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.



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.

What We Never Leave Behind

IMG_2262This past weekend, we did the final cleanout of my parents’ house – my childhood home – and while I knew it would be emotional, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I would be. What was toughest to deal with was seeing my dad’s garage empty, devoid of personal items. Funny, it’s been 16 years that he’s been gone, but I still think of the garage as his – and for a man of few words, someone rather hard to know actually, that garage provided a glimpse into who he was and what mattered to him. And as my eldest son dismantled that world, bit by bit, ever-so-careful about what would be kept and what would be discarded or donated, it was if I was losing my dad all over again and what felt like, finally, for good. I know he’s in my heart, and always will be, but the last tangible evidence is now gone and it hurt.

FullSizeRender-8At first glance, my father’s garage was a hodge-podge of things. In a home meticulous throughout, the garage had a bit more clutter than anywhere else, although neatly placed with purpose and order. There was just a lot of stuff in tiny containers, in covered glass jars, on shelves and in cabinets, and finally, atop the handmade workbench with its handcrafted drawers filled with a lifetime of collected tools. Most of the garage contents were of a practical nature; outdoor tools, household tools, nuts and bolts, screws and nails, cleansers and auto care products, so many of the things that kept the rest of the house and property maintained and in such incredible shape.

There was his radio, of course, still there attached to a small speaker. Whenever my father was in the garage, he had music on or talk radio — perhaps the game; and when he went up to shave each evening, his radio came, too.

fullsizerender-10.jpgIt was the walls, however, that told the tale of my father and what he held dear. There was a series of license plates, one from 1928, which he found somewhere and kept because it was the year of my mother’s birth. He kept a small assortment of plates, including two from my brother’s motorcycle and miniature bicycle license plates bearing my name and my brother’s. A hand-lettered sign was affixed to a wall – in fact, we couldn’t even remove it because it had been so solidly placed. My dad had made that, proudly, when my mother ran for office as a town meeting member in our town. When I say hand-lettered, it’s important to note how perfect each letter was, as it spelled out Eileen Cotter for Town Meeting Member. My father was an engineer and he was precise in every thing he did.

There was a hand-hooked rug bearing a likeness of the Old Salt. My parents loved nautical things – and my father was always so proud of anything my mother created. He had a paint-by-number picture she did on another wall, side-by-side with a painting I had done freehand of a barn on a country lane. Across on another wall was an amateurish effort I had painted of a sailboat at sunset, lots of vivid orange, yellow and red hues in the most rudimentary of styles. There were various handmade wooden pieces, each of which he made, along with a variety of patriotic things, including a simple decoupage of George Washington mounted on a square of wood.

All the light-color spots on the walls are where things were removed.

Then there was the once-white metal cabinet, home to countless little jars, containers and tubes of products. Against all of his better judgment, I’m sure, he allowed me to paint it in neon colors, all in crazy free-spirited shapes abutting each other. I did this as a young teen, sitting cross-legged on a much smaller workbench before the garage was built and he moved the cabinet later from our laundry room/work space to the new garage where the paint eventually chipped over the past 40 years, although brightly colored remnants still remain.

IMG_2261There were quirky items, like a little sailboat made from Pepsi cans, the sails covered with vinyl contact paper – and wooden items he made with his jigsaw, from doorstops to an elephant, a birdhouse and more. A sign bearing the name “The Cotters” hung for many years at their camp in Henniker, N.H. This was a place where they created countless memories after my brother and I moved away, and the sign was been taken by niece, who had many memories of time at the camp. In the weeks prior, we each made claim to some small items, from practical things like gardening tools to precious keepsakes, and yet on that last evening so much still remained.

As my son asked me about some of the final pieces, I struggled not to take everything that held memories. The old lawn cart, metal, chipping away paint from many, many layers of different colors and so many years of constant use, seemed silly to take – I had a brand new one of my own. I thought of the role that lawn cart played throughout the years – rides in it as a kid, using it for outdoor chores that I hated; more than that, this cart was a fixture throughout my entire life – and in the end, I couldn’t take it or throw it away. We left it for the new owners, hoping even in spite of its age, they’ll find it useful and if they don’t, I’ll never know.

IMG_2260In the midst of this, as I packed up remaining outerwear, I picked up one of my father’s jackets. We hadn’t kept his clothes after his death, but this jacket had been special. A proud patriot, and former Navy sailor, he delighted in wearing his royal blue VFW jacket with his name on the sleeve. As I held it in my arms, looking around at what little was left in the house, of a lifetime – my childhood – spent in that home, I clutched that jacket tight and sunk to the staircase in tears. These past few months, especially, were fraught with so much. Hard things were experienced, hard decisions were made, and throughout it, I kept thinking that my father would want me to do all that I could to ensure my mother was safe and taken care of as best as could be done.

And now, those decisions had been made, and all we had to do was finish packing. Everything I had held in started to let go. My son walked in and together, we sat on the dining room stairs, his arm around my shoulders, sitting quietly for a while before getting back to the business at hand.

Last night, we celebrated my mother’s 89th birthday, which is actually today, this year on Father’s Day. She is in better spirits, better physical shape and in a better place overall than she’s been in quite some time. The woman she was prior to the past six months becomes more evident with each day. We hadn’t seen her in some time.

So today is her birthday – and Father’s Day, too. There seems like some strange correlation this year. Her life has greatly changed, and we’ve closed an important chapter. Over the past month our family has gone through my parents’ life together in ways we had never done before. We remembered things almost long forgotten and took possession of precious memories and special mementos and perhaps most of all, realized the powerful past we shared.

We keep moving forward, from one cog to the next in this ever-moving circle of life. We may fall off the wheel at any time, unexpectedly, and the rest of us have no choice but to continue onward. It’s just the way things are.

On Father’s Day and my mother’s birthday, I am cognizant of what’s gone and what we still have and appreciative of the value of each.

What We Didn’t Know

We always knew this would end badly; there were no good solutions and never the promise of a cure.

What we didn’t know was how it would come about or when the end might be.

Death is tricky, and even in days of waning health and absolute signs of what was to come, strength can arrive from seemingly nowhere and final days sometimes become final months.

We knew it would be hard, knew it would be painful, knew it would release feelings that had been buried for years, and recognized that we didn’t know what else might erupt.

What we didn’t know was just how much it really would hurt.

We knew it was for the best. There were too many years filled with too much suffering, too many tears – his and, of course, ours – the pain of his illness and our collective loss, of seeing a life taken away from all that he loved. We wanted to ease his pain, perhaps to ease our own.

We just didn’t know how hard it would be to say goodbye to someone who left us so long ago.

What we really didn’t know, didn’t even suspect, was that with his death, John would suddenly become himself again – the person we knew so well, missed so much and hadn’t seen in so many years.

When someone is sick, like he was, for such a long time, life becomes reactive, a series of phone calls, medical and managed care facilities, emails, solving problems, taking care of needs, dealing with issues and never feeling like you can ever possibly do enough. Mostly because you can’t. So you do what you can and take care of what’s in front of you and all the best parts of a life you once lived become background noise, seldom listened to, examined even less, because it hurts too much and there is too much in the present to attend to.

What we didn’t know is that in the end, there was nothing else to focus on, except the life we once lived – together – and the memories, and the pictures; so many pictures, bringing back sensations and smiles and the recognition of a life once lived with joy, with a lot of love, lots of laughter and the chaos of many kids and too little time. Yet we didn’t know then how little time we really had, but even if we did, I don’t think we could have cherished it any more than we once did.

We knew once John was gone, we could finally begin to grieve, but we didn’t know what form that grief might take. So tonight, out of nowhere, I wept in earnest, the first time with no restraint, for the husband that’s gone, the life we led, the family we had together and the father and grandfather that would have loved it all so. I miss him so much and have for so long.

What we didn’t know, although we thought we did, was that somewhere inside of us, we clung to the hope that someday he’d be back, be part of our family again, even if we had to have known it would never be. Illness can delude you, give you a glimpse now and then of the person still there. It’s brief and it’s painful because it offers hope where none should really be.

We knew we had lots of love surrounding us – from family, friends that feel like family and even people we barely know well. We could feel it, even before this, and it magnified as the days blended into one.

And as that last day began to come and we finally knew that this was really it, not an illusion or one more close call, what we didn’t know was that almost 20 years would somehow melt away and the worst of it all didn’t matter anymore. Here we were all these years later, remembering decades ago as if they were yesterday.

In death, John became ours again. In life, we’ll miss him every day.

My Family is My Home

heart-homeOver the past decade, I’ve become increasingly detached from my home, particularly more so in recent years. I’ve found this curious, given that I’ve lived there for 30 years now. When I moved in, as a young woman in her mid-20s, with a three-year-old son and ready to give birth to my second child, a daughter, in the month ahead, I saw this home as nothing more than space for us all – albeit temporary. We had the makings of a beautiful yard, in a great neighborhood in a small town we loved. The house itself though was an end to a means. We needed more space for our soon-to-born child, and this fit the bill. Never did I imagine two more children would follow and be raised in this same house – nor did I ever think 30 years into the future it would still be my home.

With six of us for so many years in this not-so-big house, along with an ever-changing menagerie of pets, lots of toys, sports equipment, personal memorabilia and all the fundamental elements of a well-lived family life, we pushed the boundaries of our limited space to the max. I had been sure our family wouldn’t live in this house for more than a few years before moving on to something larger. As circumstances in our personal lives unfolded, it wasn’t meant to be.

So in time, the house that was rather snug became one that I was grateful to afford, especially on my own. Our family dynamic changed and I became engulfed in a new reality I hadn’t imagined as a single parent. Anything larger would have become a tremendous burden, economically and bandwidth wise to maintain.

Kids changed bedrooms, redecorating as they went, as ages and interests transitioned forward. Every parent knows, as children grow, rooms begin to feel smaller and hallways are suddenly shrinking when six-foot children make their way through the house. At times it felt as though the house might simply burst. Boyfriends and girlfriends joined the mix and quite often stayed at our house, and there was activity everywhere throughout our home. We often joked at any given moment someone in our family would be up and doing something, regardless of the time of day or night. It still proves true. We’re just not all in the same place.

Then suddenly, my oldest was off to college, and the house seemed a bit emptier. I remember sitting on his bed, in a half-empty bedroom, after dropping him off freshman year at college and suddenly sobbing, as I realized nothing would ever be the same again. The years spiraled forward at breakneck speed. Each of my four children became increasingly independent, off to explore new adventures and the family ebbed and flowed with who was at home still and who wasn’t. There were far fewer pets as the household size decreased, too. What had once been a house bursting at the seams was now a home with a lot of empty rooms – devoid of people, at least, much of the household items shifted there, not used.

I once said – and I still feel it’s true – that for many years our house was this giant, rollicking party, not all fun and games, but lots of energy and activity. The house began to feel as if I was living in the aftermath of that party, treasuring what had gone before, but left with the remnants of many years of hard family living – and an aging house to deal with just the same. I don’t spend as much time there as I once did. Life is pretty busy, and when I am home, it seems I’m rushing around to complete as much as I can in a finite time – or just not interested in accomplishing much at all. I’ve certainly learned the value of unwinding and enjoy my time on my own.

As the last of my children explores his next adventure, which will take him out on his own, it hit me last night exactly why my detachment has grown. It was never about this house. I didn’t move into it as my dream home or a place I coveted for any reason other than it was for my family. Our home sheltered the people I love most and wherever they go, wherever we all are together, is what matters most to me. I always wondered why I didn’t feel more of a sense of connectedness to my home, but at long last, I’ve realized that I’ve always seen it exactly as it has been. When it was filled with family, it had a lot of meaning, but without them, it’s merely walls, floors and rooms. I could be anywhere, but when I’m anywhere with my family, that place quickly becomes home.

On the Precipice

DSC_0011This has been a difficult week.

In most ways, it’s been no different than any other. Each of us in the family went to work, took care of personal responsibilities and even had a bit of social time together. We made plans for a family dinner over the weekend, and perhaps even an afternoon at a N.H. fair.

But in between, there have been tears – and a few adult beverages. There have been hugs that felt tighter, laughter that seemed a bit too necessary and memories shared and sometimes quickly swept away. It hurts less if we don’t think too much.

Yet, we can’t stop thinking about what’s going on. Can’t stop thinking about what’s been – and most of all, we think about how much longer this all will be and how it will end.

Here’s the thing – when someone in your family is gravely ill, the kind of sickness that’s gotten significantly worse over the last decade, when you witness what life has done to him and wish there was a way to make it all stop, even when that person is in hospice care, there is no guarantee that person you love will soon have any peace.

In early June my children’s father entered into hospice care, a bit surprisingly, at least to us, even though we had been watching his agonizing decline for such a long time. This past winter brought a fairly severe injury and surgery, and he’s been increasingly less active since. What we see now is barely a glimmer of who and what he once had been – and with each day, there’s a bit of improvement, a bit of decline, a bit more decline, then perhaps a better day, although at this point, what really can be considered better?

We’ve been in a holding pattern for so many years. No one but our immediate family can even imagine it all – and we share it with each other in ways that run deep and run strong.

The greatest tragedy of our collective lives has not been just losing this person, but losing him incrementally over the course of so many, many years. He’s been gone for us for so long, yet his physical presence, while just barely, is still here.

Earlier this week, we met again with hospice care providers, who offered kind words, spoke of discontinuing medications, procured funeral home information and yet, none of us have a window into the length of this journey. This man is stubborn, but he may finally be ready to let go in the months ahead.

As a family, we may soon face that final loss, the acknowledgment perhaps of what we’ve felt for so long. We’ve never truly had a chance to grieve as we experienced one thing after another over the past 20 years, focusing instead on holding things together, finding solutions and pushing emotions as much as we could to the side. That’s not to say emotions haven’t run strong; that we haven’t had our own mini-breakdowns and crises of the heart. To feel anything at all sometimes is to begin to feel it all – and to get through it has almost pushed us to the point of desensitization.

That seems melodramatic, but it’s been 20 years of appointments, of medical tests, of more and more medication, psych evaluations, cognitive testing, of medicine mismanagement and misusage, of supportive devices and therapies, hospitalizations and adult daycare, of increasingly difficult behaviors, of safety issues, of car accidents, of impairment, of anxiety and physical harm, of managed care facilities, of brain surgery, of a family pushed to the very limits of love and acceptance and a man who was loved dearly who never accepted his illness or realized that no matter what happened to him he was someone of great value to this world with so much still to contribute. The list could go on and on, and the heartache could match it along the way.

There have been countless discussions around long tables, with caregivers and caretakers, with medical and mental health professionals, with good people often doing the best they can, with little to offer that could ever change a thing – and we’ve told his story, told our stories, offered medical history, becoming a bit more jaded and disheartened each time.

This past week has been a difficult one – one more table, one more discussion, some tears, another emotional visit and time together as a family. We’re on the precipice now, holding our breaths not sure when the ledge will break. We know all too well how painful the plummet will be.

We’re All Someone’s Child

IMG_3840I awoke late this morning, having enjoyed some much-needed sleep. It’s been a particularly busy last few weeks, few months actually, with many, many good things to enjoy but less time for rest. So that combined with what has seemed like a never-ending litany of atrocities globally and domestically has worn me down a quite a bit – and left me awake in the dark hours of the night wondering how we’ve gotten to this place and what we, what I actually, can do to change the path.

After rising finally at 11 am, after a few earlier awakenings, I decided to turn on the TV as I ate a bowl of Honey Nut Chex. It had been preset to a movie channel and one of my favorite movies, “Philadelphia,” was on, but in its last few scenes. They’re some of the most beautiful in the film. Of course I had to watch.

I remember well when this movie debuted in the early 90s and how it addressed so much that was not part of the everyday experience for many families. For me, it humanized what many viewed in fear in so many positive, caring ways, while still exposing the far uglier side of fear and the manner in which that we fear is often treated. I think now about how 23 years later, how much has changed, yet how little in terms of how we view and treat each other. I would have thought a movie like this, just as one about racism to be footnotes in our lives at this point in time; valuable lessons to be learned from, but the fears, prejudices, abuse and violence to be a distant image our rearview mirrors.

Sadly, that’s not so.

What struck me this morning, but even more so back then, was the powerful love within the main character’s family and the acceptance that came within the structure of that love. That didn’t mean there weren’t fears, or misunderstandings, but the love and care they had for each other overcame that. I remember thinking back in 1993, with four children, one an infant, that no matter what came our way, I fervently hoped as a mother I would always have the unrelenting, all-encompassing love I saw in that film – and if I did, my family could conquer anything that came our way. I still believe that to be true – not just for myself, but for everyone too. If love is the foundation, and acceptance and support for each other is the goal, we can see whatever happens through together. It doesn’t make it easy, or any less painful at times, but we do it together and it’s unconditional.

In putting this in greater context to what we see around us, I have to wonder, how much do we truly want to see this life through together, as a community, as a society, as a country and as the world? We are all global citizens and our best interests aren’t just centered on what suits our lives most, but what suits all of our lives.

I keep thinking back to the days after 9/11 and how our country pulled together, yet as we pulled together, we also hunkered down in safety, insulating our lives with many of the things that we hadn’t been as drawn to prior. We felt safer in our own homes, opting for larger and larger screen televisions rather than going to the cinema. We brought home-prepared meals instead of dining out for quite a while. While friends and family were part of that world – in many ways we lived more and more virtually, spending more time online and engaging in social media rather than authentic experiences. We did our best to insulate our lives against the potential dangers that outside world brought – and never really considering that it showed up at our doorsteps nevertheless. And now the 24/7 media firestorm, along with social media, infiltrates our every waking moment, if we let it. It speaks to our insecurities, feeds our fears and fires up volatility in ways I’ve seldom seen before.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the years is that few matters are black and white. There are subtle shades of gray that always must be considered, and those are the parts of the conversations we somehow don’t want to address. Some matters particularly bring up a strident sense of right and wrong, black and white, my way or the highway and anyone with a differing opinion or who simply questions an issue is seen in this black/white view. You’re with me or you’re not seems to be the mindset, and if you question it at all, you’re vehemently opposed. That’s not the way to find answers, nor is it the way toward a path of resolution.

When our backs are to the wall, with no room for other thoughts, there’s no avenue for compromise, no true desire for resolution – it’s more about being right. I’m not naïve. We operate under fear; under the desire to make decisions that we feel are right not only for ourselves, but also those we love. We often think what’s right for us is the best for everyone. That’s a shortsighted viewpoint, but it’s one many hold.

I go back once again to “Philadelphia,” and the very last scenes, when the main character passes away and family friends gather for a memorial. This is so skillfully filmed, with multi-generations together, so many different people providing support and love. There are new babies gathered close, small children with no idea why they’re even there that day – they just know they’re together with family. Candles are lit, photos displayed. Tears are shed, hugs and consolation given. On a television, a video plays. We see the man, who just died, as a young child, with his siblings, with his parents, with the family pet – a beautiful child, like every beautiful child we all once were. When you look at that child, you can’t help but smile and want the very best for him. He’s precious.

We often hear when someone is the victim of violence, whether it is murder, rape, assault, whatever it was – that was someone’s child. We’re asked to consider how we’d feel if it was our sister, our mother, our child that this happened to; would our feelings be different in how the situation was handled? The problem is this: It’s always someone’s sister, mother, brother, father – it’s always someone’s child that has been treated in this way, always. While the question is meant to make us really see the victim through the lens of our own life, I have to hope it’s meant to bring empathy to others who we aren’t personally connected with.

And here’s what else I hope: that we can start looking at what’s happening around us with a broader view – to realize that there’s more to each situation than how it personally affects us. Let’s share that and be open to starting new conversations. If we don’t, we can only expect more of the same and perhaps worse. This is in our hands. We’re better than this.

To Mikey, on His Wedding Day

228976_10151803707951959_1649734612_nFrom the moment you were born, you became our Mikey.

While it took a bit of convincing for your father to agree if we had a second son, we’d name him Michael, he finally acquiesced. We kicked around nicknames during the decision process, and when I said Mikey, he said no way; he’d never call you that, maybe Mike, but never Mikey.

And then you arrived and quickly wrapped your tiny fist around his finger. He looked with such love into your hazy newborn eyes and said, “Hi, Mikey.”

I remember rolling my eyes thinking, “Well, that changed rather quickly,” but smiling to myself all the same. You were my Mikey the minute I saw you, too.

It took your three-year-old sister a few days to warm up to you, this quiet, big-eyed baby that entered her life, but your older brother, a little over six at the time, was smitten immediately with you. He held you whenever he could and was always trying to catch your attention. “Hey Mikey,” he’d say and do something to make you smile and laugh. He read you stories and was patient when you crawled into the middle of whatever he was doing.

In time, you became your sister’s shadow and probably, her biggest fan – and it was mutual. “C’mon, Mikey,” she’d call out and you’d be after her in a flash, no matter what she wanted to do. You shared such a love of animals with her, spending countless hours grooming and playing with our dog Tasha – and with the never-ending parade of kittens, bunnies and lops, and hamsters. You name it, we had it and the two of you had such fun together.

By the time your youngest brother came along, he shortened your name to Mike, and tried his best to keep up with whatever you were doing. You somehow decided it was your responsibility to look out for your baby brother – a matter, which proved equally as frustrating for you both; you because he didn’t particularly want to listen – and him because, well…he didn’t particularly want to listen. But you looked out for him nevertheless.


In fact, you looked out for all of us and you still do, but over the years you’ve widened the circle of those you care about – your heart is so big – and now your heart has grown that much more preparing you to share your life with a woman you truly love.

She’s no doubt discovered what we’ve known all along. You are a special individual. You are the friend that can be called in the dead of night when no one else is there to help – and you’ll leave a warm bed and go out in a storm to lend a hand, lend an ear, to let people know you’re there for them and you always will be.

When she’s feeling down, you’ll show up with flowers, with a Friendly’s watermelon roll, with her favorite movie or something else that only you’ve noticed that she loves.

If she’s stressed, you’ll be there, not making a sound, but taking care of all the little details that will somehow make the day a bit easier.

If there’s something she wants to achieve, you’ll have her back and ensure she knows how proud you are of her – especially when she’s not sure she’ll be able to see it through. And you’ll be the first to celebrate her success and let others know as well.

I know this because you’ve done it so many times for all of us.

When you were a little boy, you viewed the world with a smile at every turn – and a bit of stubbornness as well. You knew exactly what you wanted and were determined to do it your own way, even when I knew better.

As a man, you’ve grown to embrace the world – and everyone you meet – with a positive spirit, a willingness to be of service and with empathy for others. Stubbornness developed into tenacity, and if there’s something you truly want, you’ll put your shoulder to the wheel to make it happen. You’ve never been afraid of hard work.

As your mother, I’m so incredibly proud of the person you have become – and the life and goals you have created and pursued.

And now – you’re taking this next big step, which I have no doubt is exactly where you should be. I’ve seen the love your soon-to-be wife has for you – and the life you’ve already built together. I’m excited for what’s to come and for the vision and love you both share.

I was just a bit younger than you are now when you were born – and while life didn’t necessarily unfold in the manner that I thought it might, it brought us to who we are now and the family I cherish so very much. I remember looking into your beautiful blue-grey baby eyes and wishing so much for you then, and have so many wishes still for you now.

May your life bring you the many joys that you have brought to me these past twenty-eight years.

May your marriage offer adventure, laughter and love, the kind that creates incredible memories and anchors solid relationships.

May you always remember who you are – and where you came from – and remain true to yourself as an individual, especially as you move forward as a couple.


Most of all, I wish you both every happiness that life can offer together. The spirit in which you’ve begun this next chapter in your lives has demonstrated the love and care you have for each other and your willingness to work hard and work together. May it continue throughout all of your marriage – I hope you always see each other in the same light and with the same love as you do now so early in your relationship.

Happy wedding day, Mikey and Hannah! Here’s to all the good things to come!