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.
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.
There are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is hard. Very hard.
Then there are times, let’s just say, when this parenting thing is cool. Very cool.
This post is about one of the cool times. It’s about a five-year-old who did something so cool (at least to me) that I’m not even sure he understands just how cool of a thing he did.
Aidan has always been fascinated by cemeteries — not really sure why. He just has. Knowing that his Uncle Tim and his Papa O are in a cemetery has no doubt given him a better understanding of the entire death ‘process.’ And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.
He came with me to the cemetery on my father’s anniversary. It was freezing cold, so he stayed in the car while I went out and said a quick prayer. I didn’t want to bring him, but he asked some great questions and it was a way for us to connect. So I’m glad I did.
One of the things he asked was who else I knew in the cemetery. I told him I knew a lot of people. He pressed for more information. I told him that the next time we were over at Mimi’s house and it was warm enough, that I’d take him back up and walk through with him and point out the families that I did know.
Sunday, we were over in that area and as we were driving away, he said, “Dad, is it warm enough for the cemetery today?”
Not really wanting to go at that moment, I said, “It’s not that warm, buddy. Why don’t we go another day?”
“But, Dad,” he said, “I want to go now.”
And here’s where he got me.
“I want to meet all the people you know.”
So, to the cemetery we went.
We spent an hour there. He knows my dad and brother’s stones. But I showed him my grandparents’ stone. I showed him the resting spot of a childhood friend who died at age 20. I showed him stones that were ready for the people who haven’t died yet, including my aunt and uncle.
I showed him stones of neighborhood families that I’ve known for more than 30 years.
And then he showed me something. He showed me how much he understands. He showed me how much he gets it. He showed me how much he understands this stuff — even at age five.
Well, even though it was the last day of February, there were still quite a few Christmas baskets out adorning a number of graves. Because of the wind, many had blown over or been blown away from the stones.
Aidan went around the cemetery and fixed more than 50 of these baskets. He made it his mission to make sure each basket was placed properly — and with respect — in front of its respective grave.
I couldn’t believe it as he went from stone to stone, row to row — literally spending 30 minutes fixing these baskets.
I was completely touched watching him do this with such interest and — more importantly — such care and respect.
“Aidan,” I asked, “why do you think people put these baskets here?”
“To remember their friends?”, he asked.
It was good enough for me.
So later in the day when he was running like mad all over the house and pushing his sister around and testing our patience with every word out of his mouth, it was hard to believe that he was the same kid who did something so respectful, so special and so appropriate just a few hours ago.
But, he was. And during that moment in the cemetery, I was, well, incredibly proud.
So in one of my last posts, I put the question to you — what would you like me to write about? What would you like to know?
Well, a new reader asked a pretty amazing question. She challenged me to share something I haven’t shared. Or, she said, ‘tell me what moves you.’
What moves me? Heck, I’m not even sure what that means exactly. So, in order to answer it I suppose I first need to be able to define it.
To me, something ‘moves me’ if there’s an emotional reaction or deep feeling associated with someone or something.
The ‘movement,’ of course, can be for the emotional good or bad. It just, I suppose, depends on the situation.
So, with that loosely described definition, let’s take a look at some of the things (in no particular order) that do, in fact, move me:
Music. I simply can’t imagine a life without music. I’m not a singer — or at least not a public one. I can’t play an instrument, but the impact music has on me is sometimes even hard for me to explain. I associate songs with people, moments and just about anything. Certain songs spark certain emotions. And that will never change. Yes, I love Bon Jovi. But it’s so far beyond that. I love just about any kind of music. I have ‘high school’ songs, ‘college’ songs, people songs, driving songs, thinking songs. I love songs that mean something — for whatever reason. It could be a classical piece, it could be a country song, it could be a commercial jingle. It doesn’t matter. If it impacts me in any way, it becomes a part of the soundtrack of my life.
Words. More specifically, well thought out emotional and honest words. Written or spoken. Either way. Doesn’t matter. Fact is, words are powerful. For some, it’s easier to write than it is to speak. So what. Fact is, emotions are coming across — regardless of how they are delivered. Is it easier to hide behind the keyboard? Maybe. Heck, I’m even guilty of that at times. Is it ideal? No. But, if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. Good writing is such an art. An under appreciated art. You don’t always know good when you see it, but you certainly know bad — and that can move me, too — but for all the wrong reasons.
Friends. Can’t live without the support of my friends. I mean, how else do I say it? I’m not one for a huge group of friends. I’m much more of the get close to a smaller number and, well, let them in as far as they want. Those that want in, well, those are the ones I hold close. Those are the ones who let me in in return and the give and take is just fabulous. Friends that I’ve known since first grade. Friends that I’ve known since college. Friends that I’ve known for only a few years. It’s not how long you’ve been friends. It’s about what you’ve experienced. And with mine, well, I’ve experienced a lot — and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I just hope some feel the same about me as I feel about them.
Water. Not the drinking kind. The ocean/river/lake kind — with preference given to the ocean. I’ve been around water my entire life. Growing up by the ocean, going to college on a river, working by a lake. Now working on a river and back by the ocean. So much comfort in the water. A place to go when quiet is needed and thinking needs to be done. I can still see the exact spot I used to go to in college when I needed to be myself. Forget the iPod, didn’t exist then. I’d take the walkman with an Elton John tape(!) and just go sit by the river and think. I got engaged by the ocean for a reason. There’s just something mysterious and comforting about the water. And the best time of year to go to the beach? Now. Haven’t been in a while. Time to go explore.
Family. Be it my kids, my wife, my mom, my siblings, my relatives. Doesn’t matter. Family is important. Don’t forget that. It’s easy to do sometimes. Think of the holidays and what do you remember? Family. The best part of a holiday meal isn’t the turkey or the dessert. No, it’s the rehashing of the same family stories you’ve heard over and over. Stories that have shaped your life. It’s the kids — when after a long day of battles, a simple exchange of please and thank you can do wonders.
So, there are five things that move me — in one way or another. Mostly for the good. This isn’t as easy as it seems. It challenges your own emotions to think of important things that can have an impact on your life — and why. I’m sure more will come up, and, if they do, perhaps I’ll add them here at some point.
In the meantime, thanks to my new reader for asking the question.
And now I ask the same question to all of you.
You now know some of the things that move me. So tell me, what moves you?
So yesterday had the makings of a really great day.
I know, listen to me! But it’s true.
Remember the crying at work episode? Well, while you don’t know the whole story, isn’t that enough? The good news is that the people that were upset with me had a meeting with my bosses. Things were smoothed over. Enough to the point that they called me immediately after that meeting and invited me to lunch to “mend fences and clear the air.”
I was nervous. But it went well. Very well. So much that the relationship is still alive and has a chance to grow. The keys? Honesty and humility. And no defensiveness. That last part is the trickiest for me.
And, someone I work with actually commented that I seemed to be in a much better mood lately. Wow. That was both a good thing and a bad thing. I guess I have been showing some signs…but I guess I also have started to turn it around.
I feel like I have. I feel like looking through that long, dark tunnel that there’s a speck of light there that I haven’t seen in a long time.
At least until last night. And this morning.
Had the worst night sleep I’ve had in a really long time. Why? Not totally sure, but it had something to do with an absolutely ridiculous dream that actually made me get up and go check something in our basement (don’t ask).
Then, Aidan was off the wall this morning — making our hour together a complete and utter challenge. When you’re in the midst of that, it’s hard to focus on that he’s probably tired, still fighting some sick stuff and probably nervous about school today. It’s easy to think about after the fact, but not always during the process.
And, have a meeting in just a bit with someone that I have a very hard time communicating with — and that’s something I need to work on. Thankfully, have a colleague in the meeting with me who can read me and will give a sign if I’m heading down a wrong path. Good to have a battle buddy with you.
A little nervous about later today. Appointment with a different counselor (easier to say this time!). Remember the new therapy thing I mentioned last time? Well, first session today to see if it’s going to be a good option — and I believe it is. I want it to be.
And tonight, well, I step back to 1876 to do something I absolutely love. It’s a time for a 100 percent escape from modern day and focus on some simpler things.
Sounds like a great concept, doesn’t it?
It’s hard to believe you are two years old today. Sometimes you seem so grown up! I know that’s happening every day. And I know I can’t stop it (as often as I wish that I sometimes could).
But, the fact is, no matter how fast you do grow up, you will always be Daddy’s little girl. Always. Even the day — especially the day — when I get to walk you down the aisle on your wedding day. Yes, Erin, I do think about that. About ‘giving you away’…which is hard to think of already. Especially a girl who has given me so much — in just two years.
Your eyes, Erin, continue to captivate me each and every time I look at you. Your voice and your growing vocabulary impress me so much. You communicate so well. So easily.
Your sense of adventure. No fear. I’m so admirable and envious of your spirit. Your laughter — contagious — or at least it should be. Everything about you, Erin, speaks of joy. Because that is what you bring to all who love you.
Sure, you’ve grown a little more toddler like with your new bedtime behavior, but, overall, you are an angel. A sweet little angel.
And, Erin, while this day is always about you and always your day alone. Please know, too, what gift you bring me — every day.
Each time I look at you, Erin, your uncle Tim is there. You were such a gift at such a horrible time. A time, quite honestly, I still struggle with a lot (more than people think — at least until now). So on a day that should be totally yours, I thank you for sharing it with the uncle you’ve never met. There will be enough sorrow to share in the next few days about that. But on this day, your day, you share in all the good of not just yourself, but your uncle, too.
And for that, Erin, I thank you.
I do get frustrated, Erin. And I apologize for that. I try and do the best I can every day. Some days are much harder for me — and that’s my own patience level I have to deal with. But just please know that Daddy loves you so much, and you truly bring joy every single day.
Happy Birthday, Erin.
No excuses for not being here. Life has been beyond words crazy. More work than ever. More stress than ever. Just, well, more of everything.
And, had I known Molly was going to post about my kids (she’s watching them for a few days), then I would have had something fresh here for the 300 of you that popped in for a visit. I only hope you’ll come back from time to time.
And, it’s interesting, this wordpress thing. Because I know a lot of what you looked at. And quite a bit of it was about my brother’s death and all that I went through at that time — especially since it was timed horribly with my daughter’s birth — nearly two years ago.
And, it’s somewhat ironic that that topic is what is bringing me here tonight. So after reading Aidan a story, we went through prayers. We did all the usual, and then it went like this:
“And God bless Great Mimi O, Papa O and Uncle Tim — especially this time of year.”
“Why specially Dad?”
“Because the day Uncle Tim died is coming up very soon — just like Erin’s birthday. In fact, bud, it was the day after Erin was born that Uncle Tim got sick. And one of the reasons it always makes me sad is that Erin and Uncle Tim never got to meet. Do you remember Uncle Tim?”
“A little. He’s in one of the pictures from my party.”
“Yup, he sure is. And pictures are how we keep memories alive.”
“Well when will Erin get to meet Uncle Tim?”
I actually had to collect myself a bit before I could muster this…you know, not only talking about the death of my brother, but also now the death of my daughter.
“Well, bud, one day, that will happen. When Erin goes to heaven, she’ll get to meet Uncle Tim and Papa O. And that’s when we’ll all be together again. But that’s going to be a long time from now.”
By the time we were here, he had moved down to the floor where his train table was.
“You want to drive the train and I’ll drive the cherry picker. And then if I want, we can switch.”
“I’d love to.”