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.
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.
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.
I’m headed back to Disney World this summer for the first time in, well, a long time. More than 35 years, in fact.
Summer of ’76 — Bob and Jackie packed the four of us up in the station wagon and we headed due south. Next stop, the Magic Kingdom. Since that trip, I’ve done Epcot and Universal, but I’ve never been back to the Magic Kingdom.
I don’t have many memories from that trip. And, those that I do have are more centered on the actual trip itself — the stories that a family travelling in a station wagon are destined to have forever.
One of the few memories I have of the actual Magic Kingdom revolve around the “It’s a Small World” ride. I don’t remember it for a great ride. Rather, I remember it for the annoying song that I can still hear in my head — as if I was six-year-old on the ride today.
The point, in case you’re trying to figure this out, is that Walt Disney was right.
It really is a small world.
And, the thing that’s happening now is this — as I get older, the world gets smaller.
At first, I wasn’t a big fan of this notion. Well, both notions, actually – that I’m getting older and that the world is getting smaller.
I can’t fight the age thing, obviously. Though if I could, I certainly would.
But the getting smaller part? I’m a lot more open to this than I would have been just a couple of years ago. Those that know me best, know that I’m actually more shy than social. Hard to believe for some, but 100 percent true.
When I’m in a new situation and/or environment, there are typically two things that help me ‘loosen’ up and become more of my self.
The first usually take the longest. It’s simply a matter of me feeling comfortable in the situation/environment. That could be just becoming more comfortable in the physical space or, more likely, taking my time to get to know new people before letting them know more about me. Before really letting them ‘in.’ Once in, it’s a different story. But it takes a while for me to let someone in. Always has.
The second part of this can get me to my comfort level faster. That’s finding out that, in this new situation/environment, that I actually have a connection with someone there. Usually, you don’t know that connection exists. Maybe it gets discovered in a meeting. Maybe it gets discovered in casual small talk. Either way, when it does, it makes, at least me, anyway, much more comfortable.
Sometimes, that connection is short-term, but it still has a huge impact. One of my previous posts addresses just that situation when I made a deep connection with someone who knew my Dad. I didn’t expect the connection to happen at all — and it came about only through small talk. And thankfully it did, because I still remember that moment fondly. And I know I always will.
Other times, it’s more long-term. And that’s more likely with friends and co-workers. With friends, it’s that no matter how long it’s been since you’ve communicated, you’ve always got some connection. It doesn’t matter how your life has changed, there’s always something there to bring you back — if you wish. For me, there are two situations here that I don’t want to be brought back. I’ve been hurt enough to want that. However, I can acknowledge that if that ever changed, there’s enough in the background (enough of a connection) to at least have a starting point.
With co-workers, it’s a little more challenging — at least for me. But the beauty of this is when you find the connection, the relationship often times goes from colleague to friend. And that’s what’s cool. My workplace employs nearly 3,000 people. I figured it wouldn’t take too long to make some of these connections. And, well, I was right. Start the conversations strictly about work. Get more comfortable. Learn more and discover a connection — whatever it is. It’s a great feeling when it happens. Because it just means you’ve not only gained the trust of a colleague, you’ve gained the trust of a friend.
And, in the grand scheme of things, there aren’t many things that trump the trust of a friend. That’s always been part of my thing, too. While I don’t necessarily hang in big circles, I do hang in tight circles.
The point of this mess is simple. What’s not simple is how I’ve gone on trying to explain it.
As I get older, the world is becoming smaller. There are more connections. And that’s a good thing. Particularly for someone like me, who doesn’t have any easy time otherwise — believe it or not.
Sometimes, those connections are more — and this isn’t the right word — emotional. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to make a connection with someone because you know some of the same people. You can make a connection because of a shared experience, for example. Does that make sense? I hope so.
In that sense, the world becomes smaller because you discover you, believe it or not, aren’t the only one going through something.
The other side of it, though, is making a connection because you do know certain people that someone else knows. You find common ground. In other words, the world gets smaller. There are more connections. There are more shared experiences. It makes sense when you think about it. Person A knows 100 people. Person B knows 100 people. Person A doesn’t necessarily know Person B. However, when they do have a chance to meet, they discover common connections — and that gets the ball rolling.
Usually, at least for me, if the ball gets rolling, good things happen. And, when good things happen, it all ties back to what Walt Disney said years go.
It’s a small world, after all.
Brace yourself, this post has nothing to do with death.
Still with me then? Good. I’m glad.
So I had a pretty awesome experience last week. If we are connected on Facebook, then, well, you’re sick of hearing this again — I flew in a Blackhawk helicopter!
Well what does that have to do with my job in healthcare? Nothing. Or, maybe it does. Let me explain.
Each year, the local chamber of commerce offers a program designed to expose new leaders (that’s apparently me) with the opportunity to learn more about specific things happening in our area, in a variety of topic areas. The group (there are 22 of us) consists of people from healthcare, education, defense, finance, healthcare and a few other industries. We meet once a month to learn more about a particular topic.
We’ve done healthcare. We’ve done education. We’ve done judicial. We’ve done economic development. Along the way, this program has given me the opportunity to tour behind the scenes of an area casino, spend time with a judge and tour a prison, take part in an amazing program that aims to prevent teens from being distracted drivers and more — including the opportunity to listen and talk to industry leaders in this area.
While the program is teaching us new skills and techniques of leadership, it’s also showing us just how much is ‘in our backyard’ and how the area in which we live are so dependent on all of the industries we are observing.
That was never more prevalent than last week.
Our focus? The military.
Now, this part of the world is heavily connected in the military community. We are, among other things, ‘the submarine capital of the world’ — since the world’s best submarines are, in fact, built here. We have a naval base that employs more than 10,000. We have a major service academy in our area, too.
We are military focused — yet for some reason, the leadership class hadn’t taken on the topic of the military.
Until this year.
Because this was the first time, the military partners involved in the tour rolled out the red carpet. And, well, that’s where the Blackhawks come in.
I, along with a few others, was completely stoked for this experience. Here I am a week later and I’m still in awe of what we did, where we went and how we got there.
The morning started on the base. On the way to the Blackhawks, our national anthem was played over the speakers for morning colors. Everyone stopped and it was hard to not feel different hearing it where we were — and with what we were about to do.
The Blackhawk was incredibly smooth — that’s what shocked me the most. It was such an easy, effortless ride. We touched down at the local National Guard camp and got a tour there, as well as multiple speakers explaining the Guard’s role and much more.
Back in the chopper for a 30 minute tour of our region — just an incredible experience to fly over places I see everyday and get a completely different perspective on the area I call home and all that’s around it.
We landed at another local facility where Blackhawks are maintained and refurbished. I had no idea this was going on in my community.
After that tour, one more short ride where we landed on the front lawn of the Coast Guard Academy. An absolute special experience to do that and then be toured around the Academy by a cadet, before joining up with senior administrators for lunch in the officer’s club. You couldn’t leave the Academy without being impressed.
When we did leave, it was in a van this time (so depressing!) for a ride back to the base where the tour continued with a trip inside a submarine simulator used for training, followed by a look at how submariners train for deep water rescues and then finally aboard an actual US submarine in port for minor repairs and preparations to be made before its next significant voyage — which, according to the commander, could be as long as six months. Where to? He, of course, wouldn’t say. But, with all the continued drama in the Mid East, I couldn’t help but think this sub would soon be Syria bound.
So, Mike, you’re probably asking…here you are, more than 700 words in and you really haven’t explained the point of this.
Well, I say, it starts with the title of this post — ‘Behind the Fence.’
When the morning started, one the military types told the group that our access that day would take us ‘behind the fence.’ That we’d get to see things (the sub simulator) and do things (um, fly in a Blackhawk!) that others just don’t get to do. All of this, he said, was to show us ‘the other 1 percent.’ He wasn’t referring to the uber rich and talking taxes. No, he was talking about the 1 percent that protects the freedom we enjoy every day — without ever really thinking about it.
In exchange for this access, for this unique experience, he asked for something very simple in return. He asked for us to take what we saw back to our world and share it with people we know. To tell them not just what we saw, but who we saw doing it. And to see how much pride was involved.
So, here I am. Letting you know what a day this was.
Now, I’ve basically lived in this area my entire life, save a few years here and there. Obviously I know the importance of the military in this area. But, well, maybe I underestimated that a bit. I had no idea there’s a training ground not far from here where soldiers train in mock villages to simulate what they might discover in the Middle East. I had no idea that helicopters from 13 states along the east coast are brought here to be repaired/refurbished. I had no idea of the size and scope of the National Guard. I had no idea how impressive the Coast Guard Academy would be. I’d been there before, sure, but for a football game. I had never set foot in an Academy building until last week. I was thoroughly impressed.
The base. I had no idea how big it was. I had no idea how many sailors go through submariner school. I had no idea what life was like on a submarine. I had no idea how much work goes on when a sub is in port preparing for its next destination. I had no idea of the true economic impact the military has on, not just this area, but the state as a whole.
Flying in a Blackhawk. That was fun for me and the others in the group. But for the team flying us, it’s more than fun. It’s there job. For everyone we met that day, it’s more than just a submarine or a helicopter. It’s a job. But it’s really more than that. It’s about freedom. Their freedom. Our freedom. My freedom.
My nephew served and did multiple tours in Iraq. I’m proud of him. Or at least I thought I was. But now I’m even more proud of him — and the many others. Now that I got a better glimpse into the life, the work and so much more, I can start to appreciate the sacrifice even more. The sacrifice they make for me. And for you.
The point is, I understand it more. And I wish you all could experience what I was so beyond fortunate to experience. Who knows. I may never fly in a helicopter again — let alone a Blackhawk. I was given an extraordinary opportunity. One for which I’m thankful. And one which I wanted to share with you. Not just because I was asked to do it. But, well, because you should know. Particularly if you live in this area, you should know the incredible work that’s going on right in our backyard. It’s more than the obvious. It’s the stuff you’d never think about. Right here. This close.
And for that, those of us that live here should be filled with immense quantities of both thanks and pride.
It’s been a while, eh? Yup. Sure has.
This story is worthy (at least I think it is) of a return to the blog. So, well, here goes.
Here we are in early February, and, well, surprisingly I didn’t write anything January 30 — the 12th anniversary of my Dad’s passing. It’s been sort of a tradition here at I Got Nothin’ that I’d write my annual letter to him — usually complaining about how much I missed him and how his death has affected me and all that. And, for the record, I do miss him. And, well, yeah, it affected me. Maybe just a bit.
But, none of that this year.
No visiting the cemetery on his ‘anniversary’ either. First time in a while that I haven’t done that. I’ve been recently, though, so it’s not like I’ve abandoned that practice.
I made the choice to not write the letter. I made the choice to not go to the cemetery. One little Facebook status was all I did that day. And that’s a good thing. I promised myself that I wouldn’t force the anniversary of his death on you — and, more importantly, on me.
I remember him a lot. Did I need to have the specific day to ‘publicize’ him to my friends (or, even, myself)? Because, if I ever have to do that again, strangle me. I’m not saying I’ll never post another letter that I write to him. What I’m saying is that I was in a decided pattern of behavior around his death (as well as Tim’s). That’s a pattern that I wasn’t growing very fond of. It was the all-consuming pattern. Not so much a fan of those.
Besides, my going in the opposite direction, by not forcing the memory, by just letting things be as they are, well, I discovered that good things do happen.
Just like they did today. Honestly, this is one of the most touching moments that I’ve had about my Dad since his passing. It might not seem that way to you. Or, maybe it does. I don’t know. And, it’s one of those ‘it doesn’t really matter’ moments. It affected me. And for that I’m grateful.
Here’s the story…and I’m already apologizing to you for the length of this. It’s not a short story.
So Aidan is a second grader at Sacred Heart, the Catholic elementary school within our parish. Erin goes there, too. It’s a great place for them. And, after spending my entire elementary schooling in a Catholic school, I’m pretty happy they are in one now.
We are just wrapping up an annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. It’s primary goal is awareness. But it also does some fun stuff for kids and families to get involved. One of those things is what made today special.
The local Catholic high school, St. Bernard’s, hosts an annual art show during Catholic Schools Week. Each year, they solicit art projects from area Catholic elementary schools and they are then displayed in a true exhibit space within the school. It was very cool to see. And part of the reason for that is because Aidan had one of his projects selected for display.
Because the show is in the school, I had called ahead to check on whether or not it was possible to come by late in the afternoon. The art teacher called me back and said he would be there late, so no problem at all coming toward the end of the day.
A student led us down to the gallery room and, after a bit of searching, we found Aidan’s picture — a really cool snowman image. I’m not sure where he gets the talent from, but it certainly looked good to me. While we were in the room, the teacher walked in and welcomed us and asked if I was the one who had called earlier in the day. Nothing fancy in the conversation. At least not yet.
He was just telling us about the show, how he enjoys getting the elementary schools involved with the high school. That sort of thing. Then he told Aidan that he went to Aidan’s school as a kid, so that was neat. And that he still lives right across from Aidan’s school. So very slowly a connection was being made here — at least unbeknownst to me.
At one point in the conversation, the art teacher, who is clearly still passionate about what he does, stated that this was, in fact, his 40th year at the school Forty! And that’s where it clicked.
Not because this man has been doing this for 40 years (but, um, wow!), but because I wondered if he might possibly have known my Dad.
How would he have known him? Well, some of you probably don’t know that my Dad was, first and foremost, an educator. He taught elementary school and then moved into administration and, for a time, he served as assistant superintendent of schools in the Norwich diocese where St. Bernard’s is located. In fact, he was very involved with St. Bernard’s early on and had worked closely on a variety of projects there.
I wasn’t sure if I should bring that up, though. I mean, this guy has been teaching 40 years. Imagine the people he’s met over the years. And, well, Dad left that job in the mid 1980s. I didn’t want to ask and be told no. Nor did I want to ask and get a tepid response and think he was just being polite. So, I didn’t say anything.
As it was time to leave, the teacher said he’d walk us back to the front lobby of the school. I didn’t think anything of it, because it was quite a walk with some twists and turns. Besides, we were still chatting about a variety of things.
As we went down one hallway, there was a huge portrait of a former bishop in the diocese — a bishop that I had known because of my Dad. Ah, I said, I know him. I met him a long time ago when my father worked for the diocese.
And that’s when I could tell the teacher did know my Dad. “I thought so,” the teacher said. “And that’s why I wanted to walk you out. I recognized your name when we spoke on the phone and I wondered if maybe you were the same family.”
“That’s us,” I said.
The teacher told me that he remembered my Dad. And then he did the coolest thing. On our walk, he took us to the chapel within the school.
He went on to explain how two statues in the chapel were only there because of my Dad. That these statues had been in another school and somehow ended up at the administration office where he worked. And at one point, in discussing needs for the chapel, my Dad mentioned these two statues to the teacher and, well, that was that. So now, as you go in the chapel, the statues are still there.
Even though he said he had known my Dad, I wasn’t quite sure what to say or how to react — until I heard this story. He definitely remembered him. He definitely remembered this story. It wasn’t like he was just being polite.
He also knew my Dad had passed and made reference to that a couple of times. I thanked him for sharing the story, that it really meant a lot to me to hear something like that — particularly something so unexpected.
And then he said something that really got me — that really made this an emotional homerun for me.
“Because of those statues,” he said, “your Dad has left a lasting impression that is with us every day.”
He sure has.
For me, this was huge. It helped me understand that, yeah, you don’t have to force memories. They will come. And it’s not just me that has them. Other people remember my Dad, too. I lose sight of that sometimes. Make that a lot of times.
But, seriously. I didn’t sign up for this today.
No, we were just going to an art show.
We were just going to find a picture of a snowman.
Turns out we found a whole lot more.
And I’m really glad we did.
Amazingly, I’m not here to write about death. Does that mean you’ll stay? Hope so. But, whatever. I mean, they are my words.
But it’s your choice?
Still here? Good.
You might learn a little more about me tonight. Why?
Well, for some reason, I’m feeling ridiculously sentimental tonight.
That’s OK, right? Wait. Why am I asking you? Of course it is. Remember, my words.
(But I am glad that you are reading them.)
So, this sentimental thing. I’ll try to explain.
Maybe it’s because we took the kids trick-or-treating tonight in my old stomping grounds. We’ve done it for the last few years, but something was different about tonight. Not sure what it was. It’s great to go there because my sister and her daughter join us. Or, we join them since they live in the neighborhood now. And I think that’s part of it. That we’re giving the kids a memory they’ll look back on in the years to come. Lord knows I’m looking back on it. I remember going to each house in the neighborhood. Who gave out the best candy. Who pulled pranks. Who kept the lights off. I did this year after year with Steve, Steve, Gary, Tim, Pete and Tim. Just great memories. The neighborhood was alive tonight. And what was even cooler about it? Coming home, signing on to Facebook and seeing other people comment about how great it was there tonight, too.
And, in terms of making connections there between now and then. Well, it happened at two houses. One is still owned by the family that I’ve know there forever. Though instead of the parents handing out the candy, it was the kids. And by kids, I mean, they were my age. And one of the two works where I work now, so that connection continued. And then another house, next to the house I played at the most growing up…well, the people that live there now? One of them works with me now, too. So it’s kind of like the old and new coming together. Only I didn’t know she lived there until tonight. Makes our next conversation an easy one. Good times tonight. Great memories.
Why else am I feeling sentimental? Maybe it’s because both my mom and my nephew have hard incredibly hard months medically — yet both are home. Where they belong. Neither are 100 percent, but each is getting stronger by the day. And, well, that alone is a good thing. I’m done asking for good vibes. For now. I’m just thankful to all who shared them. And, well, I’m just thankful they are both home. We’re the closest non-closest family you’ll ever know. And what I just wrote right here, well, that means a lot. Good times tonight. Great memories to come.
Hmmm….still want another reason? Well, I just read a friend’s blog tonight for the first time in a long time. This is a blog I used to read every day. Heck, this is the blog that made me start a blog. I miss this friend. She and I don’t talk as much as I wish we still would, but I think she knows that we’re always connected. I’m hoping we have the chance to get together for dinner some time soon. Because I want to hear more of her stories in person — and not just in a blog or a vlog. I think I have the connection with this person that it really doesn’t matter how long we don’t talk — because when we are together, it’s always easy to talk. Simply put, she’s the little sister I never had. Ready for dinner when you are.
More? Of course there’s more. I mean, when I get sentimental, I get sentimental. It’s all in, so to speak.
Well, I’m going to see two of my closest friends this weekend with a trip back to Marist. I’m wishing another friend could be there, but alas, that won’t work out this time. What I really wish — at times — is that another person could be there. But I’m not sure that’ll ever happen again. I don’t think about that person much, but when I do, well, it’s just a sad situation. What I’m most glad about is that I have some amazing friends and I’m looking forward to walking campus, going back to check out the places we lived, admiring how much the place has changed and realizing how much we really haven’t changed that much since we first got to know each other back in (gulp) 1988.
What else? Well, I’m digging my new job. Totally digging it. Of course, it’s not really new anymore. Not after having been there for more than a year. But I’m really enjoying it and starting to make my mark a bit — or so it seems. At the same time, there’s one part of my old job that I really miss. So much so that I’m doing it again this holiday season. It’s not part of my old day-to-day job, it’s completely separate and doesn’t interfere at all with my current job — or I wouldn’t do it. But it’s a way for me to get back to something I loved doing for eight out of the last 10 holiday seasons. And I heard tonight that a lot of people are looking forward to having me back. That works for me. First ‘meeting’ is 11/7. And, honestly? I can’t wait.
Ok, we’re getting to the end, but there’s still a bit more. We had some family pictures taken a couple months ago and they just came in this week. A huge package arrived at the door and out they came. First really good shot of the family. First really good shot of Renee and me. Two awesome shots of Aidan and Erin. At one point, when I was struggling what to pick out, the photographer said, ‘think of what photo Aidan and Erin would want hanging in there house some day.’ Great perspective and it, well, made it easy at that point. They are lifestyle shots — all of them. And, well, it makes me think we’ve developed a nice little lifestyle here.
The last reason why I’m feeling this way — or at least another good reason why I might be….my birthday is tomorrow (or today, depending on when you are reading this). I’m turning 42. Every day. Every step of where I’ve been has brought me to this place. And you know what? It’s a good place. I haven’t always realized that. Maybe haven’t always appreciated it as much as I should. Maybe have been distracted by things beyond my control. But, at least I realize that now.
I’ve got family. I’ve got friends. I’ve got the best health I’ve been in for some time.
Yeah. It’s good. It’s real good.
So thanks for being a part of it. Seriously. I don’t always say it (yeah, that again), but I think it. A lot.