I’ve been thinking about this letter for some time now. And, honestly, even as I type these first few words, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say.
I mean, what are the perfect words to ‘celebrate’ someone’s anniversary? Because, Dad, as if you don’t know, today is the 10th anniversary of your death.
So much has been going on, Dad. I’ve really struggled during the past few months. More than that, actually. And, well, I’m finally at a point where I feel like I’m making progress — and then this day happens. And this is where I’m torn. The old me says this is a sad day and it should be sad and that’s just the way it is.
Dad, the new me — well, the new me says I should be celebrating all of the good and all of the happy that is between us as a way to honor you on this day.
Can’t I do both? Can’t I be sad and remember happy things at the same time? That, to me, seems like the only solution right now, Dad.
First of all, there’s just something about 10. It’s like a big number just hanging out there to remind me vividly that, yes, you, in fact, have been dead for a while. I don’t particularly like any aspect of that — let alone having some number become an authority on something. And, really, that’s what 10 is right now.
It really doesn’t matter if I hate 10. I should, actually, hate all the numbers, Dad. Because any number associated with you means you’re gone. And, well, that’s the part I’m still not a big fan of. You know. The part where you are gone. To some extent, I have finally accepted it and dealt with it. But, in another sense, not so much. Or, well, maybe the not so much is other stuff in our relationship. That I’ve learned to be OK with the dying part, but it’s the other stuff that I’m not so excited about.
In terms of that dying part, the biggest thing that still irks me is that I wasn’t there, Dad. You’ve heard me talk about this before. I’m sure you’re sick of it. Heck, in a way I am. I know now what I would have said to you. First, I would have been mad at you — mad for leaving me, for leaving us. But, I also would have thanked you, Dad. For all that you did for me. And for us. For teaching me — only in your way. So subtle, yet so obvious. For trusting me. For giving me freedom to learn — and to fail.
I would have told you that I will never forget certain things about you, and about us. Countless hours at the little league field — so many memories there. Helping you out at the pool. Picking out a Christmas tree. Setting up the manger. Playing games on the TV room floor. Watching the Celtics. Getting a pizza at Famous. Making fun of your sport coats. Sharing laughs. Lengthy ‘discussions.’ Super cookies. Card tricks.
See, Dad, I would have told you those things because they, for the most part, are my holdover. It’s what I remember about you — about us. Simple stuff that nobody else will probably understand. And, well, honestly, I like it better that way. Nobody has to understand. Nobody except us.
I still think about the letter you were going to write. The nurse said you had plans to write each of us a letter. I think about what you’d say all the time — hoping that you share some of the same memories I do. That those little things stick with you like they stick with me.
And then I hope, Dad, that you would have said you were proud of me. It’s such a simple thing. And, you know, even though we aren’t a big affectionate family — in either words or actions — it almost wouldn’t matter for you to say that you loved me. I know you do. I can feel it to this day.
But, honestly, I don’t recall you ever saying you were proud. Maybe you did and it didn’t mean that much to me then. But, for some reason, this is the big one. I’m pretty sure I know the answer. But I don’t want to know it that way. I want you to give me some sort of sign that I know you are proud.
I won’t bore you with all the other details, Dad. I know you’re watching. I know you see Aidan and Erin and how much they’ve grown and discovered. I know you watched over Lynn last week with her surgery. I know you are there. You and Tim, both. Always there, always connected. The tricky part is just figuring out how. I haven’t been very good at that. But I will get better.
So, Dad, today, I expect my thoughts to be all over the map. I expect to be sad. I expect to smile in a way that nobody else will understand. I expect to laugh at some point. And, honestly, well, I expect to cry.
I’m sorry, Dad, that this letter has been all over the place. It’s a great representation of my relatively recent thought process. I know I’ve written more eloquently in the past about certain things. And that’s fine. That’s what was important to me then. This is what’s important to me now.
And the other thing that’s important to me now — is for you, Dad, to know that I love you. But, again, you know that. We don’t talk about it. We don’t show it. We just know it.
The other part? Is that I’m proud of you, Dad. Couldn’t be prouder. Not for just the way you taught me. For the way you helped others. For everything about you.
Please know, too, that I’m trying. I truly am. But it still sucks. You’re not here. And I miss you.
So I’ve written abou this before. But in that case, it wasn’t so much about religion as much as it was about cancer.
This time, it’s about religion.
It’s not just that we didn’t go to church Sunday (while it’s tough with kids, we are somewhat regular). It’s more that I didn’t miss going to church this Sunday. Or any other Sunday.
This is part of my self-diagnosed mid-life crisis. (Yup, I’m having one, by the way.)
I should miss it — shouldn’t I? Or, it’s not even so much that I miss it. It’s that when we do go, the only time I seem to walk out of mass with interest is when I know the Knights of Columbus are holding a pancake breakfast in the hall.
Something is missing.
I mean, I’ve told you this before. I was an altar boy. I’ve been a lector forever. A Eucharistic minster, too. Heck, I even ran the parish council for a few years. Throw in eight years of Catholic elementary school and I’m destined for saint hood. Or not.
I’ve told you what I like about the Catholic church — the tradition and the mystery. I love the concept of the mass and how it’s structured. However, recently, I’m just not getting enough out of it — if anything.
And that bothers me.
Of course, take a look at a couple of the church’s big issues — capital punishment and abortion. Yup, I’m all for the death penalty. And, ladies, it’s your body. As far as I’m concerned, you get to choose what to do with it.
It’s not like those are some minor issues that I’m disagreeing with. Throw in my support for gay marriage and, well, send me to hell right now.
Because of my beliefs, some would say I have no business being in the church.
Can’t lie and say I’ve never thought of that. But the question that always comes up in my head — if not the Catholic church, where?
The other question is — why am I thinking about this now?
Well, can’t lie. Death (and cancer) certainly have a lot to do with this.
I’ve had enough happen in my life alone to question my faith — let alone what others I know have had to deal with.
And, I should say, questioning faith doesn’t mean I don’ t have any. I do. Or at least I want to have it.
It’s a quest to find some sort of spiritual comfort. Where does it come from? How do I get it? And, then, if I do get it, what the hell do I do with it?
I believe in a higher power/authority. Ok, yeah, I believe in God.
Is God a he? A she? A what? Doesn’t matter. I believe that there is one — regardless of who or what it really is.
Where I have the problem is figuring out why God wants to mess with not just me, but with others.
OK, if there’s a lesson I’m supposed to learn because of Dad and Tim, could I just know it now? Hasn’t it been long enough? Yeah. It has.
The kids are baptized. Aidan goes to a Catholic school. Sure, my experience was a great one. But, honestly, one of the main reasons he goes is because they provide after-school care. Of course, part of my hope is that Aidan going to a parochial school will help his behavior and attention in church. We’ll see how that goes.
I say prayers with the kids every night. And, I also say my own prayers every day. Not always at the same time. Not always in the same place. But, bottom line is they get said.
Heck, I’m a godfather — three times! I do take that responsibility seriously. I mean, being selected by key friends and family — well, it’s simply an honor.
But, that doesn’t mean I’m without question — because I’m not.
And, yes, I’ve read The Shack. An amazing work. Read it if you haven’t. Did it change the way I think or look at things? Not really. But it has inspired conversation. And conversation is always good.
I have a lot of questions. A lot of issues.
To some extent, I don’t want to wait any more for the answers. I know I have to. I know I can’t get the answers to some of the questions now — and maybe not ever. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want them. Because I do.
I also, to some extent, believe in the power of prayer. Not so much that it can heal the sick, per se. But more so that it draws people closer — in a different way. And in that sense, it provides comfort.
When Dad and Tim died, I know people were praying for them — and for me. Did that do anything to help them? No. But it certainly did something to help me.
When Mom had her bypass in January, people were praying then, too. Did it help her physically? Maybe it helped her get through the surgery, but the complications persisted for quite some time, so hard to accept that.
But, again, what it did was bring comfort — to mom, my sister, my brother and me — at a very difficult time.
Again, it takes people with a shared experience/interest and brings them closer. I don’t care if it’s prayer or something else, any time that happens, it’s a good thing.
So where does this leave me?
Will I start getting more out of mass? Was I really ever getting anything out of mass? Honestly, I think the answer to both of those questions is I don’t know.
I love to argue — er, debate — religion. Always have. My Dad and I were famous for our ‘conversations.’
I would often take the opposite side of an issue just so I could disagree with him and argue points against him. It was that much fun. Kind of our thing.
I always promoted the notion of doing good things, of being a good neighbor, of going to church on a regular basis.
Dad was never for that. Nope. “Michael, always be careful with this one,” he’d say.
“Why’s that, Dad?” I’d respond.
“Because, Michael, no matter what you believe and what you think, one thing is very clear — religion is a very personal thing.”
I realize now, more than ever, how true that is.
“He” in the above title is Aidan.
And “it” is death. It amazes me how he picks up on things. And here’s the latest example from the not-yet five-year-old.
Typically, I put Erin down and Renee puts Aidan down. Renee was out tonight, so I was on double duty.
Erin goes down no problem. Aidan and I read stories, and then I start in on prayers.
We do the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be, after which we go through family and close friends with “God Bless Mimi, God Bless Papa” etc.
I just finish the line “And special prayers for Uncle Tim and Papa O” when the following exchange occurs:
“Is there room up there, Dad?”
“Room up where, buddy.”
“Up there. Where Uncle Tim and Papa O are.”
“You mean heaven, Aidan?”
“Is there room up there?”
“Yes, Aidan, but no worries. We won’t be visiting soon.”
At this point, I’m thinking I’m in the clear. Then:
“How did Uncle Tim die, Dad?”
“His heart was sick, buddy.”
“Well, bud, we’re not really sure why, but his heart got very sick, and as hard as the doctors tried, they weren’t able to fix it.”
“But what about Mimi O?”
“You’re right, Aidan. Mimi O’s heart was sick, but we’re very thankful the doctors could fix it.”
At this point, I’m again thinking I’m in the clear. Then:
“How did Papa O die, Dad?”
“He had Cancer, Aidan.”
“What’s that, Dad?”
“Cancer is something that gets different people sick in different parts of their bodies, and Papa O’s skin was sick. The doctors tried to help him a lot, but he was just too sick. And that’s how Papa O died.”
“Is there room up there, Daddy?”
“There sure is, buddy, and Papa O and Uncle Tim will save you a spot.”
“Good night, buddy.”
It was good to see you today. Though, I have to admit, you weren’t very talkative. Of course, for the last nine years, the conversations we’ve had have been pretty one-sided.
I have to admit, Dad, it’s hard to imagine me longing for the conversations we used to have. You remember….the ones where you’d sit in the chair at the kitchen table, and I’d be across the room sitting on the middle stair.
I loved those talks, Dad. And, I miss them. There we were, two stubborn Irishmen discussing a topic we were passionate about — neither one wanting to give an inch. And neither one of us ever did. And, yet, somehow, you always came out on top. You would get me to come right around to your point — almost forcing me to say something that agreed with your position, not mine. And once I did that, you wouldn’t say anything. No. You would sit there, and I would sit there. And while I was waiting for you to say something, it kept boiling inside of me that you got me to your point!
Sometimes, I wish we talked more. I think of questions now that I wish I knew the answers to. Why did you give up education? How come you never said much about your brother? There are more, but I think you get the idea.
I thought of those when you were alive, Dad. Of course I did. But there was no reason to think you wouldn’t be with us forever. So, I figured I’d get the answers eventually. You certainly aren’t talking about them now.
A lot is going on, Dad, that’s for sure.
The kids are growing. Everyone is busy. Mom just had bypass and came through fairly well. Slow to recupe, but that’s OK, she’ll get there. She had a funny dream about you, too, while she was doped up after surgery.
But you know all this. At least I assume you do. And sometimes (no, make that a lot of times) I feel guilty when I don’t think of you as often as I think I should. Hoping all the while that not only are you thinking about me — but that you are watching down on my life.
And, honestly, Dad, hoping that you’re proud.
Screw you, cancer. Today was a great day.
Spent time with my cousin today. And you know what? It was fabulous.
If you haven’t read the post before this, he’s been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. And, well, the prognosis isn’t good.
He lives two hours away, so we don’t see each other incredibly often, but we communicate multiple times a week.
We’d been wanting to play golf at least one more time this year, and we were able to do that today. As it turned out, I was home with the kids in the morning, so I decided to take the entire day, and Michael agreed to come down.
After a good morning of playing outside in the leaves and such, I went over to meet Michael and his brother, my cousin, Jim. Because the weather was so nice today (nearly 70), they started golf before I would be able to get there, so I met them at the turn and played the final 9.
We had a blast. It was quality. It wasn’t so much bonding as it just ‘was’. We talked about cancer. A lot, actually. And we joked about it.
Michael and I have a pact. If we talk about it, we try to laugh. You might not think any of this is funny, but we did.
I told him I was glad he came down to play. And, keep in mind, where we played is where we grew up. So this is home, really.
He made some reference to this being the ‘farewell tour.’ I told him that I hope he ends up like Kiss or The Who and that the ‘farewell tour’ goes on for years and makes multiple stops to every city.
We also played a little competitively and it was fun, when he had to make a short putt, to say, “oh, no, there are no cancer gimmies — make the putt.” Of course, he did.
And, not that I need to be quoting country songs, but one time, after he hit two great shots in a row, I said, “jeez, michael, you are living like you’re dying.”
After golf, we went out for a couple of drinks. Then, he was visiting his parents for a bit and I came home to help get the kids ready for bed.
We then met up for more drinks and dinner, primarily because the three of us had been talking about ribs and the decision was made to go get some. So we did.
And there we were. Three cousins sitting at the bar. Drinking beer. Eating ribs. And, to some strange extent, celebrating life.
Know that none of the humor was meant in poor taste. Know that it’s the way we are dealing with it. And know that there were some very emotional things said to each other, too.
We spoke a lot about my dad’s experiences. We talked about my brother’s death. We talked about treatment. We talked about how he told his kids. We talked about what scares him. We talked about what scares us.
No matter the seriousness, we always found a way to break the tension with a good laugh.
I really don’t know how many more days I’ll have like this with Michael. That’s not being morbid. It’s just being factual. For me, it’s more quality than quantity.
And, following that mantra, there’s only one thing to say about today.
It was a great day.
OK, so here’s the thing.
I’m Catholic. Have been since day one. I’ve done my duty. Altar boy. Lector. Eucharistic minister. Heck, I’ve even been parish council president. I guess you’d think (at least I would) that some of my work would qualify me for a little clarity from the man upstairs. Well, if it does qualify me, let’s just say I haven’t seen any of the results yet.
I will be the first to tell you that I don’t agree with everything the Church stands for. However, part of the beauty (at least for me) of the Catholic Church is more than just the tradition. It’s also the mystery.
And, I’ve gotta tell you, finding faith has never been a problem for me. However, lately, it’s become more and more of a challenge. Like a serious challenge.
Well, quite frankly, you can blame cancer. I’m so done with cancer. I mean, seriously? What the hell is going on.
First, it was my Dad.
Then, Renee’s mentor and the mother of a friend of mine, Diane.
Then, a college friend, Janet.
It’s hard to find faith when one taken is your dad, another is someone your age that made you laugh incredibly and the third is an absolute mentor to your spouse and a role model for any woman.
I’m not trying to be selfish here. I mean, let’s face it. Cancer gets everyone. Nobody is immune.
But now, I struggle to find faith in light of the latest developments in my life. Consider:
The daughter of Renee’s colleagues. Yup, she teaches with a husband and wife team. They have a daughter who is six. And, oh by the way, she has cancer. One day, the daughter says, “Mommy, I’ve got this bump on my back.” Well, yeah. The bump? A four-pound tumor that has since been removed. However, this poor kid, who should be worrying about her Halloween costume and other six-year-old stuff, is now in the midst of some serious chemo. She’s been given a 75 to 80 percent chance of survival.
And, hey, cancer. Did i mention, she’s um, 6. Yeah, I thought so. You cowardly bastard.
Freaders, I ask you to find faith for this little girl. And her parents. They need it.
What, one isn’t enough? No worries, here’s another.
A colleague at my work. More than a colleague. This gentleman (and for him there is no better word) is the absolute heart and soul of where I work. He is our shining star. He is goodness. He is compassion. He is joy. He is friendship. He is teacher. He is everything you can imagine and one you can’t.
Why? He is sick. Very sick. Like the rarest form of liver cancer sick. Like possibly only six months sick. Seriously? He is a man without children who has the biggest extended family you could ever imagine. I shouldn’t think like this, but I actually think, wow, his is going to be the most incredible funeral I ever go to. Find the biggest church around. Still not big enough.
This one is going to hurt when it happens. And, let’s face it cancer, you’re going to make it happen. No matter how hard we try, you don’t let us find a cure. But we will. For the six-year-old’s sake and for his sake.
So, freaders, please find faith for the heart and soul. The shining star. He is a man of unwavering loyalty, courage and optimism. Your faith will be a welcome addition to his life.
So here I am, this far into this post. And I haven’t even talked about the one that is going to affect me the most.
He’s my cousin. He’s my godfather. He’s my mentor. He’s my role model. He’s, well, he’s my guy.
A question about anything? I go to my guy. Advice? I go to my guy. Heck, even Sox tickets. I go to my guy.
I have lost my father and my oldest brother, yet my guy is probably the man that has had the most impact on my life.
He hasn’t always been the healthiest man alive, but now this? Another one with a rare form of liver cancer. And this, the third case I’m talking about here, came within a month of the other two. So, yeah, that thing about stuff happening in threes? It’s apparently true.
And, oh, my guy? He only has two daughters…one just out of college, one just in. He has an amazing wife. A great house. A fabulous business. Season tickets to the Pats on the 50. Season tickets to the Sox. He’s lived a good life.
But nobody deserves to have that said — “he’s lived a good life” — when he’s 52.
And, yes, I should be optimistic (or at least a little). But forgive me for not being that way. This isn’t anyone. This is my guy. And I know my guy needs my faith. And he needs yours, too.
So, cancer, I ask you one question: what the fuck? I mean. Seriously. I. Don’t. Understand. I’m not even sure I want to understand.
But, you don’t make it easy to find faith. To find comfort. To find support. To find anything. And that’s why I hate you so much. Now more than ever. Because of the six-year-old. Because of the heart and soul. Because of my guy.
Because the thing about you, cancer, that I hate more than anything. When you took my dad, my friend and Renee’s mentor, you took a piece of me with you.
And with these three — your latest victims — I’m worried that if you take even more of me, that there won’t be a lot left.