Monthly Archives: August 2014

Rings, Clothes and Workdays

Dear Mom,

It has been too long since my last letter. Please know that it isn’t because I haven’t been thinking about you. You are always in my heart and there isn’t a day that you don’t cross my mind a hundred times. We have had many quiet conversations in my mind since my last post. But you know me. I can only get the words out through the keyboard when I get downtime and quiet – and there has been precious little of that lately. Working in higher education in August is a telegram from hell for us introverts.

I made it through my first birthday without you, and today is Jamie’s. She gave me the NFL Steelers ring she got you last Christmas, the one you loved so much, and told me you wanted me to have it. Of course I cried – and she knew I would. She even warned me not to in the card, but it had fallen to the bottom of the gift bag so I didn’t see the warning until after I was holding the ring. It is a pinky ring for me. Although your presence here was huge and the hole in the world since you left us is just as big, you were physically so much smaller than me, and that includes our fingers. I think my hands were bigger than yours by the time I started middle school! So I wear it with care and tuck it away safely each night so it doesn’t slip off in my sleep. And when I am typing away at work and it shines up at me, I smile and know you are there.

Hopefully the Steelers themselves will know you are too. They had a bumbling preseason. But we’ve been through that before, haven’t we?

You raised an amazing kid, Momma. Jamie, not me. She holds so much together without you there, and she does it like a trained acrobat juggler. Me? Give me three plates and two are gonna crash to the floor. You raised a weirdo too. Sometimes I look at us and think we are flip sides of the coin that was you.

So other than that, most of August has been work, work and more work. And when I’m not working, I’m recovering from work. I remind myself that this too shall pass – it is just that time of year, and try to breathe and carry on. I have noticed that it is much harder for me to deal with the long hours and the nonstop interaction this year, and it was never easy. Everyone gets so stressed and worked up because there is so much to do and so little time to do it, and we are all sleep-deprived and irritable. I used to be a like a sponge, absorbing all that anxiety and worry and frenzy.

I can’t do that so well anymore. I am in the midst of all the tasks and issues and concerns that have everyone in a frenzy, and I know they are important. But after the year we have been through, part of me swims through them like I’m in a calm lake instead of a river speeding towards a waterfall. My mind says if these are the biggest issues of the day, the worst that can happen is not so much to fear. The consequences are like a scraped knee or a bothersome mosquito bite compared to the jagged scars that watching you hurt and then go left.

I am pretty sure you would like that. My tendency to worry too much about everything at work needing to be right and to be done drove you batshit – if only because you saw how batshittier it drove me. You wanted me to accept that I am a person, not an octupus with 8 arms to tackle 8 different tasks at once, even if that was what others wanted me to do. You’ve finally gotten your wish. I didn’t just decide to stop sweating smaller stuff. I am truly no longer capable of doing so.

Yesterday I finally had a little time to myself, and was going through my closets getting ready for fall – my favorite time of year is just around the corner. There was the shirt you got me with the ferrets on it, and the tye-dye Steelers shirt, and the beautiful black dress shirt you got me that I wore to Grandad’s funeral. There was the sweater you got me that I adore but need to lose five or ten pounds to wear. There was the silvery scarf you picked out for me that I love wearing in the winter. And those were just the tip of the iceberg. Before I knew it, I was sitting on my bedroom floor bawling, surrounded by clothes and desperately needing something to wipe my sloppy face with but of course not wanting to use any of them.

That closet was like a book of memories – each one a Christmas morning or a birthday and then all the times afterwards where we did something together and I wore the gift and you smiled at the way it looked. You always saw me as so much more beautiful than I see myself. That was evident in the things you’d pick out for me. The things I’ve gotten myself that sit beside your gifts in the closet say ” gear for an aging work horse.” Your gifts say “something for a pretty woman to wear.”

I am picking myself up anew each day and trying my best to be the woman you saw in me instead of the one I see in myself. Some days, it works.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.



A Different Kind of First Birthday

Dear Mom,

froggieThe fact that I’m turning 44 in a few days is really bugging me.

At first, I wasn’t sure why. After all, 44 is such a nondescript age. It isn’t one of the “zero-year” milestones everyone freaks out about, but that honestly didn’t bother me much at all.

Thirty was no biggie for me. You had a lot to do with that. You threw me a huge surprise 30th birthday party. I showed up at your house for what I thought would be a routine visit to find all my friends and lots of family there – just to celebrate ME! We spent the day eating crabs and hanging out at the pool and drinking beer and having so much fun. It didn’t feel like I was leaving my twenties behind me at all.

Well, truth be told, I wasn’t. You had the years mixed up and threw my “big three-oh” surprise party on my 29th birthday. Thanks to you, I was convinced that thirty was going to be nothing more than an ass-kickin’ good time a whole year before I actually had to go there! What was really funny about the mix-up is that because you were 20 when I was born, our “milestone” birthdays always fell on the same year. How we laughed about the fact that you tipped me over the three-oh mark before you hit the five-oh!

Turning 40 only bugged me because I reflected on how much further I had wanted to be in certain areas of my life than I was. But this turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It gave me the kick in the butt I needed to stop saying “I’m going to write more someday” and actually start writing. Within two years, I was published in three different small venues and well on my way to finishing the first draft of my book. I’d call that the best mid-life crisis ever.

So why is 44 such a big deal? My 43rd year has not been a bed of roses, and part of me hopes the door DOES hit it in the ass on its way out of here. It was a year of horrible news, of doctors and hospitals and seeing you suffer. Ultimately, it was the year we lost you.

Yeah. Hey, 43? Sayanara, mother-f***er is what the angry, forward-motion part of me is thinking.

But the nostalgic sentimental part of me is holding on to 43 with a white-knuckle grip, clinging and wailing like a psycho girlfriend when her man wants a night out with the guys.

You see, Mom, 43 is the last age I will ever be that you were here on Earth with me. Forty-four is the first age I will ever have to do completely and utterly without you.

Screw the possibility of a few more gray hairs or crinkles at the corners of my eyes.  I honestly don’t give a shit about that. I just don’t want to let go of the last year you were here with me, even if it was a sucky year.

And yes, I am still sane enough to know that’s some dumb and maybe even crazy crap. Age is nothing more than a bunch of arbitrary numbers humans assigned values equaling weeks, months, years and decades. Nobody gives a shit what age-number you call yourself where you are now.

But although I know it is dumb, it is what it is. It is how I feel. I don’t want to have the first birthday that I don’t get a text from you that somehow is EXACTLY what I need to hear on that day of that year. I don’t want to turn the first age I will be in forever where you and I don’t celebrate at some point – even if not on the exact day – with some Steelers preseason football and some beers.

I don’t want to, but I will. We humans do a lot of things we don’t want to do. There’s this whole thing called “Monday” that is proof of that.

I will, and I’ll be fine. In this strange new way that has to be enough now, you’ll be with me through 44, just as you have been every day since you left. I guess I just wanted you to know that the first birthday I’ll have without you really hurts. After all, you were the one who did all the work and went through all the pain on that day 44 years ago – all I had to do was scrunch up my face and cry and breathe and pee. It is your day as much as it is mine.

The intent of this blog is to honor you by being upbeat and happy and focusing on the good both in each new day and in my memories of you. But for my birthday, I am giving myself permission to whine just a little bit.

I am about to turn 44 years old, but I still want my Mommy. Life is really, really, REALLY hard without you. I feel lost and so lonely without you here to tell me to get over myself in one breath and admit that I got a good bit of my crazy from you in the next.  I am blessed that there are so many people still here that I love who love me back. I have a loving partner and father, sister and niece and grandmother and aunts and uncles and cousins and oh so many amazing friends.

But no one … no one … ever knows you like your mother and stills loves you anyway.

There. I whined my whine and cried my cry. For you, I promise that on my actual birthday I will DRINK my wine and laugh instead.

Miss you so much, Mom. And love you. Like a Dog.







The First Road Trip

Dear Mom:

Do you remember the little Italian restaurant where we stopped on one of our first road trips to Aunt Dorothy’s house, shortly after she and Uncle Larry bought their “retirement home” at the beach? It is just a little ways past the Bay Bridge, in a strip mall kind of place. You and Shannon and I had wanted to wait until we got to Delaware to eat “beach food,” but we were starving, so we pulled in. The owner was an older man with salt-and-paper hair and kind eyes. He hovered over us like we were a royal entourage, because he thought you were beautiful.

Well, of course he did. How could he not?

We drove past that restaurant on our way to Aunt Dorothy’s last Saturday, and my eyes filled with unexpected tears. I knew the weekend would be an emotional one for me. It was our first trip to “the retirement home” since your passing, and my first-ever visit without you. It would be my first time seeing my aunts and cousins (your sisters and nieces) since the funeral – and I can’t look at them and not see you any more than they can be with me and not feel your presence. Plus, spending weekends at Aunt Dorothy’s was always “our thing,” a mother-daughter tradition we started building that was cut short.

We should have had twenty more summers of laying on the beach by day and drinking wine on her porch at night. There should have been twenty more autumns and springs of making a trip to shop til’ we dropped at the outlets, twenty more nights of gearing ourselves up to get into the hot tub in spite of the evening chill that would nip at us when we got out of the water.

But we don’t, and I was a little afraid that when I went for the first time without you, the reality of that would break me and I would spend the weekend in tears.

As it turned out, there were some tears, and not just from me. We can’t talk about you without our eyes filling.

But there were a lot of smiles and laughs. You know why? Because you were with us.

You were with us when Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Cindy got to see Deb for the first time since your funeral, where she gave the “Love you like a Dog” eulogy that was balm to all of our spirits.

Your were with us when Uncle Larry wiped the mock sweat off his brow as he emptied trash or carried a load of laundry. You loved picking on him.

You were with us when Chrissy’s precious new dog – who is shy and skittish around strangers – slowly warmed up to Katie and I over the weekend. I felt like I’d won the lottery when she came up of her own accord, plopped down beside me, and gave me a lick.  You were there when Katie told me that you are the reason she became a girl who would always want a big dog by her side, and how she’d text you seeking your advice when her four-legged family members had medical issues. Every time a dog finds the best-ever forever home because he chooses Katie as his person, it will be because of your influence.

You were with us when we had Thrasher’s on the Boardwalk, hunching over our buckets of vinegary fries so the seagulls wouldn’t swoop down and get them.

Your were there when the frogs sang in the quiet of the evening as we sat on the porch, and when the hummingbirds flitted around the feeders in the muggy morning air.

You were there when Deb and Shannon and Laura and I slept in the living room, sprawled on air mattresses and the couch. Laura was on the couch – the one where you told me you’d gotten one of the most relaxing sleeps of your life a few years ago.

You were there in Aunt Cindy’s stories of being a little girl who would sneak into your closets to play with your shoes.

Miss you!

Miss you!

You were there in Baxter and Julie’s eyes. They both loved you and couldn’t wait to get cuddles and pats from you when we visited.

You were there in the sound of the surf and the smell of the saltwater.

You were there when I drank wine on Aunt Dorothy’s porch.  How many “just one more glass and then time for bed” glasses did we drink, sitting right there?

You were there in the shops we visited in Rehoboth Like me, you weren’t much of one for “regular” stores, preferring to shop online to braving the crowds. But we loved the quirky little shops there. You loved finding the perfect gifts – clothes for Jordyn or jewelry for Jamie.

You were there when we went to the outlets. They were the only place I remember being able to talk you into spending your money on yourself rather than someone else. I’ll never forget the smile on your face when me, Chrissy and Aunt Dorothy talked you into splurging on that purse you REALLY wanted.

You were there, and so there was a lot more laughter and smiles and hugs than there were tears – although of course there were some of those, too. And I realized that bits of pieces of your mannerisms and turns of phrase and appearance and just … you-ness … live on in Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Cindy, in Laura and Katie and Chrissy as they do in your daughters and granddaughter.

If family is there, then you are there. Each of us is a glimpse of you, and I think you smile when you see the bits and pieces come together in one place.

Thank you for being with us this weekend, Mom. Love you. Like a Dog.