What was the one experience that completely changed your life? What happened? How did it change your life?
Sometimes writing prompts are helpful. Sometimes they are not. The experience of having a child released from hospital to your home, after a serious illness was one of the most defining moments of my life. Of all of our lives, of that I am sure.
Jay had begun his first day of high school just like any other kid who was transferring to a larger school. He had first year orientation to attend, wearing his new school uniform, hot off the stockroom from Donnally’s. He looked so much older, and I saw the maturity that had taken place over the summer when he wore that new school logo. He was ready for school! We did the typical first day of school thing we has always done, getting his picture taken on the front steps of the house, in his new uniform, all ready and beaming. I felt so proud of my guy, but was having tiny doubts about his ability to handle the course load he was walking into. All normal parent thoughts. By the end of that day, I would be told that it could very well be his last day on this earth. At that moment, I flashed back to the feeling of the front step, earlier at the start of what seemed hard to believe, was the same day. Suddenly, Honor classes and course loads were replaced by Last Rites of the sick and dying. This was anything but the typical first day of school.
So, it is going to be a new year, very soon, kind and gentle readers. My days begin early, Usually 6:45 a.m. It surprises me to write this and see it on the page, since more than most of my life has been made up of going to bed too late and rising in time for the first lunch period in any High School in America. I was a performer for a number of years, working until 11 or 12 am, then returning home with a fantastic case of adrenaline that lingered till two or three in the morning. Unexpected changes were on the horizon.
Another unexpected in my life has been the new addition of a beautiful blanket of snow. It came in the best possible way, the way you’d hoped and prayed for, when you were a child who still believed in Santa Claus and happy endings to stories. Luckily for me, I never outgrew the ability to believe in all things good. This year, Santa still came to our house, thanks to that magical snow that fell on Christmas Eve. What every child hopes for!
It was the most beautiful of snowfalls. Simple, softly surrounding you with light, clarity, unexpected and even a bit scary, mostly because you didn’t believe Christmas Eve snowfalls were possible, anymore. I’m 52 years old. I wasn’t really into Santa or snow falling on Christmas Eve. I do recall a time we had a blizzard in New Jersey, one Christmas Eve, years and years ago in another life. It had snowed into the early evening and through Christmas morning! Living in a small village, all the homes put luminaries on their walkways and property abutting the street. I still remember how beautiful life was then, the whiteness of the snow turning a soft shade of yellow from the candlelight. I walked through the town at one am, amazed by how wonderful life is. And still is.
Snow. Love. Unexpected. Unplanned for. Life is like living in a snow globe, these days. Prior to this I had lived three and a half years of my life being sad and strong, always strong, without a choice. Before that, my son was hit by a car and given Last Rights and five surgeries for walking in the cross walk. I will never forget James’ fourth surgery followup was the day of my husbands’ first surgery. New Year’s Eve was spent with sparkling cider in ICU, looking out at Narragansett Bay and promising to myself the next year would be better. I do hospitals well, but I prefer not to, anymore, thank you very much.
So, this love. A new love. I never would have expected it. A gift. Like the snow globe Does it end my blog? No. My life is not over, yet. However, there is a new chapter, looming. The new year has opened up the possibilities of publishing my first novel. This thing called life is remarkable. Very much like snow on Christmas Eve. I was given the gift of the snow globe from my bereavement specialist, around the time of my late husband Scott’s birthday, December 5th. He would have been 53. In heaven, he is still 51, which has always been my favorite number, as long as I can remember. He will always be 51, in my heart. His cardinal visits me, every morning, on the branch outside the window where I write this and many other thoughts down. Yesterday, however, it was different. Scotts’ cardinal was there, but was joined by another, equally beautiful one. They stayed for some time, with clarity and song, announcing the newly falling snow and reminding me of the snow globe and the words on the base of it that counsels.”Love Like It Is Never Going To Hurt”. I will try.
There was a running theme in my relationship with Scott. I don’t recall how it began, or who’s idea it was or even how it became reduced to one word. If I had to venture a guess, I would say it was around the time I was a very busy woman, raising a four and a half-year old who asked nonstop questions and experimented by putting sand into just filled ice-cube trays, to see if it would freeze. (it didn’t) Combine that with a fifteen room house that was too big for a woman to clean by herself, a breastfeeding five month old and a four-day a week job teaching as a visiting artist in a private school, and that is probably the point where I wanted to escape my life, sometimes. Funny, how when you ask the universe for everything in your heart and it comes to fruition, how we don’t recall asking for those things!
I was 38 years old and very tired with a second child and a husband who had an exciting job and traveled all over the place, doing what he loved. He was also doing what I loved… and that would be the point of contention in my heart, for some time. Women had grown up being told to “Go for It!”, you can have it all. I was feeling mediocre at everything, for I surely couldn’t stay up past 7:40 pm and my idea of going for it was taking my son out for a special date night on Tuesdays at five pm, at Friendly’s! His date with me consisted of a clown sundae, with mint chip ice cream and the cone inverted to look like a clown hat.
Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, Scott was getting ready to fly to Europe. He was doing a series of jobs for Citibank, and the Director decided he wanted to shoot in London and Paris. Please understand, most of this was shot on a Greenscreen, meaning it could have been filmed in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It didn’t matter where. Scott did a good job at hiding his excitement for leaving. I would be a liar if I didn’t admit I was not so secretly feeling resentful and put upon. I know there is no logic with this, just emotions. I also know I would never try to tell any woman to work or not work while having children. It’s a journey not set in stone, and there is no one correct way. I’d welcome your feedback, after reading this. Many roads lead to Rome, and we are all just making it up as we go along.
Paris! That’s it! The word that meant to escape your life for a while. It later became our code for: The Future. If pain became too great for him, we would talk about Paris. The Eiffel Tower. The Salons.We spoke of meeting in Paris in 1905, in the future. If you are a believer of past, present and future all happening at the same time, this is a comforting idea when you are losing someone from this earth. The escapism from the reality of suffering, as well as dreams lost and trips not taken. We thought we had all the time in the world to do these things. We were mistaken. Nobody knows what the future will bring. A huge lesson learned. No Regrets. Live your life, now.
Postscript: Seven weeks after Scott died, I fell down my stairs from a sheer lack of sleep, dropping my laptop. After a week in the hospital, I was back home, but moving very slowly. I had an idea to start writing about my experiences, but now lacked a computer. There was a doorbell, and the UPS guy left a package. It was from my Aunt Teresa, from Florida. I opened the package and it was a laptop! Eternally grateful, I turned it on, and the first image that came up was a vintage photograph of The Eiffel Tower. Underneath it, were the words, “Paris, 1905”. It still makes me cry, tears of gratitude. Life is good, isn’t it?
I have something that I have told very few people. When Scott died, a year and a half ago, I did not have a plan for a burial. I know that sounds irresponsible and perhaps an extreme case of denial on my part, but it really wasn’t. He being Jewish and I being Catholic, we had always had to think through and negotiate every ritual in our lives. Like when we got married. I just assumed we would have the ceremony in the home Parish I grew up in, in Massachusetts. I had had all of my Sacraments there, so I assumed my life would follow along the same course. How Naive of me. When I called my Church rectory and told them I was marring a Jewish man, the response was: “Not here, you’re not.” “Good luck with that relationship!”. I think my mother had to take the phone out of my hands, I stood there, in shock. This was 1990. I later found out, I had a very willing groom who do anything to make me happy, but between his Rabbi refusing to even meet me and my church’s cold slap in the face, it is a miracle we got married, at all. You would think we were committing a crime, or something.
Well, we did get married, on June 24th, 1990. I ended up getting a dispensation from the Bishop, because my future mother in law did not feel comfortable going into a church. It was the priest at my families new parish in Amherst, New Hampshire that put it to me in a way I could find peace. “You don’t want to remember your wedding day as a time where one side of the church is unhappy and crying and the other happy and smiling. Marriage is about compromise.”
What great advice that set our boat out on this journey through our relationship. It worked and it worked well.I am grateful for the guidance that brought me peace in my life, and reminded me that life is about love.That’s all. Just love.
So, my truth. Scott and I could never get to the part about where his ashes would stay. We didn’t argue about it or avoid it. It”s just that we knew he wasn’t there anymore. He was just pure love. I saw it for myself, while he lay dying in a hospice in early July. We just return to that source of love. I know what peace is, after witnessing that transcendence.Our lives are a huge gift, not to be wasted by pettiness and doctrine.
Being the big teaser he was, Scott would joke to me and say he wanted to be cremated and put in an urn on my bureau, so he could keep an eye on me… that still makes me laugh, every time I think of it! I would respond by telling him not to worry, I was going to find a beautiful, Laura Ashley type of ceramic vase to keep him in. We would laugh and then look at each other with a moment that spanned into eternity. It still does. It never leaves. I don’t know how or why it does what it does, this connection. Some say it’s a guardian angel, some say it’s that pure love. I do know it is my counsel and comfort and my connection to God and all things good. That’s why I haven’t been able to make a decision about a burial place, yet. It seems irrelevant.I know he is not there. He is in my heart, quite connected. Always. I think the springtime will give me a clearer idea of what that place will look like. Until then, it is too cold for angels to fly.
I remember when I was pregnant with my second child.I found out I was pregnant again while my husband was filming in London. I had wanted to travel with him so badly, London being a favorite place of mine. We were thinking about maybe trying to have another child, but I had many reservations. At first, I worried that I couldn’t love another child the way I earned the right to love my son. My first pregnancy was very difficult, and I was complete bed rest at seven weeks. I, like other royal women in the news these days, had Hyperemesis gravidarum. I was glad for that to be a newsworthy item last week, because it is not to be confused with “morning sickness”. The body goes into overdrive, raising estrogen levels to support the pregnancy. Sometimes there are twins involved, sometimes not. Imagine your worst flu, ever. Now imagine having that for seven months. This would include waking up at 2:11 a.m., just to get sick twelve or fifteen times, in a row. Not pretty. Not the way you pictured it, either. But that’s another story.
When my son was finally born, by Cesarean section (For real? After all of that other stuff!?), I was in no rush to be pregnant again. Ever. You can’t really blame the girl, can you? I had just spent 75% of the year getting violently ill when I heard the Hebrew National hot dog commercial on the radio, or running out of the store if I saw the box of Rice A Roni on a shelf. To this day, I hate trolleys. It was intense. I think I loved my little boy, all the more after what we had been through together. After being hospitalized multiple times for dehydration and exhaustion, my goal was to have this one child and be grateful. When family members started asking us when we were going to have another baby anytime soon, My line of defense was along the lines of:”Thanks very much, I’m all good. Here is the male heir to the throne. Your welcome.” (call me Kate Middleton, we can swap stories)
Four years later…
Along came Olivia. The easiest, most beautiful pregnancy. I took African drum lessons, modern dance workshops, performed on stage, all so easily. (The not so easy part was she was a ten pound V-back). But a funny thing about God- He has this way of making you forget. We are left with renewed hope and pure joy! The miracle of forgetting all that is sad and scary and painful gets replaced with the rush of emotions and pure love. Not just any kind of love, the best kind. Innocent, fresh, everything made anew. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to love another baby again, not after all I went through to have the first child. It’s taking a huge risk. To trust again. A leap of faith. We have the capacity to love. To be filled with those feelings that we thought we could only experience once in our lives.Love. It’s a great invention. This hope. This love. Think about your life. How much do you love your children? Oh so much, each one unique, each experience it’s own journey in love. Kind of like life.
In the early morning of thanksgiving, I arise, much like my Grandmother used to do when I, as a little girl, would go and visit her house for the holidays in Boston. My grandmother, Alice, would be up at 4am, to prepare and baste her turkey that had been delivered by hand to her kitchen. We kids would squeal with anticipation, when her old fashioned, Victorian era doorbell rang, because we knew it had to be a long awaited cousin from Dorchester or Malden. Everyone lived in the city, with the exception of the Rowe family, who lived in the suburbs (that was us), or my cousins who lived in the most exotic place in the universe to New Englanders. Miami.
Back in Boston, we would stay in the cool temperatured “back bedroom”, which served as a toy room, a nap room for babies (there were always new babies in Irish Catholic, JFK land of the sixties, Boston).Every home had three things: #1: A painting of Jesus, and if you were really special, you would have the eternal flaming heart of Jesus,wrapped in a crown of thorns, in a gold-laced frame and most importantly: IN THREE-D! This was very special and as you moved your head back and forth, the flames leapt up, like the heart was on fire! Unbelievable. I always wondered why the crown of thorns didn’t catch on fire. That a logical thought, isn’t it? I remember being eight and asking my mother that very question. She told me to go and read a book. So I did. I ended up thinking in Heaven, things that are flammable don’t get burnt. Different rules for different places. However, I digress. #2: A photo of John F. Kennedy. In the good days. Before guys went around, shooting people with the last name of Kennedy, or there were had “accidents” with blondes off bridges. Some people even had photos of JFK with The Pope. Which brings me to the third and last item every home had.#3: A picture of the Pope.
Along with all of the necessary items for a Boston duplex, my Grandmother and Grandfather also had a TV set that seemed to only get Lawrence Welk or The Sound Of Music. They also had an amazing fireplace in this home, made of tiger pine and miniature ceramic tiles from England. The floors were rock maple, with mahogany inlay around the boarders. I know this, because I spent a great deal of time on the thick woolen carpets, reading, as I was often told when I asked too many questions. My Grandfather worked at Boston University, and kept me plied with books. Anne Frank, Death of A Salesman (still my favorite), French Textbooks, Readers Digest Best Loved Stories, Condensed (Like soup?) and for fun, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not or Nursing Textbooks that showed, “Diseases Of The Skin”. All true. All wonderful. All read, multiple times.
I see it’s time for me to go baste my turkey. Later, my doorbell will ring, with cousins from the suburbs. I’ve moved back to the city. That’s where all the memories happen. Happy Thanksgiving.