Who Influenced You Along the Way?

When you’re a kid, you’re often surrounded by all kinds of incredible people but you don’t really know how special some of them are until years later. Looking back, you realize not everyone was what you hoped they might be – and then there are others, the ones that are even more extraordinary than you even imagined or could have possibly even known at the time.

Such is the case with Mrs. Bunney – and I still refer to her as such, even today – who was the mom of one of my closest friends as a young girl. At first glance, she certainly didn’t seem all that much different than a lot of the moms I knew. Except she was a mom to a lot of kids – a passel of rough-housing boys and one lovely blonde daughter, a wee bit of a thing with the biggest, most beautiful eyes.

Their family just fascinated me because there always seemed to be a lot going on – sports, school stuff, just a lot of commotion. It probably felt that way because I came from a quieter environment, with just one brother and what was a very orderly household. Having raised four kids, I know the Bunneys were far more typical. 

In spite of all this, and so much more, Mrs. Bunney became a Campfire Girl leader. Most people are familiar with Girl Scouts (which I later went on to be, too) but I’m not certain there were a lot of Campfire Girl troops in our town. I joined Mrs. Bunney’s troop and whenever we met, usually at her house, we embarked on all kinds of crafts and adventures, introducing me to things often that I hadn’t tried before. 

I had pomegranate seeds (still a favorite) at her house for the first time and I marveled at the treasure this fruit secreted away inside. We later used those seeds, along with a variety of dried beans and other seeds, to create family signs bearing a good-size rooster made from all those ingredients glued to a painted piece of shutter, each section of the bird a different seed or bean. Below the rooster, we shaped the letters of our last names. Looking back, it was a heck of a complicated project, but Mrs. Bunney had tremendous patience throughout the process. 

I don’t know about the other girls in her troop, but my sign hung in my parents’ kitchen until my mom’s house was sold a few years ago (Never let it be said my parents didn’t appreciate every bit of creative work I ever did).  It pained me to finally let it go and before I did, I thought about the intricacy of its design and wondered what made Mrs. Bunney think this was a project we could handle – but perhaps because she did, we could. I can still remember working on it and the care I took with each bean and seed. 

Coming of age in the ‘70s meant my childhood held its share of turbulent times, yet as an Irish-Catholic youngster in a predominantly white Massachusetts suburb I only knew of most of them through what I saw on the evening news and read in the newspaper. And I read the newspaper from the time I was in elementary school, waiting for its late afternoon delivery, often perched on the front steps immersed in stories far beyond what many kids had an interest in at that age.

Most of what was happening seemed far away from my daily life, although I began to understand the effects of some issues. I hungered to know more, learn about different cultures and see what my place in the world could be. It’s no surprise I was a voracious reader, but I longed to experience what was beyond the pages. 

One Saturday, Mrs. Bunney and our other leader, Mrs. True, took us, their Campfire Girls, to Boston to an international fair, something I had no idea even existed. It was a pivotal moment of my childhood, introducing me to music, songs, dancing, clothing, foods and language I had never heard or seen before. Performers signed autographs for us – and I was as star struck as if I met the biggest musical or movie personalities of the day.

I reveled in everything I saw. The colors, the music, the languages and the food (especially fascinating for someone as fussy as I was, yet I sampled new fare and found I liked it) with names I had never heard of, and tastes that seemed exotic. It felt like mysteries were beginning to unfold around me, setting me on a journey that continues to this day. I was a kid who was taken to a lot of places by my parents, particularly museums of all kinds and whose love of reading was encouraged through library visits and an endless supply of Scholastic books. But this experience was something that I never would have known and it fueled my lifelong desire to learn about and have appreciation for people different than me. 

And I think about being taken into such an event, in Boston, in a time when events like this weren’t necessarily the norm and feel grateful that Mrs. Bunney thought it was a good thing to for us to do. 

Later, I would have her as my CCD teacher. I was not particularly a fan of our regular Sunday School education. As kids, at this particular church, we first attended Mass and then marched en masse for a fairly decent walk, regardless of the weather, to an elementary school where we broke out by grade for Sunday School lessons. 

As a middle schooler, a new rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” became tremendously popular, although not necessarily all that well received by the Catholic church. In spite of this, and over the course of one, if not two, CCD sessions, Mrs. Bunney played us this album and talked about it. I’d hazard a guess that for many of us, it was the first time some of the religious teachings that had been instilled in us since birth actually took on human qualities and felt real. 

“Jesus Christ Superstar” was an album that my friends and I became a bit obsessed with, and I remember seeing the show live in Boston for the first time perhaps as an eighth-grade field trip. And I still love the musical – and know every word to every song by heart – but it wasn’t until recently I had this memory come back of sitting in that old, dim school environment listening to each song. I can’t help but think Mrs. Bunney’s actions must have been contrary to what was encouraged at that time, and especially when I consider the cantankerous – no, downright arrogant and unkind — pastor who led our church. It makes me appreciate what she did even more. 

All these years later, looking back at some of the things from my childhood, I began to connect some dots – to recognize what I would have never have understood as a kid. To see some of the experiences and people that influenced me most. Time and time again, Mrs. Bunney appeared and I didn’t even understand until recently how much. I’m certain she never realized how she affected my life and no doubt many others’ lives, too.

I encourage you to stop and think about who you are, how you got to this place in your life and who influenced you along the way that you owe some gratitude to. It might just surprise you who these folks are – and I sure bet it would surprise them as well. Let them know.

Never ‘Less Than,’ Thanks to You

It’s my father’s birthday today, and just before I fell asleep last night, I started thinking about my childhood and the way my father interacted with me. I realized that he is most likely responsible for me never having a feeling of being ‘less than’ simply because I was a girl. It’s important because it translated directly into who I am as a woman. 

The thing is, I took this for granted as a kid. I had no idea that some might feel there were things I couldn’t do, couldn’t handle, couldn’t attempt or succeed in because I was a girl. I had a glimpse into this mentality in elementary school, possibly in fourth or fifth grade, when we were in gym class – boys and girls – playing soccer. When one of the boys kicked the ball hard, and it flew mightily through the air, each of us excitedly anticipated where it might land or whether we could stop it with our head and push it further into the air toward a teammate. 

Suddenly, our gym teacher shouted, “Be careful! Duck, girls, the ball is coming your way!” I remember being incredulous that he wasn’t encouraging us to advance on the ball, but yet he seemed to feel that only the boys were capable of handling this rough play. He continued this behavior any time we shared the field with the boys, whether it was kickball or soccer. He somehow saw us as less than, less capable and not up to snuff with the boys. I’m sure, given his mindset, he thought he was protecting us rather than encouraging us to go toe-to-toe and give the game our all. 

My brother and I didn’t have a lot of household chores; I think my parents were both too much of perfectionists to settle for our efforts, but we did have yard work assigned to us. There was no distinction over whether a specific task was directed to my brother or me. We both learned to cut the lawn, push the dreaded lawn sweeper to capture the grass clippings, weed and trim around the shed and flower beds. One particular summer, our yard was overcome with dandelions and my father offered us a penny for each we upended. I don’t recall my brother’s outcome but I ambitiously acquired about three bucks that first week – what a bargain for my father, scoring the removal of at least 300 dandelions for a mere $3.

When we were old enough to drive, we were fortunate to be given cars, more than one actually over a few years. They weren’t new cars and often needed maintenance. Just like my brother, I learned to change a tire, change the oil, a bit about replacing spark plugs and belts, draining a radiator, and quite a bit about bodywork. I could sand, patch and paint a car part, even if I did so while holding sandpaper quite gingerly so I wouldn’t mess up my nail polish. 

I was never particularly athletic, but my father often threw a ball around in the yard with us, or played croquet or frisbee. He loved badminton and was quite clever in keeping the birdie aloft while beating me soundly game after game. It’s not surprising that this was one game I learned to love and became skilled in playing.

He taught me how to throw a football, but I didn’t have much finesse in catching the ball. One evening, he threw it soundly, and I almost caught it fully when it winged my middle finger, pushing the top half back hard. I started to cry and my father came over and looked at it, insisting it was fine. He wanted to keep playing. I was mad, equally as insistent my finger was broken and I wasn’t about to keep playing. I stomped off in a huff, and I don’t think I ever played again. We never had the injury checked either. Years later I learned there was a healed fracture in the knuckle, not surprising given that my once straight finger now had a bit of a tilt to the right. 

When I was in middle school, I got in a physical tussle with another girl. I don’t recall what the situation was that led to this, and it certainly wasn’t the type of behavior I participated in as a nerdy honor roll student. When our social studies teacher pulled the girl off of me, he had a look on his face I still can recall, as he said my name in disbelief, not quite able to register that I was engaged in a fistfight.

When I got home, my mother was horrified that, one, I was in a fight and, two, that I was a girl in a fight at school. She was not happy and said to just wait until my father got home and he heard about this. I waited upstairs in my room, dreading his arrival. I heard him come in the back door, listened to the rumble of voices as my mother relayed what had happened that day. When I came downstairs sometime later, my father was in our family room, and I slowly made my way over to him, bracing myself for what was to come. 

With the smallest of voice, I said, “Hi.” He looked up from his book and said, “I heard you got in a fight today.” I shook my head in assent. “Well, did you win?” he asked. I told him I didn’t think so, and that was that. Not another word. 

My father was a man of few words, and I know he thought actions spoke louder than words. I learned a lot simply by watching him along with the things he felt it was important to teach me.

The last fall of his life, he came with my mom to my house and took a look at the washer that giving me issues. I was in a tight spot financially at the time, with a sick husband and four growing kids. He told me to pick out a new washer and dryer and let my mom know how much they cost – it would be a gift from them. Of course, he didn’t phrase it that way. I think it was something like, “Get yourself new ones and tell your mother the cost.” The gift was implied. Typical. 

But then he walked around the basement looking at wiring and some of the pipes around the hot water tank and furnace. Some of the handles associated with the pipes weren’t in the right position, and he wondered who the hell had been touching them. He adjusted them and showed me exactly how they should be. Told me to keep an eye on them. There was some other advice, most of which I can’t recall now. That would be his last visit to my house. 

Not too long after, he had a seizure at his own home and was diagnosed within the day with a brain tumor. Five months later, he’d be gone. 

I’ve often credited my mother with giving me the strength by example, for how I’ve overcome great challenges and being able to maintain a sense of humor as I did. She deserves that credit. She was a tough cookie throughout most of her life and still is pretty strong, even as she declines at 91. 

My father, though, allowed me to believe that I was capable of anything. That I could fix broken things, take care of important stuff – my family, my home, my life, financial and legal matters, taxes and so much more – and that I was bright enough to figure things out, even when they seemed too complex to get a handle on. 

This evening, on his birthday, I celebrated his memory with my mom. We raised a glass of Prosecco in his honor as we looked at one of our favorite pictures of my father. She told me she wrote on her calendar, “I love you, Fred,” today and had a little cry – and how much she misses him every day. 

I do my best to honor him, to take care of my mom through her more challenging years, to take care of myself and my family, my home and my yard.

And while I’m still not much of a fan of yard work, I have come to love cutting the grass if only to embrace that incredible smell of a freshly mowed lawn. It takes me back to my childhood, and my father, in his cut-off jeans, often a bandana tied across his forehead to catch the sweat. He never wore a shirt when he cut the grass and maintained a reddish-brown tan all summer well into the fall as a result. That’s when I feel close to him, with grass clippings across my feet and sweat rolling down my face. I embrace the scent of the yard and somehow feel at peace. 

Happy birthday, Daddy – I’ll always be grateful to have been your girl. 

To John, on His Sixty-Seventh Birthday

Today you would have been 67 – and since it’s your birthday I’m taking a rare glimpse at what might have been. Given our mutual love of champagne, I’ll pop the next cork in your honor and enjoy a glass or two for you.

I can’t even imagine what you’d be like at this age, and yet I have a feeling you’d be so much more vibrant than what your last two decades allowed you to be. 

I bet you’d still be running; perhaps even have some personal bests to feel proud of. You probably would have wrapped up your career by now, and be reveling in retirement – obsessed with the yard and working on one project or another outdoors. I confess, no one would ever mistake our yard now for one that was maintained by a professional. It hasn’t looked that way since it had your care. 

We would have had a trip in the works this fall, maybe several in the year ahead. You always loved to travel and with more time to make plans, you would have been full of ideas of where to go next. Sometimes when I’m exploring someplace new, I can’t help but wonder what you would have thought. I keep thinking about going to Montana and know it’s an adventure you would have loved.

Mostly, I think about our kids. I’m so lucky with who they all turned out to be, especially after all that’s gone down. You, of course, would be crazy in love with all of them but you’d also really like who they are. They’re good people, but you knew that from the start. They’ve created good lives. You’d be amazed by all they’ve accomplished but, more important, grateful at how close they’ve remained, to each other and to me.

They would have such a good time with you, giving you a hard time, laughing at childhood stories and building new memories to share down the road. And, you’d still be telling them at the end of each day at Newfound Lake, as we all sat down for dinner, that it was time to reflect. You’d be excited to think we still go to your beloved lake.  

Newfound Lake, Hebron, New Hampshire

This family, you know, it’s grown so much. There’s been marriages, grandchildren and good relationships across the board. So many graduations, vacations, family dinners and holidays. You’ve missed so much, even when you were still physically here. 

I think back to Marissa and Justin’s wedding, 10 years ago now. Although you were in rough shape, you were able to grasp just how special the day was. I think about you dancing with her, bent almost in half, your daughter holding you up in a way that you once did for her so many years before. But your smile was so bright; you were beaming on the dance floor with your little girl. This was a moment you anticipated long ago, almost from the time she was a baby, and it’s one of the last times I knew you were really there, present in the moment and sure of what was unfolding around you. 

By the time Sean got married, you were there but in so many ways, you were not. When Michael got married you weren’t even well enough to be able to come, and it was easier not to focus on you not being there then to let it sink in exactly why you couldn’t be.  

And then there was Logan’s birth, a bit more than 5 years ago now. You knew what was up and while you were rapidly declining, thank god there are photos to still see the connection that sweet boy made with you. When he was a toddler, you wanted to hold him up high on one hand over your head, the way you did with each of our kids, and we had to gently discourage you away from that idea – you had no clue how precariously weak you now were and how dangerous that would have been. He delighted you and even when you weren’t quite there, you somehow became more lucid when you saw his little face. 

When Skyla arrived, it was too late. We put her in your arms and her presence didn’t register at all. Another much older man at your facility took special joy in seeing her that day and I kept transferring his reaction in my brain to somehow attribute it to you, all the while holding back tears. I knew how much you would have loved her.

Now you have two more grandchildren, who will never know you by more than the stories and photos from some time ago. They’ve only joined our family recently, fostered by Michael and Hannah, now to be legally their children early next year. You would have wept at the kids’ experience in their younger years and been so proud to see your son becoming their dad – and such a good one, too, even when it’s especially challenging.

I couldn’t help but think of you last weekend, watching him at the soccer field with his kids. He’s as patient as you were and right there when they needed him, just like you were once upon a time. I remember you working on Saturdays but taking a later shift so you could coach one of the kids’ soccer teams in the early morning hours, never caring that you’d be working until mid-evening as a result.

I see you every day in the kids. I see your physicality so much in Andrew. He’s running his first marathon in a little over a week, in your honor and your memory, as part of the Parkinson’s Foundation team, raising money to help find a cure for the illness that robbed you of so many years. Most of us are going out to Chicago to cheer him on, just like your family always did for you. I’m not even going to pretend it’s not going to be emotional. I’ll probably be a mess.

He’s been reading your old running journals, seeing how you used to train. He has a picture of you running next to his bed and on his fundraising page he said he’s getting to know more about you through his training. He’s beginning to understand some of what you experienced as he experiences it for himself. Unlike the others, Drew mostly knew you while you were sick, first the Parkinson’s and then Lewy Body Dementia. 

I see your love of travel in all the kids but especially in how Marissa has incorporated it into her kids’ lives. She loves the element of surprise, just as you did – you loved nothing better than surprising the kids with a weekend getaway – and she and Justin are already instilling the importance of family and fun into everything they do with their kids. No matter how hard or long Justin works, he’s always there for his kids – and is such a good dad. You’d love that about him.

Marissa carries on the traditions she loved best from growing up and you’d get such a kick out of her with her kids. She’s an incredible mother and still the most organized person in the world. I picture her teasing you a lot these days and you loving every minute of it. 

Michael has your love of yardwork, with projects in the works constantly. Sean’s a fairly new homeowner and discovering all kinds of outdoor work to take on. I can see you out in the boys’ yards with them, surveying what’s new and what still needs to be done, and volunteering to come give them a hand with whatever they have going on. You’d take so much pleasure in that, and I imagine you out on Sean’s deck when a project was through, the grill going and each of you with a beer, feeling good about what you accomplished that day. 

Your oldest son is a lot like you. He knew you the most and had you the longest. He took on so much responsibility for your well-being and was at your side, by himself, when you passed. Your illness changed all of us but perhaps Sean the most since he was on the brink of young adulthood, a time that should have been far more carefree, when your illness took such a grip. You somehow knew it, I think, and regretted it – regretted all of it, especially with regard to each of the kids. You’d be especially happy to see the lives our kids have created and the people they share them with. 

As for me, had you never gotten sick, I don’t know how much of my life would be as it is today. There are some things I believe would be true. We’d be married (39 years tomorrow) still. We’d be kickass grandparents together because we absolutely loved having our kids, and grandparenting is even better. I’d be a writer, but not necessarily in the same capacity I am now. 

There are so many things that I’ve done over the last 20 years; most were a direct result of doing anything I could to take care of my family and especially the kids – the decisions I made, the plans I created and the work I took on when I realized I was all our family had. 

Just as your illness defined what your life became, it defined who I would become, too. It allowed me to believe I was strong, tenacious and capable enough of handling whatever was to come and to take full advantage of the opportunities offered to me.

While it hasn’t always been easy — although so easy in comparison to what you went through — my life is good and I have far more blessings than I ever imagined. I’d trade any number of them, though, to wish you a happy birthday in person and be able to share this day with you, the kids and our ever-growing family. Man, you’d sure love them all.

When I think back, I don’t think of the hard times. I think about the beginning and the middle and the fun we had. We built a life, a family and had so many good times along the way. Life didn’t exactly bring us where we thought we might go, but we had some fun nevertheless and shared a lot of love throughout.

Happy 67th birthday, John—while you aren’t here with us any longer, you’re in our hearts every single day. Your memory will be eternal.

Love,

Pamme

Beginning Again

It’s been a little over a year since I last posted anything on this site – and I’ll admit, there were times it nagged at me…why bother having a blog if you’re not going to write any new content…why keep it live if there’s nothing new to share…what would you tell a client that had a non-active site? 

But it’s never been about business for me, not with this site at least. I know I have some updates to do, some old links no longer viable in the area of the site that holds some of my professional writing clips. I’ll clean it up eventually; it’s not especially important to me at the moment. 

I’ve spent the last year on an inward journey. I often used to write about what was on my mind and in writing it out, I sometimes came to a resolution or at least a different way of thinking about things. And I shared what I learned or now was considering about the matter. That hasn’t much interested me this past year. I felt like I had a lot of my mind and really wanted to dig deep and figure out a thing or two – and I have. 

There’s a lot I still don’t understand, and a lot I just don’t like but for the most part, I’m in a place now in my life where joy has become a predominant theme. That doesn’t mean tough stuff doesn’t happen still but I’m processing it in different ways and have a firm grip on what matters most to me. 

In many ways, it meant letting go of what no longer serves my life. That can be a hard thing to do, but it’s a necessary one in order to move forward to new experiences and less constraints – and I’ve done that. 

It means holding fast to the people and experiences that mean the most. Making more time for an ever-expanding family and, most of all, for myself.

Time for me to explore, to venture into new waters that once seemed daunting and to trust the happiness I feel – and as I do, I may just start writing more again, to share some of the things I’m continuing to learn along the way and the joy that I feel. I hope you will, too

What Sustains Us

Broken heartOur family had an incredible loss a week ago when my son and his wife experienced a failed adoption, six weeks after a beautiful baby boy was placed in their arms, given their last name and told he would be theirs from that day forward.

What transpired since that first life-changing day resulted in the awakening of such love for this sweet boy and full-on immersive 24/7 parenting until they received word this past Tuesday that they would have to surrender their son to his birth parents. The details are not mine to share other than to say this has been beyond heartbreakingly painful for them to experience – and for all that love them (and the little boy we considered our family) to witness as well as to process our own grief and theirs.

Yet in spite of this pain, regardless of their loss, they have demonstrated such strength, such care for each other and such courage throughout. I am humbled by their determination to understand what they’ve been through, to find the best in each facet of their experience and to look to the future with such hope.

My son married into a family as close as his own – and what sustains all of us, and what I hope helped them most, is how quickly our families came together, both locally and from further away, to offer love, support and even a few laughs, knowing we can’t change what happened but we’ll all get through it together.

Every family has its share of hardships and its share of joy, and as much as we enjoy the best of times, I’ve seen my own family at its very best when the worst has happened. As we came together this past week, it felt very much like smaller pieces of a magnet finding their way to one solid structure again. We’re each powerful on our own but at our strongest when we’re together.

As our family has grown, inclusive now of several extended families, I am reminded of the love and care that has resulted for and from everyone within that ever-widening circle. We have little control over difficult circumstances that come our way but what sustains us each time is what we give to and receive from each other.

And for that, I am grateful.

We Want to Know We Mattered

My mother’s day was made over the weekend by a visit from an old friend of my brother’s and his wife. While my brother hasn’t seen this friend in decades, my mom had seen the couple off and on through the years about town – or stopping by in her car to say ‘hello’ if she saw either of them in their yard. She thought the world of them but didn’t necessarily expect they felt even remotely the same.

When Christmas rolled around this past December, and they didn’t receive a card from my mom, it made them consider the last time they had seen her. Several things happened in the aftermath that kept her top of mind. Finally, my brother’s friend drove down by her house and knew immediately that this was no longer my mother’s home.

He went home and got online, started tracking down my brother, who owns a business, and managed to get his contact information. He made a call and they caught up over a 90-minute conversation with the vow of getting together soon. Next up was visiting my mom, now that they knew where she was.

Over the past year and a half, my mom’s life has changed radically. She got hurt, badly, in a fall at the beginning of 2017 and what started out as a simple lunch out with a friend resulted in my mother never going home to live in her house again. Can you imagine? You go out the door for lunch with a friend and never get to live in your house again. And the life you once had, the car you drove, your furniture, a ton of your possessions no longer is yours and, for the most part, because you can’t use them and don’t have space for them anymore.

With all of the changes – and just the process of growing older – I know my mother sometimes questions, like many of us do, what her place in the world has been. How much of what she’s done over the years mattered, and to who? Did she make an impact on anyone? How will she be remembered?

When life grows long and the world grows smaller, it’s hard not to focus on these things. We all want to feel that we have value and matter to others and that we’ll be remembered for those things.

Earlier this year, at a post-holiday gathering, some friends were discussing the passing of so many people that we loved. One friend said that she had been thinking lately about her mortality and what she would want after her death. Whereas once she was in favor of cremation, perhaps with her ashes scattered, she had now changed her mind. She wants a burial, even if it’s to be just her ashes, with a headstone to mark that she had once lived. Otherwise, who would know she had been there?

It was a thoughtful conversation and one that made me think once again about our legacy, our understanding of who we had influenced in some way or made a positive impact on – universal thoughts for sure. We want to know we mattered.

I think back on the weekend. It’s hard to describe the joy that transpired, not just for my mom, but really for me as well, which surprised me. I happened to be on my way down to visit my mom when her surprise guests came to her door. They were kind enough to wait for me to arrive so I could see them, too.

The effect their visit had on my mom, particularly as my brother’s friend recalled times at our family home so many years before, when he’d run into her at the supermarket or when she stopped by their yard, was transformative for her. It allowed her to see that regular daily interactions in her life had become good memories for others, for people she thought so much of and it made her happy.

That they took the time to seek her out, find out what had happened that made her move from her beloved home, came to visit and brought beautiful flowers and shared memories of my brother, of my father and mother, and me as well, made her feel such appreciation and so much joy.

For me, it was emotional as well. The years somehow seemed to melt away. I’d hazard none of us really saw what we look like now but rather someone we remember from so long ago. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of memories regained in just a short time.

I see how much moments like this mean to my mom, who has been blessed by kindness and care from people she’d never realized she’s touched in her life. She continues to make a difference in the lives around her. The former principal of the elementary school, where my mother served as a paraprofessional and substitute teacher at until she was 80, was a resident for a while at the assisted living my mother lives at now. I think my mom’s presence brought this 100-year-old woman to a more present state than she had inhabited for some time, perking up to share stories and memories of a different time in both of their lives.

An old friend of mine’s mother-in-law also came to live at the assisted living and in the short time before her death; she and my mother became good friends. Over a several-months-long span, the two were nearly inseparable and my mother spent time at her bedside in her final weeks. Since that time, her daughter-in-law and son have been extraordinarily thoughtful, sending my mother flowers and letting her know they care about her. It’s thoughtful beyond words – and so unexpected and appreciated by my mom.

These days, this is what matters most to her. Human connection and knowing she matters still – and always has. She’s not much different than most of us.

Next time you’re thinking about someone and what they mean to you, take a minute and let them know. You can’t imagine how much it will mean to them.

A Wild Ride Through 2017

As 2017 winds down its final week, I find myself – like so many of you – reflecting on the year we experienced and thinking about what’s ahead.

We can never be fully prepared for the inevitable changes, even those that are a part of the ever-moving circle of life, and 2017 really drove that home. There were final goodbyes – to people, to lifestyles, to a family home – and best wishes and love to those in our family who made new homes, some close by and some a farther distance away.

For a family that has been enmeshed in close proximity and lots of time together, it’s been an adjustment. If anything, though, it has allowed us to determine the lengths we’ll go to ensure binds remain solid and what we’re willing to do to be together at special times.

16300087_10156422031356959_8716111934636234025_oNearly a year ago – January 4, to be exact – life changed dramatically with a simple phone call telling me my mother had taken a fall. Now, in the normal course of our lives, this was just one more event that didn’t seem catastrophic. She’s been known to take a fall, sometimes several over a year. We’re used to this news, but this time was different. She had broken her pelvis on both sides and her elbow, and in the months ahead, she would be in and out of two hospitals, two rehabs and stay with my brother for a short time and then me for several months. It was difficult, laden with emotion on all sides and would eventually determine a massive change in her life and ours – with the sale of her home, the donation of her car to a young woman in need and finally, a new home in an assisted living community. None of it was easy, and particularly for her. At times she was ready to give up and I was angry she felt this way – I wasn’t ready to let go. She persevered and has created a new life that is far from the independent one she enjoyed, but my mother has taught us all that you make the best of the circumstance you are in and find pleasure in as much of it as you can.

Early in her convalescence – and the New Year – my youngest son, the last to live at home, found his own independence in Brooklyn, NYC, moving into a studio apartment in the city. While my heart was heavy to have him move to another state, one visit to his new neighborhood quickly allowed me to see this was where he belonged if he was ever to pursue his own aspirations. He was ready to spread his wings and as a parent, as hard as it is, that’s what we want: for our children to move toward their own goals and be able to experience independence and adventure.

Within a few short weeks, we also learned my daughter’s husband was approached with a new position, a promotion well worth pursuing, but in a neighboring state. While we celebrated his success and the hard work that allowed him this opportunity, it was particularly difficult for my daughter to embrace, given she had never wanted to live more than an hour from her family. She, too, is exceptionally proud of her husband and all he has achieved professionally and as they made plans to move three or so hours away, it seemed like the family was being stretched far beyond our comfort zone.

There was a lot to deal with, and even more so as a decades-long health battle came to an end early in late February. My children finally lost their father, a man who had been largely lost in spirit and physical presence for a very long time, but now – he was really gone and there was much to deal with that we hadn’t anticipated, emotionally, psychologically and perhaps even physically.

For the first half of the year, all of this was swirling about. It’s not surprising that I had major stomach issues happening, which led to speculation of dietary problems, food allergies or sensitivities, perhaps my gallbladder, maybe something more nefarious. I was finishing up my master’s, dealing with everything else and undergoing changes at work, at home and in every area of my personal life. Suddenly, by June, many things were resolved and moving forward in positive directions. My mom was settled in a new home, her home sold. My daughter and her family had found a beautiful new house in Vermont and we looked forward to seeing their new digs. My youngest was settled in the city. My other two sons were doing really well in their lives. I was done school. Life should be far simpler now.

Yet the summer felt almost paralyzing at times. I was exhausted, although I had little on my plate to deal with. I lacked ambition although I had so much to do to, so much to catch up on that had fallen to the wayside for six months, a year, maybe ten? I slept a lot, watched a lot of Netflix and didn’t accomplish much of anything. It took a while to understand the toll the first six months of 2017 had taken not just on me but everyone in the family. We’re still recuperating and by mid-fall, my stomach maladies seemingly disappeared.

And here we are, closing out a year of many changes. Here’s what I know:

Our family is resilient, loving and enormously attached to one another. What affects one affects us all deeply. We are committed to each other and to the newer members of our family, too. While we have been blessed to have new partners enter the fray over the past couple of years, this year they truly became family – and their families have become vital parts of our greater family, too.

My friends continue to sustain me. I am fortunate to have a tight group of some of the very best friends anyone could ask for. They embrace each year, and each other, and make getting older fun and memorable, even when we can’t remember the simplest words, where we’ve been or where we’re supposed to meet and when. It becomes more comical by the year. And then there are our collective friends; each of us has a full circle of friends who have become family over the years, not just individually to us but to our family as a whole. We can’t even imagine life without a single one.

The changes we’ve encountered geographically – whether it’s a move to Vermont, to Brooklyn or just to a new home or job – allow us to grow, sometimes in ways we don’t necessarily want, yet it helps us broaden our horizons, pull deep from places we aren’t even aware of and become better, stronger and more pliable.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 5.08.32 PMWe have had such fun throughout the past year, too: A mother-daughter road trip to Brooklyn and Manhattan, a lake cruise in Vermont and discovering new restaurants there, our perennial favorite – Newfound Lake, lots of music shows – Tom Petty, Seether and TSO, and so many more; lots of texting and FaceTime, great meals, small trips and lots of laughter. There have been really special times, such as an unexpected wedding and a new home in the works, graduation for me, and an incredible joint family fundraising effort in memory of the kids’ father and their uncle, who also passed from Parkinson’s.

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 5.02.48 PMWe have each had our share of challenges over the past year – some as a family and many that have been deeply personal – and yet we continue to get through them with each other’s support and look forward to the year ahead. As I looked around at Christmas, my first thought was not of the challenges, but rather of how lucky I am to have these children, now grown, their partners and my grandchildren, too. We weren’t quite sure even six months ago whether my mother would be here this Christmas, and yet she is, feisty as ever and an integral part of our family.

While I can’t predict what 2018 will bring, I know, in my gut, that there are some incredible things to come. I’m thankful for the growth of the past year, as hard as it sometimes was, but appreciative of everyone that made the journey over 2017 with me. What a wild ride it was!

Unpacking the Past

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a singer, but if you get me in a car all on my own then I can belt out a tune like nobody’s business and with such gusto that you’d think I was singing to save my own life. Thank god no one can hear me because it sure wouldn’t be pretty. But no matter, it’s highly enjoyable for me and no one’s ears (or my dignity) are hurt in the process. When I’m in the car, man, what a singer I am.

So today, on my regular morning commute, I keyed in on a song that I’ve sung a million times and usually with a feeling of strength and triumph – Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run for Life.” While I’m a stage-three cancer survivor, it wasn’t breast cancer, but still, I feel every nuance of that song and play it full blast, singing right along. Nothing different this morning than any other day, except maybe I was tired (I got a lousy night’s sleep last night) or maybe just feeling a bit emotional – I’m not sure. All I know is by the time I got mid-song, I was crying. Not just a little bit weepy either but crying ugly sobs up 293 North, all the while wondering, “What the heck is going on with me this morning?”

Then the phone rang, and it was my daughter, whose own daughter has been sick over the past day. Immediately I switched back into normal mode and thanked her for breaking whatever emotional meltdown had suddenly taken hold of me. When she learned I was crying about cancer (not a usual matter by any means for me), she became quickly concerned, perhaps thinking I had some scare going on or reason for being upset. I did not – and I was mystified why every word in that song, one I had sung a hundred times, suddenly turned me to mush. I’m still not sure why it hit me like it did today.

Here’s what I do know though: Whether it’s grief or pain or a combination of both – or maybe just a difficult situation that we just can’t deal with, it’s easy to push it away, to force it all down and lock it away somewhere to contend with later. Once upon a time, I was a champion at this. I could compartmentalize anything and sometimes, everything. I had to. There was so much going on that I could only deal in small increments, so I did, using the best of my energy and emotion with what was directly in front of me. I started to think of it as Scarlett O’Hara syndrome. If you’re familiar with “Gone with the Wind,” you know how easy it became for Scarlett to set things aside that she didn’t want to face, to say, “Fiddle-dee-dee, I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Well, so did I.

The thing is, tomorrow hits you when you least expect it. Like this morning.

This past spring marks 20 years since I started a whirlwind mission to handle a million different things, sometimes at once. I had four young kids, a seriously ill husband, a ton of volunteer efforts underway and the return to a full-time job after working a variety of part-time gigs and owning a couple of businesses. Mostly though, I had focused on family and raising those kids. Needless to say, the new job and a complete change in our lives transpired rather quickly in 1997 and just the busyness of life in general coupled with a series of terrible circumstances over the next five years would have finished me completely had I not pushed things to the side and kept moving forward. I have no regrets. I’m here, and I’m healthy, and in spite of some difficult times, my family has experienced countless blessings, so much joy and such love.

Yet still, every now and again, doors open slowly and unexpected feelings surface. Sometimes I purposely peek in and see what I can sort out. I think about what I’ve learned, what’s been lost, but mostly what I’ve gained and how lucky I am to be here to experience it all now. The perspective of time makes a tremendous difference and it’s far easier to consume a lot of what transpired. But that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt – or that it might not take me by surprise.

Screen Shot 2017-12-05 at 8.17.06 PM.pngGrief and pain are such tricky things. You think you can hide from them; deny them, push them away and keep them under lock and key. But they’ll bubble up slowly, insidiously reaching for your heart, so maybe it’s better to welcome them in, let the chips fall where they may and realize you have the strength to pick yourself up yet again. We’re not always ready to do that though – I know I wasn’t always and there were times I felt that there was only so much I take at once.

So here I am, all these years later, finally allowing myself to experience the pain, to recognize how scared I once was, to really think about everything I’ve been through – particularly when I was sick because I didn’t dare let my guard down then or cry all the tears I felt, mostly because I was afraid if I did, somehow I’d wallow and never get better. I didn’t want to be a poster child and I didn’t want anything more than to see my children grow up.

And now they are, and I have the luxury of this time, to reflect and remember and continue to sort it all out. While I think I deal well with the past, mornings like today show me there’s still so much more to learn.

Confessions of a Dating Neophyte

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 4.33.03 PM.pngOnce upon a time, many years – heck, decades – ago, I was a teenager dating and I wasn’t particularly good at it. I had a couple of boys I dated for a decent length of time and a handful of guys I went out with once or twice, but I suspect I was a bit more forthright than expected at times, quite a bit of a smartass a good deal of the time and independent enough to not necessarily want a boyfriend all of the time. Come to think of it, it’s pretty much who I still am today.

Like my friends, I had romantic notions of soul mates and everlasting love, but I did not plan to get permanently attached to anyone until I was at least 30. I had things to do. Yet a month before my 17th birthday, a few months into my senior year of high school, I began dating someone I met through a part-time job I had and soon became engulfed in a relationship that would be the pivotal one throughout the majority of my life. He was eight years older than me – a friend of my brother’s – and had just returned to school for his master’s degree in counseling psychology. How this came about and why my parents hadn’t firmly put their collective feet down on such an age difference is still beyond me, but I sense given my rebellious nature and a stubborn mind of my own, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

After dating for a couple of years, he proposed to me and I didn’t accept. Fast forward a year later to another proposal and this time I said yes. A lot of people, my father included, doubted it would last. But it did, for 24 years, until physical and mental illness and circumstances far beyond our control took their toll and divorce became the only feasible course of action – yet one that didn’t break the bond we had or the influence we had on each other’s lives. He remains, in fact, the only man I have ever loved and perhaps his death earlier this year has brought the thought of dating back to the forefront once again.

That’s not to say I haven’t considered it intermittently but it’s been far from an earnest effort. As a mom of four now-grown kids, my primary focus since their father became ill when they were still quite young was on being the best parent I possibly could be for them. While that’s true for most of the parents I know, my situation felt a bit different because I was all they had really. Their dad, as much as he loved them, became incapable of truly being a parent at all and there was no shared custody, no shared responsibility, nothing that either the kids or I could rely on from him. Taking care of us and dealing with everything else in my life, from work to the kids and more, became my focal point.

Some friends and acquaintances touted online dating as the way to go. While I saw plenty of success stories based on meeting that way, I heard lots of horror stories, too, and some pretty darn amusing tales, too. But the thing that bothered me most was  putting myself out there on display publicly (kind of funny given I have no problem writing about my life in blog posts and articles for anyone to see). It just didn’t feel cool. It still doesn’t in spite of giving it a whirl a few times. The profiles seem generic, the questions asked don’t offer responses that are relatable to me and everyone seems to be pushing for things that, to me, should be a natural transition.

I’ve often compared looking for a job and interviewing to dating. That it’s not about someone choosing you to fill a need, but rather both an organization and an individual getting to know one another and seeing if it seems right. But it’s a lot of work even getting to that point, a lot of auditioning and a lot of time spent trying to dazzle someone enough to get to that interview. I’ve gotten several jobs because people knew me and thought I’d be a good fit – it wasn’t an audition; it was organic and natural and it led to some very good professional experiences. I’ve also run the gamut of the countless resumes and cover letters, the multi-layered interview process and incremental exchange of important information. I don’t care much for the latter. Perhaps it explains a lot about how I feel about dating.

I don’t want the process. I want organic. I want someone to meet me somewhere in the regular course of my life, get to know me a bit and think, man, she’s someone I want to know better. A natural transition and it goes both ways. I don’t want to comb through profiles, create outreach messaging, answer or pose carefully chosen platform questions and the rest that goes with it. It just doesn’t interest me – and I’m someone who absolutely loves meeting people and hearing their stories, just not in this context. I’d rather meet someone, find myself a bit fascinated and take it from there – and maybe I will.

I’m not alone in this either. Friends in long-term relationships shudder at the idea of starting all over again and many that are now single, whether it is through divorce or a partner’s death, wouldn’t even consider dating again. They wouldn’t know where to start or whether they’d even want to open their lives again to someone. For them, it’s too much at this point to make that kind of change or even want it. Our lives are good – we’ve worked hard to achieve what we have with the people we most care about already and our lives are full.

My own life has been so busy, what with family, with finishing my bachelor’s and getting my master’s over the past five years, with friends and volunteer projects and work, I feel like I would have had time to carefully schedule someone in maybe every two weeks.

I hear so much of the same from friends – life is definitely good and we feel blessed with what we have, but every now and then, we think, what if? What if we met someone to add to the mix, to bring some extra fun, someone really special to share good things with?

I’ve struggled with that myself, eventually realizing that like anything else, there’s a natural flow that broadens our world and allows what we want to fit in. I just haven’t made a goal of pursuing it or, to be honest, putting myself out there to see what might transpire.

Perhaps part of it is not wanting to be that vulnerable and part of it is that I like my life as it is, but it feels like I might be ready to see what might unfold if I actually let it. I guess I’m opening myself to the possibilities.

Time will tell.

In many ways, I’m no different than I was so long ago, a bit more forthright, yet understanding; still a smartass, but with a real appreciation for other smartasses and a great sense of humor, too; a little too independent for my own good sometimes, but vulnerable as hell. I’m far more confident, more accomplished and experienced in living life, conquering challenges, loving with all of my heart and having street smarts and sass and loyalty that can’t be beat.

I remain the real deal, and I guess I’m open to someone who’s the real deal, too. No bullshit, no auditioning, just someone who cares for and appreciates others, wants to help in whatever ways he can in this world, can laugh at himself and laugh with others, and embraces adventures and magic and the best in those around him – and appreciates independence and music and quiet times, too, and gets how important my family is.

That may be a lot, but it doesn’t seem like too much to me.

What No One Tells You About Aging

With November as the month of my birth, before long my age will have a new designation, which in general means I’m another year older. The truth is we’re all another year older, every single day from the year prior. The only difference on our birthday is the number changes.

For many, especially as the years begin to climb, this becomes a dreaded occasion. People tend to put a premium on youth and forget the importance of each subsequent year. For a while, I may have bought into that mindset. Not anymore.

Here’s why; with every year I have more to offer, to others and myself. I’m smarter, stronger, braver and filled with experiences that I could never have imagined in my relative youth. And I’m not alone. It’s true for each of us, although many choose to focus on what they feel they’ve lost, not what’s been gained.

When I look at musicians or great craftspeople of any kind, I often marvel at the skills that have taken years to hone so mightily. With every nuance, the mastery shown in a simple flick of a tool or hand gesture is magic acquired through hard-achieved experience over time.

While I have no doubt I’ve developed incredible skills and experience throughout my life, perhaps my greatest feat is mastering myself. The years have allowed me to know myself through and through and understand my passions, the foibles (and there are many), who I am and what I want to do. It’s not perfect, and it’s not without its ups and downs. I’m a continual work in progress, and that’s okay.

I have a comfort level with life and most of all, with myself and this is true for so many others I know. Sure, we’re getting older, every day, but we’re good with it and like what we see.

My body doesn’t always operate as smoothly as it once did and the person I am today may not look a thing like I did years ago – that’s fine. But there’s strength in my eyes, solid living in my face and signs of my journey in every facet of skin, mind and bones.

What no one tells you about aging is that if you’re lucky enough to have the privilege, you’ll have so much to fall back on in hard times and to build on for the years ahead. You have great stories to recall, incredible people and experiences to reflect on and such a broad range of living to draw from no matter what comes your way. It’s not always easy, and it certainly comes fast – but if you’re busy mourning what you think you’ve lost, it will go by in a flash without any appreciation for who you are now.

A decade ago I met a man who told me his age in the course of our conversation. I laughingly protested he couldn’t possibly be that old since he looked years younger. Instead of feeling flattered, he became indignant insisting he was indeed that old and the phrase that he used to tell me has stuck with me ever since. He didn’t say that he was 44, but rather that he had made 44 years. Made 44 years, as if it was a true accomplishment to boast about – and he was right, it was. We all don’t get that privilege, and every year I mark is a real privilege and a huge accomplishment.

When you’re ready to bemoan your advancing years, consider instead how lucky you are to get this far and what you’ve achieved along the way. When you take stock of the gains rather than focusing on perceived losses, you’ll be amazed by how incredible it truly is to get older.

We, too.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 9.37.53 PM.pngAbout a year or so ago, a group of us decided to go out for a drink and some apps after a meeting for a nonprofit organization we support. While there were a half dozen or so men on the event team at the time, that particular night only one decided to go out with six or seven of us – all women – to a nearby restaurant. Settling into the bar area, in comfy leather chairs and a loveseat, we quickly ordered drinks and selected some food to share.

As usually happens, especially in this group, conversation flowed freely and before long, talk turned to an experience one of the women had in the workplace, a situation that left her feeling belittled and disrespected. Suddenly, each of us began sharing experiences we had been through, mostly on the work front, but at different stages of our lives, too. Remarkably, given the disparity of our ages, our backgrounds and the work we do, the stories were very similar – or maybe it wasn’t remarkable at all. The commonalities weren’t surprising, nor was it surprising that each of us had far more than one story to tell.

The lone male in our group – a very dear friend, who had once been my boss – sat next to me in shock. While the stories felt commonplace for us, they were a revelation to him. To be honest, he had been so quiet during this conversation that I almost forgot he was even there. Suddenly he shifted in his seat, and I’m not sure if he sighed or exhaled in exhaustion with all that he had heard. We turned to him and he shook his head sadly, saying that on behalf of good men everywhere, he wanted to apologize for what we had experienced. He just couldn’t believe this had been the norm for us, yet he it hadn’t even been on his radar. It blew his mind.

And it blows my mind, every time I hear stories, every time something atrocious hits the news and how readily it’s been accepted throughout generations upon generations. As young girls, we’re told what to be careful of, what not to do or say, what to expect and what has to be tolerated – tolerated because it hasn’t mattered enough to put an end to it, for those beyond ourselves to say, “This is unacceptable.”

Like most women, I have my share of stories. I don’t need to give details.

I have a daughter. I have three sons. I expect each to treat everyone with care and respect – and for each of them to also feel empowered to tell anyone who tries to demean them, “This is unacceptable.”

It’s time that each of us feels empowered to say the same and know that others stand with us, ready to have necessary conversations, never averting our eyes to what is difficult to see.

Reunion: You Can Go Home Again

Lyrics and literature have told us throughout the years that you can’t go home again, but this past Friday night I did. In a year when the childhood house I’ve known since I was barely six was sold, changing so much about what now feels like home, it was a welcome respite to go to a class reunion – something that once upon a time I would never have even considered attending. And that last statement has long been puzzling to me.

You see, I’m a person who keeps in touch, even when others don’t necessarily reach out. I don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t. If you know me, you’ll probably always know me. I’m the one who remembers and generally, the one who stays in touch, even if it’s just sporadically. So it’s been interesting to consider that shortly after graduating from high school, I quickly moved forward and seldom if ever looked back. And I had some great high school experiences and had some pretty terrific friends, so it’s not like I had anything to avoid or bad memories I was creating distance from.

I can only equate that the person I became involved with in my senior year and would go on to marry just a couple of short years later, was eight years older than me. Although he liked my friends – at least those he had met – we naturally gravitated toward his friends and many new friendships. My life seemed a million miles away pretty darn fast from what it once was, and in time, I figured most of those I had genuinely missed, most likely were busy with their lives and probably had little in common with me now.

I got married a couple of months before my 20th birthday and had a son about 18 months later. We had another child, a daughter, three years later, then bought a house, opened a wine shop, had yet another child and life continued at this breakneck speed. In my early 30s, I had another baby, was engulfed in our crazy, beautiful life and before long, high school and everyone I knew in my hometown seemed like ancient history. While I visited my parents a lot in town, I never ran into anyone while I was there and assumed, like me, most had moved away.

It would be another decade before the first connections began, when I got active on social media and started running into old neighbors, schoolmates and people I hadn’t seen in so many years. At first, I was hesitant, almost afraid to make a friend request. Face it; I hadn’t spoken to these people, former friends, in so very long. I wondered if they even would remember me. And yet they did, and in spite of the years and how grown up we thought we had potentially become, those same personalities emerged and I’d smile each time I met up with another old friend online and remembered how much they once meant – and perhaps even more surprising, how much they still did. They still felt like real friends.

Virtual stuff can be easy. I’m a writer and can easily share online and in words. I hadn’t seen anyone in person, and I can’t say I put any real effort into doing so. Then a couple of years ago, a high school friend announced she was heading back to our hometown. She was planning a get-together at a local restaurant and wanted to see who might come. Much to my surprise, I said I’d be there, and I’ll admit I felt some real trepidation as I walked through the door. The faces I’d seen online, the old friends whose lives I’d been following and commenting on, all of a sudden there some of them were, in the flesh and so much as I’d remembered them. Sure, we’d all aged, some of us (myself included) put on a few pounds (okay, speaking for me, more than a few), yet any reticence I had felt quickly melted away. These were people I knew, people who knew me, although we hadn’t seen each other for several decades.

We spoke about our current lives, laughed about old adventures together, shared in each others’ sorrows and joys, and offered support and admiration for what each of us had been through and yet managed from which to emerge still. We’ve all seen a thing or two – lived some hard things and experienced some pretty incredible things and appreciated that we still had so much in common.

When I left that night, I wondered how I ever let so many special people slip away for so long – and I marveled at how many had stayed in such close touch over the years since high school.

Throughout the years, I received reunion invitations. My mother would ask, “Are you going to go?” And I’d cynically shake it off, saying I had no desire to go to a reunion. I wish now I had. I don’t say that as a regret because I’m not a big believer in such things. I say it more I wish I had taken a chance and not held back, because it would have been such a positive thing had I taken the initiative to go. I looked at pictures from earlier reunions and saw the fun my classmates had together and the connections that remained. Maybe it just took me a while to catch on.

So this past Friday night, I saw people I have not seen since I was just 17. I caught up briefly with others who I met up with just two years ago. While I didn’t have an opportunity to speak directly with as many former classmates as I wish I could have – the night went by so quickly. Hearing the stories of what’s transpired for each of us is what truly meant the most. I loved seeing how early talents led to personal fulfillment now, about the twists and turns each life has taken and learning more about what’s next. I only wish I could have heard more.

It was so comforting to be amongst the people who started where I did, the ones that share memories with me and speak in a cadence that is only most familiar to those who grew up where I did. While they often say you can’t really go home again, maybe you can’t for good, but for a few special hours I went home and it sure felt good.