Mom.

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

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

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

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

More to come….but here it is:

My Gift to Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Happy Birthday, Renee!

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

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

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


Smelling the Roses. What a Concept!

Accept those things you can’t change, and move on.

That what a dear friend said to me today after I sent an email that I wouldn’t be at work for most of the day due to the latest sickness to have found its way into the house. I was frustrated in my email. Heck, I was frustrated in general. Missed work. My daughter sick again. Me still sick.

So much for starting the year off on the right foot.

Yet, the above is so appropriate for me — on so many levels. Not just dealing with the issue of the day.

Let’s just say that when I look back on 2009, I hope it becomes something I learned a lot from — and not suffered a lot from. This head of mine, while still spinning today, was spinning almost out of control in parts of 2009. Things that had been buried for a long time surfaced and are still being dealt with. And, I suppose, they always will be dealt with.

I just want to make sure now that I’m better equipped to deal with feelings, fears and emotions than I  have in the past. I’m not out of it by any means, but I’m trying. I really am.

The stress I put on myself has impacted the way I interact with others — family, friends, colleagues. It was a shortly after Thanksgiving when a colleague of mine said to me, “Wow, Mike, you’re in a good mood lately.”

That sort of hit pretty hard. It’s one thing when those very close to you notice something and say something, but at times I put that on the back burner. How could they really know? How could they really see? Well, turns out they did know and they could see. Because when someone who I’m not as close to mentioned my mood, then I was like, Hmmm. Maybe there is an issue here.

I’ve taken some steps I never expected to take in my life. And that’s what I have to focus on now — steps. The journey, not the finish line.

I’ll be candid. With the amount of loss in my life, which as you know has been one of the hardest things for me to understand and deal with — there have been moments where I have focused more on my own death than my own life.

It’s even hard to write that sentence — let alone try to explain it or deal with it. But, if you are close to me, you’ve probably heard me say the following:

“Well, my dad was 65, my brother was 45. That makes the average life span in my family for men to be 55. I just turned 40. If that holds true, I won’t walk my daughter down the aisle.”

Sound familiar?

Are you kidding? Seriously.

Well, for a while, I wasn’t. Still aren’t.

I won’t lie to you, it scares me. But I need to get off that crutch. I’ve leaned on that too much. Way too much. And I need to stop that.

Not an excuse, but this month is hard — Tim’s birthday and Dad’s 10th anniversary. And I’m trying to find the tools I need to handle some of these feelings better than I have in the past.

More importantly, I need to focus more on the journey to the end — not the end itself.

There are still things to be worked on. Still things to be figured out. And they aren’t minor things.

But, the point is, I need to find my way back to being the person people expect me to be.

No, that’s not right either.

I need to find my way back to being the person I expect myself to be.

And that’s what I’m going to try and do. It won’t be easy, but it’s so beyond necessary. I can’t let it eat at me the way it did in 2009. I can deal with it now, but I cannot be consumed by it.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I was also in the middle of a project. You know that I turned 40 last November — another issue that caused a great deal of stress. One of the ways for me to celebrate? I’m throwing myself a party. It just happens to be next month. Almost four months later? So what.

Point is, it’s going to be a fun party and it’s going to be the party I want — with the people I want. And that’s a good feeling.

Another good feeling about the party? My friend Mike is putting together a power point that is going to kill me. Why? Well, he’s got basically every picture of me known to man — from when I was a year old to just two weeks ago. And, let me just say, I haven’t always been this handsome or fashionable. And, well, if you are on the party invite list, you’ll laugh your ass off at a lot of the pictures. I know I will.

I also know that I will smile at a lot of them and recall happy times associated with each picture.

And that’s the point — collecting these pictures has been a very appropriate exercise for me. It’s given me the chance to do just that — to re-visit the journey I’ve taken along the way. To focus on what’s happened — not what might or might not happen.

To remember things like going with my family to pick out the perfect Christmas tree — something I still cherish to this day. To all of the good times I had in the backyard pool. To school pictures — yup, even including the velour shirt I wore in sixth grade with a dickey underneath. To the many places Renee and I have travelled. To the union of friends along the way. To celebrate the arrival and birthdays of new family and friends — and always remembering the departure of the same. To see myself standing next to people that are so much more than friends.

I suppose now you want to see some of these pictures? Well, it’s the least I can do. Here’s a tease. And if you’re coming to the party, there’s a lot more where these came from. (Invites to the party, by the way, out soon.)

The family tradition of bringing home the perfect tree. If you don't know, I'm the smallest.

 

Yup. That's a Batman floatie.

 

Afterall, I wouldn’t be who I was or where I am today without having taken all of those steps along the way. Each one being so much more than a step — each one being part of who I am.

And that’s what I’m trying to do — to reclaim who I am. Not just for you (though I know you’ll appreciate that), but, more importantly, for me.

And, you know, like my friend said, to accept those things you can’t change and move on.

If I can do that — all of that — then 2010 will be so much more than 2009 ever was.

Is it a resolution? No, it’s not. Because it’s not something for this year.

It’s something for life.


The Interview — Part III

Ok, so when I said this interview thing was addicting, I wasn’t kidding.

Today’s questions come from Molly. It’s only fair, really, that she interview me. Afterall, I interviewed her (for real) twice. I knew she’d have some good questions.

How good? See for yourself.

1. When did you know Renee was the woman you were going to marry?

Well, I don’t know if this is the real answer or not. But, Renee and I knew each other for five years before we started dating. During that time, I had thought about asking her out, but never got up the nerve. Then, a friend of mine asked her out. They dated regularly — more than a year if I remember correctly. Once they started going out, I remember thinking, “Geez, why did I let that happen?” Thankfully for me, the relationship didn’t last.

2. What is the strangest dream you can remember?

Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I could remember a dream.

3. If you had to give up chocolate or beer for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good beer. But, sorry, brewski, you don’t stand a chance against chocolate!

4. If you could be a character in any television show, who would you be and why?

Hmmm. Norm from Cheers? Josh from The West Wing? Phil the host from Amazing Race? Marshall in Alias? Jack from Three’s Company? How do I pick? MacGyver?

I think I might go with MacGyver. I mean, I can’t fix/build anything and he could build anything with three toothpicks, a spool of thread and a plastic cup.

Then again, so could the Professor from Gilligan’s Island…and he was stuck on a remote island with Ginger and Mary Anne.

Yeah, I’m picking the Professor!

5. Bon Jovi invites you on the stage to sing one song with him. Which song do you choose?

Well, first of all, how did I get front row seats? Am I like Courteney Cox being pulled on stage by the Boss? And, my goodness, how do you expect me to sing? Heck, I’m not even sure I could stand — let alone talk, let alone sing! I mean, he picked me?!

The song I would pick? Dead or Alive. Why? Well, I would never, ever, ever steal his thunder. I mean, especially if he asked me on stage. Wouldn’t it be rude for me to take the spotlight? Or to even sing a song as his, dare I say it, equal?

Dead or Alive is perfect…I’ll take the Sambora parts — small, but so important.

I mean, come on, you know what I’m talking about. When Jon sings “Wanted….” and Richie responds with “Wanted….”. Does it get any better than that? Um, no. That’s the part I want. Integral to the song — but not taking away from the man.

God, how pathetic am I?

Well, what can I say, she hit a soft spot. 🙂

Any more questions out there for me? Want any questions from me? Let me know.


Finding Faith Isn’t Always Easy

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.

Why?

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.


Molly’s Wedding Day

Today is Molly’s wedding day.

And, I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t looked forward to a wedding this much in a long time.

Why? Take a look at who will be joining Renee and I at our reception table: Anna, Sara, Elizabeth and Chelle (and their spouses, of course). And, oh by the way, Clink will be there, too.

And, well, it’s Molly’s wedding. If I had a little sister, it would be her. Can’t really say it any other way than that. I remember the day she told me she was leaving our work for another job. My first question at the time? “Um, so, Molly, am I still invited to the wedding?”

Well, today is the wedding, and Renee and I are looking forward to helping her and Michael celebrate their unity.

It’s also my first Friday afternoon wedding, and I’ve gotta tell you, I need it. This has been an incredibly stressful time at work (more on that later), so Molly’s planning is going to be a pretty good thing as far as I’m concerned. The reception is at a fabulous place on the water and the same place where Elizabeth had her reception (and wedding).

Beautiful weather, beautiful place, amazing people to be with. Can’t really argue with that formula, can you?

And, Renee and I are having our first night away from the kids since Erin was born — i.e. almost a year and a half. So that’s a good thing, too. It’s sort of a mission, if you will, to remember and reflect on life before kids (did that really exist?). Grown up fun all around.

But, despite that, I’m sure we’ll still wake up tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. — even after having gone to bed just a few hours before.

The question is: what will we do? 😉


And So It Begins…

Before the alarm clock could strike at 5 a.m. this morning, Erin was already up.

Tell me she didn’t know Mom was going to work today.

And so another school year for Renee begins. Meetings these first two days, and then the kids arrive in earnest on Wednesday. She’s already been making plans and laying things out — and she’s already attended a seminar because she’s got a student teacher for a few months.

But, nothing says the start of the year like a 5 a.m. wake up. Of course, I didn’t hear it. Nor did I hear Erin. So I got a little reprieve this morning because I’m with the kids for the next three days — at least for the bulk of the days.

See, Renee’s parents, who have dutifully held down the dual roles of grandparents and child care providers, are now in Florida. If that weren’t the case, I’d be getting ready to drop the kids there before heading to work. But, they have fulfilled a lifelong ambition of migrating south and we, honestly, couldn’t be happier for them. It’s time to do things they want when they want.

Does it mean a little adjustment here? Of course it does, but we’ll survive.

We’ve got day care covered — just not until Thursday. Our good friend Tina is going to watch the kids for us. However, three of Tina’s four kids don’t go to school until Thursday…so it’s basically not right for me to drop her with two more making it a total of six to watch (with two under two!). So, it’s extra Daddy time for Aidan and Erin this week. And that’s a good thing, too.

And, we’re off to a good start. As I write this, Erin is already napping because of her early wake up to get more time with Mom, and Aidan is taking in some Sesame Street for the next few minutes before we get our day started — whatever that’s going to be!

What else? I got nothin’.