Thomas N. Grassel Jr.

 

 

 

 

My brother Tommy died today.

I’d like to be able to tell you that he died peacefully, in his sleep, surrounded by friends and family… but that was not the case.

He died, pretty much the way he lived most of his life;  angry, frustrated and fighting his many demons.  Even once he began his end of life journey they would not leave his side.  Considering themselves his friends, they’ve  hung on till the very end.  This, along with the fact he was so sick, made his final journey, a long and arduous one.

It should be said that although my brother’s “body” stopped functioning today, he actually died some 50 years ago, and I have been mourning that loss ever since.

You see, my brother Tommy, the brother I had known and loved for the first 13 years of my life, died in Vietnam sometime between the fall of 1967 and the 4th of July, 1968.

Although the United States Army was kind enough to return his somewhat broken body, and what was left of his mind… the better part of him (the part many of his friends and acquaintances never got the chance to see) was left behind; a million miles away from here, forever entombed in the murky waters of a hillside rice paddy.

Like so many of his comrades in arms, he was not prepared for what he experienced in Vietnam.  And although he did only what he was trained and ordered to do, I don’t believe that my naive, 18 year old brother ever reconciled with what he witnessed and he certainly never forgave himself for any transgressions that he may have committed.

These were his demons.

Torn, between being proud to be a Sergeant First Class in the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division (aka The Screaming Eagles) and being (at his core) a pacifist, he constantly struggled with grasping a genuine understanding of who he “truly” was and what he believed in.

If you knew my brother at all, you probably had a love/hate relationship with him. Generally he was a nice, polite, funny, generous, outgoing guy who could (when he wanted to) be quite charming… but he also had a dark side.  He could become angry,  hurtful, verbally abusiveand quite difficult to deal with, at the drop of a hat.

He didn’t mean to be any of those things and he always regretted it.  It was just that the demons sometimes possessed him and devoured his sense of right and wrong.

As I said, if you knew him at all, at some point during your relationship/friendship you would have had a legitimate reason to call him an “asshole.”  If you didn’t, then you didn’t know him as well as you think you did.

Regardless of all his many shortcomings and imperfections… he was my big brother.  He was a good man.  He was an honest man and he always loved and protected me, his baby sister.  And I, with every fibre of my being, loved him right back.

His passing leaves yet another hole in my already battered heart.  After so many losses,  I now imagine my heart has taken on the texture of a sea sponge…  rough and pourus, softened only by absorbing tears, which won’t stop.

My brother is finally at rest.  He is finally free from the demons that have plagued and tourtured him for so many years.

In the last few hours of his life, I believe I witnessed a softening in his face… his usually furrowed brow was relaxed and smooth.  I choose now to believe he took advice I gave him earlier in the day… I believe he began the process of self forgiveness and acceptance and he came to understand that he, just like the rest of us are flawed and nothing short of human.

Hmmm?  Come to think of it, he did die peacefully with friends and family by his side… he had me, his only family and his best friend.

I love you Tommy.

Your baby sister, Lissa

xxx

 

 

Dear Max, on the day you were born…

it was cold, dark and the grey sky was once again, threatening rain.

Daddy drove cautiously as Mummy shifted in her seat trying to get comfortable.  I’m not  sure if it was nerves or if she was genuinely uncomfortable, because of her size and inability to move in the cold, cramped car seat.

You were not technically “due” for another week, so quite honestly if she thought she was uncomfortable on that morning… I’m not sure how’d she would have felt if she had to wait another 7+ days.  I dread to think!

I sat in the back seat excited, but apprehensive. Don’t get me wrong, I was terribly excited to meet you, and couldn’t wait for our adventures to begin, but you have to understand, this was “my baby” having to go into that theatre and she is as important to me as you are to her.

We arrived at the Royal Bolton Hospital and somehow made our way through the maze of signs and corridors.

Almost unnoticed by a all of us, was a woman in a coast and scarf walking just in front of us. As we climbed the stairs, she climbed the stairs.  As we approached the Ward, she was right in front of us and keyed a pass code which opened the door.  As she walked in, we  walked in right behind her. As we got to the reception deck, she turned and asked your Mum’s name.  “Arielle Amici,” Mummy responded… Without missing a beat (and without taking off her coat and scarf) she led us down a long corridor to the very last room on the left.

ward-corridor

Two of the four beds, in the room, were occupied as the lady with the coat and scarf showed Mummy the bed that would be hers, for the next few days.

It was still dark in the room, as the Moms and babies were still sleeping and the everyday hustle and bustle of a busy maternity ward hadn’t yet begun.

By now, my daughter (your Mummy) was showing signs of excitement as she noticed the empty baby bassinet just an arms length away from where she sat on her bed.

I think she was beginning to realise that this was “really happening” and in a matter of  hours you would be here and all of lives will be forever changed.

bassinett

Mummy and I “Oooooo,” and “Ahhhhhh” as one of the newborn baby’s in the room started to stir and began to make “cooing” sounds.  Daddy smiled at us, thinking we’re silly and knowing that soon he and Mummy will have their own cooing, gurgling little bundle of joy.

The consultant came in and talked to Mummy and Daddy about the best way to get you out! They agree on a plan, and off he went; a real no nonsense kind of guy.

We were left waiting again and wondering what happens next…

mummy-and-daddy

Maybe a half an hour passed and a nurse came in and told Mummy that she was first on the schedule and asked if she was ready to go down theatre!

(I wondered to myself, are any of us EVER ready for what was about to happen?)

Its all happened very fast! Mummy jumped up. Daddy jumped up. The nurse led the way and we all walked down the corridor, down the stairs and into the Delivery Suite, where all the action would take place!

I couldn’t go with Mummy and Daddy and I couldn’t stay on the Ward.  I was a Mommy without a daughter and a Grandma without a Grandchild.

It was only 9:30 and visiting hours would not officially start until 2:30… “UGH… what am I going to do for the next few hours ?”  For lack of a better place to go, I go to the hospital restaurant and try to relax.

As I drink my tea, it hit me!

I better start writing this story, because some day you may want to hear about the day you were born and maybe I won’t be around to tell you about it… I hope I am, but as you’ll  learn, there are a lot of things in this life that we have no control over; life and death are just two of them.

I get lost in my writing and almost don’t hear the “ping” of the message, as it came into my phone. It was from Daddy and he was excited to tell me you have arrived!

His exact written words were; “He’s here and he’s perfect!” 

I ask about Mummy and he told me she is fine.  (Whew, I was able to breath again)

I sit in the hospital restaurant with tears of joy rolling down my face. You were here, you were perfect and my little girl (who is now a Mummy herself!) was safe and sound!

I was so very grateful.

Daddy told me if I hurried downstairs I might catch a glimpse of you and Mummy as they took you both back to the Ward, where you’d be staying for a few days.

I arrive downstairs with my camera ready.

Soon, the double doors opened and I saw two nurses pushing a bed;  Yeah, it was Mummy and Daddy!!!

Snap, snap, snap I took lots of photos.

long-corridor  corridor-2 happy-corridor

All of a sudden I heard Mummy say, “Do you want to take pictures or do you want to see your Grandson?”

What? 

As I slowly took the camera away from my face, and looked down… there you were!  You were the tiniest, little, red faced, cutest baby in the whole world.

Your Daddy was right, you were here and you were perfect.

The rest of that day, Monday, January 30th, 2017 is a blur.

After what seemed like hours and many phone calls and text messages, I finally got to really see you again and hold you for the first time.

me-and-you

Yes, I was a bit “over the moon” to say the least!

I think Mummy and Daddy had by this time decided that they would keep you and “No,” Grandma wasn’t going to be able to steal you away as planned. *Drat*

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The day flashed by in what seemed like a few minutes and before I knew it, it was over; I was home in bed thanking God for the most perfect day.

I asked the gods and the universe to bless you and to keep you safe.  I asked that I live long enough to meet you properly, have some amazing adventures with you, and to watch you grow into (at least) a young man.  My eyes closed and I quickly fell fast asleep.

And that was your first day my sweet, baby boy.

You must always remember, no matter what, that you were our “miracle baby,” my little “Zeus,” and the most wanted, loved, cherished and adored baby EVER.

Love Grandma

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Zeus, God of the Sky

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Several months ago (8 to be exact) I found out that my youngest daughter was pregnant with her first child.

This was (and still is) a huge miracle, because less than two years prior to this mind blowing announcement, I stood in a small hospital in Kent anxiously awaiting news about my daughter’s condition after months of chemo and a surgery!

I wasn’t sure there would ever even be a child, so to hear this news was quite astonishing!

As the months went on and I watched her normally flat belly grow bigger and rounder, I started to believe that this might actually be happening; perhaps I wasn’t dreaming!

I remember thinking about my two grandsons (18 and 6) and about the differences in my relationship with each of them. I wondered what this grandchild would be like and what our relationship would look like?

I had helped to raise my oldest grandson.  I was there when he was born; I got to cut the cord; the Doctor handed him to me after the “all clear” was given. He was (still is) my pride and joy!  The bond we shared was very special and in those early years we were as thick as thieves, inseparable.

When I moved to the UK he was only 12 and I believe putting that time and distance between us (along with the fact that he was growing up and becoming a young man) seemed to take it’s toll on our relationship. We’re still close and I know he loves me very much (and I love him with all my heart) but for the time being we have lost touch with who we are as individuals.  I have no doubt he will mature and as I grow older, he and I will once again  become inseparable.

My youngest grandson was born 5 months after I moved to the UK.  Our relationship was built on Skype. I was the loud, lady with the funny hair, who once or twice a week showed up on Mummy’s laptop screen.  We had fun; talked about toys and daycare and Santa, but I think ultimately, I was the one who took Mummy’s attention away…  I remember when he was in his terrible two’s, he’d walk up to the laptop, look at the screen and gently push the cover to a *click* … conversation over.  I’ve met him less than 10 times and we don’t know each other as well as I’d like, but he knows who I am; he knows I love him and that he will always be a part of my life.

At least I’ll live in the same country as my new grandchild, but we too will be separated by distance.  With about 204 miles (328 km.) between us, it’s not like I’ll be babysitting a lot!

Only time will tell what our relationship will be like or even if he’ll like me… *just kidding* of course he’ll like me!!!  I’ll be the crazy lady who takes him on GREAT adventures, if even only occasionally.

Oh, by the way we do know that this grandchild is also a boy, so it will actually be my third grandson!

I’m cool with that. I get little boys… I believe boys may be a bit easier at least in the  childhood years.  Perhaps they’re not as complex as girls.  I know, I know that sounds really sexist and I have nothing to base that belief on, nor can I prove it.  It just feels right to me!

Finding the perfect name for this third grandchild has proven to be difficult for the  parents and although they knew that he was a he early on…

{Ahhhhh crap, I’m sorry… I need to go off on a tangent here.  I know, I’m probably supposed to be using a non gender specific pronoun here, but please, please just give me a break!  I’m old, I’ve been saying he and she for 60+ years, it’s a hard habit to break!  Please believe me when I say, I don’t give a rat’s ass if this child grows up and identifies as L, G, B, T, X, Y or Z… I will love “Ne” {a gender neutral pronoun} unconditionally, with all my heart, just as I love the other two grandchildren!)

Where was I?

Oh, right… lack of a name.   So because Mum & Dad  have not been able to agree on the perfect name, I have been calling my new, unborn grandson Zeus.  

Hey, it’s as good as anything, right?

I think it may have been Nick’s brainchild and it just stuck… well, it stuck with me at least.

Since giving him this nickname, I have come to learn that that real Zeus was actually a  total badass!!!

Zeus was the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. Apparently, he got a little cocky overthrew his father (Okay, I agree, not cool!) and drew lots with his brothers in order to decide who would succeed the father on the throne.  Quoting www.greekmythology.com/Olympians/Zeus/zeus.html, Zeus won the draw and became the supreme ruler of the gods, as well as lord of the sky and rain!

Using his weapon of choice (which was nothing less than freaking thunderbolt!!) he could create all natural phenomena related to the air and the sky.  If you pissed him off, he’d conjure up wicked storms, tempests and intense darkness. At his command thunder would roll and lightning would flash, wreaking havoc on everyone!

Amazing!!!!!

Not a bad nickname after all, right?

Soooo… anyway, it looks like my, little “Zeus,” will be welcomed into this world on Monday, January, 30th, 2017. (He’ll be an Aquarius.)

I’m sure his well intentioned, albeit mortal, parents will decide to formally name him something far less cool... but in my heart he will always be Zeus, just like the god of the sky.

And I can’t wait to tell him what he’s capable of.

Speaking with Spirits

spirits

It’s been several days since I met with the Medium in the small, quaint, London apothecary come coffee shop;  I guess I needed time and space to process the experience.

Yes, yes, I know…  I can hear your groans and see your eyes rolling from here!

Put aside your rational, logical, naysayer beliefs for just one moment;  even YOU must admit that you’re the teeny, tiniest bit intrigued by this, right?

Oh come on!  We’ve all wondered about the “other side.”  

We’ve all dared to imagine that it just might exist.  We’ve perhaps even wondered (privately, of course) if we might be able to communicate with a friend or loved one, who’s crossed over.

And wouldn’t that be awesome!

My day started off like any other.  An agreement to meet at London Victoria, we’d find a quiet place to talk and just see what (if anything) unfolded.

We weren’t strangers per say, but more like friends or acquaintances who had never actually met each other face to face.

She was exactly as I had anticipated; warm, welcoming and unassuming.  She had the kindest eyes and an infectious laugh as well as a beautiful smile.  There was a soft, reserved, quietness about her that made me feel immediately calm and at ease.

Being “me,” I just couldn’t help asking questions about her life? Family? Friends? History? We chatted for over an hour and then it was time.

She was supposed to “read” me first… to get a sense of who I was; the kind of person I am and what I’m about, so to speak.

The first word that came out of her mouth was “Horses.”

(Okay… yes, I like horses, I guess… at least as much the next guy I suppose.) 

However, if you know me, you know I was hoping to connect with my brother Charlie; and if you know Charlie you know his most favourite thing in the world (along with watching football) was Horse Racing! 

He LOVED everything about horse racing! The horses, their names; the jockeys, the  design and colours of their silks, the trainers and the tracks.  He went to the Saratoga Race Course opening every year!  He had visited Aquaduct, Gulfstream, The Meadowlands and more.

(Okay, she had my attention!)   

She talked about my childhood; my being outside a lot in nature; running through long grass, playing “pretend” and hide and seek games, climbing trees.  (I loved climbing trees. I lived in the top of “The Apple Tree.”)  She said she saw me as a “Tom Boy.”  

She could see the wispy tops of the long wheat grass, floating thick in the air as a bunch of us kids ran through it.

She was reminded of Huckleberry Finn.  I was reminded of Bell Hill and Green Hill Park.

(Seriously, how did she know I was Tom Boy?) 

I laughed as I admitted that I hadn’t realise I was a “girl” until I was about 10 and yes all of what she had told me, about the type of person I was, my childhood and my sensitivities… was all right on the money!

His {Charlie’s} first words were something like, “I never thought I’d be talking to you through this Little Witch, but here I am.”

(Damn! That sure sounds like Charlie!)

He was excited and happy to be there.  He thanked me and apologised for always being in a bad mood towards the end and for taking things out on me.  He said he was not ready to go and that he had a very difficult time accepting that this was is fate.  He struggled to accept the “defeat.”

What?

Do I remember the barking dog?  Hmmmm?

OMG!  Yes, yes I do remember the barking dog!

(When Charlie was really sick the next door neighbour’s dog would be tied up from early morning till after dark and at some point during the day, he would start BARKING like crazy, for hours!  Charlie used to curse both the dog and the owner.) 

He told me that when he was sick, I was kind.

He laughed again at the fact that he was speaking through this “Little Witch”

She laughed and said he had a nice smile.

(He did have a nice smile.  He had the BEST smile!  A Cheshire Cat grin, I always used to say.)

He said he was ok now, and that I should not worry about him. He said he never thought he’d have to go so early, and that in the end he felt “humiliated” and “pissed off.”

(He was embarrassed by his illness and humiliated.  Pissed off, would definitely be a word he would use to describe his feelings! )

Now, he knows it was the right time and that being here was a gift.

He told me he loved me.  He was proud of me and again that I worry too much.

He laughed at the thought of my first cigarette and how I always had trouble “rolling.”

(Hmmm?  Weird.  I smoked Newport’s or Marlboro’s, which came pre-rolled in a box?) 

OH SHIT!

I get it, yes…  Yes, he’s right!!!

I could not roll a joint, to save my life!!!!

Yes, that is funny!

He talked about how he sometimes missed being here…  but how he especially missed the  taste of an iced cold “beer.”  

(WHAT?  This made my day! Charlie loved beer.  He washed is cancer meds down with beer! He had beer for breakfast.  This more than anything made me believe he just might be there.)

He also used the word “fuck,” (another convincing sign) but I was so busy laughing, I can’t remember the context.

He said I’d remember the “creaking floorboards” (which I do) and all the wood in the house.  He mentioned all of us kids running up and down the wooden stairs.  (Hey Mark… do you remember the noise we made as we all ran up and down the back stairs?)

He said there was a time that we were apart, but we ended up back together again.  (Yup… that would be when he was in prison for 5 years.)

He told me he knew I had always been there for him and that even when I disapproved of something he had done or was doing, he never felt that I judged him.

He said he loved me.

I said I loved him.

There was more to the day…  there was so much more.

A good friend.

My father.

Someone mentioned the fact that as a child I had a “nickname.”  Was it Lisa?  Lissa?  (Yes, it was Lissa. )

The time went by so fast.  Before I knew it, 4 hours had past and I had been taken on a journey through various parts of my life.

I listened, laughed, cried…  Mostly I just remembered. I remembered things I had long forgotten.

It was an amazing experience.

Yes, I feel your scepticism.  I know that many people will think I’m silly and will question my intelligence, my sanity or both…  and that’s okay.

It was MY experience. It was real to me and that is really all that matters.

In the end does it really matter?  Does anyone really care what I believe in? Isn’t it about whatever makes each and every one of us happy, content, safe and secure?

Isn’t about whatever helps us through this crazy life?

As Frank Sinatra said,  “Basically, I’m for anything that gets you through the night – be it prayer, tranquilizers or a bottle of Jack Daniels.”  

Maybe even a Medium.

Peace Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brand New Life

baby-being-born

I heard a woman crying out in pain, but didn’t think it too unusual, since my office (at the Royal Sussex County Hospital) is adjacent to A&E.

Every once in a while I hear people crying out in pain or the occasional drunk person crying  at the top of his/her lungs…  (which by the way is a very distinctive type of crying. It’s more like sound someone would make if their heart was hurting;  as opposed to a physical pain sound; either way it’s gut wrenching, just the same.)

Today was different than anything I had ever heard, since I started working at the RSCH. This woman’s cry’s was more  guttural and rhythmic; and it seemed to be coming from within her soul!

The cries became louder and louder over the minute or so I was conscious of hearing them. I remember thinking, “I hope a Nurse or Doctor get to her soon, because this sounds serious.”

Then I heard someone yell, “The baby’s coming!”

“WHAT?????”

“BABY?”

You have to understand, I work on a ward where the average age of our patients is about 70!  Most of our patients are very elderly and sick.  I don’t get to see a lot of children or babies.

So this I had to see!

I ran into the hall and about 15 feet away from the entrance to my office, was a woman, on her knees; gripping the arms of the wheelchair (that I assume, until a minute or so ago, she had been sitting in!)  She was now wailing in pain.

There were already a few people squatting down behind her, so I knelt down next to her; I  started  rubbing her back and whispering into her ear, telling her how GREAT she was doing and how everything was going to be fine.

Within about 30 seconds (no joke!), I look over to see a chubby, wet, purplish, little, baby girl pop out into the air!

One of our doctors was there just in time to catch her just as a nurse came running around the corner with towels.

I heard someone yelling for  “clamps” and then heard the sound of a new born baby crying.

There is no other sound, like that, in all the world.

One of the nurses yelled, “Can all non-essential people, please, step back,”and I took that as my cue, to step away and watch from my office door.

The staff were quick to put up screens and give the poor woman and her daughter some privacy, which was good!  And the hallway was left littered with non hospital employees, standing around with stunned looks on their faces, not knowing how to get where they were going.

A newborn baby’s cry was still very much present.

About 10 minutes later I left my office to go over to the ward and they had just started  rolling the woman down the corridor, off to maternity, I imagine…  As they rolled her past me, she was all smiles and holding her brand new baby girl in her arms; the baby was wrapped in blood stained hospital towels, and still screaming her head off!

I smiled at them both and they passed by and tears came to my eyes.

How amazingly beautiful.

My last blog post was about dying; as are so many of my writings, thoughts, and conversations… but this, THIS was all about LIFE.  Life at it’s most real and at it’s rawest.

I thought about the family, all the way home; I imagined how years from now, the little girl will ask Mommy and Daddy what happened on the day she was born…  and they will tell their beautiful, little girl how she was so excited to be born, that she just could not wait!  They will explain how she was born in a hallway, at the hospital, while her Mom was kneeling on a dirty floor, with strangers all around…

Hopefully they’ll all laugh and remember it as the best day of their lives!

I know, as days go… this one was definitely right up for me!

 

 

 

 

Perusing the Obituaries

obit

Today, while thumbing through the New York Times, I stumbled across the Obituary section.  I don’t know why I started reading the Obits; I live in the UK and don’t know a lot of people in New York, but I did.

After about 20 minutes of reading sad, short, snippets about the lives and deaths of these strangers I (surprisingly) came face to face with my own mortality!  Right there, staring me in the face!

I  too am going to die.

It was unnerving (to say the least) to realise… no seriously, to REALLY REALISE, that I am going to die!  And based on the ages of the people I just read about, it may not be that far off!

Jay Fishman, 63

Bill Lenkaitis, 70

Juan Gabriel, 66

George Curry, 69

I turned 62 in May of this year and I am absolutely astounded by this fact, because in my head (and in my heart) I’m about 35, at the very most.

Today’s surprising realisation was particularly poignant, because I think I do death pretty well.  Over the years, when faced with the demise of a close friend, loved one or stranger, I have calmly and methodically;

anticipated the death,

considered the death,

prayed for the death,

been humbled by the death,

welcomed the death,

and ultimately, accepted the death.

As I said, I truly believe I do death better than most people.

I talk about it, read about it, sit with it; I am comfortable and totally open to it.  So to actually be a little freaked out by the fact that I am going to die, was surprising!

However, upon further reflection, throughout the day, I realised that I am not so much afraid of dying, as much as I am afraid of dying before I do the things I always thought I’d do, before I died.

Does that make sense?

The way I figure it, if I’m lucky, I have maybe 10 years left.  If that’s true, when am I going to Nepal?  How the hell old will I be when I walk the Camino de Santiago?  At what age will I finally move into my little country cottage, with the front and back gardens?  The home where I’ll live the rest of my life and die in.  Will I be too old to drive my  vintage Mini Cooper, when I finally own it?  When will I figure out what I want to be when I grow up?

WTF?  Am I running out of time!?

It seems as you age, time has a way of passing much more quickly, than it did when you were young.  I’ve been told that and it definitely seems to be true.  However, I’ll be just as surprised by my death as you, when it happens.  And I’m going to be mad as hell too, because I’m sure there will still be some really cool things on my “Bucket List,” which I’ll never get to cross out.

Time is precious.

Time is  fleeting.

Time evaporates right in front of your eyes; like watching a teaspoon of sugar in a glass of warm water.  One second you see a million, beautiful white granules swirling around, then  the next second you see nothing, but crystal clear water.

We all know time is precious. Yet somehow we all get all caught up in the bullshit and trivia of our own little lives and we forget (all too easily) that we too come with a “Sell by” date.  We may stick around for a bit longer, but we won’t be at our best, and eventually, we’ll be forced to go.

So… after this epiphany…  I’ve decided, next Sunday, I’m going with the London Times and instead of reading the Obits, I’m going to read the Real Estate Section and then perhaps the Classifieds… because my vintage Mini Cooper is out there somewhere, and I’m going to claim her, before it’s to late.

How to Lose Your Facebook Friends

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2016 kicked off with the promises of sustained happiness and renewed growth. My life is colourfully comfortable, rich and interesting; but at the same time there is an overall sense of calmness and order.

It’s surprising to me when I look back over over the past 8 months and realise that I have lost {as in they chose to not be friends with me any longer} not one, but two Facebook friends!

Think about that for a second… two people have consciously decided that they no longer want to co-exist in a cyber, social media space… with me.

How extraordinary!

When I analyse the facts surrounding these “de-friendings,” both are male, over 50, married, Republican, both have known me for over 30 years (although remotely), both white, both are in a very comfortable financial bracket.  One I worked with for many years and the other was a close neighbour for over 15 years.

If you know me at all; and you’ve known me for any length of time, you probably have come to the conclusion that I can be a bit of a “rebel.”  (Okay, okay perhaps a trouble-maker, rabble-rouser, instigator, provocateur… a general pain in the ass!)  However, I assure you that is not a metamorphosis that as taken place recently!

I was born asking “Why,” rooting for the underdog, having strong opinions, disagreeing with the status quo.  I remember when I was about 8 or 9,  my Dad telling me that God was so strong, that he could do anything.  After thinking about this for a few minutes I asked if He could make a boulder that was so big, that even He wouldn’t be able to lift it.  Hmmm? Maybe that’s why my Dad didn’t talk to me much?

Anyway, I digress…  I the point is, I have ALWAYS been like this.

When these to two now ex-friends really “knew” me, as in saw me on a daily basis, hung out with me, talked face to face with me, this is the ME they knew.  Strong, opinionated, stubborn {bordering on pig-headed}, a little left of centre, controversial, loud, brash, argumentative…  and all the rest!  I have not changed, in these regards.

So why now?  Why do you decide after 30 years you no longer want top be exposed to the various  posts, photos and opinions of someone who’s company you used to enjoy? Someone who made you laugh, made you think?

My first “de-friending” was straightforward.  He was offended by my frequent use of the  “F” word, plain and simple. (Or so I believe)  He publicly  suggested I not use the word so much; I seriously thought he was kidding and responded by saying if he didn’t like it, he could “fucking de-friend me.”   He did.

WOW! Really?

I didn’t pick this word up in the last 10 or 20 years.  It has been a major staple in my vocabulary since I was 16 or 17.  He had heard that word come out of my mouth a thousand of times…  but that last post, where I used “that” word again, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

This last de-friending is a lot more complicated.  If I am left of center, my ex-friend is definitely right of center.

We frequently debated world events publicly and much to the amusement of our other FB friends.  We’d go back and forth until one of us would say, “Okay, let’s just agree to disagree.”  We’d laugh it off and go on our merry way.

However, I recently felt things getting too heated and I sent him a private message saying I thought our debates were getting a bit to personal and out of hand and I thought we should invoke a “truce.”  He should not comment on any of my posts and I would not comment on any of his.  We could debate privately, but not drag it into the public arena.  It seemed like a good solution to a problem that was getting out of hand.

He agreed and all was quiet on the FB front… until I posted my opinion about Colin Kaepernick’s right to sit while the National Anthem was played at an American football game.

My now ex-friend came out slinging!

We went vehemently back and forth in our usual style, with a hight level of conviction and vigour…  until it turned nasty.  We both started to take little shots at the other, implying {if not straight out saying} what an idiot we each thought the other was, and why he (or I) was so totally WRONG!  I’m not proud of that… it’s just the way it went down.

In all truthfulness, in the end we both came to the conclusion that being FB friends was not healthy for either of us and I guess we made a joint decision to break it off {but, he broke the fucking truce!}

It’s really very sad in a way, because as I said to him, if two individuals, who have known each other for 30+ years can’t just “agree to disagree,” respect the other’s right to his/her opinion and walk away; how are large, diverse masses of people, i.e. blacks/whites, men/women, Christians/Muslims, Americans/and the rest of the world, etc supposed to not end up hating each other and trying to obliterate the other?

Oh… I see… maybe we can’t.

From Chemo to Canapés

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I remember being handed a phone, at 5:00 am on a Saturday morning.  I heard my youngest daughter’s voice saying,  “Okay, Mom… don’t freak out.”  

The Moms out there already know that the very next thing I did was to initiate a “Total Freak Out” count down sequence, because according to “The Mother’s Guide to Appropriate Reactions,” that was and still is the correct protocol for this particular situation.

Half asleep, but already in moderate panic mode, the next words I heard her say were “cancer” and “hospital.”

That was all I needed to hear.

Time stopped.

My body went totally numb and tingly.

A nightmare had begun.

Hearing that your 30 year old daughter has ovarian cancer is a shock under any circumstances, but I was on holiday in the US and she was alone in England.  I may as well have been on the moon, because we were light years apart and I felt totally hollow and useless.

The next few days are now a blur, but thank goodness they are well documented. As I sat on the plane from Miami to London, less than 24 hours after receiving that call, I wrote my very first Blog post and “rantingsofamadwomenblog” was born.

The nightmare began in July and it wasn’t until February that I began to stir.  My daughter had undergone 3 cycles of chemotherapy (more than 20 sessions) and a major surgery. And although she wore the bald badge of cancer, she was feeling strong, confident and talking about going back to work!  Need I add, “Much to my dismay?”

She wanted her life to go “back to normal.”  She wanted to put all this stupid cancer stuff behind her and just move on.  To her, it was like it never happened. It was just an insignificant blip on the radar.

I too would have loved to have forgotten about this nightmare!  However, isn’t it true that nightmares have a way of lingering?  All of the horrifying, disturbing, little details; lying just below your consciousness.  They swirl around in your head undetected and then pop out and scare you to death, when you least expect them.

So, for me… the nightmare continued even as I lingered between sleep and reality.  I found myself, on High Alert, Defcon 1, Guard Duty.  How I ever let this happen in the first place was a question that would haunt me forever, but I damn sure would NEVER let anything like this happen again.

Days turned into weeks; weeks turned into months; and months have now, unbelievably turned into one and a half years and all is well.

I remain optimistically cautious.  I say my prayers, keep my fingers crossed and barter regularly with God.  So far he has kept up His end of the deal,and He hasn’t collected yet, so I’m still here.

Last Friday evening at about 5:30 pm the phone rang.  I don’t like when the home phone rings, because it rings so infrequently my fist thought is,  “OMG, what’s happened?!”  I hesitantly answered, “Hello.”  The first thing I heard, coming down the other end of the line was an unearthly, yet joyous, shrieking sound.  I then heard my daughter’s voice saying, “Mom, I’m engaged!!!” 

That was all I heard.

Time stood still.

My body went totally numb and tingly.

A Mother’s dream had begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Face of Pancreatic Cancer

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It’s not like I didn’t know this was coming…  I mean she had “Pancreatic Cancer,”  for goodness sake!

It was going to happen eventually and by all accounts it should have happened long before now!  Four and a half years is long time, especially for this type of cancer where 74% of patients die within the first year of diagnosis!  So… on the whole I’d say, she did amazingly well!

Don’t get me wrong she went through HELL every step of the way, but to an outsider’s eye it seemed that she managed the disease, her treatment and all of the setbacks with little concern and a whole lot of grace and dignity.

I remember receiving the IM from her…  We were both still working at American Express, she was in Florida and I was here in Brighton.  There was an urgency in this one line instant message.  It simply said:  “Can we talk?”  

We were talking within the hour.  She was as warm and friendly as always, but distracted, as we exchanged proverbial greetings.  When the niceties were done, I heard her voice change and become quite serious as she said, “Meliss, I wanted to talk to you because I’ve been diagnosed with…  pancreatic cancer.”  

The words hit me like a ton of bricks. Time stopped.  I could not speak for what seemed like ages. I just sat there, staring at the phone in shock and in absolute, total disbelief of what I had just heard.

My brain raced as I thought things like:  Wait!!!  You don’t smoke or drink. You didn’t do drugs or have a risky lifestyle. You’re younger than me!  No, wait… you’re a Mom and my friend and a Christian!  How could this possibly be?  

She broke the silence by saying, “I know that’s what your brother had, so I wanted to talk to you about what’s it’s “really” going to be like.”

How do you even begin to explain to a good friend; a woman you’ve known and loved for 13 years,  what (you believe) it’s going to be like living with (and most likely dying with) pancreatic cancer?

Charlie had died 3 years before and walking on that path with him nearly pushed me over the edge. She knew all of this.  She and I had sat in the lunch room or during our Saturday Morning  breakfasts and talked about all of it.  She had listened to my stories and watched as I flew back and forth from Ft Lauderdale to Boston tying to help him and manage his treatments.  She had seen first hand, the toll it took on me and had heard all the horrible stories about how “it” was ravaging his body.  She also knew that he had lasted only 9 months.

How could I possibly sweeten this bitter pill?

I have no idea what I actually said to her during that conversation. If I know me, I would have been honest with her, but probably added sprinkles of optimism, like; “Maybe they caught it early!”  “Maybe you’ll be eligible for the Whipple surgery! ”

I saw her only several times in the past few years, but we exchanged emails, phone calls,  Skyped occasionally and kept up with each other on Facebook.

In all this time since her diagnosis, I never once heard her ask “Why me?”  There was never an utterance of anything close to what I would call a complaint.  She openly accepted that this was her fate and she was going to live her life on her terms and to fullest for however long she had left.  …and by God she did.

She was always well informed and realistic about her prospects, but exuded a faith and hope that left even me believing that if anyone could beat this, it would be her!

And you know what, she did!  She beat all the odds.  She made the Medical Journals. She kept Oncologists around the country, scratching their heads!

She had a full and beautiful life for a lot longer than anyone ever expected.  And in the time she had she touched the lives and hearts of so many people. She was a beacon of light and hope and she generously passed that onto others who were struggling with the same disease.  She was authentic and brave, loving and strong.

She was truly one of a kind and I miss her.

Godspeed Ava.

Thank you for being such a good friend to me and for showing me what grace, hope and faith looks like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#glennfrey

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I know it’s stupid! Totally irrational. I don’t usually react to news like this… like this! I didn’t know the man; never even met him, but the news of his death has left me feeling numb, yet absolutely grief stricken.

Not in an obsessed, starry eyed, “I love you Glenn” sort of way, but to me, his death (more than the others) reinforces a disturbing trend… the heroes of my youth are dying and with them goes a little piece of me.

The Eagles came together in 1971. At that time, I was an idealistic, impressionable, angry 17 year old “hippie.” The “Summer of Love” had long since ended and the world was fast becoming a truly fucked up place. JFK, Bobby, and Martin and been murdered and with them went all of our hope and optimism. Integration may have been the law, but inequality and hatred of Blacks was still the general feeling across the country. The Attica Prison riot resulted in the deaths of 10 hostages and 29 inmates. Jim Morrison was found dead in a bath tub in Paris and Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia. (We had lost Janis the year before, tragic!) The Vietnam war was still raging on and in Washington DC, 15,000 soldiers and police arrested more than 7,000 people protesting the war. … Richard Nixon was President. “Nuff said.”

When The Eagles dropped their first album (Eagles) in 1972, I was 18 and living on my own in a small one bedroom apartment, on the wrong side of town. Disagreements about who I could and could not date and unreasonable curfews made it clear that I needed “to split.” This album gave us songs like “Take it Easy,” “Witchy Woman” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” What was not to like? The sound was fresh, the lyrics were timeless and the harmonies… perfection.

This was the best time of life! I had come into my own and was now “allowed” to hang with my two older brothers! This was momentous! (Before now, I was thought to be the “bratty little sister” and was prohibited from coming within a certain number of feet from either of them.) Things were now much more “laid back” between us… we hung out, shared music, had a drink together (the drinking age had been temporarily dropped to 18 in 1971!) and every once in a while we’d “burn one.”

The Eagles music had a huge impact on my generation from the early 1970’s until 1980, when the band imploded. By the time they got back together in 1993, my brothers had moved on both literally and musically; but when the Hell Freezes Over album was released, I fell right back in love with them and their music.

I am grateful that I have had the privilege of seeing The Eagles in concert at least 5 if not 6 times. The most recent was in 2014 when Nick and I travelled up to Birmingham to see them and they did not disappoint.

I get it now… I see that this numbness and grief is simply a byproduct of me subconsciously struggling with my own mortality.  …but the fact remains, Glenn Frey is dead and with him goes a small part of me and my youth.

Take it easy Glenn… take it easy.