Time heals all wounds. Sounds nice. But I’m not sure I believe it. In fact, I don’t. Because I’m living proof. It takes more than time. At least it did for me.
When my Dad died in 2000, it sucked. Trust me. It still sucks. But that wasn’t the moment that really challenged me.
That moment came 10 years ago — to the day as I type this (June 11). That’s the day I got the call from my brother Tom that his twin, my brother Tim, had collapsed in rural Massachusetts and was being transferred to a hospital in Springfield and that things “didn’t look good.” Oh, and that I should get there as soon as possible.
Well, normally, that would be easy to do. The challenge this time was that when I took the call from Tom, I was already in a hospital for an absolute joyous moment — the birth of our beloved Erin Margaret. She arrived early enough the day before, the morning of June 10, that Renee and I were actually getting ready to be discharged when Tom called. His call just sped up the process.
Many of you know this story. For those that don’t, it’s all here on the blog, but essentially, the month of June, prior to last year, looked like this for me.
June 10 — Erin born
June 11 — Tim collapses
June 12-15 — basically a blur with Tim on life-support until my nephew gets home from Iraq
June 16 — nephew gets home, Tim comes off life support
Oh, and that’s right. Father’s Day is around this time, too, so due to all this, the memories of Bob come flooding back.
As if that wasn’t a challenging week enough, my Mother died June 13 last year. So, this year, my previous June hell week becomes a bit rougher, especially on the first anniversary of her death. It could have really made this an absolutely horrific week for me.
It hasn’t. And for that I am immensely proud.
Please, don’t misunderstand. Today was tough. The 13th will be tough. The 16th will be tough. Father’s Day will always be tough.
Tough is one thing. I can handle tough. And that’s the point. I’ve learned how. But it took me a long time. Before I learned, I was miserable. I had some very dark times in my life. From this point 10 years ago til 2010, so a total of three years. I was in the most challenging point of my life. I was letting loss overtake me in many ways.
It would go like this. Dad’s birthday in July, must be miserable because he’s not here to celebrate. January was rough because Tim’s birthday is that month. It’s also the month in which Dad died. June. Oh, June. Erin’s birth, which should be so joyful, ‘ruined’ by Tim’s collapse and death. Get right through that and then it’s Father’s Day. Oh, that’s right, my father’s dead.
It was brutal. I couldn’t escape the cycle. Thank goodness I did because adding Mom’s death into that mix would not have been a good situation.
But, I made the call year’s ago. I’ve written about it. I made the call to the Employee Assistance Program through work. That was the best phone call I ever made. I’m not sure I can say that it saved me, but it sure did change me. For the better.
I know I wasn’t myself during those few years. Some of you as much as told me that.
But, now, I can look back on it and celebrate the success. So why am I writing about this? One of the things I learned in counseling was how to anticipate the moments that would negatively affect me and then deal with those emotions. My triggers were similar. And if I could understand them and deal with them, then I can handle situations much better than focusing on the absolute negative.
Because that’s what I was doing. Only focusing on the negative. And it was bringing me down. Way down.
So this year, being the 10th anniversary of Tim and the first anniversary of Mom, there was the opportunity for a lot of triggers. But, I anticipated them. Found a way to deal with them and accept them. And, I thought, you know what, I have things to say. I need to blog. And one of those things — and perhaps the most important thing — is that I’m proud of myself.
You could have been dealing with a very different me this week.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I’ll have some sadness this week. How could I not? But the key is that I will also have perspective and understanding. I will also find ways to utilize this week to remember happy times. My Mother, as many of you know, left letters behind when she died. I’ve read that letter twice already this week, and I’m sure I’ll read it again. And again.
When Tim died, there was a huge outpouring of emotion from his work. Those people showed a completely different side of him I didn’t know existed. So I’ve read some of that, to be reminded of the person I didn’t know as well, but wish I did.
And, on Father’s Day, while I am incredibly blessed to be Aidan and Erin’s Dad, it reminds me now of how blessed I am to be Bob’s son. It’s not negative any more. It can be sad. And it should be — to a degree. It just isn’t negative. I’ve let it be too negative in the past.
And, on this occasion, in a week that offers so many memories, emotions and feelings, I am reminded of how grateful I am — and for how proud I am — for picking up that phone, putting pride aside, and asking for help.
Doing that has allowed me to relive memories and cherish them as a way to honor my family. Whereas, before, I was allowing the death of my family members to consume me and to take away the positive memories and influences and impacts they had on my life. It was all about the negative.
It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. So incredibly worth it.
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 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.
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.
Sometimes — check that, most of the time — it’s really hard for me to understand that people can take something positive from what I write.
Yet, apparently, it happens.
Hard for me to figure sometimes because of the topics I tend to write about. Let’s face it, it’s not always rainbows and flowers over here at I Got Nothin’.
A lot of it, as you know, is about the challenging things I’ve dealt with — and, well, continue to deal with.
So, that begs the question. How is it possible that some people are actually taking things out of what I’m writing about?
Well, one reason is because other people have gone through similar situations — or even worse. And in the interest of this post, much worse.
Example one is about a sometimes email friend that I discovered while writing about the death and subsequent dealings of my brother. Not easy to find someone who understands this. Except in this case, I did.
This person lost her brother in a horrific way. And she reached out and said, hey, I get it. I totally get it. She explained what she thinks about, she understood what I was thinking about. It was nice to have that connection. We emailed a few times and then it went away. How do you keep something like that going?
Well, apparently it kept going. Because without another email and without me writing for months, this person reached out when I wrote about my brother’s birthday. She knows what the feeling is like. And she just sent a note to say, hey, thinking about you today. That’s a pretty cool thing.
An amazing thing, actually.
And I am grateful that she reached out a while ago, and I’m grateful that for some reason she kept my email and made contact again.
To her, I say thank you.
The truly most amazing thing goes back to my brother’s wake. There was someone who came that surprised me. Not in a bad way, but a good way. This person and I were friendly. We were business associates. We always had a laugh. Always had fun with whatever conversations we were having.
But, quite frankly, I didn’t expect him to be at the wake. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I just didn’t expect it, for whatever reason.
But, again, you just never know what other people have dealt with.
So, fast forward to this week when I learn something about this person that literally made me stop doing what I was doing for like 10 minutes. Just sort of stared at the screen with what I learned. That this person could thrive the way he has after this, well, it’s beyond compare.
Simply put, this person should be an inspiration to everyone. And I had no idea. At that point, I’m like, gee, some friend I am for not even knowing this horrific event in someone’s life. Then again, I’m not sure how many people know. I mean, it’s not like dinner conversation.
So when I found out, I had to write him. I had to say something. I wasn’t sure what, but I had to do it. I had to say that I don’t know what I could ever do, but I can at least offer my support and constantly send good vibes in the direction of this person.
So what kind of response do I get back? Something pretty amazing.
The first part was:
“I was thinking of you today, Mike, and thinking back a few years — now you know why it was important for me to be there for YOU.”
I had no idea. No freaking idea. If I did, the firm handshake I got a few years ago would have become a huge hug. I mean, trust me when I say that I don’t wish anything like what this person has gone through on my worst enemy. And, yet, his focus was on me.
And then this where I get into the part about not understanding how someone can take anything of substance from what I say.
Because then he said:
“Keep writing, Mike. It makes a lot of us smile, laugh, cry, feel and reflect. You help a lot of folks….”
Those are unbelievable words to read — especially when it’s about you and your writing.
I’ll never truly understand what people take from this space and these words.
It goes back to the point that I’ve tried to make in the past. This is my space. For my thoughts. For my feelings. For my emotions.
Never at all thinking that some people would have the same or be able to relate to the same.
Yet they do.
And, if because of that, I’m able to help one person — like either of the two mentioned here — then I’m beyond grateful.
Because there’s absolutely no doubt the two of them — and countless others — have helped me.
So, to my two friends, you know my feelings about your situations. Call this our crazy bond that will always give us common ground. Thank you for your words and, more importantly, your actions.
And to anyone else that pulls anything from my words, I appreciate you coming to this space and sharing it with me, and I’m humbled that anything I say can help.
So I have a new job — some of you know that, some of you don’t.
That’s fine. I’ll eventually share more about it. But, fact is, it was a great move for me. The right one at the right time — for a variety of reasons.
One of the benefits of the new job? My brother Tom works there, too. He’s been there for about 10 years. We don’t see each other every day. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I have seen him. We don’t even talk and/or email every day.
But, it’s been fun. He knows a ton of people there and they all say good things about him (I just figure they are being polite….). He’s given me some insight into some people that’s been helpful, and he’s put up more than a few times with emails meant for me that have gone to him. Of course, I’ve put up with being called “Tom” a few times, too.
We’ve had one lunch together in the cafeteria — and we’ll have a second today.
Afterall, today is his birthday. And, well, it’s Tim’s, too. Remember, they are twins.
So today, which has, at least for the last few years, been a tough day, becomes somewhat of a good day.
I was never really sure how to deal with today — particularly how to ‘deal’ with Tom and what I can only imagine he feels on this day.
But today, we’ll have lunch. We won’t talk about anything of substance, but that’s totally fine. Key is, we’ll be there. Together. We’ll talk about work stuff or even the horrible Patriots game. Most likely other stuff, too, since Renee and the kids are coming in to have lunch with “Uncle Tom,” too.
Regardless of what the lunch topic is today, many things that are spoken will actually never be said.
And, for this tight-lipped Irish Catholic family, that’s quite alright.
Still can’t believe you’re gone. Still don’t totally understand it. But that’s another letter I don’t feel like writing yet.
You’ve always been my big brother. And, in that role of big brother, you taught me a lot in the time we had together.
But, Tim, I gotta be honest. You’ve taught me more — particularly about myself — in the time since you’ve been gone. See, even though you aren’t here — per se — you are still fulfilling your role as my big brother, and you are, in fact, still teaching me things.
And that’s why I have to apologize to you.
I’m not saying that I’ve totally accepted that you aren’t here, but I’m a lot closer to it now than I ever have been. And what I’m trying to do is focus on positive things related to that. Not positive that you’re gone. But positive that since you’re gone, I’ve had to think of things differently.
I can’t be made at you anymore. That’s the first thing. And, well, probably the most important, for a lot of reasons.
I can’t be mad that you’re not here. I don’t have to like it, but I have to accept it. And, well, Tim, that hasn’t been easy thing for me — just ask anyone who truly knows me.
I’ve let your loss consume me. I’ve let it take over parts of my life I never expected it would impact. I’ve let your death continue to bring me down. Not that it should excite me, mind you. But I should be able to get past certain elements. And I should be looking at what it can teach me.
And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
I can be sad that you’re gone. And I should be — and, well, I am.
But I can’t be mad about it anymore. That doesn’t help anything — especially me.
I’ve let this bother me so much that it would, at times, consume me. And sometimes people would know that and sometimes they wouldn’t.
It was to the point that this day — the day you died — had to be a negative day. Same with your birthday.
It’s a small step, but I’m starting somewhere. And with each step I’m saying that these ‘anniversary’ days don’t have to be bad days. They aren’t necessarily going to be easy days for me, but my approach to them is different.
In my own way, I’m using these days to find some positive moments. Sounds strange, I know, but I think it’s very doable.
Why, for example, do I have to spend today remembering every instant of when you were in the hospital — including the day, this day, when it was time for you to go?
Why can’t I use this day to remember stories — like the ones we’ve shared time and time again over family dinners? Because doing something like that helps make this day bearable. It gives me a chance to focus on what we had while you were here, rather than on what we don’t have now that you’re gone.
And, well, that’s not really true. You really aren’t gone. You are with us. Constantly. It’s so evident.
I can’t even write how much I’ve struggled with this, Tim. But people know. I know they know because I know how I’ve been at times. There were moments when I’ve been miserable. And the reason? Because I’ve let your death consume me — far beyond where I ever thought it would take me.
But now, I’m taking myself in a different direction. Yes, I’m sad. Very sad for a lot of reasons that you’re gone.
But what should be so easy to say — even though it’s not, but it’s getting there — is that I’m thankful for what we had. For what we shared. I can’t think anymore about how it wasn’t enough. How I wish we were closer than we were. How I wish we could still have the chance to do things.
That kind of thinking doesn’t help me anymore.
It’s a ridiculous cliche, but we were what we were. We weren’t best friends. We didn’t hang out a lot.
But that’s fine. Can’t change it, so not dwelling on it — or trying not to.
You’ve proven to me that you can impact my life without being here every day.
Fact is, we were brothers.
Fact is, we are brothers.
Fact is, you’re my big brother — and always will be.
Fact is, I miss you today — more than ever.
Fact is, I love you today — more than ever.
Those that know me the best will tell you — it’s hard for me to look at something differently.
I like comfort. I like routine. I like tradition. That’s not to say I can’t be spontaneous, because I can. In fact, I probably need that more than I need comfort, routine and tradition — but that’s an entire separate entry.
Today, I looked at something that I know all to well with a completely new perspective.
And, are you ready?
It helped. A lot.
I went to a funeral today. Yes, I know. Here we go, more death and dying. Well, look, if you read me, you know that’s an area I’m well-versed in. It’s also an area I’m sort of fascinated with. So, um, there.
The grandfather of a dear friend passed away last week. I never met this man, but I feel like I know him from all the stories my friend has told me — and especially after all I’ve learned about him since his passing.
My friend was close — very close — to her grampa. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy for her. And I knew that fact combined with my own funeral issues wouldn’t make this easy for me. But, where else was I supposed to be? Nowhere except paying tribute to this man by supporting my friend. So, off I went.
The thing is, it was a much different funeral experience than I’ve ever had. First, it was in the funeral home. I’ve only been to a funeral that is part of a church service. So, that’s all I knew. Anything else would be compared to that. Sorry, but that’s what I do.
So part of my nervousness was wondering what would be different and how it would make me feel. The last funeral I was at, well, wasn’t pretty. And the last thing I wanted to do was get emotional today that others took notice. This wasn’t about me, after all.
The celebrant — and that is the perfect word in this case — stood in front of the gathered crowd and said that while there is obvious sadness, that this day would be a celebration of this man’s life.
A celebration? What’s to celebrate? Well, I can’t help but asking those questions. I mean, he’s dead. Why are we celebrating that? We didn’t celebrat that, obviously. We celebrated his life. And it was pretty cool to see. The celebrant told stories about his life that touched many that were gathered. Then, she opened the floor for anyone to say a few words and share a story. A handful of people did — often drawing laughs.
Laughs. At a funeral. Can you imagine? I couldn’t. (At least before today I couldn’t.)
It was a pretty incredible thing. There was still a scripture reading. There were still songs. There was just one huge difference — this didn’t have the ‘seriousness’ of a Catholic funeral, an occasion, which, in my opinion, is more focused on sorrow than joy.
Don’t get me wrong, there was sorrow today, but the over-arching theme was joy and celebration. And that came through.
So it got me thinking. Surprise, surprise.
How would things have been different in my own life if the two biggest funerals I’ve been to were more celebratory in nature? It also made me question my faith — again.
What slays me at a Catholic funeral in particular is the same thing that I like — the traditional elements. I love funeral hymns. Crazy, I know. But there are some pretty phenomenal songs out there that can be sang at a funeral. I love that element. I love the mass aspect of things and preparing for the next life in heaven. I’m all for that. Truly. But at the same point, those are the things, too, that kill me emotionally about a funeral.
There wasn’t a great religious feel to today — but it was definitely spiritual.
And again, that made me think. It made me open my eyes. It made me take a new perspective on something I’ve had such strong feelings about in the past.
I believe the overall service and how it was done and how it was focused made things much easier for me to deal with — in terms of my own emotions. There were elements I missed, but there were elements I never would have imagined that were so fabulous.
The fact is, I learned a lot today. Not just about the person being ‘celebrated’ but about myself.
I learned that things don’t have to be as I expect them to be. Just because something may be right for me doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
And, after seeing today and how it all played out, I’m not even sure I know what’s right for me.
Plenty of time, though, left to figure that out. Just good to know that this might be a good starting point for me to look at a lot of things — not just this — in a new perspective.
Thank you, Mr. C. While we never met, I feel like I know you. And, that’s even more evident by the lesson you taught me today. It’s one I hope I can learn from again and again.
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.
I’ve been thinking about this letter for some time now. And, honestly, even as I type these first few words, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to say.
I mean, what are the perfect words to ‘celebrate’ someone’s anniversary? Because, Dad, as if you don’t know, today is the 10th anniversary of your death.
So much has been going on, Dad. I’ve really struggled during the past few months. More than that, actually. And, well, I’m finally at a point where I feel like I’m making progress — and then this day happens. And this is where I’m torn. The old me says this is a sad day and it should be sad and that’s just the way it is.
Dad, the new me — well, the new me says I should be celebrating all of the good and all of the happy that is between us as a way to honor you on this day.
Can’t I do both? Can’t I be sad and remember happy things at the same time? That, to me, seems like the only solution right now, Dad.
First of all, there’s just something about 10. It’s like a big number just hanging out there to remind me vividly that, yes, you, in fact, have been dead for a while. I don’t particularly like any aspect of that — let alone having some number become an authority on something. And, really, that’s what 10 is right now.
It really doesn’t matter if I hate 10. I should, actually, hate all the numbers, Dad. Because any number associated with you means you’re gone. And, well, that’s the part I’m still not a big fan of. You know. The part where you are gone. To some extent, I have finally accepted it and dealt with it. But, in another sense, not so much. Or, well, maybe the not so much is other stuff in our relationship. That I’ve learned to be OK with the dying part, but it’s the other stuff that I’m not so excited about.
In terms of that dying part, the biggest thing that still irks me is that I wasn’t there, Dad. You’ve heard me talk about this before. I’m sure you’re sick of it. Heck, in a way I am. I know now what I would have said to you. First, I would have been mad at you — mad for leaving me, for leaving us. But, I also would have thanked you, Dad. For all that you did for me. And for us. For teaching me — only in your way. So subtle, yet so obvious. For trusting me. For giving me freedom to learn — and to fail.
I would have told you that I will never forget certain things about you, and about us. Countless hours at the little league field — so many memories there. Helping you out at the pool. Picking out a Christmas tree. Setting up the manger. Playing games on the TV room floor. Watching the Celtics. Getting a pizza at Famous. Making fun of your sport coats. Sharing laughs. Lengthy ‘discussions.’ Super cookies. Card tricks.
See, Dad, I would have told you those things because they, for the most part, are my holdover. It’s what I remember about you — about us. Simple stuff that nobody else will probably understand. And, well, honestly, I like it better that way. Nobody has to understand. Nobody except us.
I still think about the letter you were going to write. The nurse said you had plans to write each of us a letter. I think about what you’d say all the time — hoping that you share some of the same memories I do. That those little things stick with you like they stick with me.
And then I hope, Dad, that you would have said you were proud of me. It’s such a simple thing. And, you know, even though we aren’t a big affectionate family — in either words or actions — it almost wouldn’t matter for you to say that you loved me. I know you do. I can feel it to this day.
But, honestly, I don’t recall you ever saying you were proud. Maybe you did and it didn’t mean that much to me then. But, for some reason, this is the big one. I’m pretty sure I know the answer. But I don’t want to know it that way. I want you to give me some sort of sign that I know you are proud.
I won’t bore you with all the other details, Dad. I know you’re watching. I know you see Aidan and Erin and how much they’ve grown and discovered. I know you watched over Lynn last week with her surgery. I know you are there. You and Tim, both. Always there, always connected. The tricky part is just figuring out how. I haven’t been very good at that. But I will get better.
So, Dad, today, I expect my thoughts to be all over the map. I expect to be sad. I expect to smile in a way that nobody else will understand. I expect to laugh at some point. And, honestly, well, I expect to cry.
I’m sorry, Dad, that this letter has been all over the place. It’s a great representation of my relatively recent thought process. I know I’ve written more eloquently in the past about certain things. And that’s fine. That’s what was important to me then. This is what’s important to me now.
And the other thing that’s important to me now — is for you, Dad, to know that I love you. But, again, you know that. We don’t talk about it. We don’t show it. We just know it.
The other part? Is that I’m proud of you, Dad. Couldn’t be prouder. Not for just the way you taught me. For the way you helped others. For everything about you.
Please know, too, that I’m trying. I truly am. But it still sucks. You’re not here. And I miss you.