Category Archives: Family

Two Years

I have no words for this. I tried to find them, to set them down, to find some meaning, some emotion, some anything. And I can’t. Not about this. I live it every day. It’s not like there’s anything new this day of days. The significance is surprisingly small, in the scheme of things.

Two years. Only two. So many more to come, just like these.

20 Comments

Filed under Family, Life's honest moments

Another Beach Week, Another Mother’s Day

VAB

Dollbaby Week is always the first week in May. It has been so for fifteen years. Fifteen years. It’s hard to believe that first trip to Bald Head Island was in 2002. There are ten of us now, sometimes eleven. Only two of us from that original week still head to the beach every year, and two more from year two. Some dolls have only been coming a couple of years. Some five, six, seven…it doesn’t matter. Once a doll, always a doll.

The week is sublime, restorative, and full. We count the days down starting the minute we leave the beach (347 days as I write this,) and yet we’re ready to go home when it’s over. Being together is all the more cherished because our time is brief.

2015 was the first time I went to Virginia Beach in many, many years that I didn’t go with my heart in my throat. Things were all-around good. We’d survived addiction’s turmoil as a family, and had come out a bit scarred but definitely on the other side. Chris was out on his own, working a job he loved, doing well, it seemed. The cycle of chaos that typically poised to spiral out of control every spring wasn’t hanging over my head. I went to Virginia Beach secure in the knowledge no doom would fall while I was gone.

I was wrong. Only I didn’t know it.

It had been building, but Mother’s Day 2015 started Christofer’s last downward spiral that ended–finally, completely–on Father’s Day. These “holidays” will never pass without that knowledge, those thoughts. I came home from Virginia Beach this year, last year, facing Mother’s Day, and the countdown to my son’s last days. I hope, in time, it isn’t as raw; I know it will never be blissfully, bittersweetly overlooked.

I have never been a huge fan of Mother’s Day. I’m a mother. I have a mother. My daughter is a mother. How does one celebrate Mother’s Day without disappointing someone, right? Forgoing the day was not a huge sacrifice for me to begin with. Now, I’m glad to ignore it completely. It doesn’t change the bookended countdown, or the knowledge of it, but it does remove some of the emphasis. My kids celebrate me every day, with phone calls and texts and messages on Facebook. I don’t need a day to know I’m loved.

Now I sit here at my desk, absorbing Dollbaby Week in my mind, my heart, while trying to be at peace with the rest that comes at me this time of year. Leaving it all here on this page helps me do that, even while it makes it seem as if I need consoling, or a Xanax. I don’t. Honest. It’s because I have a place to put it all that I don’t. It makes me wonder how people who don’t write (or paint or make music…) manage to uncrowd their heads, unburden their hearts.

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties,
we build up the world’s great cities.
And out of a fabulous story,
we fashion an empire’s glory.
One man, with a dream, at pleasure
shall go forth and conquer a crown.
And three, with a new song’s measure
can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying,
in the buried past of the Earth,
built Nineveh with our sighing
and Babel itself with our mirth.
And o’erthrew them with prophesying
to the old of the New World’s worth.
For each age is a dream that is dying,
or one that is coming to birth.

~Arthur O’Shaughnessy

5 Comments

Filed under Family, poetry

A Surprise Visit

I used to dream of my late husband, Brian, on a regular basis, like a standing date kept. It always happened in the same setting–Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne, NJ. We’d sit at a picnic table there, and catch up. He’d ask about the kids, about me, the family. Chit-chat, always pleasant.

Three years of dreaming him back into my world; and then I met Frank. I still dreamed him, but less often. Still the same, pleasant visit. Every time. And then I became pregnant with Christofer.

We met in Goffle Brook Park that last time, as always. I felt, more than saw, someone standing behind him. Brian was slightly uncomfortable. He looked at me, a little sheepish, and said, “Are you good now?”

“I am.” I remember smiling, and taking his hand across the table. “What about you?” I asked. “Are you good?”

He nodded and, one hand holding mine, he reached out the other and brought forth a young lady. All I remember about her was she had long, dark hair. Like his mom’s. Like Jamie’s. Whoever she was, she brought him happiness, and peace.

download

Memory is a funny thing. Unreliable, but absolute. This dream is as clear to me now as it was years and years ago, but who’s to say how accurate, how many embellishments or subtractions have been made over time? It’s what I remember. At the end of it all, it’s the content, not the detail, that matters most. He came to me, made sure I was finally okay, and moved on.

I miss him every. Single. Day.

I am not one for Heaven and Hell. Though I’m not arrogant enough to state any absolutes concerning what there is, or isn’t, after Death, I’m not a believer in one Almighty Being. Death is as big a mystery as Life, and I don’t have the mental capacity to unravel that mystery. I know what I know. I feel what I feel. And whether Brian used to visit me in some ethereal form or it was my brain pulling him back to that picnic table in Hawthorne, I felt him. He was there.

It has been 28 years since the last time I dreamed that so-real presence of him. Though I’m not 100% sold on any form of Afterlife, my leanings bend towards that karmic notion of learning lessons, moving on, coming back to learn those lessons still left. And now I have a new ghost visiting me in dreams. So imagine how surprised I was to find myself sitting across the table from Brian again, the other night, in a dream still so clear I can see his smile.

It wasn’t Goffle Brook Park this time, but the Train Station in New Milford, where I have held book signings, birthday parties, and baby showers. He flopped into the chair opposite me, slightly out of breath.

“What are you doing here?” I hugged him across the table. The happiness, it fills me even now.

I don’t remember his response, but it led to me saying, “Wow, I thought you were already back. It’s been so long. I’ve looked for you.”

“Nah,” Brian said. “I’m just not ready yet.”

There are dreams, and then there are visitations. There’s no denying which one is which. Not all dreams of Brian were visits from him, just like all dreams of Chris aren’t. But when they are there–conjured from my brain or in some ethereal form–they are THERE. Brian was with me, the other night, and knowing he is where Chris is makes me happy in ways I can’t quite articulate.

I had to immortalize my dream, here on this page, though I don’t imagine I’ll forget it any more than I’ve forgotten that one 28 years ago. Maybe, when I’m old and memories jumble, I’ll remember these dream-memories as awake-events. They’ll wend and weave around one another, bringing together those who could not have otherwise met. I like that idea, quite a lot, actually. All my beloved-beyonds are stored in the same place, why not let them dance?

6 Comments

Filed under Family

Happy Birthday To Me

What a great birthday. I saw both my girls, their lovely men, my grandbabies. I spoke to my son out in Portland, my parents, my siblings. Frankie D and I went to NYC with dear friends. Dinner was had–oh, my, was it had. I got to see Beauty and the Beast, and enjoyed it completely. LaFou (Josh Gad) was my favorite character, though Daniel Evans (DAVID!!! for those who watch Legion) and Emma Watson were fabulous. The whole cast was. Nice little changes made it new.

And then there were all the amazing, lovely, deeply appreciated messages on Facebook. I read every one, and hopefully responded to them all. You do me the honor, I can do no less than thank you.

There were also tears, for the one always missing, of course. There are always tears. They don’t ruin the good times, though. I’m learning to let them co-exist.

So thank you, everyone, for not just making my birthday fabulous, but my everything. Some lament social media, cyberworld, claiming it’s cold and dangerous and insincere. It can be, sure, but it is what you make it, what you allow it to be. For me, it’s just grand.

3 Comments

Filed under Family

Home again, home again! Jiggity-jig!

That nursery rhyme has been bumping about my head since touching down in Newark Airport yesterday. It was an amazing trip. I got to spend a lot of time with my younger brother and his wife (something I’ve never done) as well as my parents, older brother, and his husband, Jon (who I spend way more time with throughout the year.) Spain, France, Italy–it was beyond fabulous, a bit of a whirlwind, and unforgettable.

Viking does it right. The ship was gorgeous, lots to do without being all glitzy and “Las Vegas.”First class all the way. I highly recommend the line, and will take another cruise with them in a heartbeat. Food–A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. And plentiful.

17191253_10154503372118721_766371825916196549_n

I’m not going to recount day by day in great detail, just in recap. Barcelona is a gorgeous city I wish I’d had more time in. I saw some Gaudi, though not the Sagrada Familia Cathedral (I know, I know–insane!) As will become apparent as I recap, there’s only so much one can do in a day, timewise and energywise.

standard

This is where Picasso hung out with his pals.

Toulon’s hightlight was actually a side trip to the little seaside village of Cassis. During the summer, it hops with tourists of all kinds, but this is pre-season and we got to walk around without the mobs. What a beautiful little city!

mineCassis

We went to a wine tasting (the area is known for its whites,) had coffee at a sidewalk cafe, ate candy, and then went on a scenic boat tour through the Calanques. Kind of like fjiords.

download (2)

Corsica was like nothing I anticipated. As I learned, it’s actually part of the Alps, and until about 1936, the people lived up in the mountains like any other alpine community. The sea brought bad things like invaders and illness, so they kept to the interior. I wish we’d gotten to see some of that way of life, but the coast was gorgeous.

 

 

 

Firenze (how can I ever think of it as Florence again??) how I wish I’d had more time! But this was about getting the flavor, not the whole mouthful. Just being there was so…immersive. I felt the antiquity, the culture. Of course, there is David, but there are also many more masterpieces the Medici family left to the city of Firenze, under the condition they not only stay in the city, but remain visible to all. (Seen below: Rape of the Sabine Women, Perseus, and Hercules.)

 

Pisa, I was told, is the leaning tower and nothing more. WRONG! I could have stayed there many hours. We did the obligatory, “Hold up the tower!” pic.

17191043_10154513692878721_8063761935324494517_n

Dad and Frankie D.

Rome–it’s nothing like New York City, and everything like it. Busy, busy, busy. Shopping. People of all nations everywhere you look. Yet ancient. Wow. There’s no way to quite describe it. You’ve seen my pics, along with a gazillion pics of the Coloseum, the Forum, etc. Instead, I’ll tell you about the last night Frank and I had, alone, in Rome. Magical, actually, but we said so many times, “I wish they were here!” We had dinner in (supposedly) the birthplace of fetuccini Alfredo, and spent a few hours just meandering the almost catacomb-like streets of shops and shops and shops. A good way to spend our last night in Italy.

 

 

It’s out of order, but I saved Villefranche for last because it was my favorite stop, and totally NOT on the itinerary. When we got to Monaco, the high winds wouldn’t allow us to dock on that side of the peninsula, so we went around back and docked outside of Villefranche, France. I could have spent a week in this little seaside village with tons of history, a few little shops, and a pebbled beach. THIS is my speed. I appreciate the big cities for their culture and importance, but give me “little” any day. It’s just as old, and feels way more “real.”

We had lunch in a great place overlooking the Mediterranean, saw the Old City, walked along the seaside, sat on the beach, and drank coffee sitting on a couch set up on the sea wall. I had Viennese coffee. Mmmm….It was a magical day. (Mark and Elaine did get to Monaco. It was an option I decided not to take, and am very glad.)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thus ends my European adventure. We had so much fun sightseeing and playing blackjack at the electronic tables during happy hour. Food and food and food. I hope we do this again, one day. Europe twice in a year is a bit much (first world problems, I know–poor me.) Spending time with Michael and Jon, Mark and Elaine, Mom and Dad was the best part of all.

And, of course, my Frankie D.

8 Comments

Filed under Family

Hello, it’s been a while

I’m usually much more present in this space. A lot has been happening; a lot more is due to happen soon, and ongoing. The novel currently going by, The Pen was picked up by Rachel Kahan at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins.) I’m ridiculously happy and a little starstruck. I’ve been around the block a few times, but this is a new block with new people, and I imagine a new experience. Time will tell, and then I’ll tell you.

In a couple of weeks, I’m off to Europe with my parents, my brothers and their spouses. And Frankie D, of course. When I get home, edits from my editor will be waiting for me, so that’s actually something to look forward to leaving Rome for. Heroically Lost is nearly finished, first draft. Beloved Agent Janna will be sending feedback on our second round for Entangled soonish, and another new story with another new set of characters is already banging at my brain-doors. As my daughter, Jamie, has said–I poop books. I hope that’s always so.

And today is Christofer’s birthday.

Thunk, right in the middle of all the excitement, there it is. Of course, it’s no surprise. It didn’t sneak up on me. As it usually happens, there was a week of threatened rumbling on my horizon, but nothing to fear. Just a storm. Another storm. It would pass.

The anticipatory tension was worse than the event, to be honest. I’ve been okay. Not without tears, but okay. He was born today. Eleven hours of labor. The only time I gave birth without surgical intervention. And then I got to keep him for twenty-five years. A loaner. Part of me always knew he would be. I’d been telling myself from day one, with Chris, once he was gone, he was going to be gone. I never thought it would be quite so literal, but, there you have it.

Today marks one of the happiest days of my life; the day my second son was born. He was the linking piece in two families blended into one. He was loved. So loved. He still is. How, then, can I lament this day in any way?

I can’t say happy birthday. It just doesn’t feel right. Instead, I’ll offer him a smile instead of tears, and tell him his Turtle loves him so much.

green-sea-turtle-closeup-underwater-jpg-adapt-945-1

 

 

16 Comments

Filed under Family, Life's honest moments

Sadly Appropriate

When Christofer was born, Frank brought home a little pine tree in what looked like a cigar tube. Someone at work gave it to him, some promo or other. We planted it at the house on Apollo Drive (NJ) and dubbed it, “the Chris tree.” A few years later, when the tree was about two feet high, we moved to Connecticut. I couldn’t leave that tree, so I took the chance and uprooted it to plant at the house on Country Farm Lane.

I never thought we’d leave there, but we did, after ten years. The silly politics that go on in a neighborhood just got to be too much. Leaving behind Scottie’s crab apple, Grace’s rose bush, Jamie’s pin oak was hard enough, but they’d all been planted years into living on Country Farm Lane. Chris’ baby tree was different. They’d been born at the same time. By then, it was just too big to uproot without killing it, so we left it to move to the other side of the river.

We watched all their trees grow over the next few years. I always worried a little more about Chris’ tree. The others had been appropriately planted in beneficial spots. I didn’t worry they’d be chopped down. But his (gads, how symbolism actually happens in real life!) had been planted in a precarious place. I didn’t realize it at the time. I was new to gardening, and didn’t think about how big it would grow, how it would overshadow everything around it.

After Chris’ accident, I became a bit obsessed with the health and well-being of his tree. Any sign of disease, fear of it becoming too big and being chopped down, had me worrying. Through the years of his struggle with heroin, I’d drive over to the old neighborhood, just to make sure the tree was okay. As long as the tree was still standing strong, so would he.

Three years, heroin-free. I stopped obsessing over the tree. I didn’t check on it unless I happened to be in the neighborhood. Then Chris died. I was afraid to go see his baby tree. But I did. And still it stood. Too big. A little scraggly. But there.

Last time I was in the neighborhood, it was dark. I squinted in the darkness for the hulk of that tree, and it wasn’t there. Maybe I’d been driving by too fast. Maybe it was a trick of moonlight and starshine. I tried not to think about it.

This morning, at breakfast, Frank said, “Did you see they took Chris’ tree down?”

My heart sank a little. I’d known, but I hadn’t acknowledged. “Yes. I did.”

And that’s all we said. What else was necessary? It was almost…right. Chris is gone, and so is his baby tree. Had it come down any time before his death, I’d have freaked out. Now? It’s sadly appropriate.

I wish I had a piece of it. I’d hang it on one of the beams in my house. Maybe there’s a stick left in the rock wall. Or maybe it’s firewood stacked in the yard. I’m not sure I want to go ask, because I’m not positive what answer I hope to receive.

414261

17 Comments

Filed under Family

Thoughts, upon waking

I do not in darkness dwell, when daylight holds its sway; but, in the darkness, I do dwell, on all day holds at bay. (~TLD)

sweet-dreams-dreaming-of-snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarves

Strange words to wake to, but I did. I don’t have to wonder why, though. I dream, and I remember my dreams for the most part. There are few nights I don’t go to sleep with Chris on my mind, and wake up to the same. He tends to fill in the space between.

I believe it’s because I do my best not to let the sorrow overwhelm me during the day. That’s not to say it doesn’t hit me, but I’m able to push it gently away, tell it, “Not now.” Then comes the night and pushing it away feels as wrong as it would to push him away. He needs his time on my mind, just like he needed time in my arms, when he was a baby who didn’t like to sleep on his own; or a young man who needed me to make sure he kept breathing through the night.

Day is for missing Scottie, for cherishing the broken ties he needed broken so badly. It’s for feeling Gracie’s excitement in finding her place in the world. It’s to experience Jamie’s babies, her dream career, through her eyes. Day belongs to them. And so, night belongs to Chris.

My newest work-in-progress, Heroically Lost*, is largely about knowing the difference between making choices, and letting the choices get made for us. I’m not sure if I made the choice to let Chris have the night, but I honestly don’t think I could unchoose it either. It’s just the way it happens, and I’m okay with that.

*Heroically Lost comes from a Yeats poem, A Crazed Girl

(Truncated)

…Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found…

12 Comments

Filed under Family, Life's honest moments, poetry

The unexpected kindness of social media

One impetus for going into Christofer’s phone myself was to access his Facebook account. I figured he’d have stored the password. At least, I hoped. Facebook policy is that they won’t release the log in and password under any circumstances without a court order. They’d be happy to suspend or even delete his account, but I couldn’t get in there.

I had many reasons for wanting to get into it, the primary reason, believe it or not, being to change his profile pic. He looked so sad. A selfie snapped when he was feeling trapped and abandoned and, to be brutally honest, like a failure. He’d gotten his dream job, moved away from home, started life on his own, and it wasn’t working out. In fact, it was crumbling completely. Why couldn’t he hold on to happiness? he asked. He told me once, it was kind of like drowning. Every once in a while he’d get his head out of water long enough to gulp at the air, then he was flailing underwater again, terrified he wouldn’t be able to kick back to the surface.

When I remember conversations like that, part of me (forgive me, sweetheart) is grateful he’s no longer flailing. It sinks me under, where he was. The difference is, my time under water is like his on the surface–fleeting.

I accessed his Facebook account, changed the password, took control. Today, I changed that profile picture. I also found beautiful messages left by friends after he was gone, and a video of him during the school play, back when he was eighteen (one of the golden years) that made me laugh and cry. It’s so good to have one of those times above water, immortalized in a blurry video. He was happy. He was goofy, and well liked. Loved. I have the proof when remembering the sad stuff tugs at my legs.

*

Years ago, when Jamie and Scottie were teens and Chris and Grace tweens, a friend with very small children said to me, “I want to have the same relationship  with my kids that you have with yours.” I felt so proud, so happy. I always had a great relationship with my kids. I was over-protective at times (Jamie even wrote an article recently, extolling my brand of crazy mom) but my kids didn’t just love me, they liked me. They were never embarrassed to hug me in public, to introduce me to friends, to tell me they love me, which they did/do often. I was never a “not MY child” mother, and they knew it. Just like they knew I’d never go an eye for an eye even if and when they were wronged. It was hard, when I wanted to rip someone’s head off for saying/doing/accusing something wrongfully. Sinking to another’s level is, in my opinion, giving them the victory no matter what the overt outcome. I always knew in my bones I was a good mother. And yet, having my friend say that about wanting the same relationship with her kids was the kind of validation I never knew meant anything to me, but it did. It meant so much.

Since Chris’ death, that beautiful comment has haunted me.

Then, just the other day, another friend left a comment for me on Facebook, in response to A Hurdle Crossed: “You inspire me in so many ways. I’m so glad the universe saw fit to draw a thread between our lives. You are the type of mom I strive to be.”

I burst into tears.

That someone I love, admire, and respect still feels that way about me hit me like that first compliment from the other dear friend all those years ago–I didn’t know it was validation I ever wanted, needed. Desperately needed.

 

This is, without question, the hardest, most heartbreaking stretch of road on my life’s journey. I’m weathering it better than the last stretch of darkest dark, strangely enough. That experience taught me things I’m using now to survive this, mentally intact. I don’t even want to know what this stretch is preparing me for, but I’m taking notes. I think you might be reading one right now.

Peace.

stock-photo-89115121

6 Comments

Filed under Family, Life's honest moments

A hurdle crossed

I didn’t leap over it. I kind of crawled under it. But it’s done. Behind me.

I went through Christofer’s phone.

We got it back from the police station a few months ago. Cases had been tried, and sentenced. They were finally finished with it. I put it away, unable to look at it. I didn’t want to see what was in there. I couldn’t handle it. I promised it to Scottie, but figured it could wait. He had a newish phone, and he understood. Then he lost his phone. It was silly to buy a new one when I have this beautiful machine sitting here, waiting. That’s when it started, this need to see what was in there.

Scott found his phone, said he could wait on his brother’s. I told him, no–I wasn’t ready to see what was in there, but a guy at Dad’s work could back it all up, wipe it and I’d send it to him. That was supposed to happen yesterday. It didn’t.

So I did it this morning.

Frank went to play golf. It had been nudging me, to be honest. I wanted to be able to get at his Facebook; I knew he’d saved the password on his phone. Honestly, I wanted to see those last conversations, with my own eyes, today. And it just…happened.

I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know. My suspicions about the timeline of events was correct, as was my assumption of the conversation that led to my boy’s death. Assumptions of things going on in his life, with other people, came as no surprise. It broke my heart, and it made me happy. I saw what I already knew, in my head, in my heart. The only difference now is that I’m not supposing, but sure.

I deleted what needed deleting, saved what needed to be saved. There’s only one thing I need Frank’s computer guy to do for me–save the photos and video. I’m sure it’s a simple thing, but I couldn’t figure it out. I did delete a few, for reasons that shall go unmentioned. If you’re reading this and suspect it’s you, know all is well.

It’s done. I feel like I’ve been moving rocks. Big ones. Uphill. Sisyphean imagery intended. Because no matter what task I complete where this subject is concerned, it never changes anything, really. I’m still going to be happy, and sad. I’m still going to rage, and find peace. I’m still going to love him and miss him and be furious with him and understand him. I will still have questions that, even when answered, are not enough.

Peace.

184558

25 Comments

Filed under Family, Life's honest moments