A Teenager Among Us.

Dear Aidan,

Happy birthday! Hard to believe you’re a teenager today. Though now that you are taller than me, maybe it shouldn’t be that hard to believe. As I look back on your life so far, I am filled with immense pride and joy. After all, it is somewhat ironic. For the first part of our marriage, Mom and I never really considered having kids. It wasn’t for us. Or so we thought. Thankfully, over time, our opinions changed. And, while there was definitely a time when we couldn’t imagine ourselves as parents, it’s certainly safe to say now that we couldn’t imagine ourselves not as parents. We are so thankful and blessed for the joy you and Erin have brought into our lives.

And it’s those moments, Aidan, or at least some of them, that I’d like to share with you for your birthday. For the next few minutes, I want you to read about moments in your life that I remember well — for whatever reason. And, I’ll try to tell you what those reasons are as we go through the list. Sometimes the reasons are obvious. Sometimes not so much. In honor of you reaching the teenage years, I’ve got 13 things to share with you. It certainly could have been a longer list. So many options! But, alas, because you turn 13 today, I thought that was a good number to start with. Here goes!

  1. I saw an ad in the paper today for the “Day out with Thomas” event down in Essex. It brought me back to your early years so quickly! How you loved Thomas the Tank Engine! We watched the show all the time! We took you to Essex to see Thomas years ago. And, Aidan, you loved to build tracks. We had so many of the engines and so much track. (We still have them, in fact, because Mom refuses to let them go!) You would take such good care of those engines, lining them all up in so many different ways. Just like you would build tracks. You would always try to use all the pieces we have (and you usually did!). There was a period of time where track was set up in our living room for months on end. And, to be honest, sometimes I wish we could take out the track and build one — just like we used to do all the time.
  2. When you weren’t building tracks and running engines, you were working on puzzles. If the floor wasn’t covered with track, it was covered with puzzles (and sometimes both!). Sometimes you would have 10 or 12 puzzles out, completed and decorating the floor. The ones I remember vividly were the state puzzles. You learned your states by doing puzzles. That was always fun to watch. Even now, when you work on a puzzle, your brain just works differently than mine (in a good way!) You may not know this, but I’ve always been envious of your ability to solve puzzles.
  3. I love the holidays with you. And one of the main reasons why is our manger set. You know the significance of that in our family, the fact that it’s more than 50 years old. You know how much it meant to me when I would work with my Dad on putting it together every Christmas. For the past few years, you’ve always been a great helper — especially bringing the wise men closer each day. However, this year, you really took to it in your own way, setting up so much of it with me just watching. You knew what you wanted to do, and it looked great. How could I complain? You never met your Papa O. That frustrates me so much. But, what makes me happy are little things like working on the manger that help to establish that family connection.
  4. Speaking of family connections….I’ll never forget how much you used to protect your sister when she was a newborn. No matter where we went, you had your big brother radar on — in a big way. You’d be walking with Mom and me and someone would come up to the stroller to get a peak at your sister. You had other plans for those people. That’s because you would cover Erin in the stroller and not let anyone see her. Yes, it was rude, and we had to work around that, much to your chagrin. But, despite that, as I think back on it, those moments, for me, really show how much you cared about your sister then — and still care for her now. I know you don’t like to show emotion (if at all), but you have started to show her more respect and love through your actions. And for that, we are grateful.
  5. Staying with the family connections theme for a bit, I used to smile so much when you’d come to the cemetery with me when you were younger. You were so good there. Not only would you help me set up baskets at family graves, but you would also often fix the flags on the graves of veterans. And, you would also straighten up memorial baskets on other graves, too. I think you know the importance of the cemetery to me, so it gives me great pride when you help now, and when I think back of you fixing flags and baskets when you were much younger.
  6. Music has become such a part of your life. In fact, I think it’s appropriate that you’re playing in a concert tonight on your birthday. That trumpet is such a part of you, and I so love to hear you play. It’s been a pretty amazing journey to watch you progress so quickly in such a short period of time. I’ll never forget your first solo, Aidan. It was during the Christmas concert held at St. Pat’s. You performed When the Saints Go Marching In. And you were flawless. What you don’t know about that night is how much stress I was under — first of all because of the strike situation at work and secondly because my godfather was dying. It was a very hard time for me. But in that moment, at St. Pat’s, I was beaming with absolute pride and could forget about all the negative going on around me when you stood up and absolutely nailed your first solo!
  7. The next two memories are about music, too. That’s what happens when it takes up so much of your life. The next solo you conquered was at the school Flag Day ceremony later that year. Sister Regina asked you to play during the ceremony organized by your fourth grade class. And play you did! You did five songs, all while being the center of attention as the entire school population stood around you. It was an absolutely amazing moment for you, Aidan, one I still think about quite a bit as you continue this journey with band.
  8. Fast forward to seventh grade, and we are absolutely amazed (and proud!) when you are asked to join the high school marching band. Mom and I didn’t know what to expect, and we’re not sure you did either. This was new to all of us, but you took it and made it such an important part of your life. You practiced so hard, and we were introduced to an amazing new culture, so much so that I can’t imagine not having band in our lives. I remember the moment from this year that made me the most proud. I bet it will surprise you because, in fact, it was a time when you weren’t even playing your instrument. At your home competition, you were chosen, as a seventh grader, to be one of the escorts for a visiting band. You did so with such pride and confidence. I know, I got to see you up close when I was working the gate and you brought the band to the field area. Nobody would have known you were in seventh grade. That’s part of what I’ll always remember, that and how you carried yourself that night. So impressed.
  9. And while you are already getting yourself familiar with life in high school, you know how important your time is at Sacred Heart School. When I think of you at SHS, I often think of Sister Regina. I know how special you were to her — and I know how special she was to you. She relied on your help so much. And you were always there to help her in any way possible. That’s such a commendable thing. When she needed something done, she came to you, just as many still do, but it was Sister Regina who first, I think, really got you focused on school pride. I know it was sad for you when she died, but I also know she made such an impression on you. I have no doubt you will always carry a part of her legacy with you.
  10. Because of all the work you did for Sister Regina, it has led me to jokingly refer to you as the Mayor of Sacred Heart from time to time. Obviously our whole family is involved with the school, but it’s clear how much the teachers rely on you for help. Mom and I hear this all the time, but we also see it when we are at events and you are always one of the last kids there. You are always focused on finding a way to help clean up or do something to make the school a better place. St. Michael’s was such an important part of my life, Aidan, that it gives me great pleasure to know you care so much for Sacred Heart. Sending you there was probably one of the best decisions Mom and I have ever made.
  11. Speaking of Sacred Heart, it’s been fun to see you involved as an altar server at church. You have become the go to man when it comes to this! You seem to serve all the school masses, and you always do such a great job at regular Sunday masses. It’s clear to Mom and me that you take great pride in your work. You’ve trained your sister and helped others learn more about it, too. We love hearing your interest in serving special masses like First Communion and Graduation. And your knowledge has paid off a few times when you’ve known where some things are at church that Mom and I didn’t even know existed! You are valued and respected there, and it makes us very proud.
  12. Things haven’t always been easy for you when it comes to health stuff. While you have been blessed with overall good health, you’ve endured so many appointments surrounding your allergies and asthma. You’ve had more ear infections and cases of bronchitis than anyone should ever have. You’ve had two sets of stitches and an operation that you don’t remember. And, a few years ago, you were incredibly sick during the Easter season that required a not so pleasant trip to the ER and your first experience with a suppository. Through all of that, no tears. Just one tough kid.
  13. Tears, however, are the focus of this last memory, Aidan. You probably are thinking I’m crazy to end this with a memory of you crying. But, I can’t help it. I have never been as proud of you as I was during that moment. It was just about a year ago. Mimi O passed away. She had been sick for a while. You knew that, and I think you understood it. I can remember you sitting next to her on her couch and helping her with iPad. She loved you so much. I’ll never forget, before you were born, Mimi O and Aunt Lynn drove to Backus in the middle of the night because they were so excited for your impending arrival. They ended up going home for the night and then coming back the next morning. Mimi O was so excited to meet you. And, when she passed, you were strong — until the funeral. As you know, I was a mess, crying virtually all the way through the service. I was so thankful that you cried. I felt you had been holding things in. You weren’t letting go any of your emotions in any way. And then, at the funeral, you were overcome. I was so proud of you. That took great strength to show that side of you. To show that your feelings were real. We tried to talk to you a few times about how you felt. You were never interested. But, at that moment, you showed us. And I’m so glad you did. Don’t ever shy from your emotions, Aidan. They help determine who you are.

That’s the thing about this, Aidan. You aren’t a kid any more. You are an incredible young man that gives us great pride every day. Sure, you give us frustration, too. That’s part of being a teenager. We understand that. You’ve asked a lot lately why Mom and I are interested in certain aspects of your life, and why we care about certain things. As we’ve told you, it’s because we care about you and we love you. All of these moments, all of these experiences, help build not just who you are, but who you will be. So much is ahead of you. So many experiences await you. So many opportunities. I can’t help but be excited for you and whatever adventure lies ahead.

Until then, Mom and I will be right here. Always ready to help you, support you and love you. Happy birthday, buddy!

Love,

Dad

 

 

 

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Mom.

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.

 


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.


My Guy

A lot of you know that I lost someone dear to me recently. My cousin, who is also my godfather, lost a five year battle with cancer last Tuesday. It’s an immeasurable loss not just for me, but for anyone who knew him.

What made this situation unique is that four years ago, Michael asked me to do something for him. He asked me to give his eulogy. But there was a catch. A big catch. He wanted to read it.

So, even though he died last week, I wrote his eulogy, per his request, four years ago. I gave it to him four years ago. And his closest friends and family heard it Saturday when I spoke at the funeral. Or, at least, I tried to speak. I probably read one-third of it. Renee, thankfully, was strong enough to help with the rest because I was such a wreck.

You may think it strange for me to post it here. But I don’t. He was such an influence on me. He is a big part of who I am. So, if you know me, then you know Michael. By sharing this, I just want you to know him a little better.

 

Writing a eulogy isn’t really a difficult thing. It’s simply an expression of feelings. Delivering it, however, is usually the challenging part. At least for me.

But what makes this eulogy unique is that Michael actually knows what I’m going to say. Yup. He’s heard it already. or, I should say, he’s read it already.

That was his request. And how could I deny it? Even though there’s an obvious discomfort in writing a eulogy for someone when that someone is, well, still alive.

Know, please, that part of the way Michael and I dealt with his sickness was with humor. So much, in fact, that when he first asked me to do this, it was election season. You all remember the radio and TV ads that we hear during an election season. Well, Michael, in his own way, wanted to put a special touch on this. While you can rest assured that we didn’t in fact do this, we laughed for quite a while at his idea of him recording a message that I would play at the end of this that says, “I’m Michael Keane, and I approved this message.”

Because he has read it, I know that he did approve it. And, honestly, I can’t tell you how much that means to me. Because, for most of my life, I have sought Michael’s approval on so many levels. I don’t know if he realized that or not, but it’s true.

Not only are we cousins, he’s my godfather. He’s my accountant. He’s my friend. He’s my travel agent. He’s who I go to for pretty much anything. In short, he’s my guy.

He’s heard me deliver eulogies to my brother and to my father – and he knows now, only because he’s read this – that neither of those are as difficult for me as this one.

But, this isn’t about me. This is about  Michael. As it should be. And as it will be.

There simply has been no greater male influence in my life than Michael Keane. I don’t make that statement lightly. Yet, it’s true.

He’s been all of what I mentioned earlier. He’s been a big brother. He’s been a father figure. And he’s been so much more. So much that I can’t always find the right words.

He’s taught me more about the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, BlackJack, Rotisserie Baseball, Vegas and good steak – among other things — than anyone.

Michael played fantasy baseball, so I had to play fantasy baseball.

Michael went to Vegas, so I had to go to Vegas.

Michael went on baseball junkets, so I had to go on baseball junkets.

His generosity was incredible. Never asking for a thing in return, yet always giving.

One time, I was at his house, admiring his new man cave in the basement and dreaming about the day I’d have the same set up. A week later, the phone rings.

“Michael,” He said.

“Yeah, hey, how’s it going?” I asked.

“Good” he said.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He told me: “Get yourself to the mall, go into Tweeter and give them your name.”

“Um, why?” I asked.

“Would you just go, please. Don’t ask questions.” And that was it.

So I go. And I give my name to the associate. He types something in to the computer, smiles and says, come this way.

“Seems like you’ve got someone who likes you,” he says and before I realize what he means, he’s telling me, “You get that, that and that.”

What do you mean, I get that, that and that i asked.

Well, it seems Mr. Keane has taken care of this for you.

After the shock wore off, and I got things home and hooked up, I called to thank him.

Don’t thank me, he said. Just enjoy it. Needless to say, that wasn’t going to be a problem. That was just his way. He didn’t need thanks. Knowing that someone would enjoy his generosity – at any level – was enough for him.

As I said, he was my guy. For everything. Trips, steak, Disney advice, financial  advice. Anything. He was the first call I’d make. And he always made sense. Always pointed me in the right direction. He taught me so much. About everything. About life.

And along the way, he would always kid.

He’d say, You know, I wouldn’t have to buy you stuff if you were an accounting major in school. Yup, that was one of his favorites. I’m a PR man by trade and Michael couldn’t understand why I’d want to work with words instead of numbers.

Ironically, I’m standing here because he finally understood why.

As I mentioned, Michael heard me deliver two eulogies – first my Dad’s and most recently my brother’s. After Tim’s funeral, family was gathering outside the church. I was still a wreck. Michael hugged me. Well, not really, but he put his arm around me to comfort me and for us, well, i think that was a hug. Whatever it was, it worked for me.

That wasn’t the most important part. It was what he said that I’ll never forget.

He said, “Now I understand why you do what you do. You have a gift.”

Not that I was seeking his approval, but it sure felt good to get it.

Whom I kidding? Of course, I was seeking his approval.

Which leads me to his request that I write his eulogy – before he died.

No pressure or anything. Not to sound weird, but normally, there wouldn’t be. It’s not like the person being eulogized typically knows what is being said about him.

Just the opposite in this case. He does know. Which brings the pressure.

He asked me to do this and he wanted to read it. Once I gave it to him, in a sealed envelope, I couldn’t help but think — What if I disappointed him? How could it possibly be good enough compared to all he’s done for me? After all, these are just words.

Well, I’m here, so I have to assume that it was good enough for him.  In fact, as strange as it seems, maybe writing a eulogy for someone before they die isn’t such a bad idea.  After all, in an Irish-Catholic family like ours, it’s not like we make a habit of actually sharing our feelings.

So, in a strange sense, for me, if there is one good thing that came out of Michael getting sick, it’s that I was finally able to tell him just how much he means to me.

Just how much he influences my life.

Just how much I love him.

And, because of that, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to know that he has, in fact, approved this message.


Certain places. Certain times. Certain people.

Maybe it’s because I’m listening — like right now — to the Train song Bruises.

Maybe it’s because my sister posted a couple of old pictures tonight.

Maybe it’s because I’ll be seeing some great life-long friends in about 10 days.

Or, maybe it’s just because I’m, well, a sap. An absolutely positively sentimental sap.

Whatever it is, it’s got me thinking back. I do it a lot, I suppose. Probably more than you do. Maybe not. But probably. Sometimes I do it even more than I realize.

But, really, it’s a good thing to look back. Why? Simple, I think. Looking back helps you figure out where you came from. Knowing where you came from can help you figure out where you’re going. At least I think it can. Or, at least I think it should.

The friends I had then (many of whom I still have) helped build who I am. They (you) must have done something right, because I have always been blessed with an amazing group of friends — new or old. But, I credit that to the friends I grew up with. Those relationships, some of which remain so strong, no doubt have an impact on relationships I have today.

Today, for example, I had lunch with a friend. A ‘newer’ friend, I suppose. Kids went to preschool together. Ran into each other from time to time. Never really hung out, but just good people. Then, this friend becomes friends with another friend. The circle expands. And, at least in this case, as the overall circle gets bigger, the bond gets tighter. And when that happens, it’s fabulous.

I work with amazing people, too. Not just for what they do. But for who they are. Some of them, I believe, are lifelong friends — even though I’ve only known them for a couple years. Is this because of sharing a common bond at work? Maybe. Is it because of me? Well, you’d have a hard time convincing me of that. Rather, I think it has to do with people I grew up with. People I shared the early years with. People that let me be who I am. Having that core, I think, is what makes the cycle continuous.

I guess my point is, if I hadn’t had such a great group of friends early on, would I have had great friends in high school? If I hadn’t had great friends in high school, would I have had them in college? If I didn’t have them in college, would I have them now? Or, more importantly, would I have the ability to have them now?

Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that too much. Because, for whatever reason, I do have them. And I’m crazy blessed to say I’ve always had them. And to say that I’ve been able to keep them. Not all of them. But the strongest ones. The most important ones.

I don’t always understand why many of them are female, but I guess that’s a blog for another day. And wouldn’t that be nice, like if I actually came back to this on a regular basis. I digress….

Some of it, too, is about not just people, but shared experiences. You don’t necessarily have to be super tight with someone right away. But, when you discover a shared experience or theme, that can often times strengthen the bond to one that you’ll never want to end. Why? Because of that connection. I can think of two people in particular that way for me. The point is, there are a number of ways that a friendship can be strong — new or old.

And, there are a number of ways a friendship can grow — new or old. I guess that’s the point of this. And, from there, the most important thing, at least to me, is knowing how to maintain the friendships that have those bonds — or shared experiences — that are so strong.

Is any of this making sense?

But, come on, you’ve had those moments, too. Moments where you hear an old song, see an old picture, anything. Anything that brings you back — often times right to a particular person or a particular moment. And it doesn’t always have to be about that type of ‘relationship’ — it can be about anything. It just has to connect you back. It has to bring back good memories and good thoughts. Of good people. With good people.

Some recent examples…because clearly what I’m explaining isn’t really working — or maybe it is?

Just tonight, while I was writing this, in fact, a Facebook friend made a comment on a picture of my Dad. That brought me back — instantly — to a certain place. A certain time. And, more importantly, to certain people. Am I still tight with all of them? No. But I am with some. Shared experiences. Great bonds. Great friends.

For Halloween, we typically take our kids trick-or-treating where I went as a kid. I’m really happy for the kids to get out and have a great experience. But, with every step, I’m thinking back to when I went to those same houses and, in some cases, to the same people in the same houses. I would try to explain this during the walk, but the kids are too focused on candy. But, again, brought back to a certain place. A certain time. And, more importantly, to certain people.

A couple of weeks ago, someone I used to work with sent a Facebook message to me and another colleague. In the message, she talked about being sentimental and thinking back to our time working together. Could we get together, she asked. I certainly hope so. Because, if we do, we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

I saw another post on Facebook. From a friend I’ve known since first grade. We went to grade school together, but not the same high school. It doesn’t matter. It’s the strength of the bond. He’s going to be home for Thanksgiving. We’ve talked about maybe grabbing a beer with a couple of others. I hope we do. Because if it works, we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

That same weekend, there’s a casual 25th class reunion happening. That’s put me in touch with a lot of people. A few of whom are some of my dearest friends. Do we see each other all the time? No. Do we have to? No. That’s part of the beauty of it. The bond growing up was so strong — it sort of transcends the need for that. I’m beyond looking forward to spending time with these people in a few days. Why? Because we go back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

There’s another person who is going to read this blog and thank me for writing. This person is going to tell me that he loves reading what I write. He’s going to tell me that it helped him — or someone. He’s going to tell me I should keep writing. Now, I worked with this person — sort of — for a while. We weren’t overly connected — until we discovered a shared experience. An experience neither of us would wish on anyone. But, we’ve got it. And that’s what matters. Does that take me back to a certain place? A certain time? Sure it does. It’s different, but the fact is, the impact is the same. And that’s what’s important. Strong and impactful relationships. I haven’t seen this person in I can’t even remember how many years. Five? Six? More? And I don’t have any plans to see him in the future either. Point is, there’s a bond and a friendship that’s not going away — regardless of anything. I just think that’s cool.

Every Thanksgiving, I think back to high school. Our school was full of tradition. It was such a special time. I am truly grateful for having been part of the experience. But, it’s an experience that I went through with special people. That’s what makes it even better. That’s what takes me back. So, with this reunion thing coming up, I’m a little more sensitive to it than usual. Then, add in the fact that I’m at a Cheap Trick concert the other night and they play The Flame. Well, that came out during high school. And, one of my friends, sends a message about it just as they start playing it. It was kind of weird. But good weird. Why? Because it brought me back to a certain place. A certain time. With certain people.

A friend I’ve know for only a few years is having a hard time dealing with something. I’ve dealt with the same thing. So it helps. I can share some thoughts. Help give some perspective. Be a good friend.

I guess that’s really what this is about. Having good friends and being a good friend.

There’s no doubt I have good friends. Being a good friend? Well, that’s something I take very seriously. And I guess I take it so seriously to let people I know how much I appreciate their friendship and what they’ve done for me.

And, so, it really is pretty easy. For me, being a good friend is a way of saying thanks to all who have not only done the same for me, but whose friendships have actually made me who I am.

(The real thanks goes to those of you who actually made it to the end of this! Haven’t blogged in forever. Maybe this gets me going….)

 


Finally….

I should have written this a month ago. But, can’t change that. So, here we go.

It was Christmas morning. The presents were open. The kids were ecstatic. The tree looked awesome. Renee and I were amazed that it was ‘over’ so quickly, but still enjoying the joy coming from Aidan and Erin.

We were in church, waiting for Mass to begin. My phone buzzed in my pocket. Yes, I checked it. Guilty as charged. But, I was glad I did. Because this is the message I found sent to me via Facebook:

Hope you are having a great Christmas with you and your family! Just thought you should know….the cap on my tooth from your baseball throw many years ago in your backyard fell off today! While eating twizzlers – just brought back a memory of a good time in my life.

Instant smile. Instant flashback. The message, obviously, was from someone that I’ve known most of my life. For so long, in fact, I’m not even sure when he and I first met. Probably when we were seven or eight? I’m not really sure. And it doesn’t really matter. Fact is, it was a message from a lifelong friend.

Sure, we are nowhere near as close as those days of playing together every day. Basketball, bikes, swimming, baseball cards, touch football. Every thing.

Bonds like that never go away, right? Sure, sometimes you may lose touch with someone over time. But it doesn’t mean you aren’t friends anymore. Maybe sometimes it does. But not in this case. Too much history — most all of it good — to change anything. Friends for life. Maybe not every day friends like in the past. But friends for life. Nothing changes there.

We’ve all got friends like that — on multiple levels, based on whenever we first encounter those friends. While this friend and I go way back, probably 35 years, I’ve got new friends within the past five years that I would also proudly call friends for life. Make sense?

So, this all got me thinking. First, how cool it was to just get that message. That this friend thought enough to send it along. Something to simple now, but such an issue back then. Something that is just another way we are connected. Always a story. He shared it because he knew I’d appreciate it. And he was right. And, it was a good time in my life, too. A much simpler, a much easier time.

The next thing I thought about was my kids. Aidan will be 9 in a few months, Erin will be 6 not too far behind him.

I remember those ages — and, more importantly, I remember the people I knew then, some of whom are still very dear friends. I mean, there are people I’ve known since kindergarten (Erin’s class) that I’m still friends with. There are kids from third grade (Aidan’s class) that I’m still tight with, and there are some that I’m ‘Facebook’ friends with. Fact is, the friendship is still there — to some degree.

So, as I look at the kids today and see how they interact with their friends, I can’t help but wonder. In 30 years, will Aidan still be close to some of the kids he’s friends with now? What about Erin?

I think, honestly, that there are some friends they have now that will be with them for a while. And part of that is because they go to a Catholic school, like I did. When you are with a group of people for so long, you can’t help but establish a bond — right Amy, Amy, Mark, Luke and Patrick? And, then if someone new comes in, you establish a bond quickly with them, too, — right Amy, Andrea and Erin? And, if someone starts with you and leaves for another place, you are also still connected, right Ryan, Laura and Michele?

What’s my point? I’m not really sure. I guess I just hope that my kids are blessed with the same type of friendships that I’m beyond blessed with.

Despite what some people think, I don’t ‘know everyone.’ I’ve always been guarded with my friendship. Not letting people in, per se, until I’m comfortable enough to share. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. I said it before, I’m probably one of the shyest people you’ll ever meet — until I’m comfortable. Then I open up.

That’s like Aidan. He’s so reserved and so quiet. Not one to jump right into a situation, but once he does, he’s often fine and with no trouble at all. Erin, on the other hand, is much more of a free spirit. I guess I have that in me, too. So, it seems right that I am their father!

I hope they continue to develop bonds with their friends. I hope that I hear the names Andrew, Patrick, Grover, Charlie, Noah, Julia, Katelyn, Kailani, Julianna and Ava for a long, long time.

And, in 30 years or so, I hope Aidan or Erin get the same type of Christmas morning message that I got. From a friend. A lifelong friend. And I hope that message is like mine was — that it was a good time, for both of us. But, more importantly, that we are still friends, to this day.


18.

For those of you that were at a wedding 18 years ago today, you probably remember the groom sobbed continuously — like a baby.

For those of you that weren’t at that wedding, here’s something you should know.

That groom was me.

I was crying for one simple reason. Tears of joy, if you will, that there was someone in the world who picked me as the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

That someone, of course, is Renee.

So here it is, our anniversary. Our 18th anniversary. And she’s not here. She and the kids are still in Florida, finishing up a visit with her family. Not sure what to give her for a present then. I’ve always got words and thoughts inside me. Always.

So, why not give those.

In some of our most challenging moments, I told Renee that I needed to work harder to make sure that she didn’t learn new things about me on this blog. In my darkest times, this was the place where I could come and just say anything. It still is. But you get my point. I hope.

This time, however, because Renee isn’t here on our actual anniversary, she will be learning something about me on this blog. The biggest thing she’ll be learning?

This is her present! 🙂

Well, not really. She’ll get that when she comes home.

No, what I hope she learns today is that there’s a simple reason why I was crying 18 years ago.

It’s mostly because I couldn’t believe I was in that situation. That someone would really ‘pick’ me.

I still have a hard time with it. Why?

Because she’s better than me. Always has been. Probably always will be.

You might find this hard to believe, but I’m not an easy person to live with. For a lot of reasons. I’m stubborn beyond all measure. I’m set in my ways (same thing?). I’m crazy opinionated. I believe my way is the right way. And, my biggest challenge, I’m not always open.

That’s why Renee did learn things here. Because I had a hard time opening up as much as I should. I don’t know why. But it’s true.

A few years ago, I went through the darkest part of my life — dealing with the loss of my brother and finally — truly — dealing with the loss of my father. This has been well documented here. But the person who dealt with this the most? Yeah, Renee.

She dealt with me pulling back. She dealt with my doubts. About a lot of things. And, all the while, she kept doing everything that she does that makes us better. And, by that, I mean makes me better.

And during that time, I didn’t make it easy on her. I didn’t make it easy on anyone. But especially her.

The best thing she did? She let me figure it out. And I did.

It took awhile. But I did.

And I’m better for it now. She’s better for it now. We’re better for it now.

That’s because the two of us figured out some things, too. And, more importantly, we figured them out together.

You might think I’m the most open person in the world. Sometimes I am. And sometimes I pull back — or hold back. I’m trying to change that.

But there has been change. Change for the better. I was in a dark place. And I’m not there anymore.

And that’s a good thing.

Because there’s someone here that let me figure that all out.

So that’s why I was crying 18 years ago.

Because I wasn’t sure I could live up to my end of the deal, like I knew she would live up to hers.

She deserves so much. Probably more than I can ever give her.

So I’m going to try harder.

Why?

Because she picked me.