Sandy… LinkedIn wants to know: “Do you know Scott Winters?”

I received an invitation this morning. My recently deceased husband, Scott invited me to become linked to him on LinkedIn. He even invited me to leave a personal message for him. “Staying in touch with valuable contacts can help you in your career. Quickly connect to this person you may know.”

It came in my morning email. Asking me, “Do You Know Scott Winters?”  There is this little thing that happens inside of me, every time I see his name in print, or hear his name said out loud  It is the same feeling I had when I met him for the very first time. My heart skipped a beat, like leaping for joy, really. I am so grateful that after (wait…doing the math on a piece of paper)  twenty-eight years of loving someone, that they can still make your heart be so joyful.

As I listen to the church bells at St. Augustine’s ring 10 am, it reminds me of one of the reasons why we bought this home. It was our fourth home, one we purchased after renting for a year in Providence. I couldn’t wait to get back into my own space with a back yard. Scott’s backyard, really. How he loved to sit outside and listen to those bells. me, I’m not so much of a sitter downer. More of a get stuff done person.

So Scott’s invitation to send him a personal message was too good to pass up. It got me to thinking about what would I say to him, if I had the chance to speak to him one more time:

“How’s the weather in heaven?” (It could be a bit awkward in the beginning, so just casual banter to start.)

“Who do you have lunch with?”

“Where did you put the _____?” (there a million of those questions)

“Do you miss us?”

“Did God tell you why you had to leave?”

“When will we all be together again?” (ok, no real rush on that one!)

“Do you see how hard I’m trying to keep it all running?”

“Am I doing a good job?”

and the most important of all…

“I’m so glad I had the chance to love you.”

Yes, Linked In. I do know Scott Winters. And thanks for letting me tell him how much I love him, one more time.

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To Thine Own Self Be True

How do we know when it is time to move on? Is it something that just appears to us, like the fog clearing on a September morning? Or is it more of a growing pain, like a shoe that you used to love, but now feels too tight and actually hurts when you try to assume all the things you would normally do, wearing that shoe. My Life (capitalized because it seems to be a multifaceted feeling of change) and the uncomfortable feelings I get from my status quo are becoming too pronounced to ignore. There are signs, everywhere.

The things I used to find comfort and solace with, no longer satisfy me. The people and places that were part of my map of the world are becoming yellowed and worn. No longer fresh and vibrant, I feel myself questioning the day-to-day choices of my world. A new phrase popped into my head, two weeks ago. I was given the opportunity to interview for some very exciting artwork. It created a dilemma in my sense of duty and responsibility, not wanting to be considered unreliable. I have always been the good girl. The voice of reason that tells everyone, “We can’t do that.” I kept hearing this voice in my head, asking the question, “Well, if not now…when?” When will I get my life in the direction I choose to go towards? My duty to myself and my passion for my art won out. I confirmed that audition in New York.

I took the opportunity, deliberately. The voice of one’s life purpose was louder than the small voice that was constantly asking me, “Well, What you are supposed to do?”. I am going to listen for more signs from that place deep inside of me, that tells me, “This is your truth.” It doesn’t fail. It is that gnawing signal that tells you, “This is for you to hear…”. With following that hunch comes a sense of relief, a sigh, an itch that gets scratched, if you will.

Do you have any itches that need to be scratched?

My Dad’s Name Is Earl

The royal procession to Parliament at Westmins...

The royal procession to Parliament at Westminster, 4 February 1512. Left to right: The Marquess of Dorset, Earl of Northumberland, Earl of Surrey, Earl of Shrewsbury, Earl of Essex, Earl of Kent, Earl of Derby, Earl of Wiltshire. From: Parliament Procession Roll of 1512 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do know why I am sobbing and chuckling, intermittently. I just heard from my Dad, who we will call Earl, for all intents and purposes, because his name is Earl. I don’t think many people get to say their name is Earl, these days. Except my brother. Who is also Earl.

My father answers one of those LinkedIn requests that I don’t even remember sending to him, to be a professional friend of mine. I agree to friend him, thinking I might actually do better with my dad being a professional associate of mine, because he certainly didn’t get the memo on being a professional Dad. Was he a good dad? Depends on how you look at what the word “dad” means. Earl was the kind of dad who would challenge his kid to a game of chess, then beat them mercilessly. He would then proceed to ask you why you lost and what moves you could have/should have made to have had a better outcome. The same went with backgammon and running races. Did I mention my dad was a professional golfer? Mr Laid Back, he was not. The day after I graduated from University, Earl told me he was going to allow me to goof off for three months. “Because you did so well at school, you can live here until December”, he told me.I had finished a five month internship in a regional theater. “Gee, thanks Dad!”, I said. Like I had just won the state lottery.

On Monday, Earl, being the kind of dad he is, sends me a note, stating that we are now friends on LinkedIn . I also get a humorous note, almost a stand up routine about a guy’s perspective about colonoscopy. Sigh. This is bizarre. It is also, insensitive, insulting, and stupidly brazen. All in the same moment. My husband was pronounced dead, one year ago, this past week. He died of colon cancer. My dad is either a total idiot or brilliant.

I got the LinkedIn request on my phone. I don’t like my phone, I feel obligated to read memos as soon as they are sent. They get in the way of what I’m doing and I can never decided how to categorize the importance of keeping/saving/tossing information. I think I could create a new version of the show, Hoarders, using information that piles up, instead of household objects and garbage, and sometimes small, dead animals. Sort of like the modern-day Collier Brothers, the original hoarders, who were found dead in their NYC apartment, piled floor to ceiling with newspapers. That thought freaks me out, so instead I deal with texts and emails as they come. But I don’t like it. I don’t like cell phones. You can ask any of my friends who try to talk with me or track me down in a given day. I find them a gross interruption of my peace and quiet, or rather my potential peace and quiet. I know many people love them and thrive by keeping on top of the people and places they need to know about during the day and night. I can barely stay focussed with people who are in front of me, never mind invisible people who are ringing or buzzing at top volume within earshot or pocket. I just find it hard to split my focus when I have a phone with me. I hear there’s some medication for that problem. I do not, however, find it rude or worrisome if you choose to use or have yours on while you are with me. That seems about a fair a compromise as I can muster. In truth, I marvel at how wonderful some people are with their technology. It seems like a great giftedness, to me.

My Dad. Brilliant or stupid enough to put his hand in the lions cage? Who the hell sends a joke about colon cancer to a widow who just lost her husband to colon cancer? Honestly. What a fool. I’m gonna give him a good talking to… Alright. I did read the monologue. I didn’t want more memos clogging up the superhighway of my “to do” lists. What would have happened if I had read it and not found it funny? I don’t know. I read the entire post. It was funny. Really funny. Leave it to the Irish to make the dumbest jokes about poop and pee. As I began to read the monologue, I had set my cap on being good and mad. Indignant. How could someone ever think it would be acceptable to send a widow jokes about colon cancer?  It ended up not really being about cancer. To be fair, it was more about the compromising positions and awkwardness that is involved in colonoscopy. It actually created a sense of camaraderie about what we all dislike, but need to do for ourselves .

This makes me happy and sad, both at the same time. I am not ready to go to the “What ifs?” My husband did ask for a colonoscopy from our now ex-Doctor, who found it unnecessary, at age 48. Scott was diagnosed at 49. They believe he might have had Lynch Syndrome for up to 15 years. There were no symptoms. Trust me. I am a professional worrier. I have replayed that tape a million times over in my head. The only symptoms Scott had were extreme fatigue, four months before his diagnoses. In the monologue, there was also a whole section about the prep itself, and how ridiculous the method and process was to the relatively easiness of the actual procedure. I especially loved the actual quotes from the gastro guy, things (mostly men) had said in their twilight induced state and the 17,000 feet of plastic tubing involved.

Earl ended up getting it right. I am sitting here, crying as I write this blog to all of you and hopefully the many more friends you will share this with. I am crying because I am laughing about colons. I did not ever think it would be possible. Yes, losing my husband to colon cancer is tragic. I am reminded of that, everyday. His was a rare, difficult to treat cancer, called Lynch Syndrome.  I had a father in law and a mother in law, at one time. Neither made it out of their 50’s. They were loving and happy and successful and beautiful. They had everything to live for. It is just so, so… tragic. We were told Scott’s dad had died of liver cancer. When we found out in hindsight that my father in law did not die of liver cancer, but rather colon cancer that had spread to his liver, exactly like Scott’s. I had wished with all my heart Scott had been having colonoscopies in his 20’s. Symptoms or not. But it just wasn’t done, at that time. It was only when I sent away for my father in law’s (also named Sandy!) records from Sloan Kettering, did the doctors look at the records and see Sandy did have the same cancer as Scott. It just didn’t have a name to go with it at the time. (Over 24 years ago) Lynch Syndrome is a genetic cancer, with a strong, stubborn streak. It is cruel. It does not discriminate. It is deadly. My children carry a 50% chance of getting colon or ovarian cancer.Yes. This is a hard fact to accept. However, I want people to read this and remember. Scott would want you to know about our children’s chances, if it will help you to take care of yourself and your family.

We will fight. With laughter and tears, and phones, if necessary. This will not happen again to my family. Not if I have anything to say about it. Won’t you please call your Doctor and tell them you are ready for your close up? Get your family history. Don’t listen to the family folklores stories about deceased relatives’ illnesses. Get the hard facts sent to your doctor’s office. Do it for the people who love you and need you to be around, people like Earl.

Singin’ It and Bringin’ It

I was a Gospel singer tonight. One of my life goals is to sing in a Gospel choir. Now, I’ve spent many years singing professionally. Mostly Off Broadway and Regional Theater. I have wanted to sing Gospel Music, forever! Did I mention I am an Irish Catholic from Boston? There were no gospel churches where I grew up. Or, if there were, I certainly didn’t know about them. I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t Irish Catholic until I was in 9th Grade. It was a boyfriend who was Protestant. That was pretty exotic. I remember one Christmas, I was invited to go to his church for a Christmas week service. My mother told me, “absolutely not”. She said I was not a Protestant, and that would be against our religion. It made no sense to me, much like her rules about never eating at McDonald’s (only poor people ate there) and not being friends with people who rented apartments.(more poor people) Oh, also people who get divorced. I was frowned upon being friends with people like that. They were on the “Do Not Call” list, too. So many invisible rules, seemingly very arbitrary, with no explanations.

So, you can imagine what happened when I met my husband, who was Jewish. I was intrigued. Jews weren’t even on my radar. The interesting thing about growing up so sheltered (segregated) is, I had no preconceived notions.The exact opposite of what you think might happen, happened. I did not become prejudiced. Although my parents had their own messed up ideas about race and religion, I didn’t feel hatred  or superiority about anyone. I did, for some reason, think everyone belonged to a country club and had no less than 5 kids. We had the least amount of kids in our neighborhood! My friends had 8,9,10 kids. We had five kids for a very long time- then my mother had my sister Nancy, when I was 11 or 12. That was embarrassing.

You would think I would have been jaded, growing up so isolated. Instead, I was completely naive. The result was this natural curiosity to want to know all about people from other backgrounds and beliefs. I still do. Instead of being prejudiced, I was fascinated with people who were different from me. Even by the time I went to college, I really hadn’t been exposed to other cultures or beliefs. One of the first conversations I had with my husband Scott was, “So, what does that mean to you, to be a Jew?” I still have a curiosity about people. I also do not understand hate.

When I was 16, I went with my friends to an amusement park in Rhode Island. I was on line for the roller coaster, and a bunch of girls started pushing me, for no reason at all. I turned around and told them, “Hey, knock it off and stop pushing me.” The result was getting the crap beat out of me. When I got home, my parents were furious! Let’s just say, I heard a lot of racial slurs come out of my Dads’ mouth, when he asked what the kids looked like. I was truly shocked! I remember telling my parents the kids didn’t beat me up because they were black- they beat me up because they were jerks! Both my parents were stunned with my response. They were forced to deal with their own ideas about hate.

Tonight, a woman asked me how I found out about the gospel choir ( I didn’t exactly fit in at rehearsal/open chair night). For those of you who don’t know me, I have a big voice. A very big voice. It doesn’t look like it should come out of me. I also don’t look like an opera singer. I look more like I should be playing golf, at the nearest country club. (see belief systems about golfing) My first singing job was at at Temple, for High Holy Days. I remember when the Cantor came in to rehearse, he looked at me and said, “You are the soloist?” I was the only woman who did not have a head scarf on, my blond curls rolling down the middle on my back. “Yeah, I said. “I got game. You’ll see.” Learning to sing in Hebrew is a lot like Opera.

So, tonight, looking like I had a tee time at 7a.m., I was escorted to a chair in the first soprano section. I was asked four times if I was a first soprano. That is singer code for, “you better bring it, or else.” To be a first soprano is like saying you are related to Miriah Carey. As a singer in New York, I also learned the phrase, “it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it”. So, I brought it. That’s what I like about singing.It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like. If you got game, you got game. It is a lot like the way I look at differences in people. Packages can be deceiving.

We Fell In Love In A Foreign Place

I love being Mrs. Winters. I just love the name. Winters. Truth be told, it was Scott’s Dad, Sanford, who changed it to Winters with an “s”. I guess it was during the Korean War, everything he owned in his name, up to that point was “Winter”. Maybe “Sandy Winter” was just too precious. We’ll never know.My father in law died while Scott and I met, back in 1983. At any rate, Sandy Winters for me, is just fine. Always did find it creepy his dad and I share the same name. My mother in law used to hate to say my name, in the beginning.(and of course, now I can totally understand that feeling) She even told me once, straight up: “I am not going to call you Sandy. I won’t.” Yeah, that’s about the time I should have hauled my ass out of town, as fast as possible. Yet, I didn’t.

I met Scott the summer I graduated from college. My first Internship in Shakespeare. I had plenty of Classical Theatre experience, but no Bard on the boards work, to speak of. In reality, I had no business going to do an internship in New Jersey. My roomate had been accepted, and at the last minute, I decided to throw my hat into the ring, and get out of New Hampshire and find some space to figure out why I did not want to marry the most perfect boyfriend a girl could hope for.

Yes, folks. Big scandal. Sabotaging a relationship and not having the guts/maturity to end it in a correct way. I left for New Jersey and fell hard for a handsome, charming Hebrew. He was aloof and proud, entitled and seemed like a player. I was auburn haired and English, pale, blue eyed, intense, hardworking and earnest. When I met Scott, I was a snob. I knew what was art and what was fame. I wanted Art. He wanted Fame. It was hate at first sight. I actually asked him, sarcastically, if his dad was a funeral director or a mobster. He drove a diesel black Cadillac, with a white leather interior. He hid in the back of the theatre, during work calls, reading Othello. He showed up for work calls in white jeans, and boasted about his work on Soap Operas. What a putz. I even called him, “Winters”, not even by his first name. Oh, it was on. I hated that guy.

Then, I was cast as the understudy for Lady Anne, in Richard III. We were doing The War of the Roses Trilogy. I had never performed Shakespeare on stage, had never been a professional understudy, had never been away from home, had never dated anyone Jewish. Lots of never. I fell in love. He was sexy as hell, and God, did he know how to use Shakespeare. It was so seductive. I felt beautiful.  The costumes.The stage combat. Actual fighting with real swords and shields! I loved the words, the sultry heat, the long hours, the independence. For the first time. I had found a place where white and recessive and petite was beautiful. I was an artist. I was good. I wasn’t the girlfriend or the best buddy of the beautiful leading woman, or even the daughter. I was myself. This was heady stuff.

Growing pains, sure. Heartache? Definitely. I was under the perception that The boyfriend wanted me to be “The Writers’ Wife”. (He didn’t) This was the early 1980’s, and young women were told not to be tied down by men’s ideals and goals, Go and find your own. This was the new road traveled. I was terrified of being absorbed into a man’s identity. It was a scary and confusing time to be a young woman. What I probably needed was some time alone. As life happens, that was not to be.

I did finally get the chance to say I was wrong and I’m sorry to that wonderful guy I hurt. He is still wonderful and married, with two beautiful daughters. “The Writer Boyfriend” reached out to me this past year, when he had heard from a mutual friend that Scott was critically ill. He has walked the same valley, first with his wonderful Dad, and more recently with his mother in-law. We spoke about his success as a writer, (he has been published many times) and Scott’s writing achievements. I joked about the fact that I’m still living with an artist who walk around the yard, talking to himself. (Looks crazy, but they are actually speaking dialogue out loud, to see if it sounds correct and natural.) He told me when I was applying to internships, I had asked him to mail my applications for me. Instead, he held on to them, wrestling with the decision to mail them, or not. “You would have never known”, he said. “The Writer” was right. I would have been none the wiser. After a couple of days, he decided he couldn’t live with himself. He mailed it. Truth be told, I  believe in fate, but my belief in people is much stronger.

So, it’s my anniversary. Our anniversary. The first one in heaven. I still feel married. I am still in love, maybe more than ever. Words? I am still in love with words. The person who I discovered is still a work in progress. Being a widow is hard work. I am finding out more about myself, everyday. I have “miles to go, before I sleep”. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. it’s true. But I do have promises to keep. To myself. This journey of finding me, continues. For the first time in my life, I feel as if I am enough. No relationship needed. Now that is something to be proud of.

My Private Little Club

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