I got through the first Father’s Day without my Daddy. It was not easy, and I spent a good deal of the weekend crying.

Unfortunately, too many of my friends are also celebrating the first Father’s Day without their fathers. One of the things that is so tough about it is that you want to try to be happy for your husband or mate, who may have children but, the pain of seeing that empty chair at the table is just almost too much to bear.

I had four men that were father figures to me and, to make matters even worse, they are all gone now.

The situation with my birth father was so difficult. My mother and he had a very contentious relationship and he was verbally and physically abusive, at times, to both my mother and I. Watching my mother cry, basically through her entire twenties and the first seven or eight years of my life, was not fun. He had an affair and started another family with that woman.  He left for good the night before my first day of kindergarten.  Although we tried to reconnect throughout the years, it just never worked out. He passed away five months after my Mom, in January of 2015. Although I didn’t grieve him in the way I would grieve the other men in my life, I was deeply saddened by the thought that we would never be able to mend the fences and have any sort of meaningful relationship. That ship had sailed. He was gone forever. To be fair, despite his shortcomings as a father to me, he was very affectionate. I get that from him. He was also very musical, and my sons and I both get that from him, and he was a very, very good athlete (he was voted “Most Athletic” in his high school senior year), and my son, Jack, gets that athleticism from him. Also, to be fair, despite all of the heartache, the truth of the matter is that if there hadn’t been a Victor Abate, there would never have been a Nicole Abate or a Christine Abate. For those things, I am grateful.

During the times he was away, my Grandpa Mike (or Honey, as I called him) took over as the main man in my life. He would come, in his operating engineer clothes, smelling like hot tar and sun, to my Father-Daughter tea parties, square dances, Brownie Daddy Days. He would always make me feel special – giving me lots of hugs and kisses, coming in to kiss me good night with his big manly hands (they were like baseball mitts) and giving me sweet butterfly kisses. He made me feel like the center of his universe. I used to worry when I was little about who would walk me down the aisle when I got married. Honey always promised me that he would. He would work all day out East, driving his big construction vehicles out in the hot sun all day, and then, go all the way back home to Locust Valley to shower, change and pick up my Grandma and then, turn right back around to pick me up in Commack so that I could sleep at his house for the entire weekend. At that time, my sister, Chrissy was still going on weekends to see my biological father. I refused to go because he wanted me to call his new wife “mom” and I refused. Anyone who knows me knows that if I don’t want to do something – I am not going to do it. Perhaps that is the Calabrese in me (which I get from Honey, by the way!).

In any case, I would spend the weekends at my grandparents, which worked out well for my mom, too, as she was still a beautiful, young and vibrant woman who was able to date on those weekends. I was happy with Honey and Grandma Nickie. We would get to their house late on Friday – Grandma having to keep elbowing him when he nodded off. Saturday I would either get a ride to Kramer’s stationary with Honey, where I was able to pick out pretty much anything I wanted (usually candy, Mad Magazine and the teen magazines that were in vogue at the time.) I would read my magazines and eat my candy in the garage while Honey was in his mechanic pit working on a car, or piddling around doing any number of things in the yard. I’d bring my baton, too, and practice my routines while listening to the Top Forty on the small boom box I kept there. Grandma would cook and the smells would be heavenly. Dinner was always some delicious Italian meal and then, we would cuddle up on the couch and watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. At bedtime, I slept in between them in there bed. I remember feeling so safe and warm and happy when they would reach over my head so that they could hold hands as they fell asleep. On Sunday mornings, Honey’s brother, Uncle Frankie, would come over with fresh tomatoes and they would do a shot (or two or three) or Sambuca. I was always allowed to have a little. We would head for home midday. I also cherished those rides home, sitting in between them, listening to songs from Grease and Saturday Night Fever on the radio of Honey’s Lincoln. He always had a Chevy pickup truck for work and a Lincoln for pleasure.

Other weekends, especially in the summer, I would go to my Aunt Angela and Uncle Neal’s, who lived in Bayville, about ten minutes away. I would spend time with my cousins Neal and David.  We had so many good times. Riding out bikes and roller skating, fishing, playing Charlie’s Angels or The Dukes of Hazzard. Unfortunately, Neal is the cousin I lost just a day and half before my step father (my REAL father) this past January. I miss him, too, every single day. Sometimes Neal and David would sleep at Grandma and Honey’s with me. We would eat Jello pudding pops, play Chinese jump rope, watch Nickelodeon and generally drive my grandparents crazy. These were good times. I thank God every day, still, that I had Honey as my pseudo daddy for those years. I know I was very special to him. He didn’t let me forget it, ever.

He started asking me when I was around ten what I wanted from him for my sixteenth birthday. He wanted to get me something special. My Aunt Angela had a beautiful rabbit fur coat and I remember I told him that I wanted that, for sure! By the time I turned sixteen, though, and Honey asked me if I decided what I wanted, I decided I wanted a piece of Jewelry – a ring. He brought me Squires in the Sears mall and let me pick out anything I wanted. I ended up picking up a ruby ring, that I still have and treasure to this day.

When my wedding day was approaching, I was very torn. My mom had been married to my Daddy (who most of you know as my “real dad”) and, of course, I wanted him to walk me down the aisle. I never forgot all of the times I had begged my Honey to do it, though so, I talked to Daddy, and explained to him my feelings and, of course, understood completely. We decided that Honey would walk me halfway down the aisle, to where Daddy was waiting, and Daddy would walk me the rest of the way and give me away. It was truly beautiful. I’ll never forget when I walked down the spiral staircase in my wedding gown, ready to get started. My Honey was waiting at the bottom of the stairs and his eyes immediately welled up with tears. He was able to get out “you look beautiful, Nicole”. It was a very special moment for us. I swear it was like people say they go through before their death – with the entire life flashing before their eyes. At that moment, I remembered all of the love and support that Honey had given me growing up and, I had to try very, very hard to not break down and mess up my professionally done make up.

The most amazing thing about my Honey was that although he was a “tough guy” –  a Marine who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima, a mechanic, a heavy machinery operator. A big man – and one of the strongest men I have ever known with the exception of my husband, he was also able to give a little girl all of the sweet, loving things she needed. It wasn’t until I got older until I understood just how special that was. Honey passed away in January of 2009, to join my Grandma Nickie in heaven. I miss him each and every single day. And, I suspect, I always will. Losing him was so much more than losing a grandparent; it was like losing a father. And, although it hurt more because of that, I wouldn’t change a thing about having been so close to him. He was truly one of a kind.

When I was nine and a half, my Mom married my Daddy. Big Bob. When I think of the hard time I gave him when they were dating and, even when they first got married. You see, I was used to it just being my Mom, Chrissy and I. My Mom worked so much that she was pretty laid back as a parent. There weren’t that many rules. As long as I was in bed, it didn’t really matter how late I stayed up reading (I was resting, she would say!), we were able to sleep with her whenever the mood hit us (watching her little black and white TV until we eventually fell asleep), running out of the house with no hat when it was snowing was no big deal (you get sick from germs, not from the cold, she would say), we were always allowed to have all of our friends in our house, dinner time was a different time every night, depending on how late she had to work. We were one of the first generation of “latch key” kids and, that was perfectly alright. Chrissy and I had so much fun coming home by ourselves. Mom didn’t say “no” often. She was so busy making a living. Survival was the key at that time. I remember her patching our jeans and even rolling pennies once in a while so that she would run to Pathmark and buy macaroni and cheese for dinner.

When “Big Bob”, my Daddy, came into our lives, there was a huge learning curve for all of us. Daddy was stricter than Mom had been and, of course, being nine and six, we rebelled against this. WHY can’t we put our feet up on our chairs when we were eating dinner (and why did we have to be home for dinner at the same time every night?), why in the world did we need a bed time? A real one where when the lights went out, we actually had to go to sleep. Why in the world did we have to wear hats in the snow? You get the idea. There was a lot of fighting – between me and Chrissy and Daddy, between Mom and Daddy. Mom had to teach Daddy to pick his battles and to not expect us to change overnight. Daddy had to teach Mom that kids need some structure in their lives. And, he was right. But, it was hard going at the beginning.

We found our rhythm pretty quickly, though, and he was our “Daddy”. He was there for us, unconditionally, all of the time. Chrissy and I also both look a lot like our biological father so, it must not have been easy to take on these two little wildlings that look like the man that he knew caused the woman he loved so much so much pain.

Daddy was there for us when we were sick at night, had our horrendous bloody noses from the forced hot air in the house, when we were heartbroken over the loss of a “love”, when we needed advice about everything (Daddy, having been a hippie before marrying Mom, had a wealth of knowledge about most things teenager struggle with); we were able to talk to him about drugs, boyfriends, even sex. He was cool and blasted Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in the house, along with anything Dylan, Beatles, Joplin and Hendrix. We loved listening to his stories about Woodstock, driving across country on his motorcycle, and basically living life in a way that Mom never got the chance to. He opened his own photography business and named it “Chris-Cole” after my sister and I. We were so touched that he would do that. He was still strict but, we started to feel as though it was because he loved us so much and was concerned about our well-being.

Daddy taught us that anything was possible, that if you work hard there was nothing you couldn’t accomplish. I know he was so proud that I own my own business. He felt as though I took that chance because I had watched him do it. And, of course, he gave us the greatest gift of all – our little sister, Lori, a year after he and Mom got married.

And, here’s the thing that made him not only our “step” father but our “Daddy”. When Lori was born – his own flesh and blood, I have to admit I was a little worried that he would love her more. That’s just the truth. But, the real truth is that never, even for a second, did Chrissy or I feel as though he loved us any less than his own “natural” daughter. We were all special to him, in different ways. He called me #1, Chrissy #2 and Lori #3.

He made our house a home. We could depend on his love unconditionally. Even when he was angry (and, believe me – Chrissy and I gave him a real run for his money), we never doubted for one second how much he loved us. We were his “girls”.

And, when we had children, he was a wonderful grandfather. My kids didn’t realize, until much, much later, that his blood didn’t run through my veins. It was a very important lesson for them in that it taught them that it is people’s actions that count, and not whether you are technically “related” to that person. It’s a very important lesson and I’m glad my children learned it early. It will help them when they navigate the complicated world of relationships in the future. My kids loved their Papa and, it was a joy for him to have boy children to love, after having had three girls himself.

It was clear from the very, very beginning how much he loved us and was ready to be our Daddy. When my parents went on their honeymoon, they were gone for about ten days. Honey and Grandma Nickie came and stayed at our house to watch Chrissy and I. They got in late – we were able to stay up and wait for them. They weren’t home for more than maybe fifteen minutes, just starting to show us some pictures and talk about their time, when Chrissy and I, at the same time, got those terrible bloody noses. It was bad. No matter what they did, they couldn’t get them to stop. Grandma and Honey were still there and they were helping to but, to no avail. It got so bad, and Chrissy swallowed so much blood, that she ended up vomiting it up. This is when Mom passed out (she was known to do that in times of great stress! LOL!). There we were, in the kitchen that looked like a gruesome murder had taken place because of all of the blood all over the place, with my parent’s luggage still in the doorway, when they finally had to call an ambulance. We spent the entire night at the hospital where they were eventually able to cauterize our noses and get the bleeding to stop. Imagine, this is the first night in his new “home” and a precursor for how difficult it was to raise children, which he had never done before. He stayed cool, calm and collected, spoke softly and kindly to us to calm us down, took care of my Mom, who was freaking out, and basically took charge of the entire situation. We didn’t get home until around dawn. Some men, I’m sure, would have taken the luggage and run (or at least thought of doing that) but, not Daddy. From the day he became our father, he was our father 100 percent.

During the period of transition I spoke of above, I was also lucky enough to also have my best friend’s dad, Jim, to act as another strong father figure in my life. I watched how he was with his girls and knew that I wanted what they had.  Jim (or Mr. Jim, or Poppa Jim, which I also called him) was always there for me; he and his wife would talk to me when I would come over crying about how “strict” our new father was, how he didn’t understand how we had lived and how he couldn’t expect us to change overnight. They were always there to let me know that things would get better. That my new Daddy was a good man and would adjust to having kids of his own – that he just needed some time. I was always welcome there – to eat, to sleep over, to swim, to just hand around in a house I felt comfortable in while adjusting to my new situation at home. And, my new father wasn’t very affectionate. It’s just how he was raised and how he was wired. Jim was affectionate. And, that helped me. That helped me in a very profound way. I stayed close to Jim up until his death in August of last year. So, this is really my first Father’s Day without my Daddy and without the man who was so instrumental in making my new home situation go that much more smoothly, just by being there. He did this by loving me and by encouraging me that my new Daddy was a great man and things would get easier with time. Boy, was he was right.

To make matters worse, not only am I grieving for these men who meant so much to me that were lost this year, my best friend is grieving as much as I am. She lost her father and as often as I was at her home growing up, she was at mine and had a very special relationship with my Daddy. He used to call her his fourth daughter. I was so blessed that Daddy ended up in a rehab facility the last two months of his life that Jill worked in. She was able to look in on him several times a day, advocate for him, and just her presence gave him some comfort. The thing is, because we are grieving together, it is so hard to help each other. We do, don’t get me wrong but, it is incredibly hard to try and comfort someone who is grieving for the same people you are.

I thought of all of these men this weekend, what they meant to me, how they affected my life and what they all brought to it. Although, of course, it was Daddy’s empty chair at my sister Lori’s house that broke my heart the most. He was a wonderful man. He took my mother and us kids in and was there for us always and unconditionally. People who didn’t realize he was really my “step” father (and there were many, for he always referred to all three of us as his “daughters” and gave us all equal time – whether he was bragging about us, or complaining about us), would often tell him that Chrissy or I looked like him and we would get a chuckle out of that. But, it’s true. When someone means so much to you and has such a profound impact on your life, you do start to resemble them; physically, in the way that you act, in your expressions and so on.

As is often the case, when I started writing this, I did it to get my thoughts out on paper, where they hurt less than when they are in my mind. I always end up taking something away from them, though, and this is where this particular blog led me.

It’s unfortunate the way that my biological father’s relationship with me ended up. But, again, if there was no him there would be no me.

More importantly, I was so incredibly lucky to have three other men in my life that stepped up and filled that void that any little girl who has been left by a father feels. It warms my heart that Honey and Jim were there for me in such important and meaningful ways. I will always remember them as father figures and, they deserve that title. I was honored to be able to do the eulogies at both of their funerals. I loved them both very much and, more importantly, they loved me very much. They made me feel worthy of the unconditional love of a man. They made me feel beautiful and good.  They will always hold a very special place in my heart.

And, what can I say about the man who came into our lives and made us his own? He was an incredibly giving, loving, caring, funny, dependable man who would lie down his life for any one of ours. He was a wonderful husband to my mother and taught me so much about how a healthy marriage should look. With all of the horror stories you hear about “step” fathers, ours was the best. In all respects, the “step” was just not an issue from day one. He was our Daddy. And, although it was so very hard, I am so glad that we were there, by his bedside, at the end. We told him how wonderful he was, how great he did with all of us – that we are all happy, fulfilled, independent woman, and that we would be ok if he left, in large part because of all he had taught us.

So, although I am without these men on this Father’s Day, I am incredibly blessed to have had them in my life. I had more love from these men than a lot of people have in a lifetime. I know that there is a heaven, and I hope that there is no pain there; I hope that there is forgiveness and only good feelings. I hope that they look down and realize that it is the sum total of all that they did for me, which made me the woman I am today.

I like that woman. She is loving and generous, strong and resilient, forgiving and kind. She loves her husband, her kids, sisters, brother in laws, nephews, friends and pets with all of her heart.  She cares for her employees, treats people with respect and stands up for herself, when necessary.  These are lessons taken from these men.

And, as much as I love them and miss them, I know that there love is eternal – and that they will be looking down on me, guiding me and protecting me – all the days of my life.

Happy Father’s Day in heaven. All of my love – always.

xoxoxo

I have spent my life subscribing to the philosophy of Alfred Lord Tennyson;

“Tis better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all”

Telling myself this has gotten me through some very, very difficult times. I have espoused this same quote to my children, to people close to me  trying to make sense of the loss of a loved one and, also, to friends that were going through very difficult break-ups.

This Mother’s Day morning, I woke up and was hit with such a huge wave of sadness and despair. It’s Mother’s Day, I have no mother. She was taken from me at the way too young age of 66. I no longer have a grandmother, who really helped to raise me when my mother was sick with cancer for the first time. I was only an infant. This was my fourth year that I haven’t had either one of them on this day. I know it’s supposed to get easier and I suppose someday it will but, today, when I got up, it hurt like hell.

It’s really not fair to get a good gauge on how well I’m “moving on”. Back in January, I lost my cousin suddenly (the closest one to my age and, for that fact, probably my closest cousin).  We have been close my whole lie. We grew up together. Just a short day and a half later, my daddy passed away. He was a great man, dad and husband. Of course, I was devastated by both of these losses but, to be honest, I was not really able to grieve them properly. The reason for this is my beautiful cousin, Amy.

I call Amy my cousin because that’s what she was to me. She started dating my cousin, Neal, when they were in college so; I have known her for almost 30 years. We have spent countless hours together; at my house, at family weddings, wedding showers, baby showers, holidays, etc. Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer that had already advanced about two years ago.

Naturally, because of my history of breast cancer, I had a very active role in Amy’s life dealing wither her own diagnosis. I went with her to pick out her wig, before she started chemotherapy, spent hours upon hours talking to her and texting her and Neal; about treatment options, how they were feeling emotionally, how to treat each other and be there for each other during one of the hardest times that they will ever have in their lives, the best way to recover from the surgeries, and about just about every other thing you need to start fighting this devious disease.

Unfortunately for Amy, she had a diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer. One of the most aggressive and one of the hardest to treat. Amy, my love, had to treat almost constantly for the two years she battled. And battle she did. The treatments were brutal, as were the surgeries. She ended up with almost every side effect one can get from chemotherapy, including a very painful condition called neuropathy. When standard chemotherapy wasn’t working, we were all excited when she started a promising trial, only to find that that didn’t work, either. By the end, she was both emotionally and physically exhausted, in an extreme amount of pain, unable to breathe because the cancer had spread primarily to the lung and because of her very low immune system, brought on by the chemotherapy, was having problems with fluid in the lungs. Nothing about the entire ordeal was peaceful and there was no silver lining.

And, let’s not forget, in the midst of all of this, when she could barely walk across a room without needing oxygen, she lost her husband and her uncle (who she was very close to), within a day of each other. Being Amy, there she was, at both services and funerals, sitting with the utmost in grace and dignity, all the while most likely thinking that there was a very good chance that the next time she attended a funeral she would most likely be the one in the casket.

The hardest thing for me to witness during the whole awful week of deaths, funerals and tears was when we went to my cousin’s final resting spot at the Locust Valley Cemetery. I knew that just about a week earlier, Amy had picked this plot for herself – made all of the arrangements. I cannot imagine being 44 and knowing that I was so close to the end of my life that I had to make “final arrangements”. The very thought of it makes me shudder.

At Neal and my father’s services, quite a few people came up to me to tell me how great Amy looked. You see, Amy was a gorgeous woman by anyone’s standards, and even with the extreme pain and breathlessness she was experiencing, and being there to bury her beloved husband and an uncle she loved so very much, she still looked beautiful. I however, having known Amy for so long, could tell that she didn’t look like “herself” but, looked very, very sick.

So, my grief had, in a way, been put off. Placed on the back burner, if you will, due to the worry over Amy’s health, my steadfast promise to be there for her every step of the way, along with my participation in fundraisers for her treatment (which was not covered by insurance), etc.

Well, my beloved Amy passed away at 3:10 in the afternoon this Thursday. Now she is gone. When I woke up this morning it really hit me that they are all gone. I will never get another big bear hug from Neal (he was the best hugger), I will never be able to hear my father’s booming voice and I will never again see Amy’s beautiful smile and hear her lovely chuckle. Never. Ever. Never again. It is now a trifecta of grief and it hurts. It really hurts.

Even more tragic is the fact that my Aunt Angela loved Amy as her own. She was the daughter that she never had. They talked 2-3 times a day, every day. I used to make fun of them because they started to look alike and sound alike. They even had the same mannerisms. For all intents and purposes, my Aunt lost two children in the span of 4 months. Think about that for a minute. I cannot even imagine the pain and the absolute devastation of her heart. I speak with her every day. Every day she makes me so proud. Instead of lying in bed with the covers pulled all the way up, she is working, she is preparing for the birth of yet another grandchild this Wednesday and she is spending time with her family. She is crying – a lot, of course but, she is living. She is so incredibly strong. Then again, she is my mother’s sister. My mother happens to have been the strongest women I have ever known. I come from a long line of strong, courageous women.

And, of course, I was thinking of Amy’s mother today. She lost her little girl. Although she has a son, she does not have another little girl. Amy and Neal were not able to have children and, so, there is not even a little piece of Amy in the form of a grandchild for Amy’s mother to cling to and give her hope. The pain she is feeling is enormous. The huge hole in her heart as a result of Amy’s death will never be filled. My heart aches for her, in a primitive, real and raw way. I pray to God that somehow she is able to find some joy in the rest of her life. After watching her poor daughter suffer and pass away before her eyes will, no doubt, make this very difficult.

As painful as it was for me upon waking this morning, I can’t imagine the pain either of these lovely ladies felt when they opened their eyes. How does one feel when they wake up on Mother’s Day after just losing a child/children? There are no words in the English language to describe it. The really aren’t.

I was looking through some old photo albums for older pictures of Amy so that I could use them to post a status update about her passing. The digital pictures I have are all of Amy in her thirties and early forties, for the most part. I wanted to find some of her with her big eighties hair, with my babies, when she was in her twenties. I was successful in finding what I was looking for. While going through the albums, I came across the pictures from each Christmas spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  There are scores of us, sitting around three tables that had to be pushed together to fit us all. Looking at these pictures, a thought struck me like a bullet through the heart. Six of these beautiful souls were now gone from this earth. They were here, the asked us to pass the gravy, they handed out the presents they had gotten for everyone, they loved, they laughed, they cried, they felt joy and happiness and sadness and they had hopes and dreams for their futures. With the exception of my grandparents, who were in their eighties when they passed, they were far too young to leave us. They had so much more life to live, so many more laughs to have, so many more tears to shed. And, no matter how hard I try, I am having a hard time making sense of it all. There are days that I really feel my faith being tested, like today.

But in looking at the pictures of us all around the table(s), I also saw the faces of all of the wonderful people I still have in my life. Would I give up the love of even one of them so that I will not have to suffer if I lose them?

The answer is a big, resounding NO.

Tragic things will always occur in life. Of that we can be sure. Tragic things will happen no matter how many people I love and accept love from. And, when those tragic things happen, it will be the people I love whose arms I will run to. It will be those people I will cry with and pour my heart out to.

And, it are these people I love – my family and friends – who inspire me, who make me laugh until my stomach hurts and tears are running down my cheeks. They are who I will share my hopes, dreams and fears with. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today and I even dare say that without them, it is possible I wouldn’t still be on this earth. Their constant support and love are what helped me through my heath ordeals.  Like the song said, they loved me through it.

So, at the end of this Mother’s Day, which was so incredibly difficult for not only me, my aunt, Amy’s mother and the far too many women I know who spent their days without a mother, a grandmother, their children, and a woman who was like a mother to them, I say I am so very sorry for your loss and I wish their was something – anything – I could do to take even a small amount of your pain away. 

At the end of this Mother’s Day, my biggest hope is that you spent a beautiful day with your mother, the mother of your children, your grandmother, your aunts, your God Mothers and your God Children. But, not only do I hope that you spent the day with them, I hope that you took in every moment, that you hugged them and kissed them and that you told them how much you loved them. Because tragic things happen, and the truth is you never know what life will throw at you – they could be gone sooner than you think. If you didn’t do that today, it’s not too late. Tomorrow is another day. Just make sure that you do it because remember;

“Tis better to have loved and lost then to never have loved at all.”

Happy Mother’s Day.

xoxo

 

I am never more inspired than when I am in the air. I could do without all of the airport bullshit ( w hich, I know is necessary to keep us safe but is, nonetheless, a pain in the ass.) I don’t know why; is it the tidy little way I can be sure my flight attendant will be down the aisle with my drink, come hell or high water, whether it’s the fact that I can have some hours of uninterrupted sleep (which, to be honest I rarely do on a plane but, still – its nice to know that I could if I wanted to), Is it the beautiful sky I see when I look out that window? The fact that I can watch a full movie, play my candy crush, work on a blog post – you get the idea. Now that my children are older. Air time is MY time. 

I think, however , that the biggest draw for me when I travel is the fact, although I know in my heart that all of my problems will still be there at home when I get back, I have taught myself to shelve them while I am away. This may seem like a simple concept to many of you but, it’s been a long process for me. You see, for someone my type of personality; A Type, controlling, perfectionist to a fault person with more than a little touch of OCD, it hasn’t been easy.
I have been through so very much the last three (has it been three already?) months. Between the loss of my cousin, who I was so very close to and then my dad passing not even 2 days later, on top of the almost constant pain due to this nasty weather and now, my late cousins wife – who I have known for so long has become my cousin by osmosis, is gravely ill with Stage IV cancer and nothing seems to be working. She needs a miracle. I am in constant touch with her because we are so very close and because, due to the fact that I am a breast cancer survivor, I understand certain terms, action plans, side effects and a fraction of what she is feeling mentally and emotionally. 

It is an honor for me to be one of Amy’s go-to people, believe me. It also, however, gives me anxiety. Anxiety about her future, about the small but always there chance that I myself, could recur at ANY time (cancer is a tricky fucker), my family has not even really been able to properly grieve my late cousin and my dad because Amy was admitted to the hospital a few days after both of them passed away. It has just been another one of those periods where my family can’t help but have a little pity party because, damn, we seriously have not had a break from serious trauma (and I’m not over-stating, as my faithful readers know) for more than three months at a time without another piano dropping on our heads.

Despite all of this- we go on. I have certainly had my days, which I’ve been told by a therapist is normal and right. I am currently on my way to Las Vegas with two of my closest friends to meet up with more of my closest friends, to celebrate the marriage of a wonderful couple who means a lot to me and whom I love very much. 

These are the things that keep me going. Despite being sad about my recent losses, despite my physical discomfort, despite the fact that I was hesitant to leave New York because of Amy, despite the work I left on my desk – I refuse to let the bad times prevent me from celebrating the happy ones. And, as I mentioned earlier, I have always gone away to do fun and happy things with my family and friends but, many times it was out of guilt for missing an important event or for making my husband and children miss them. I would have a good time but, I was, without a doubt, only really half there. The other half of me was worrying about some scan or test (for both myself and both of my parents), trying not to be terribly sad because of a recent loss (as I said – the hits have kept coming for the last decade), worrying about some friend or even just acquaintance, who I had been helping through their diagnosis, whether it just be to explain terms, give my opinion on a certain proposed action plan, accompanying them to the wig store or just listening to them cry and scream and rail at God. It has taken me a lot of therapy as well as a lot of practice to get to the point where I am now. 

Now, I am In the present. Now, I am where I am and with who I am with. In a real emergency, I can be reached. I try to live life in the moment – which seems so simple but, is a very hard concept for certain personalities, like mine, to grasp and implement in their own lives. I will land, and my friends and loved ones will have my full attention for the duration of the trip. I will not only be there but, I will be present. They will have all of me.
And, here’s the upside to getting away for a few days without bringing your mental baggage with you- the problems and issues you come back won’t feel so insurmountable, because you have taken the time that you need to recharge and realize how much you really love yourself and how strong you really are. 

So, if you are kind enough to still be reading my work, I think that the message in this one is pretty clear. I pray that all is well with you and your loved ones.The truth is though, that we all get a turn at batting in this here world that can seem so cruel. Some may have years without major incident and some may be called up to bat much more often than others. 
So, again, I implore you to be in the present, to learn not to sweat the small stuff, to choose your battles wisely with spouses, children and other loved ones and to generally try to live as happy a life as you can in the short time we have here. Amy is not even 45 yet- put that into perspective. You may need a self help book, a friend to chat with or even therapy.  

I assure you – it’s worth every penny.

In the words of Mr. Timberlake; “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery.”

All we have is the here and now. Go out there and grab some!

 

I want to thank you all for coming out to honor my father, Robert Taub. Most of you know him by Bob, although he was also known as Daddy, Papa, Robbie, Uncle Bob, Mr. Bob, Big Bob and, most recently, Slim Daddy. Whatever it is that you called him, the fact that you are here today means that he touched your life in some way.

My dad was born on January 27, 1949 in the Bronx to Harry and Dinah. He grew up in Hicksville, NY and was always regaling us with stories of the Cloister Street Gang. Just to name a few, Joe B, Dale, Walter, Richie, The DeGuilios and the Zeigs. So many tight childhood friends, who he kept in touch with pretty much right until his death. I feel that that says something very special about a person. It speaks to loyalty, generosity and commitment.

Daddy played Little League for years and then, football in High School. If I must say, he was quite a fox. When he was 18, he traveled across the country to California where he rode motorcycles, went to Woodstock, had many adventures and was quite the hippie. I know that this time in his life – just having far out experiences with his buddies, was a very special and happy time in his life.

Being a true New Yorker at heart, though, he eventually made his way home. He ended up earning a degree from Nassau Community College and after numerous jobs – he was always telling us he went to Whopper College! – he ultimately discovered that his love for photography was what he was meant to do. In the early 80s, he started his own photography business and named it “Chris Cole” after me and my sister, Chrissy. We were so proud! He had an amazing eye and took gorgeous pictures. Although he later switched careers to computers (he would be mad if I didn’t say Apples, NOT PCs), he never got over his love of photography. For his entire life, he was always there, at every event, with a camera in his hand, capturing every joyful moment.

As soon as personal computers became popular, he was hooked. Mostly self- taught, he went on to have a very successful career as a Macintosh consultant. Some of the places he worked were Sony, Viacom, MTV and CBS. He was so generous with his knowledge and helped so many people learn to navigate this new technology. I know he’s helped many of you here, whether it be which computer to buy, how to use the newest versions, or which programs would best fit your needs. He was always on the cutting edge of technology and loved his gadgets. We were always the first family on the block with a video camera, a VCR, Disc Player, Blu Ray player, TIVO. You get the idea.

These were passions of his. And, I’m happy for him that he got to make a living doing things he loved. But, as everyone in this room knows, his real passion was his family.

He met my mother, Elizabeth, a single mother when I was very young. They met out with friends at a bar. He ran over to light a cigarette for her. Of course, the way he told the story was that she saw him from across the room, whistled through her fingers and yelled, “Yo, Sailor!” They fell in love quickly and soon, he asked her to be his wife. He was a man strong enough, and brave enough, to marry my mother despite her having two very young (and let’s face it – we’re talking about me and Chrissy), somewhat wild little girls. They married in 1980 and gave us our beautiful baby sister Lori in 1981. Finally, after all of the turmoil Mommy, Chrissy and I had been through, we had a loving and stable home. Daddy, at NO time, made Chrissy or I feel as though we were any less of his daughters than Lori was. This is truly a beautiful and rare thing.

And, come on, you have to give the man credit. He lived in a house with 4 females and 1 bathroom. He lived with mood swings, emotional outbursts, snotty teenage attitudes and, it was almost impossible for him to EVER get his hand on a phone that wasn’t being used, the cord stretched to the breaking point around the corner from the kitchen into our bedrooms. In the early 90s, my parents changed their phone number. A couple of years later, I was selling sporting goods at Sears when I was ringing up a middle aged couple. When they asked for their phone number, and they told me it was 499-0103, I excitedly told them that that was MY old phone number. Their faces changed immediately from good natured to something else. The woman said to me, “Oh, Lord. Are you Nicole or Chrissy?” Apparently, they were still getting calls – lots of calls – looking for Chrissy and I at our old number. It was an expensive treadmill and I was on commission so, thank God I did not lose the sale, although it was clear that they weren’t happy!

Despite raising us three girls, who could drive him absolutely nuts, we had a very happy home. We celebrated holidays in a huge way, for every birthday, the house was decorated and filled to the brim with presents and loved ones. We took trips, we went to see movies, we wanted for nothing.

Daddy was also such a loving husband to my mother. They were different in so many ways but, something about them just worked. He would go to the moon and back for her and she knew it. When we went through Mommy’s things after she passed away in 2013, we found some love notes that he had written her over the years. Some were sweet and, some scarred us for life. Really, there are certain things children do NOT want to know about their parents private lives.  However, the one thing that was clear in each letter was how very much he loved her. She was his “toots”. I am so happy that they found each other and believe that theirs was a true love story. Daddy was heartbroken when Mommy passed away. He was never the same. The only thing that got him through it was his children and grandchildren so, let’s go there.

He called me #1. Although I was so happy to have a dad who loved me, boy did I give him a run for his money. My mom had been extremely laid back and I was NOT happy when he first came into our lives and tried to add some discipline. Bedtime? What’s that? What do you mean I have to wear a hat in 20 degree weather? I just did my hair! I’m punished? What the heck does that mean? Eventually, though, we found our groove and, once we did, it was magical. He put up with my boy crazy phase, he allowed my friends to practically live at my house – especially Jill, who he affectionately called his fourth daughter. He was proud of my scholastic achievements, beamed when I graduated from college and felt like I took after him when I became a small business owner. He was tough but fair and taught me life lessons that helped make me into the person I am today. When I married Al, he couldn’t have been happier. He loved Al like his own. They had a very special relationship. I know that Al was always there for him but, after he got sick, Al became his rock. My entire family is grateful to him for this – and will never forget that kindness that he showed Daddy and the wonderful way he took care of him these past few months.

Chrissy was #2. If I gave Daddy a run for his money, she gave him an Iron Man race. We all know Chrissy, and the teenager she was – up for anything to have a good time. A memory that comes to mind is when she traumatized Daddy by basically totalling her car in the city, coming home, parking the car right in front of the house and going to sleep. You can imagine his reaction when he woke up and looked out the front window and saw the car. After ascertaining that she was not hurt – I was seriously concerned that HE would hurt her. Despite many other stories like these, she could also make him laugh like no one else. He used to love to tell the story of when they went to the supermarket and he told her to go to the next aisle and get a 5 pound bag of sugar. He almost peed his pants when she called out to him “Daddy, do you mean the bag that says 5 libs?” As she got older, all of the values he instilled in her came to fruition. He was so very proud of her work ethic and her extremely huge heart. He also used to say that she was the most like Mommy – she would do anything for anyone – always. He really depended on her after Mommy died. She was the one who would run errands for him and check on him every day. He was also thrilled when she married Jay, the love of her life. He knew how much he loved her and that he would be able to be there to comfort her in times of need. You see, when people have hearts as big as my sisters – empathic people – they don’t only feel pain that is their own, they also feel the pain of others around them. It can be a heavy burden to bear.

And then #3, Lori. His baby girl. The greatest day of his life was the day she was born. I remember he was deliriously happy holding her – she couldn’t have been more than a few minutes old – when she farted – loudly! He was stunned. My mother leaned over to him and said, “You know that they do that, right Hun?” Again, he couldn’t stop laughing. So much that he was almost crying. Since the photography studio was in our garage at the time, my mom went outside of the house to work and he was a stay at home dad before it was in vogue. Because he took care of the day to day caring of her, there is no question that they shared a special bond. They did everything together. Wherever he went, she went. When he rented space for the photography studio, he took her with him every day. She would sit at the front desk and, as the customers would come in, she would say, “You can give me the money and then go talk to him”. She was four. He was also incredibly proud of her athletic ability. She was a phenomenal soccer player – a star, really – and, he did not miss ONE game. Ever. There he was, on the sidelines, cheering her on with that big booming voice of his. He was also thrilled with Lori’s choice of a husband. He couldn’t love and respect Chris more. My sister, as I’ve said before, can be a little high maintenance. He always knew that Chris would be able to keep her happy without giving into her every whim and landing them in the poor house.

And, then came the grandchildren.

First was Michael, who was special just for the very fact that he was the first one to make Daddy a Papa. He was so proud of his smarts and kind heart. I am so very happy that not only was he around to hear that Michael got into every college that he applied to but, also that he got academic scholarships.

Then, Jack, who was raised by a village since I was diagnosed with cancer just four months after he was born. Daddy was amazed at his resilience and kindness. He made mention, many times, about how special he thought it was that not only did Jack spend time with his baby cousins but, that he did it with a smile on his face, with patience and with love. He was also proud of his skills both on the basketball court and the football field. All the while maintaining grades high enough to land him on the honor roll every quarter since middle school.

Then Gavin, Lori and Chris’s first baby. All you have to do is look at a picture of him holding Gavin to see how much joy he brought him. Gavin is smart, kind, funny, loving and a real “Papa’s Boy”. He could put together a puzzle of the entire United States by the time he was a year and a half. You know how much Daddy loved him also, because he forgave him for being a diehard Mets fan! Daddy’s favorite sport to play, and to watch, was baseball. He was so proud and happy that Gavin shares this passion!

And, finally, Baby Mason. Daddy’s doppelganger. His zest for life, humor and spunk was a joy for Daddy to witness. Mason was the blessing that God gave to Daddy after he lost my mom. It gave him so much happiness to watch him run around with unbridled joy. Thank God for Mason – because of his incredible resemblance, it will be impossible not to think of Daddy every time we see him.

So, Daddy loved many things; photography, gadgets, computers, his friends, poker, his koi pond, all of the dogs and birds that we had throughout the years, Bob Dylan, playing his numbers, motorcycles, the Yankees, his hippie days – but, there was nothing he loved more than his family. Not for one second. Ever.

I can’t neglect to mention just how incredibly strong Daddy was. Despite many health issues in the past, he always pushed through to fight another day. Although this last illness finally took him from us, he was positive and looking towards the future right up until the very day that he passed.

Daddy, Papa, Mr. Bob, Mr. Taub, Uncle Bob, Big Bob, Slim Daddy

  • We will miss you at every milestone
  • We will miss you at every holiday
  • We will miss you at every birthday
  • We will miss you on a random Tuesday afternoon when there is nothing going on

However, we are happy that you are with Mommy. We are happy that you are with all of those who you loved and who passed before you. We are happy you are with God.

We will take care of each other because that’s what you taught us to do. We will live life to the fullest, in your honor; no matter how hard it is, because we love you that much.

And, lastly, please take care of Little Neal. He just got there a day before you. We know how very much you loved him. Please watch over him until his parents are reunited with him again. 

Love you always,

Number 1

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Cancer is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Whether you are newly diagnosed, in remission, or considered “cured”, it is something that will truly change your life forever.  It will change it in ways that you cannot even imagine if you tried and cannot understand unless you have been sat down and told that you have it.

My cancer diagnosis was way back in 2002. So, technically, I have been cancer free since I had my cancer surgeries that same summer. Unfortunately, though, your cancer journey doesn’t end when the cancer is cut out. As most of you know, for me, it caused the need for over twenty surgeries due to a failed reconstruction, to have to have poison in the form of chemotherapy coursed through my veins, to have radiation shot at my body and to be on a hormone blocking therapy in the form of a pill every day.  Yes, every day I still take a pill to prevent the cancer from returning and cutting my life short. Each and every day, when I raise that pill to my lips, I have to think of my cancer.

Now I’m faced with the problem of the medication finally starting to cause side effects in my body in the form of problems in my uterus.  The medicine I am on, Tamoxifen, can cause a slight increase in the chances of getting uterine cancer. It is just a slight increase, however, and you always have to weigh the benefits with the risks. For me, it was worth it to take the risk in order to stave off the cancer. The standard of care, however, is only ten years.

Because it is the only medication that can be taken when you are pre-menopausal, and my body refuses to go to that menopausal place, I was in a conundrum when I reached the ten year mark. It was unchartered territory. Do I stay on the med and take my chances? Do I have surgery to put me into surgical menopause? At the time (three years ago), the best option seemed to be to stay on the medicine and just monitor the uterus to ensure that no changes were taking place. So, that is what I did.  It made sense for me. Tamoxifen can cause many side effects and I was lucky that the only one that seemed to affect me was a fifteen pound weight gain. No big deal in the grand scheme of things. I know some women who refused tamoxafin because of the side effect of weight gain, and am so sorry to report that more than one of them are no longer here.

So, I continued to swallow that pill each and every day (along with a baby aspirin, to ensure no blood clots). The first two years the uterine sonogram was uneventful. This year, however, was a different story. I had a thickening of the uterine lining, along with polyps and fibroids. I’ve had two procedures to clean all of this out and, as I sit here typing, I can still feel the cramping and pain from the surgery on Monday.

I will have another surgery in January. A big one. A total hysterectomy, along with two hernia repairs from the prior reconstruction surgery. The surgery will last hours and the recovery time will be ten to twelve weeks.  The hernias are painful and don’t look nice although, I don’t think I would have had them repaired if not for the fact that they can actually damage internal organs as they get worse.  I have to have the total hysterectomy so that I can go on another medication to prevent the cancer from coming back (there are about twenty different meds that one can take if they are POST-menopausal). Technically, I don’t need to be on any medication as, being so far out from the original cancer with no recurrence, I am considered “cured” but, how would I ever look at my husband, my kids, my family, my friends if I stopped taking the medication and the cancer returned? I couldn’t live with myself. I am also interested in living as long a life as possible.

So, as much as we like to think that people who have finished their chemotherapy and their radiation, people who are ten or fifteen years out from their initial diagnosis, are “cured”, please remember that even if they are not still facing “treatment”, they are facing mental and emotional challenges for the rest of their lives.

Once you are diagnosed with cancer, you are never the same. You have stared into the abyss and have faced your mortality. Your heart breaks when you hear of someone else being diagnosed because you know that they will never be the same. It’s difficult for you to watch television shows where cancer becomes a story line (Parenthood did it to me and now Ray Donovan is doing the same, just to name a couple).

Every doctor visit is scary, whether it is logical or not. You are never of the mindset that “all will be ok” again. That ignorant bliss has been taken away from you. Waiting for any biopsy is an exercise in fear and angst. Your mind plays funny tricks on you. Any lump or bump on any of your family members, friends and even animals is, until you are told differently, cancerous.

There are some good points, though. When I do get those biopsy results and they are negative, I don’t take it for granted. I dance, I yell, I am happy for a week! When little things that used to really bother me happen, I don’t care as much. No big deal. When I go out with friends, I am so grateful to be there that I always have a good time. I enjoy the little things in life, like a rain shower, the soft licks of my dog on my face and my fireplace glowing . I love fiercely and with my whole heart. I treasure my friends and my family because I know that they can be gone in a heartbeat. I have learned that I have no control over most things – which is huge for me because I have always been a control freak. It is much more relaxing this way.

I am a work in progress. I no longer feel  like every cold is the beginning of the end of my life and I’m pretty confident that I will be here to see my grandchildren but, I don’t take it for granted.

I also think I am a better friend than I would ever have been had I not had cancer. I remember how much I needed people to really listen, to really hear my fears when I was sick and, I definitely listen and am there for people when they need me. I would do just about anything for the people I love, and am rewarded with family and friends that have my back, all the time, no matter what.

I asked for prayers this Sunday for my surgery on Monday and got over two hundred responses. It is truly heartwarming. It makes me feel safe. It makes me feel loved. After the surgery, it took me over four hours to return all of the phone calls, texts, messages, etc. that I received to check on me. Priceless. It was just a small procedure and yet, I was surprised with gifts sent to the house to cheer me up. I am loved.

So, please remember, for those going through cancer now or who have survived cancer in the past. It is never far away from us. We need the constant support and love of those who are around us. It makes a world of difference in our spirits and in our recovery and ability to stay well. When someone with cancer talks to you, feel honored that they trust you with their deepest fears and really listen. Remember when they have a test and make it a point to ask how they made out. Same with doctor visits. Trust me, it will mean the world to them.

We are still people but, we are changed. And, although we would never want our cancer to define us, we do need people to understand that it is a part of us now, ingrained in our DNA, for better or for worse.

Thank you, friends.

It’s one thing to have many close (some very close) friends, which I am lucky enough to have but, there is almost nothing sweeter, more fulfilling or more fun (for lack of a better word) than to have one true best friend. I have found that it is one of life’s greatest blessings.

I moved to Commack from Locust Valley just two months shy of my third birthday. I still remember, believe it or not, riding my big wheel as fast as I could up and down my new block, Doe Lane, hoping someone would see me and come out to play. Faster than you can say “big wheel”, there were a gang of kids out – curious to who the new addition to the block was.

It was a great block. Just about every house had two or more kids. The closest to my age, however, were Vinny, Kenny, Adam and, of course, my soon to be best friend, Jill.

Now, I actually became closest with Vinny first, and we maintained that closeness until he died tragically in the early nineties. He was like a brother to me, though. Jill and I, in fact, had some issues at first. One of them even culminated in us rolling around on the grass, kicking and pulling each other’s hair. But, you know what, that was absolutely fine. It was good for us. Our childlike, primitive way to solve a problem.

Slowly but surely, though, we became closer and closer. She was a year ahead of me in school but, soon, besides the time we spent in the classroom, we became pretty much “attached at the hip”.

Jill was the Ying to my Yang. The salt to my pepper. The Shirley to my Laverne. You see, in many ways we couldn’t be any more different. I was outgoing where she was reserved and a little shy. I was reckless (ok – wild) where she was rational. I was boy crazy where she was a little bit of a late bloomer. I constantly tested boundaries and she constantly kept me in line and protected me. I was always up to do anything and needed almost constant companionship where she cherished her alone time. I was an overachiever in just about everything while she was happy to just do her best (which is a quality, as I get older and older, I wish I had also had then). Where I was emotional and full of drama, Jill was even keeled and able to hold her emotions in check. We were anything but carbon copies of each other and yet, we didn’t see them as differences. We always felt as though we simply complimented each other. And we did. There were qualities that Jill had that benefited me more than I can say and there were qualities that I had that she has told me made life a little more exciting.

We have made so many memories that it is, in all seriousness, impossible to list them all. Since we lived across the street from each other, there was literally, except for the occasional illness or vacation, not a day that would pass that I don’t remember spending with Jill. We had our routines; watching General  Hospital every day with potato chips and iced tea, walking to Pathmark to buy our parents cigarettes at the stationery store (can you imagine??), stopping into the deli to flirt with the cute guys behind the counter, walking to the Flea Market to buy our favorite lip stick and to have a nice and gooey piece of pizza downstairs, roller skating every weekend with combs in the back pockets of our Jordache Jeans and feathers in our hair. We were miniature Dorothy Hamills on wheels because, when we weren’t at the rink, we were practicing our moves in my partially cemented back yard. We put on plays, made up dance routines (Another One Bites the Dust was a particular favorite of mine), got the ice cream man, played SPUD and Kick the Can with the other neighborhood kids and, of course, sat on the curb with our boom box under the street light until it was time to go in for the night.

We tanned until we were the color of mahogany. We still, unfortunately, have this bad habit but, at least now we wear sunscreen. No sunscreen for us then, though. It was baby oil all the way. When it got hot, we’d just jump into the pool. Luckily, we both had one, although Jill’s was a built in with a slide!

As we got older, we idolized her big sister, Karen. She taught us how to put our make up on, took us with her to Robert  Moses in her silver sports car and brought “older guys” around that we would literally drool over (or at least, being boy crazy, I did).

There was rarely a weekend that one of us didn’t sleep at the others house. My parents were her second parents and hers mine. We would listen to music, watch movies (anything scary was the best) and never missed Saturday Night Live. Jill is the one I saw my first “grown up” movies with; Fame, Flashdance, Raw and Purple Rain come to mind.

The night before the other’s birthday, one of us would spend hours making the other the big cardboard initials, wrapped in tin foil, with bows and a piece of candy for each year the other had been living. We never had to worry the night before about whether someone would make us one – it was a given – done.

We worked at McDonalds together, at the Stationary store together and at Sears together. Like I said earlier, “attached at the hip”.

There was no “threes a crowd” for us. If one of us had a boyfriend or plans with another friend, we would always include the other. We were Jill and Nicole and no one came in between us.

We shared secrets and dreams. She was going to marry Adam Ant and I was going to marry John Travolta. We had a lot of good times with lots of different boys and to this day, we often refer to different periods of our lives by which group of boys we were hanging out with at the time; first it was Randy, Shevy, Gerry, Todd and Jay, then the McDonalds crew, then the deli boys and finally, the days of Chuckie, Woody, Mike D., Mike V and Eric. Lol. You get the idea.

Sure, we got annoyed at each other sometimes but, I can honestly say that in our 43 years of friendship we only had two real fights. One was the scrap on the lawn I mentioned before and the other was when we were about 12. I though Jill was cheating at some stupid game we were playing (she wasn’t). I can’t remember if it was Gin Rummy or Life but, in any case, we had an argument. I stormed off to Old Farms and cried on the swings for about a half an hour. It was as if I had lost my arm. By the time I got back, we made up and that was the end of that.

We are so close that we are almost like twins in that we know when the other is hurting. We can also finish each other’s sentences and, sometimes, we can just look at each other without saying a word and know what the other one is thinking. Usually, this is some kind of funny memory that brings us to obnoxious hysterics.

Things, of course, have happened in both of our lives that were very deep and very painful. I can honestly say that I never could have gotten through those times without Jill nor she without me. When you are as close as are, you just instinctively know what to say, or what not to say. We are each other’s anchor, each other’s beacon in the night. Being with each other feels like home.

When my mother passed away, I was across the country. Jill and her mom went to the hospital to be with my dad and sisters in my place. It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable for any of them – it just felt right. When I did get home, she didn’t leave my side, taking care of me, making phone calls I couldn’t make and showering me with hugs and kisses. She did that because she loves me so very much. We cried together, remembered together and took comfort in just being together.  Not too long before then, she had lost her beloved mother in law. I did everything I could to make her feel that she was not alone – and that she never would be. I remember holding her hand throughout the entire service at the wake. I remember looking at my devastated love and wishing there was something, anything, I could do to take that pain away for her. I couldn’t so I just did what came naturally – I just attached myself to her hip, letting her know that she was not, and would never be alone as long as I still had a breath in me.

I am so proud of my best friend. She went back to school after her beautiful daughter was born (whose middle name is, I’m proud to say, Nicole) and became an RN. After getting a great job at a wonderful hospital, she went back to school again to become a Nurse Practitioner. This was while having a child at home to take care of and working full-time. I cheered her on all the way. I didn’t even give her shit when she pulled out her study materials on the beach in Aruba, where we were enjoying a best friends vacation.

What a motivated, tough, beautiful woman has become. She finished her studies, aced her exams and is now a certified Nurse Practitioner.

The description of Jill and I from the beginning of this piece doesn’t totally apply anymore. We have both changed. Jill is no longer shy and reserved. She has come into herself beautifully, despite all of the hardships, disappointments and loss she has endured.  She is kind but, firm. She doesn’t take shit from anyone. She is more beautiful now than she has ever been and is self-confident, smart, sassy and comfortable in her own skin. She has a loving (and very handsome) husband, a daughter so bright and beautiful that the room lights up when she walks in, a beautiful home, a kick ass job and, most importantly, a pretty wonderful life.

So, Jill, here’s to you, my love. I have loved you for as long as I remember and I will love you always. I promise to always be here for you and for your beautiful daughter and I promise to fulfill all other pacts we have made. I cannot wait to experience all of the wonderful things that life has in store for us. And, I will be right there, holding your hand, for all the tough times ahead. You are a true inspiration.

Thank you for always having my back, for always holding back my hair and for the million laughs we have shared. Thank you for not getting fed up with my “alpha” personality and for always encouraging me to be who I am. Most of all, thank you for loving me – warts and all.

I know I’ve told you this so many times but, I think the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” sums up our relationship perfectly. I know that you have always been the wind for me but,  my hope is that as we have gotten older, and changed, I was able to be that wind for you, as well.

I love you, girl.

“It must have been cold there in my shadow, to never have sunlight on your face

You were content to let me shine, that’s your way

You always walked a step behind

So I was the one with all the glory, while you were the one with all the strength

A beautiful face without a name, for so lone

A beautiful smile to hide the pain

Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

You’re everything I wish I could be

I could fly higher than an eagle

Because you were the wind beneath my wings

It might have appeared to go unnoticed

But, I’ve got it all here in my heart

I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it

I would be nothing without you

Thank you, thank you, thank God for you

The Wind Beneath My Wings……”

~Bette Midler

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After all of the things I’ve had to do to get through my breast cancer diagnosis in 2002, I would be lying if I said that I was not getting tired. Especially since just when I thought I was done with all of the surgeries (I had twenty since my diagnosis), I found out that I would have to have three more this year. Two are pretty simple medical procedures but, I am scheduled for a double hernia and an old-fashioned (not laparoscopic) total hysterectomy in January.

I had the first of the two smaller medical procedures yesterday and, because I’m “special”, although we didn’t expect to find anything but a thickened uterine wall that would have to be dealt with, there were three large polyps that will have to be removed in the hospital in the next few weeks. Now, luckily, I had a biopsy of the uterine wall the day the sonogram showed the thickening because my kind doctor took pity on me when I started crying, so the chances of those polyps and the rest of the tissue that was taken yesterday being malignant is small since the original biopsy of part of the wall that was removed was benign. But, it led me to have to have another procedure to remove them. In addition, it caused me to have to set up the total hysterectomy because one of the side effects of the only medication I can be on while I am pre-menopausal to prevent the cancer I had from ever coming back is an increased risk of uterine cancer.

As it is, I have already been on the drug three years over the standard of care because, despite the chemo, radiation, Lupron and the drug I’ve been on (tamoxifen), my body refuses to go into menopause. Many women lose their periods after the rigorous chemotherapy I had and, if not, they lost it after being on tamoxifen for two or three years. I believe I am the only woman my oncologist has had who has had to deal with a patient who was still getting regular periods even after ten years of Tamoxafin. After much discussion at my check up after I had been on the drug for ten years, we decided I would stay on it rather than put myself into surgical menopause at only 43 since the only side effect I had ever had was a fifteen pound weight gain. The other effects are much worse; blood clots and, as I mentioned, an increased risk of getting uterine cancer. From years one to ten, the increased risk is small but, there is no data on whether the risk increases after ten years hence, the yearly sonogram that found the uterine wall thickening.

Now, although I hate the fact that I have to take this medication every day (with a baby aspirin to prevent the blood clotting risk referred to above), there was no way I was not going to do anything to be proactive in my cancer not returning. Especially since, like I said, I seem to be “special” and many times, my body does things that go against the “norm”. I wasn’t thrilled about the weight gain, either, which happened just as they said it would (think of it as being permanently in a state of “period bloat”) but, fifteen pounds, to me, was certainly worth my life. There are many women who don’t take the tamoxifen solely due to the weight gain and, I’m sorry to say that I personally know one of those women who is no longer with us. After ten years, you are technically considered “cured” and many people then go about their lives without any treatment but, I’m not taking any chances. I’m so blessed to have so many people in my life who love me and I would never want to be taken from their lives, on top of the fact that I have way too much living, and laughing, to do. Trust me, though, every morning, when I put those little pills in my mouth, it is a reminder that I had cancer. How nice it would be if I could just put it all behind me. Sigh.

So, I am having the surgery to remove the polyps soon and then, will have the total hysterectomy in January. On top of that, due to the cancer reconstruction surgeries I had, I have developed two hernias that need to be removed before they are able to do damage to other organs. I’ve already had to have one hernia surgery for the same reason, back in 2005 and, although it was not one of my longest (12 hours took that record) or even one of the hardest (one time I came home with 8 drains and had I don’t even know how many stitches – how many hundreds), it was the surgery with the hardest recovery. You see, where the hernias are happen to be the very center of my gravity so, I cannot shower, drive, lift, laugh hard, sit up without pain, etcetera for ten to twelve weeks. If you know me, you know that I am fiercely independent and having to have someone drive me anywhere I have to go, having to have my sisters help me wash my hair, having to sit at the edge of the bathtub and wash myself (which takes an excruciating amount of time) and having to have people help me with my work just sucks. However, it is something, for my health, that I will do.

So, I am getting tired, for sure. I’m tired in my heart, I’m tired in my mind and I’m tired in my body.  I’m sick of being afraid of anesthesia (how long will my luck hold out) and I’m sick of feeling fat and unattractive. I’m sick of being scared of test results (because I’m “special” – remember?) Just last summer, I had some symptoms that caused me to have a colonoscopy. Everyone said that at my age, I would be fine. They wouldn’t find anything. Well, they did. Six polyps, all different in size, that is very unusual for a woman in their forties. Now, I’m so glad I had it (and will have to have one once a year for a while) because I will probably not die of colon cancer. They will find the polyps early and remove them before they become cancerous. But, still – really?? On top of it, because of the fact that I have a recurrent staph infection because of one of the surgeries (that one caused me to have a blood transfusion and sepsis), I am unable to do any type of strenuous exercise. It causes my immune system to dip and the staph infection to rear its ugly head. Because of this, I also feel weak.

I was feeling sorry for myself yesterday when I woke up from the procedure and was told that because the polyps were big and “broad based”, I would have to have another procedure in the hospital, and soon. It couldn’t have just been a thickening of the wall that could be cleaned up. No. Because it’s me. And, I know that the doctor told me that she is not worried about malignancy because of the prior biopsy she did but, come on, it’s always there, in the back of your mind, once you have a cancer diagnosis. And, I know I’m beating a dead horse here but, things that doctors don’t expect from other patients seem to happen with me.

I came home and was crampy and exhausted. I texted the people who had been texting me, or who knew I was having the procedure and then, collapsed into bed. I slept pretty much twenty-four hours between the procedure and now. Unfortunately, I had to take a shower and now, doubt I will be able to sleep at all tonight. The cramping has gotten better, though so, that’s good. Paulie Walnuts is with me and we will just stay up cuddling and probably watching “The Sopranos”.

I know that this blog has been pretty technical up to this point and, it was necessary. It was necessary because of what I’m about to say next.

Yes, I’m tired but, I’m still here and going strong. I had a Fourth of July party with sixty of my closest family and friends there and we had such a great time. We laughed so much that my belly hurt the next day. I will go to Florida in October with old friends for our annual Halloween Horror Nights get together. Again, we will laugh and laugh and take so much joy in being together. I am taking a second trip to Aruba with my very best friend in December. We will just lay on floats in the water all day, watch the sunset, and then, go party in the small town. We will laugh, and dance, and talk about old times. We have forty-three years of memories so, we never run out of things to talk about.  We fall into bed, very late, tan, rested, slightly inebriated and completely happy. Then, in April, two of my favorite people in the world are getting married in Vegas and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. A Disney/Universal Family vacation will take place soon after. I can’t wait to see the looks on my nephew’s faces when I see them meet Mickey and Minnie and the Minions. I can’t wait to be on the corniest ride in the world “It’s a Small World” and I can’t wait to go on the roller coasters with my sons and brother in-laws. I always put my head back on those rides, and let the wind whip my hair around and breathe in the air and think “I am living.”

You see, there are lots of scary and hard things in my life but, I try to fill the other space, when those scary things are not happening, with as much love, laughter and joy as I possibly can. I think it’s very important to always have things to look forward to. That’s why I have so many parties; game nights, Rangers parties, holiday parties, BBQs. Sure, my core group is BIG and it’s a lot of work but, I wouldn’t change it for the world. People tell me I’m crazy but, they just don’t understand. These are the moments that keep me going. These are the things that turn the exhaustion into happiness and, most importantly, hope.

Unfortunately, I have a couple of friends who were recently diagnosed with cancer and they have long roads ahead of them but, I’m hoping they read this. Cry when you have to, it’s normal to be scared, it’s perfectly okay to feel like it’s not fair that this is happening to you but, be sure to remember that the reason you are going through all the treatment to make you well so that you can LIVE and not just exist. If you can survive this – and you can – I feel that it is not only a good thing to be happy for your soul but, that it is your responsibility to be happy. God kept you around for a reason. For me, I feel that one of those reasons is to try to inspire others who are going through really tough times to be grateful when you get through those times. To show others that although life is hard, there is so much joy to be had.

My mom used to say , when someone famous would die suddenly, that she never thought she’d outlive them since she had been dealing with cancer since she was in her twenties. But, my mom was sure to live her life to the fullest. She was happy. Sure, she was scared and tired, too but, all in all, she lived in such a way that she didn’t waste a moment of the good times. Anyone who knew her knows this is true. I guess that’s where I get it. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, after all.

So, when I’m surrounded by my friends and family and we are all eating, dancing,  drinking, laughing and having a good time, I’m often laughing the most. That’s when I’ve had people tell me “your always so happy”. That always makes me feel so wonderful. For me, it feels like Victory!

I know it is easy to feel despair and sadness in this life, especially with all of the horrible things going on in the world but, take it from me, you can feel empathy and sadness for the people who are affected but, then, try to get away from the news and the T.V. and go and do something that makes you happy. You won’t ever regret it.

xoxo

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So, here I sit again – confused, upset, grateful, afraid and dealing with a bit of survivor’s guilt. I am also, once again and more profoundly than ever, realizing how music is magical and mystical – helping us through difficult times, helping us wallow in our sorrow in order to purge but, also, helping us to celebrate the happy times in our lives. It makes us think, it makes us cry, laugh, dance and, most of all reminisce. Sometimes, the reminiscing makes us happy and sometimes, it makes us melancholy but, both emotions are equally important. Without happiness, we would not know sorrow and without sorrow, we would not know happiness.

Of course, I’m talking about the unexpected and devastating loss of Prince, who is arguably one of the most talented artists to have ever lived.

The confusion, the upset, the gratefulness and the survivors guilt – that all comes whenever I hear of someone’s death, and especially when that someone has contributed (and could have contributed more) to our world in a positive and uplifting way.  I felt similarly when James Gandolfini died. He had so much more to give to this world as an artist and – just like that – all that potential went away.

I think that the death of Prince was so sudden, unexpected and shocking that it feels like, for me, an even bigger loss.

Why them and not me, again? I just had another biopsy that, if positive, could have turned my world upside down. It came back benign. Although I will still need another surgery, God willing I will survive it like I did the first twenty. I can carry on with my life. But, why? Why am I still here when this genius, who brought joy to millions of people, is just gone? Why am I, Nicole Abate, still here to see another day? I have an average life and although I always try and do anything I can for my friends and family, there will be no tributes on television when I leave this world. I haven’t left anything for the masses that they can enjoy for generations and generations to come. However, as much as I do feel the survivor’s guilt when I hear of someone’s passing, I am truly very grateful, as well, to wake up each morning and live another day.

Who knows? Maybe I touch more lives that I realize. Maybe this blog will be my legacy – especially if I can turn it into a book. Every time I do a post, I say a silent prayer that it will resonate with someone, maybe make them laugh, maybe take away some of their fears, maybe help them to conjure up some long lost happy memories of their childhoods.

It has taken me three days to be able to write about Prince, and the effect he had on my life. I’ll never forget where I was when I was told he passed by an old high school friend, Janine. I was in the car on the way back from a very productive business meeting and did everything I could to hold back my tears. I spent the next couple of days watching tributes and crying on and off. I know I didn’t personally know Prince, and from the specials I’ve been watching it seems like he was so painfully shy that not too many people did, but, I cry for  a piece of my childhood that has been forever altered, for the potential that will never be seen, and for his family and loved ones.

For so many years he had an effect on me and my friends. I remember that my friends Jill, Tammy, Francine and I watched Purple Rain so many times that we could recite every line. And we all wanted to be Appolonia. I am lucky enough that all of these beautiful souls are still in my life and we have all been grieving. The four of us getting ready to go out listening to “Let’s go Crazy” and “1999” are memories that I will always cherish.

I also had a friend (more like a brother), Vincent, who I would never go more than a day or two without seeing – we lived two doors down from each other. And, although it was not particularly “cool” for a guy to admit at the time that they liked Prince, because Vin would do anything for me, he would let me take the “Yes” tape out of his boom box and pop in my “Purple Rain” tape and I would listen, while he worked on one of his classic cars, for hours.

That album for me also turned our to be a “breakup” album for one of the young loves of my life. I had a very dramatic break up (what break up isn’t dramatic when you are a young teen) on the way home from an eighth grade school trip. I remember listening to “Purple Rain” all the way home. There was whispering, crying and there has not been one time when I could hear a song off of that album that it didn’t bring me right back to that bus ride.

So, you see, even that ONE album brings back happy memories of friends and fun times and melancholy over lost love and people I have lost along with way – including my old pal,  Vincent. Since it reminds me so much of when I was young it also makes me miss my mother, my grandparents (who could never see the appeal! LOL) and my childhood home on Doe Lane, where I felt so grown up having my own room in the basement(which, of course, was painted purple!)

I’m middle aged now, with one child even older than I was at the height of my Prince craze and yet, the guitar intro to the song “Purple Rain” always makes my heart jump and my knees go weak, especially now.

Another great thing about the Purple One was that his music is timeless. Just a few months ago, at a party at my house, Tammy and I were dancing in my living room to “Let’s go Crazy” and having a blast. Seth has the video of it – but was threatened with loss of life if it is ever released! Another happy memory made for me by Prince.

He was also an artist that could do it all. On many of his tracks, he played all of the instruments. His songs also crossed barriers; part funk, part disco, part pop, part Rock and Roll (and if you don’t believe that, listen to one of his guitar solos – You Tube “Guitar Gently Weeps” with Tom Petty and Prince), part R&B and part soul.

His protégées are too many to list. Of course, there was Vanity 6, Sheila E and Sheena Easton but, he also laid the keyboards down for Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back, gave Sinead O’Connor “Nothing Compares to you” and, hoping for a date with Ms. Hoffs from the Bangles, gave them “Manic Monday”. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

On top of directly collaborating and writing for others, there are so many artists who describe him as a “direct influence” on their music. There are far too many to count here.

Goodnight, sweet Prince. You did more on this earth in your short 57 years than most of us do in a lifetime. Where ever you are now, I hope you are singing, dancing and most of all, laughing in the Purple Rain.

I only have glass. No warm body to hug. No sweet New York accent to discuss things with. No help with questions about how to deal with the boys and their issues and problems, no calling her to help her make me feel better when I am sick, when I land safely at a destination or when I am worried or just need to vent.

I only have a glass frame to kiss.

I can’t change anything about this. My mother is gone. She is passed away and there is nothing I can do to change that. I am working hard to forgive myself for not coming home to be there when she passed. I missed it by about fifteen minutes. I know that she didn’t want us to come home from our vacation to California, she didn’t want the boys to see her the way that she looked. Even her oncologist told me not to come home a day early, but that he would meet me at the hospital that day after I got home and we would figure out the plan for putting her back into remission – since obviously even the “easiest” chemo was clearly too much for her. But, the chemo was working. Her numbers were down.

Unfortunately, since it was an infection that ultimately took her life (peacefully, thank God), there was nothing the oncology department could do. Their treatment was working. It was up to the infectious disease doctors to work on her issues. Again, unfortunately, they just couldn’t get her vitals back to normal and her infection under control. There was a tear somewhere from being so sick that week from the chemo (who knows – it might have been the stomach, the intestines, etc.). In any case, since she was so uncomfortable, they decided to sedate her to do the scan to find out where the tear was. Before she went under, she was giving my sister, Chrissy, instructions on what to do on her desk at work. Luckily for her, she never woke up from that surgery.

You see, mommy wasn’t afraid to die. She believed that she would be would God, and Jesus, and her parents and all of the others that she had lost. What she was worried about was dying from a long, drawn out cancer death. One of the last words she heard was from her oncologist telling her that her tumor marker numbers were going down (that’s a good thing). She gave him a thumbs up from her hospital bed. She went under happy that the chemo was working and she never woke up. She was blessed by God (perhaps because she was such a wonderful person who helped so many with her story of survival – remember, Mommy had cancer three times). I am so, so happy for my mom that she passed the way she did.

But, again, I have a lot of guilt. I was with her for every single doctor visit, every scan, all of her blood work. I was even her health care proxy so that I was the one that the doctor called with all of her results so that I could tell her in a way that would keep her calm and positive. And, I wasn’t there when she died. I have nightmares about my mother where she is mad at me; it could be for something as small as spilling a drink (which was SO unlike my mother) to really bad ones where she was begging me to help her and I was unable to even lift her.

I also have guilt that I put her through MY cancer. Now, obviously, that is irrational. Still, I hate that I made her worry and have stress that may have made her cancer worse – it’s a fact that real stress can lower your immune system and have whatever disease it is come creeping back. I’m working on that, too but, it’s a work in progress.

Then again, I’m Italian. I guess guilt comes with the territory.

But, I had a wonderful conversation with my friend Inez yesterday. This wonderful woman took a big chunk of her day to come up to my office to talk to me about what she had been through and how it related to certain things that she had experienced in her life. She came under the guise of talking about work. LOL. I got teary a few times but, it was something I needed. I appreciate all of the support I get on social media and from my friends and family but, only those who have been through similar situations can really understand what such profound loss feels like. Inez gets it.

One of the things I got out of our talk yesterday is that I need to try, as hard as I can, to start compartmentalizing that grief. I have responsibilities; to my husband, to my sons, to my company, to my friends. It’s a lot of responsibility but, I’m glad to have them because it also goes to show that I have so much in my life that is so important to me. So many people who love me, who depend on me and who want me to ask them for help when I need it. Inez didn’t need to be told, she could just tell; from my facebook posts, from my blogs posts, etc.

You see, I not only lost my mother, I lost my biggest cheerleader, my best friend, my confidante, my mentor and my love. It is a loss too large to be able to put into words that work sufficiently to describe it. But, I have to take my mom’s own advice and get up every morning and instead of focusing on what I lost, I need to look around and “count my blessings”.

I hope that this post helps all of my friends, and the people I don’t even know, to realize that you are not alone. I still pick up the phone to call her and realize that she’s not there. I will stare at a picture of her and take in every millimeter of her face, lest I forget exactly what she looked like. I even thought that moving into our new building would help, because I never worked there with her but, ironically, I have a harder time there because she never worked there. It’s just another part of my life that has changed dramatically.

I have good days, and I have bad days. The worst, as I pointed out in my last blog, are when I am not feeling well. I feel like a five year old but, if I could say it out loud it would be “I want my mommy!” as I stamp my feet on the floor.

I am so very grateful and happy for my friends who still have their moms. I look at pictures of their birthday cakes; some are turning 70, some 75, some 80 and some even 86 or 87. I want to give you some advice. I know that you love your moms, and that you are grateful for them but, a minute can change everything. My mom taught me that. To not be jealous of what your friends and family have, but to rejoice in their happiness and accomplishments.

To all of you out there that are blessed enough to still celebrate birthdays with your parents – kiss them, hug them, call them every day. I did. If you haven’t so far, that’s okay (and probably normal). Most people go through life not worrying about losing a parent. But, it’s not too late to start. I am eternally grateful that I did those things, however, and the reason I did was because my mom had been battling cancer my entire life so, I didn’t take one second with her for granted. That was a gift from God.

I am strong. I have more love in my life than I ever thought possible. I have been blessed with so many things, along with the bad times, since the time I was very young. I seem to get along with people well and, so, have lots of friends, I have my beautiful boys and never had to go through any fertility problems, I have my supportive and understanding husband, who is by my side every step of the way. I think I am a generous and giving person, both materially and emotionally, and it just comes naturally to me to want to help others. I know in my heart that my mother is proud of me. This is so important and one of the reasons that I will be okay.

But, the most important thing I took from my talk with Inez yesterday is that my mother is all around me, she sees what I am doing and she is supporting me from wherever it is she is now.

So, yes, it’s true. Now all I have is glass. I kiss one of her pictures every day and all I get in return in the cold, smooth feel of the glass. I can’t smell her, I can’t feel her, I can’t do anything but, kiss that glass. The difference is, now I do it with my eyes closed. I can smell her perfume, I can hear her laugh, I can feel her there, kissing me back. She is with me, always. I just have to remember that.

Thank you, Inez, for being there for me. And thank you, my faithful readers, for giving me an outlet for all of my feelings; whether they be heartache or joy. You have all touched my life in ways you can’t imagine, and I love you for it.

Peace and Love to you always.

~Nicole

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For the past few weeks I’ve been having a very hard time grieving over my mother. I know why. I wasn’t feeling great for about three weeks. Not the ordinary pain from the scar tissue or charlie horses from the “phantom limb” like syndrome I have under my left breast, which was operated on over 15 times. Bad as in I felt like I could not get out of bed, I would get exhausted very easily and couldn’t focus. At first I chalked it up to coming off the holidays and just being tired from all of the work that entails. I had just been to the oncologist so, I wasn’t really worried about the cancer (although to say it didn’t cross my mind once or twice would be lying). Finally, I woke up on a Saturday morning with a terrible sore throat. Okay, now I knew, I was just fighting off getting sick and now I was so, it would just run its course (I’m thinking a week or two of just taking it easy and I would be feeling better).

By Wednesday, when I still felt like crap, my husband took me to the doctor. Turns out I had pneumonia. I was prescribed antibiotics, steroids and a cough medicine with codeine in it. By this time, my sore throat had moved into my nose and was dripping down into my chest, although I wasn’t really coughing that much. However, I was still extremely tired. My orders were, because of my health issues, rest, rest and more rest. Luckily, I had caught the pneumonia early.

And rest I did. I worked more after each of my twenty surgeries. I couldn’t work because all I could do was sleep and, when I couldn’t sleep at night (because of those damn steroids), I was loopy on the cough medicine. When I didn’t feel better a week later, I went back to the doctor. Another x-ray was taken and the pneumonia was getting better. I was a bit wheezy, though, so was told to use the cough medicine as needed and use am inhaler and continue to rest. When you have pneumonia (and I never had), it can take a long time to get better, apparently. So, I rested Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I was feeling better by Sunday so decided to go to my nieces birthday party at a roller rink and then to Jack’s basketball game.

When I was a teenager, I could literally roller skate like Dorothy Hamill could ice skate. I could do double sow cows, I could skate forward, backwards, with a partner, with my right leg all the way up and straight, well – you get the idea. I was excited to get on the floor and do my thing. Well, let me all give you a heads up. If you were like me (and, if you are in my age group, you probably were – we spent almost every weekend at the Commack Roller Rink), unless you have kept up with it, or have learned to roller blade in between, roller skating is NOT like riding a bike! I was okay on the carpet. The second my skate hit the wood, I went down like a lead balloon on my right side. Thank God, since I was the first one out there from my family, no one I knew saw me but, about two hundred other people did. They were probably taping it on their cell phones (I’m surprised I haven’t seen it pop up on You Tube or Face Book). With the wind knocked out of me, I lay there for a moment, told myself “I can do this”, got up and, again, went down like a ton of bricks. Now, I couldn’t even get up if I tried. Finally, some guy said “hey, do you need help?” At that point, being so embarrassed and pissed that no one tried to help me up the first time I answered, “No, I’ll just wait for the guy with the striped shirt.” Picture me on the floor with kids and adults skating around me – having to move out of the way to not skate on top of me and no one asks if I need help? Nice.

When the guy with the striped shirt came around (I forget what we used to call them), he asks me, “Do you need help?” By now I am pissed. “Um. Yeah. Clearly I can’t get up. Do you think you can help me up and bring me to the wall?” Geez. Rocket Scientist.

When I got to the wall, I was able to easily get back to the chairs and take off my skates (it’s a lot easier to skate on carpet, believe me). I was so devastated. Convinced that the reason I couldn’t do it was because I haven’t been active in these past fifteen years and so, didn’t have the strength or the balance to stay up. How much more can this cancer take from me?

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So, getting back to the point, that I have been really missing my mommy. I miss her most when I am not feeling well. I would have called her, and she I, at least two or three times a day while I was sick. She always had a way of making me feel better – of putting things into perspective. She would have said things like, “Okay, so it’s pneumonia. You beat cancer – you’ll be fine.” Or, when I was stressing about missing work, “Okay, so you have to miss a couple of weeks – the work will be there when you get back, believe me.” She just knew me like no one else and knew exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. She didn’t get pissed if I snapped at her because of any of the things she said. She just chalked it up to me being stressed and sick.

I also miss her the most when I can’t call her ( I probably would have been crying outside on my cell phone) and tell her about things that happened like what I went through at the roller rink. I really was devastated that not only wasn’t I like Dorothy Hamill anymore but, I couldn’t even take one step on the wood floor. She would have made me laugh when I told her that people were skating around me and NO ONE stopped to help. She would have laughed when I sent her pictures of the grapefruit sized bruise on my ass and the apple sized bruise on my thigh. (For the record, I also scraped my left elbow, had pain in my left arm and couldn’t turn my neck for about three days).

Most of all, I missed my mommy these past few weeks because I knew my dad was going in for a big surgery and, so as not to worry my sisters, there are things I don’t say to them that I was personally worried about, having been through what I have in my own life, I shouldered most of the worry alone. Also, the fact that the last time my dad had surgery, they were not able to remove the tube and he couldn’t breathe on his own. It was done at a surgery center and he had to be transferred to a hospital. They really couldn’t give us answers there except we would have to take a wait and see approach. I’ll never forget Al, Chrissy, Lori and I leaving the hospital that night, all heads down, thinking, “could this really be happening again?” It had not even been a year since we had lost our mother. Luckily, they were able to get the tube out the next day. But, I would have been on the phone with my mom all night, and we would have said things to each other to make each other feel better.

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I just miss her, damn it, and the last few weeks have been a downward spiral into a place I was in the grieving process about a year ago. I was told, though, that grieving is not linear. You will move forward two feet and then, wake up and feel like you stepped back four. This is always the advice that I give my family and friends when they lose loved ones because for me, it really helped. I didn’t question, “why am I feeling so shitty today when I had a good day yesterday?” Because that’s just the way it goes.

As for the perspective part of the piece. Daddy had his surgery yesterday. It was supposed to be Monday but, that’s a long and shitty story that I’ve told at least ten times today and don’t want to get into. It was over six hours long and, originally was scheduled to be done laparoscopically. Unfortunately, that wasn’t able to happen so, that’s why it took longer than anticipated. They actually had to collapse his lung, on purpose, to get where they needed to get to make sure that they got all of the cancer that was left. Now, the surgery went well. They got it all out. But, they had to leave the tube in so that he wouldn’t wake up and be in pain trying to breathe through one lung. This is what made me nervous. I wanted to make sure that that tube would come out with no problem. That was my main worry about this surgery. But, it was staying in for the night. I was told that they would take it out tomorrow.

On so on to the 11:11 part of the story. Since my mother had basically battled cancer three times while I was a kid (the first time when I was an infant), ANY time there was something to wish on; a dandelion before I blew on it, a blow out the birthday candle wish, an eyebrow that had fallen out and needed to be blown wish, and most importantly every time I saw 11:11 on a clock (which happened every once in a while), my wish was always the same “Please make my mommy be okay”. Well, after she passed, I think the day after was the first time I saw 11:11 on a clock and actually, out loud, cursed it. Fuck you, 11:11, you and the rest of those superstitions I grew up with don’t work worth a shit, or something to that effect. After that, my sisters and I started to  see 11:11 constantly. I know I see it at least 10 times a week. It’s not “normal”. Everyone who knows me knows I am a skeptic about those kinds of things but, I am sure, that every time I see it, it’s my mommy letting me know it’s okay, she’s okay, or whatever I’m going through will be fine and work out.

So, after I got off the phone with my sisters (my brother in law, Chris, took him for the surgery.) I said a prayer to God, my grandparents and, of course, my Mommy. I went into the kitchen to get myself something to drink and got cozy on the couch, praying that the night would go quickly so that that freaking tube could come out. I got a text from someone and, when I picked up my phone – you guessed it – 11:11. Needless to say, I felt like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I just knew that when they went to take the tube out, it would be fine.

I waited up for Michael and then when up to sleep at around 1AM. I slept well, even though I am dad’s healthcare proxy and if I hadn’t seen the 11:11 I would have had a restless sleep, if I slept at all, waiting for that damn phone to ring. When I woke up, my sisters were already at the hospital (I have to wait to get the okay to go, having just gotten over pneumonia). They told me that the tube was out and he was groggy from the medications but, other than that, talking to them, making jokes with the nurse, etc. He was doing really well.

So, I miss mommy but, not like I have in the last few weeks. I am on a high because my daddy is okay. And, isn’t that the way of it? Perspective. Today, I could have been mourning both of my parents. Even my ass, which has killed to sit on the last week, is not as painful. And, the deadlines I have been worrying about at work seem doable now.

And 11:11. Say what you will but, I am a believer. It’s how my mommy communicates with me and, although I’d obviously much rather have her here with me on earth, it comforts me to know that she is still looking out for me and letting me know that not only is she there, she’s watching out for all of us.

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