Monday, April 27, 2009

16 days

Today was hard.

The weather was beautiful. The services were beautiful. The burial was so emotional. Throughout the day I was alternately sobbing and at peace with it all. Afterward, we didn't stick around long at the reception. I drove, and I was ready early on to just go home and be kind of quiet here on the front porch.

The last 16 days have been a full circle for me in some ways, literally coming face-to-face with some long-standing fears, anxieties, memories, emotion, and even people who had been sidelined along the way. I made it through. I dove headfirst into it and made it through. Sometimes it was the tight hugs from friends that saw me through; other times it was the silence, alone in the house; and today, in prayer, leaning against Ian's sturdy shoulder at the cemetery, I was reminded that the process of grief doesn't end. You don't "get over" someone dying. You just accept their death. I made it through because there was no other way to get around it, except right through the center of it.

I'm ready to accept this. I wish I didn't have to be. I wish I wasn't missing Patrick, but I do. Everyone who knew him, misses him in their way. Each one of us had a relationship with him as unique as the next. And now that part of the story is over. Life goes on, though. Today is a beautiful day. Ian and I are going to bring the dogs for a walk up the street to the boys' school in a few minutes for the afternoon pick-up. Then....who knows? Maybe tonight we'll take them out for ice cream.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Through It All

It's sunny. It's warming up. And I'm glad to be running again. I've been slow the past couple of days. It seems that when I'm happy, content or angry, I can run very, very fast. But the past few days I've alternated between sad and peaceful, and so my legs have been more like molasses. I'm not complaining. The slower I go the more I time have to smell the blooming flowers, the budding trees, and the fresh cut grass throughout the neighborhood. Allowing myself to feel the sadness helps me move directly through it all, which is the only way to go.

I have at best been distracted this week at work, but I'm managing. And although I had considered NOT going back to school just yet for nursing, I'm now reconsidering that plan for two reasons:

1. A nurse (and mother...and grandmother) I spoke with a few weeks ago at my in-law's house told me that it will only get harder as the kids get older and have more activities and commitments, and;
2. I'm ready.

I've been thinking of how happy Patrick was to hear I was applying to nursing school when I saw him a couple of months ago at our friend Andi's house, where we gathered for a Super Bowl party. I've been thinking about how happy the whole idea makes ME, let alone anyone else. A calling is a tough thing to dispute. Yet, I am so, so worried about the sacrifice of time that I will be required to make. I just cannot pull myself away from Ian and the kids a few nights a week right now. Not yet. So I will start with a very simple prerequisite, I think...something that meets maybe just once a week. And I will go, slowly, from there. At least that is the plan today.

In the meantime, I have extensive little league game and practice schedules for my boys, and I'm looking forward to working on my tan tomorrow while sitting in the bleachers all morning and early afternoon. I am also looking forward to Grandma's surprise 80th this Sunday.... my prelude to Patrick's wake.

I remember two years ago when Grandma was first diagnosed with liver cancer. I was living in my "single mom apartment" at the time, post-divorce, and I took Cee Cee on a long, hot August walk to clear my head on the whole issue. I was headed toward the seawall, when I spotted Patrick, sitting outside the Morris Cove firehouse, smoking a cigarette while working oertime at Engine 16, firehouse that doesn't usually see much action. That's where they send the old and lazy guys in the department.

I stopped. He played with Cee Cee, and I told him about Grandma. He was sad to hear it, and he was sad for me. Her initial prognosis wasn't good. How was I to know she would be one of the few who actually beat the cancer. How could I know she would outlive him?

My present to Grandma, the woman who has everything--in fact, duplicates of everything, is a book of letters I've compiled from friends and family, all expressing how much she means to them and the joy she has brought to them over the years. This week I've sat on the couch, scrapbook pages and letters scattered around me, reading letter after letter about the impact one single life has had on so many. It has been such a healing, beautiful way to accept Patrick's death, and to remember we are all in this wonderful life together. Our job here is to make it all a little easier for one another.

So I count my blessings--among them my friends and family, but especially Ian and my two boys. Ian has been unwavering these past couple of weeks, during Patrick's injury, decline and death. He has been understanding, loving, compassionate. He has been, above all, an amazing friend to me. I'm not surprised. It's who he is. It's his character. But many men--especially newlywed husbands--wouldn't be so understanding of their wives' grief over the death of a former boyfriend. Ian has been wonderful, accepting and respecting my friendship with Pat post-relationship, understanding my need to visit the hospital frequently, and holding me close while I cried and cried after learning of Patrick's death.

In this time of grief, I've found so much solace at home, with Ian. What a gift. What a lucky, lucky girl I am to have Ian by my side, through all of this. I only hope to be so selfless.

Happy Friday. Enjoy some sun.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Love You, Little Boy

I returned home from work yesterday, putzed around, let out the dogs, and felt scattered. I walked into rooms and forgot what I had intended to do in them. I stared at myself in the mirror, thinking of Patrick. I walked onto the front porch and unfurled our flag, which was twisted and soaked by the day's wind and rain. I stared at the perennials making their way upward after a long winter. I sighed a lot.

And then the sun came out.

It was faint at first, forcing its way out from behind the clouds and eventually lighting up the neighborhood. Patrick, I thought. I looked at the clock. 5:15 PM. Patrick. He's dying. Now.

The sunshine lasted about 20 minutes. Not long after, I found out that Patrick had died around 5:30 PM.

It was devastating. Like a child, I flung myself on my bed and sobbed, clutching a pillow and not caring if the neighbors could hear me. I haven't cried that hard in a long, long time. I miss him terribly. I am heartbroken for his family. But I believe he's now in the best place he can be, probably amused that he actually made it there after all.

My boys arrived home not much later after a day with their father. Their hugs meant the world to me, and they probably felt suffocated by my need to keep hugging and kissing them. Their happiness and sweet, silly personalities were exactly what I needed to properly celebrate Patrick's life. Pat was such a kid--a little boy, in so many ways. And he loved my boys and always asked about them. So I watched them with a full, happy heart as they hopped around with their light sabers and capes, tossing Lego pieces into piles and skipping and jumping (they never just "walk") from room to room.

Later, Ian left for his shift at the bar, his second job that he's held for more than a decade. He knew the bar, Pat's favorite, would be crowded with firemen and other mourners--and it was. I stayed home, boys tucked in tight, and savored the quiet with the dogs as a candle burned on the mantle. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. Renee and Mary had offered to come by and hang out, if I needed company. I didn't, though. I wanted to be alone and accept it all quietly, listening to nothing except the pattern of my own breath.

I am grateful to have ever known Pat, to have loved him and to have been loved so much by him. I miss him. But I can still talk to him, and now he can't interrupt me. I miss that, too, though.

Life goes on. The next several days will be ceremonial against a backdrop of blue and bagpipes. He wouldn't want it any other way, and he deserves it. In the meantime, though, I'll continue to live in the moment. I am the proud mother of two sons. I don't want to miss a minute of this one life I've been given with them.

So, I leave you for now with a clip of my goofball, Nolan. He's four--well, almost five. He's as much like his brother as he is different. And some days when you look at him, you'd never know he was his father's son. Since I know there's no chance at all he's anyone else's son, I find it amusing that he is so...himself. My older son, Sean, is very much like his dad in many ways. Nolan? He barely fell off the Moira apple tree. I love them both more than anything in the world. I love being the mother of these little boys--the engineer and his sidekick, the little spaz.

Love others for who they are and tell them you love them--now. Now is all we've got.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Home is Where the Love Is

"I argue thee that love is life. And life hath immortality." - Emily Dickinson

I had taken yesterday as a vacation day to be with the boys, knocking around at home while they enjoyed Day One of April break. At lunchtime, my phone rang, and I was told that Patrick had taken a turn for the worse. They never put in the trach; swelling has increased on his brain, nine days into this mess. It is affecting his spinal column. He is dying. The time to say goodbye is now.

My friend Mary, who happens to live about eight feet from me, was also home yesterday with her son. She sweetly took in my boys so I could speed down to the hospital. It was gloomy, cloudy, cold. Saturday's warm sunshine had given way to this grievous climate. It made sense.

I sunk eight quarters into the meter and hustled into the SICU. Off-duty and on-duty firemen milled about everywhere, there to see Patrick, their "brother", one last time. So many trucks were parked outside the hospital that some visitors thought there was a crisis in the building. There was, for us anyway.

I was angry when I arrived. Angry and sad for a life cut short. I alternated between tears and numbness. I hugged members of Patrick's family, who seemed larger than life in their strength and faith in this situation. I felt useless and in the way. But I had to be there, at least for a while. This is Patrick we're talking about. Paddyo. Pat, my embattled ex-boyfriend-turned-friend. Patrick, who is always there for others even when he isn't there for himself, who never misses an opportunity to pay me a compliment or give me a good ribbing, with whom I share a huge number of childhood friends, something we realized much later on in life. (We were likely at many parties together as children.) Patrick, who showed sincere happiness for me and Ian before our wedding, a great guy who cared so much for so many people, proud of his Irish heritage, proud fireman, proud Sox fan. Even prouder son.

Memories are flooding me. But what keeps coming back is last year's St. Patrick's Day Parade. Marching with the firemen, he jumped out of line to hug and kiss me, like he does with all the girls that day. Later, in the post-parade melee, he came back to find me and the boys, and we realized together that my car, which I had stupidly parked on the green line, had been towed. (Hey, I had been to see TWO relatives in the hospital that morning. I was distracted at best. Cut me some slack.)

Pat was merciless. He laughed at me all the way to Rudy's, where we walked with the boys to find Ian (and Ian's car, complete with carseats). I thought I'd never hear the end of it from him on that one. And now I'm sad that I have.

After spending a lot of time with the family yesterday, I finally made my way into Pat's room, alone. There wasn't much to say, really. I held onto his arm and cried. Machines beeped, and Pat breathed heavily through the ventilator. There was no sense, this visit, that he was "in there". All other times, even Thursday when he was so heavily sedated, I felt him. I could sense he was there--maybe a million miles away inside his brain, but still there. Yesterday...nothing. I felt like he was already gone, with God, and God was just giving us a chance to accept it before making it final.

I said what I needed to say, and I had a very hard time leaving the room, knowing it was likely the last time I would see him in this life. When I finally left the hospital yesterday, though, I felt peaceful. I felt strongly that Patrick is okay. He's safe. He's with God. And we have to let him go.

I do believe, like Emily Dickinson, that life is love, and therefore life is immortal. Love transcends life or death. Love survives, unbroken, after years of separation or estrangement. Love is the essence of who we are, the cord that connects me to you, you to him, him to connects our experience. It allows us empathy, sympathy. Love is the common denominator for all of us in this life.

We forget, sometimes, how much we love each other and how much we need each other. And then we are given a chance to remember, in waiting rooms and brightly lit hospital hallways, as family, friends, and even old lovers hold on tightly to each other and wish we could promise to never, ever let go--forgetting it's a promise we've already kept. Real love--not just romantic love, but I mean real, human love--does not die. It does not vaporize after an embrace. It's part of our spiritual nature. And since we're spiritual beings having a human experience, love is the one thing we can take with us from this life to the next. It is the most important souvenier we can have from this trip.

My son Sean, who is seven, recently said, "I don't remember what Heaven was like before I was born. I think babies remember, though. Then they forget. Then we all remember when we die."

Enjoy this journey home, Patrick. There is so much love for you on either side of the river.

Patrick and me, Summer 2006


Monday, April 20, 2009

What Does it Mean to Be American?

So many things...but for today, it's this:

Photos of Little League Opening Day by Jeff Glagowski, my friend and personal, professional photographer. I love having a "staff".

There are some great shots of the kids in here along with their best friends. They trump anything I took that day. But then again, I never claimed to be a photographer. In fact, I frequently remind people that!


In other news: Sean competed in his first Tae Kwon Do tournament yesterday and received a nice trophy and medal (..."a REAL medal, not some plastic thing", he noted).

On the domestic front, I painted the front door a great "eggplant" shade. Ian put up the gazebo in the backyard. Flowers are blooming. I scored a good sunburn on Opening Day. The kids are off this week for April vacation and I'm enjoying some of it with them. Ian and I will be celebrating our Monthiversary tomorrow--one month already. Crazy. We're celebrating by having our bulk trash pick up! ;o) I'm still wrestling with whether to start the nursing school pre-req process this fall, or if I should wait a while. I keep wavering on the timeline of this one.

And, like every day right now, I'm keeping Patrick in my prayers. He's getting a trach put in today. And since I've just landed a spring cold, it will be a while before I go see him again.

Oh...and Nolan has taken to peeing on a favorite tree in the backyard, rather than come in the house and lose precious outdoor playing time. And both of my boys now refer to each other's nether regions as their "wenis" (wee-niss).

Little boys, little boys....


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sedate Daydream

A friend of mine is in the SICU right now after suffering traumatic brain injury following a fall at work on Saturday. He's actually an ex-boyfriend that became a good friend after we broke up. We've been in touch on and off for the past three years. He calls me on my birthday, sends me random messages and emails, and even sent me and Ian heartfelt well-wishes before the wedding. He's a good egg who has a lot of love for a lot of people. And now it's up to us to repay the favor.

It's been long week for everyone who knows and cares about Patrick. I've been to the hospital a couple of times and I'm headed back there today, looking for that glimmer of light, saying my prayers, cracking a few jokes with him, and keeping the hope alive. Pat is fighter, without question. He's adversarial by nature. How can he not come out of this?

There is hope. He has been squeezing people's hands this week and is now letting go of hands upon command. He has opened his eyes on occasion, too. They've removed the ventilator, since he can now breathe on his own, and they've inserted a feeding tube. He's currently under heavy sedation, and he needs to be. But slowly we are seeing so much progress, day by day. It's encouraging. He might be a million miles away inside his brain right now, but he's in there. I believe it. He can hear us. He can feel us. He knows we are there and that we love him. I don't doubt that for a second.

Last night, while putting my boys to bed, they did their usual prayers and thankfulness routine, followed by the usual, random assortment of questions laced with total exhaustion. The room was quiet and dark, and Nolan turned over on his side and said,

"Mommy, when we're sick, do we just lie in bed and daydream until we get better?"

I smiled. "Yes, I think that's usually what we need to do to get better."

Keep on daydreaming, Patrick. We're ready when you are.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Re-homing the Road

I don't like what's going on at the airport.

Less than a mile from my house lies Tweed New Haven, a smallish airport that caters to a few 727s, several private jets and many small planes used for aviation lessons. The airport doesn't bring much to our local economy, and it is a bit of a drain on our tax dollars. But if we didn't have it, we'd miss it. And if it grows any bigger, we'll complain about it.

It's growing.

Sort of.

The airport straddles the East Haven and New Haven border along the Dodge Avenue corridor, flanked by a large empty field and brook on one side, and the runway and main airport site on the other. After much debate (and derision), the plan to expand was approved. So Dodge Avenue is being re-routed to make way for more runway space, which will be laid in the field by the brook. No one asked the frogs or turtles their opinion of this.

Tweed has remained largely unchanged for as long as I can remember. I grew up just on the other side of the airport, in East Haven (aka 'Staven), and spent countless days riding my bike to the fence on Dodge Ave, watching as planes took off and landed. The large planes didn't come to Tweed until I was a bit older, but as a gradeschooler, I loved the rush of the smaller planes as they flew just feet overhead while I stood with my bike chewing Hubba Bubba, my small fingers woven into the links of the fence, my hair whipped by the plane's tailwind.

Now, the brook has been "protected" by a fence of black plastic sheeting, while graders and diggers and dumptrucks shift, haul, and push the earth around. The field is gone, replaced by an enormous dirt worksite. On the upside, this is total entertainment for my children when we pass the trucks on our way to the grocery store or Sean's tae kwon do classes. "Power Miners!" they yell, since the trucks look just like the latest Lego series with which the boys are fascinated.

Today I skipped out of work at lunch to run a few errands. Along the way, I passed the field and the legion of trucks working to change the landscape of the city line. There were no cops directing traffic today. Instead, the trucks were on their own, heavy with the weight of mud, not sand, as the rain poured, and the brook rose up to find itself fenced in.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Time Can Do So Much

Well that's it. Ian & I tied a triple knot on the 21st. It's a done deal. And what a long, crazy road it was to get there.

I think of all the times I used to see Ian before we dated--before I was even separated, let alone divorced. The times in the park when Nolan was just a year old were probably the ones I remember most. Hot summer days when I spent many perfect hours doing nothing but picking petals off flowers and running around with my little boys and their best friends on the playground.

Ian would always be there, it seemed, out of the corner of my eye somewhere walking the dogs. He always threw a wave my way. And on the occasional night I escaped from the house for a drink at (where else?) Rudy's with (who else?)Renee, he would always serve me up a water between beers. I never had to ask. We would talk about movies and music, our conversation bleeding into the edges of all the conversations he has with drunk New Haveners while working behind the bar.

Time is such a strange thing. I like to think that some day, when we pass through this dimension into the next and realize that we really and truly are spiritual beings having a human experience and not vice-versa, we'll finally understand the insignificance of time. It's all relative. It must be. If I look back on the past 36 years

holy crap! 36 years!

of my life--and looking back is something I try not to do too often--I see that so many moments paralelled those of others who came along. Close friends I now have were always right there outside the circle, an ex-boyfriend turned out to be the cousin of my childhood best friend, an estranged relative spent summers at the same beach club as I, and so on. At the risk of sounding like a complete flake, I believe that we really are all connected. In New Haven, it's less than six degrees of separation. In fact, you're lucky if it's more than two.

My point? I don't know. My point is, I guess, that this crazy trip we're all on is full of some pretty wacky adventures and lots of heartbreak, and we're all on it together. But what we sometimes fail to notice is that it's full of a lot more love than hurt. We only have to be willing to see it. I forget who said, "You cannot make someone love you, but you can let yourself be loved", but that phrase has been a favorite of mine for some time now. I have let myself be loved--really be loved!--finally. And lo and behold, I can return the favor. Who knew? Certainly not me, when I was in the park playing hide-n-seek and looking in all the wrong places for Ian, who had been right in front of me all along.


I heard this on the radio yesterday. Sometimes a song that has been played to death still sounds good when you haven't heard it in a while. This one sure did, even if Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore kind of ruined it for a while:

Happy Wednesday. :o)