes email friend that I discovered while writing about the death and subsequent dealings of my brother. Not easy to find someone who understands this. Except in this case, I did.

This person lost her brother in a horrific way. And she reached out and said, hey, I get it. I totally get it. She explained what she thinks about, she understood what I was thinking about. It was nice to have that connection. We emailed a few times and then it went away. How do you keep something like that going?

Well, apparently it kept going. Because without another email and without me writing for months, this person reached out when I wrote about my brother’s birthday. She knows what the feeling is like. And she just sent a note to say, hey, thinking about you today. That’s a pretty cool thing.

An amazing thing, actually.

And I am grateful that she reached out a while ago, and I’m grateful that for some reason she kept my email and made contact again. 

To her, I say thank you.

The truly most amazing thing goes back to my brother’s wake. There was someone who came that surprised me. Not in a bad way, but a good way. This person and I were friendly. We were business associates. We always had a laugh. Always had fun with whatever conversations we were having.

But, quite frankly, I didn’t expect him to be at the wake. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I just didn’t expect it, for whatever reason.

But, again, you just never know what other people have dealt with.

So, fast forward to this week when I learn something about this person that literally made me stop doing what I was doing for like 10 minutes. Just sort of stared at the screen with what I learned. That this person could thrive the way he has after this, well, it’s beyond compare.

Simply put, this person should be an inspiration to everyone. And I had no idea. At that point, I’m like, gee, some friend I am for not even knowing this horrific event in someone’s life. Then again, I’m not sure how many people know. I mean, it’s not like dinner conversation.

So when I found out, I had to write him. I had to say something. I wasn’t sure what, but I had to do it. I had to say that I don’t know what I could ever do, but I can at least offer my support and constantly send good vibes in the direction of this person.

So what kind of response do I get back? Something pretty amazing.

The first part was:

“I was thinking of you today, Mike, and thinking back a few years — now you know why it was important for me to be there for YOU.”

Seriously?

Seriously.

I had no idea. No freaking idea. If I did, the firm handshake I got a few years ago would have become a huge hug. I mean, trust me when I say that I don’t wish anything like what this person has gone through on my worst enemy. And, yet, his focus was on me.

Mind boggling.

And then this where I get into the part about not understanding how someone can take anything of substance from what I say.

Because then he said:

“Keep writing, Mike. It makes a lot of us smile, laugh, cry, feel and reflect. You help a lot of folks….”

Those are unbelievable words to read — especially when it’s about you and your writing.

I’ll never truly understand what people take from this space and these words.

It goes back to the point that I’ve tried to make in the past. This is my space. For my thoughts. For my feelings. For my emotions.

Never at all thinking that some people would have the same or be able to relate to the same.

Yet they do.

And, if because of that, I’m able to help one person — like either of the two mentioned here — then I’m beyond grateful.

Because there’s absolutely no doubt the two of them — and countless others — have helped me.

So, to my two friends, you know my feelings about your situations. Call this our crazy bond that will always give us common ground. Thank you for your words and, more importantly, your actions.

And to anyone else that pulls anything from my words, I appreciate you coming to this space and sharing it with me, and I’m humbled that anything I say can help.


A Different Focus

So I have a new job — some of you know that, some of you don’t.

That’s fine. I’ll eventually share more about it. But, fact is, it was a great move for me. The right one at the right time — for a variety of reasons.

One of the benefits of the new job? My brother Tom works there, too. He’s been there for about 10 years. We don’t see each other every day. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I have seen him. We don’t even talk and/or email every day.

But, it’s been fun. He knows a ton of people there and they all say good things about him (I just figure they are being polite….). He’s given me some insight into some people that’s been helpful, and he’s put up more than a few times with emails meant for me that have gone to him. Of course, I’ve put up with being called “Tom” a few times, too.

We’ve had one lunch together in the cafeteria — and we’ll have a second today.

Afterall, today is his birthday. And, well, it’s Tim’s, too. Remember, they are twins.

So today, which has, at least for the last few years, been a tough day, becomes somewhat of a good day.

I was never really sure how to deal with today — particularly how to ‘deal’ with Tom and what I can only imagine he feels on this day.

But today, we’ll have lunch. We won’t talk about anything of substance, but that’s totally fine. Key is, we’ll be there. Together. We’ll talk about work stuff or even the horrible Patriots game. Most likely other stuff, too, since Renee and the kids are coming in to have lunch with “Uncle Tom,” too.

Regardless of what the lunch topic is today, many things that are spoken will actually never be said.

And, for this tight-lipped Irish Catholic family, that’s quite alright.

Especially today.


An Answer at Last

Not much has changed since 1984.

Of the nine people in the above phot0 with me, I’ve known three of them for 35 years. That’s not a typo, but it sure looks like one.

35 years.

The others in the photo? Well, I haven’t known them as long — only 28 to 32 years.

Heck, there isn’t a woman in that picture that looks older than 30.

Who are these amazing individuals?

Elementary school classmates — three of them dating back to first grade. The rest joining along the way in either fourth, sixth or eighth grade.

We all went to St. Michael School — all for our own reasons (or, I should say, our parents’ reasons). And yet, despite the time that has separated us since eighth grade graduation in June 1984, there’s a bond that holds us together.

I used the word inviduals above, and it couldn’t be a better descriptor. Because, while we were an incredibly tight class, it was our individual spirit and personality that made us that way. In fact, I’ll never remember the words of our president on graduation night, “We are the very special class of 1984 that will never walk this way again.”

I’m sure there were some teachers that were saying, “Thank God” as they heard that line.

There were 30 of us in the class. We lost one classmate in later years to illness. Of the 29 that remain, 10 of us were able to make an impromptu gathering on a recent night to catch up, relive some memories (good and bad) and just be in the company of some amazing people.

As we sat around the table, we took turns recapping what we’ve been doing — essentially since 1984. At the end of our recap, we had to answer one question, “How did St. Michael’s prepare us for the rest of our life?”

It seemed like such an easy question at first, yet none of us could really answer it.

And, as I said earlier, this group contained some amazing individuals. Among them:

— a veteran who put his life on the line for this country and now continues to serve as a policeman, all while maintaining the youthful spirit he had back in 1984;

— another veteran who found so much good in his time and now manages the shipping and receiving operation of one of the world’s largest casinos;

— one of the most amazing spirits you’ll ever meet who did everything from work in a bakery to produce the evening news to now chasing her dream as a filmmaker;

— an author — and mom of four — you can find on Amazon who doesn’t live in this country and tells amazing stories of a life she could write a book about;

— a teacher, coach and father of three who maintains the true spirit of gentleness he’s had forever;

— a mom of three who balances cheerleading, hockey and lacrosse with her ‘real’ job — taking care of end stage cancer patients with the type of care and compassion you’d want your relatives to experience;

— a relatively new mom — who is expecting again — and who has given so much of her life to helping others through her work in the department of children and families;

— another mom (of two kids)  who completed law school after the birth of her first child — and who know works as a managing attorney for a non profit in Rhode Island specialing in housing law;

— a mom of two who returned to her roots, is now engaged, is running the books for her fiance’s business and still has that quality about her that drew everyone to her as a friend 30 years ago.

As I said, an amazing group of people. Yet not a one could truly answer the question in the way it was intended.

Yet, in hindsight, I knew how to answer it. In fact, we all did.

We didn’t have to say anything. The words were a struggle for everyone, but the actions weren’t.

Each one of us that came answered the question. In fact, we answered it by being present. By coming together to remember and reflect. By coming together as friends — friends with bonds so strong they go beyond anything life has thrown us since we thought we were experiencing real drama in 1984.

We stood by each other then. We stand by each other now.

And while we struggled to answer the question that night, the answer was in front of us the entire time.


A Familiar Topic

Mrs. Schwer died this week.

Who is Mrs. Schwer, you ask?

She was my seventh grade teacher — simply one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. While she was my primary seventh grade teacher, she also taught me math in both sixth and eighth grades.

I went to a catholic elementary school. Small community. Close community. And, since my mom taught at the same school, I got to know the teachers a little better than most. Both a blessing and a curse, I suppose.

Fair but firm — that’s how another classmate described Mrs. Schwer. And I don’t think you could be more accurate in describing her teaching style. But this fair but firm teacher also had a funny side. Like when she’d throw an eraser across the room at a student who wasn’t paying attention.

Now, this isn’t like an old catholic school story where the eraser would be hurled across the room. It was a fun, playful way to get across a strong message — and it worked. Just ask a few of my classmates.

Mrs. Schwer did more than create memories. She preserved them.

She always had her camera around her neck, ready to capture the latest and greatest moments for any of the classes. We never really appreciated this — until graduation night. That’s when, sitting in the church, we’d see a slide show of our eight years at St. Michael’s, and there’s no question Mrs. Schwer took 90 percent of those photos.

I wonder where all those slides are today. Because I would give anything to see the slide show from my graduation back in 1984.

It’s hard to put my finger on one element of her style that made her a favorite. It was the total experience. The way she cared about her students. The way she made it fun. She was in charge. There was no question about that. But nobody was treated differently. Everyone was treated the same. Do your work, and give your best effort. That’s all she asked. It was really that simple.

That’s just one of the reasons why I have a lot of memories about St. Michael’s. A lot of memories about Mrs. Schwer.

I remember other strange things, too. Like when certain girls in our class tried to outwit her by wearing make-up (you certainly couldn’t do that at a catholic elementary school!). The girls would come in to the class and she’d inspect them before they were allowed to sit down.

I remember her hands — probably more than anything for reasons I can’t explain. Hands that were always covered with chalk, rough and full of experience. So many lesson plans done. So many blackboards. So many overhead projectors. I remember her hands.

I remember her outfits — so often in pants. So often with a turtle neck or sweater. So often with a jacket. I remember her hair. Always short. Always gray.

And I remember her smile.

Always shining.


I’m Back.

It’s been nearly six months since I’ve been here.

Not even sure if anyone cares. If anyone missed it. Not sure what you’d actually miss, but you know what I mean. At least I think you do.

Giving up on blogging? No, not really. Just didn’t have much to say. Or, if I did, I didn’t really want to say it.

Last blog was about getting help. I got it.

And it’s been a good thing. Has definitely helped. And, well, that was the goal.

So what’s brought me back?

I’m not sure. But I’ve been thinking a lot about this space in recent weeks — trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it. If anything.

January is typically a month filled with emotions for me, so I knew if I was coming back, this would be the time.

But, I was waiting for the right time to start. You know, just like the right time to start a diet. Well, there is no right time. When you start, you start. And that’s what matters.

So here I am. A start.

And that’s what matters.

Of course, some of you won’t be surprised by the topic that got me back.

Death.

But, it’s what I write well about. Maybe it’s not death, per se, but the emotions and the memories that come with it.

And only this time, it’s about the death of one of my favorite teachers. Lots of memories when I heard the news today.

Memories that I’m sharing with you in the next post.

And hopefully more memories and other moments that I’ll be sharing with you in the future.

Because, for now, I’m back.