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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 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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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

cry-crying-eye-purple-tears-Favim.com-100591

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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I believe in the whole “personality in the birthing order” psychological thing. Sure, there are exceptions to every rule but, for the most part, the oldest one is generally the most responsible, the A Type personality; she’s the overachiever who has a high drive to impress people in authority. The middle child is generally more adaptable, able to mediate, the peacemaker, a bit more rebellious and some say the most interesting. The youngest is generally outgoing, a clown, a little manipulative, financially irresponsible and let’s just say it – a little spoiled.

Now, these studies have been around for years. The first one to come up with the theory was Alfred Adler (1870-1937). The studies have also been contested on and off for years. I am not going to get into the science behind this theory, although I think anyone who has taken a psych course or two in college would be able to figure it out.

I have to say, in relating it to my personal experience, I think that anyone who knows my sisters and I would say that we pretty much live up to Alfred’s theory. Without getting too specific, I think most would agree that I am super responsible and a huge over achiever (to a fault), Chrissy couldn’t be more loving and warm. It kills her when any of the others in our family are not getting along. Lori, as anyone who knows us knows, has always been a little firecracker, is able to make everyone laugh and, let’s just say it – a little spoiled.

This blog is about her – Lori. My baby sister. I was away in California when my mother went into the hospital and subsequently passed away. My dad was, understandably, devastated, angry and trying to hold it all together, even after being told that the love of his life was not going to make it. Chrissy, God bless her soul, is Chrissy for good and for bad. That warmth, that kindness, that pure unadulterated love, made it very difficult for her to deal with what was going on.

As my faithful readers know, I’m all in here when it comes to my own experiences but, I will not go into specifics about my mother’s last days except to say that I thank God every single day for my sister Lori, and the fact that she was able to be there to hold it all together. She was able to comfort my mother, to comfort my father, to deal with the doctors and to keep in contact with me, all of those miles away. She comforted me, gave me the information I needed and prevented me from being in a full blown panic, knowing I would have to make the trip back to New York from California with Al and the two boys.

Lori and I are eleven years apart so our relationship right from the beginning was very special. I was kind of another parental figure for her. I babysat her, I changed her diapers, I fed her, I played with her. I loved her so much. It was a running joke in my family that if Lori made a mistake, or did something wrong (which was very rare), she would be more worried about how I would react than how Mommy would. After the dysfunctional way Chrissy and I were forced to grow up during our first few years because of our emotionally and physically absent father, it was such a pleasure to have a family that was “intact” and “healthy”. Chrissy was also elated to have a new little sister. It was such a good time in our lives.

As we grew older, Lori and I were able to maintain a close relationship. When I started college and began dating Al, Lori was only seven. She has no memory of a life without him. We took her to Toys R’ Us, out to eat, and eventually, when she was twelve or so, she started staying over at Al’s apartments with me on the weekends. I think she felt like she was “cool” and actually, it was pretty cool.

Unfortunately, Lori was only twenty years old when I was diagnosed. She was unable to understand how dire the situation was. Then, just a year later, my mom had her recurrence. I, being the oldest and the most able to understand what my mother was going through, was the one to take my mother to all of her tests, her radiations, her doctor visits, etc. It’s not that my sisters didn’t offer, it was just that that was what mom was most comfortable with. You see, another thing about younger siblings is that you tend to try and protect them. You don’t tell them everything you might know because, why worry them, too? And, although we have good intentions, I have spoken to both of my sisters since the shit hit the proverbial fan and, they would prefer honesty. Lesson learned.

So let’s get to the point, and how this blog is about Lori (which she will love, by the way!) There was a time, during this period, when I felt as though Lori didn’t do enough to help me. That she didn’t do enough for me emotionally or with Al and the kids. Chrissy was the one to come over at 5 AM to stay with the kids so that I could get to my surgeries on time (and remember – there were twenty). She got them on the bus, comforted them, took them to fun places to get their minds off of things, took them to practices, to games – the list is really endless. This went on for years. I will forever be indebted to her.

I was angry at Lori, but not on any really conscious level. It came out in ways that were passive aggressive. We worked together and I found myself talking to her in a way that I would never speak to Chrissy or to Lori prior to this time. There was a wall up, on both of our sides, and although I loved her as much as I always had, I definitely didn’t feel like we were as close during this period. It really did hurt me, as I’m sure it hurt her.

Don’t get me wrong, we had our usual holidays, parties, laughs. We did our annual tree trim. She was wonderful to my kids, when she was with them. Just, when I felt like I needed her emotionally, she was unavailable.

The thing is this. I should have been smart enough to realize that at twenty years old, she was not equipped to handle the possibility of both her sister and her mother having a potentially fatal disease. Add to that the birth order traits (see where I’m going?)

Point number two. None of us; not me, not my kids, not my sister, not my father – none of us would have done so well when my mother passed away if Lori hadn’t been there for us. She was a rock. She was solid. She listened to me cry and wail for hours. She let me have that release that for years, I felt I was incapable of having because of my “responsibilities” because I had to be “perfect”, because of my birth order, damn it!

We also had a heart to heart. That will remain private, as well. Suffice it to say that I realized what I thought were Lori’s shortcomings were just fear and simply put, age. Lori realized that she might not have done as much during that period as I may have needed but, more importantly, she realized why she was unable to . And, once again, a lot of that had to do with our birth order traits. Imagine how scary it must have been for her when both of the alpha females in her life, who she could always turn to, were in this terrible situation they might not make it out of. Needless to say, one short conversation later, it was if nothing ever happened between us. No bad feelings had ever been had. We had both been scared and felt helpless and our love was all we needed to completely mend our relationship. One call was all it took. Unconditional love.

I couldn’t be prouder of my baby sister. She is beautiful, vivacious, loving and caring. She is a wonderful mother to Gavin and I know she will be just as wonderful to the new baby on the way. I learn from her every day and I am so honored that she calls me now, at times when she would have called Mommy. We support each other, we compliment each others good and bad points and we make a really, really good team. I really feel as though she is now not only my sister, but one of my best friends. I couldn’t live without her. And, I’m pretty sure she feels the same way about me.

We are still very different. That’s absolutely fine. But, we have both made changes to make our relationship better since my mom has gone and I feel like we respect each other more than ever.

I would say, in all honesty, and this is a strong statement, that the single best thing that came out of Mommy’s death for me is my new and improved relationship with my baby sister, Lori. Lori, I love you, I am so proud of you and I know mommy is, too. You are a wonderful wife, mother, daughter, sister and aunt and I love you more than words can say.

So Lori, sorry if this is “awkward” but, too bad!

They say that you always remember your first love – there’s something so special about it – something that can never be reproduced.

My first love loved me before I was even a being. She loved the very thought of me. She dreamed about me before I even came to be. Dreams of how I would look, what gender I would and what my personality would be like.

My first love loved me even more after she laid eyes on me. My blue eyes gazing into her kind brown eyes. It was love at first sight. She has told me that there was nothing like it. The euphoria, the feelings that you never thought you could feel. The love that is so all encompassing, bigger than you ever thought it could be. Once we fell in love, our love was the center of both of our worlds.

They say that you experience real intimacy for the first time with your first love. No truer words have ever been spoken. The affection, the warmth, the thousand sweet kisses that covered me like a warm blanket. She tickled my back to put me to sleep, she hugged me and kissed my “boo boos”, she climbed into my home made living room tents and got under the covers with me to watch “Sesame Street” through the afghan holes. I will never forget the smell of her, or her face when she looked at me with so much love.
You take so much pride in your first love. I was, for sure, her pride and joy. Your first love is always trying to make you be the best version of yourself. Mine was always teaching me, encouraging me, pushing me to do my best and be the best me I could be.

In a good relationship, you learn from your first love. Mine taught me about perseverance – I would have to work hard to get what I wanted and needed and if I worked hard enough, and wanted it badly enough, I could get it. Mine taught me to be self reliant. No matter how many people I have in my life who love me, she told me, your best friend is always in the mirror. She taught me that it is ok to stumble and make bad decisions, as long as you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, dust yourself off, and keep going.

A first love gives you the confidence to feel like you are good enough for someone to love you as much as they do. I could not have felt more loved. No matter what struggles we had, we stuck by each other and weathered them together. We knew that we were there for each other, no matter what. And that we would go to the ends of the earth for each other.
Most importantly, your first love should teach you about unconditional love. Mine did. There is nothing I could have done that would make her not love me. Ever. And vice versa.

And so, for all of the reasons above, you never forget your first love. I think it’s clear by now that my first love was my mother, Elizabeth. She was the best first love I could ever have hoped for. And, on the one year anniversary of her passing, it becomes even more clear to me that all of the Hallmark “First Love” sentiments work well for me and mommy. The way she treated me was actually a wonderful model for the loves I had, subsequently, in my life. And, the love that I ultimately ended up with and created my family with.
Unfortunately, losing your first love is one of the most difficult things in the world. I have to say, this has been the hardest year of my life. However, because of the things my first love taught me, I kept on living. I went to work, celebrated holidays, nights out with friends and spent lots of time with my family, as she instilled in me how important that is. I feel such pride and happiness when people tell me how lucky we are as a family that we are so close. I don’t take it for granted.  I’ve tried to conduct myself in a way that would make her proud. I try to treat people with respect and love, as she did. She empathized with me, and I carry on that trait and empathize with others.She taught me about fairness and justice and, although it is not always easy, I try to always do the just thing.

I thank you, my mother, my first love. You have helped to shape me into a person who I really like. When I look in the mirror, I do see my best friend. As a bonus, I have many friends that love and care about me. I give you all of the credit.

I know that you are no longer with me on this earth however, I feel you in my soul. Just like the literature says you do feel about a first love. You will always be my first love and you will always be more special to me than you can ever even imagine.
Please continue to shower us with your love and wisdom. So many of us still need it. I like to think that you are even more powerful there than you were down here with us. You have a special place with God, because of the person you are. Even the way you passed, so peacefully and without suffering, makes me think that you are one of God’s favorites. To have Stage IV cancer and be told before by your oncologist before you are put under anesthesia that your numbers are down (which obviously made you happy), only to never “wake up” from that anesthesia, is a true gift from God. You never had to have that dreaded conversation that most cancer patients have to have about “how long you have”. You were never told to “get your affairs in order”. You never had to wither away in a bed/hospice while we watched by your bedside. It was fast, it was relatively painless, it was what you deserved.
The outpouring of love that your family received today is also a testament to how much you were loved and are missed. You really had no idea while you were on this earth how loved you were – I know that you feel it now. So many people were thinking of you today, my love, and wish you could have stayed with us a little bit longer.
So, you will always be my first love, as I was yours. I will always remember you and you will have the most special place in my heart carved out for you, always. I love you, of course, but, it is so much more than that. I’m going to  keep some of  those feelings to myself because if there is another thing that first loves have, it’s some secrets. Our are good ones, Mommy.

Until we meet again, I hope your are playing Bingo Bash and winning every hand, I hope that there is a casino that you can go to, I hope that you can see Big Brother (its’ such a good season!), I hope that they have an endless supply of Merit 100s and a nice glass of red wine for you at night, Knowing how much you loved to work, I hope God gave you a great assignment up there.  I know you are visiting us each day, I hope that you are catching up with your family, and most of all, I hope that you are remembering your first love, as I remember mine.

.
Forever,
Nicole

Me and Mom

 

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Me and Mom

Thank you all so much for coming out to honor my mother. Whether you called her Mom, Liz, Elizabeth, Betty Ann, Aunt Betty, Miss Betty or “Toots”, like my dad, you are all here because she touched you in some way.

People often talk about my strength and I am quick to tell them, “Well, if you were in my shoes you would do the same thing, too. You do what you have to in order to survive.” In all honesty, though, I’m not sure if that is entirely true.  a huge part of the reason I am the way I am is because of my mother.

Mommy tried to shield Chrissy and me from the crappy stuff that was going on at home when we were very small. She was a mama bear with her cubs and we were her first priority, no matter how traumatic her own situation was, whether it be the collapse of her first marriage or her first serious bout with cancer when I was just an infant.

My mom knew when we were hurting and needed extra TLC. It was okay to cuddle in her bed to watch Rocky on the little black and white television. Bed times were not a priority – making sure we felt loved and secure was. It was also important to her that we loved each other with all our hearts. Anyone who knows us knows that we are referred to as NicoleandChrissy, as if it is one word. We are as close as two sisters can be. Mom taught us to stick together, and we have all of these years.

My mom picked a stepfather that treated us as though we were her children, every bit as much as his own. Poor Daddy, a single man suddenly had not only a wife but, two ready-made children who, as I mentioned earlier, had been through a lot and were a little lacking in the strict discipline department. He is our dad. We love him as though he is a our natural father. She picked a good man, a solid man and she loved him. That would be my father, Bob. When it didn’t look like Mommy was going to make it, Daddy as assuring her that he would look after his girls, all three of them. He loves us all the same. His heart is breaking for us and ours for him. Daddy and Mommy were soul mates. They just fit, like two pieces of a puzzle. Daddy would go to the moon if he had to get her a soda or a pack of butts. He would do anything in the world for her.

In addition to giving us a wonderful father, together they gave us a beautiful baby sister – go ahead and ask her – she’ll tell you how beautiful she is. We adored her! With her shock of black hair and adorable little smile, always making us laugh, always making us smile. Lori got older. Chrissy and I unclasped our hands for a moment and took hers. Since then, we’ve been a circle of three.

We had a fun mom We were allowed to mess up the house to build forts. We were allowed to pull up the basement rug to roller skate. our kitchen became a Lego Land, with no less than a thousand Legos in every corner of the room. We could make a mess painting. We could have friends over at the house whenever we wanted, and my mom made everyone feel welcome. We certainly didn’t have the biggest house but, there were always kids there. It was a warm and welcoming place.

We would spend lots and lots of time together with mom. And, she was PRESENT.  During the times that she was struggling to get by as a single mother, worrying about things we had no concept of, she was LISTENING when we talked, PAYING attention when we put on our plays and CONCENTRATING when she read to us for hours. Again, she was not just there but PRESENT. I can’t stress how important this was.

My mom always had an awesome ability to make the best out of every situation. Chrissy and I loved to watch her get ready to go out with friends while she blasted her Donna Summer music in the house. I remember how pretty she was with her dancing clothes on. I was so proud that I Had a mother that didn’t just sit and cry in a corner when she got divorced. She refused to settle for the fact that she was going to be sad for the rest of her life. She was young, she was beautiful and she was entitled to be happy. What a wonderful thing to show your little girls. What a beautiful example to set.

My mom was also fair. When we messed up, we paid for it but , she picked her battles wisely. She was, after all, so wise. She really tried to think about how whatever we were going through was affecting us and cut us slack accordingly. I always felt like she had our backs. We came first, no matter what.

My mom also taught us to have a wonderful work ethic. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t working hard to make sure that her family was provided for. I remember helping her address envelopes at the kitchen table when I was just a kid. She would get us ready for school, work all day, help us with our homework, get dinner made and everything prepared for the next day. After that, she would take all of her paperwork out and work at the kitchen table until all hours of the night. I was truly in awe of her. She seemed to never tire. She worked her way up from the mail room to a professional position due to sheer will, hard work and determination.

Anyone who knows my mom, all of you here, knows she was a true patriot. WE would make fun of her because almost everything she owned had some sort of flag or red, white and blue on it. Her dad served at Iwo Jima and she had a special affinity for the Marines. She was especially proud of my husband, Al, who followed in my grandpa’s footsteps. She loved all of her son-in-laws deeply. She loved to sit on the front deck that Jay built her and enjoy the beautiful trees that Al planted for her. Chris and Mommy loved their talks about finances (LOL) and their trips to Mohegan Sun. She treated them as if they were her own, and she loved them all very much.

My parents sacrificed so that we could have. I found out as I got older, and by accident, things that they had done that I hadn’t even known about so that I could have something I wanted, so that I coud go to the college I wanted to, to that we always felt financially secure. They sacrificed and did for us . And not only did they not expect anything in return except for our best efforts, they never even let us know the sacrifices they made. They truly were an awesome team and wonderful parents.

My mom taught me strength. The first time she was sick, I was too little to understand how bad it was. We were so blessed that she survived and that she was able to be there for me and my sisters. The second time she got sick, I was in college and just devastated. We all were. Despite the fact that it was happening to her, she comforted us. Now I know. I know how scared she was, how she probably felt like screaming and yelling and crying and railing at God but, she stayed calm, and she comforted us. And, then, when she recurred right after I was diagnosed, she took care of me. She was in so much pain but, she cleaned my house and she watched my babies and she talked to me and loved me. She handled the loss of her own parents with grace and class. I hope that I can do the same now.

My mother was selfless. She would give you her last dime if you needed it. She was a wonderful grandparent to her grandkids. She would think nothing of breaking out into a full clog dance in the middle of a store, singing a song at the top of her lungs, if it would make one of her beloved grandchildren laugh. My oldest son told me just the other day that he will have his kids in his twenties just so that his kids can know his “Mimi”. They love her so much. It’s palpable when she is in a room with them. I am so sorry for him that his wish will not come true.

As much as she loved us, her grandchildren were the real loves of her life. She was so proud of all of them and each of them had their own special relationship with her Michael was her first grandson. They loved to talk about anything and everything under the son. They had such a special bond. Jack she called her “comfort baby”. He was the only thing that could make her happy when I was sick. And Gavin, her baby. She taught him everything. She used to say that the kids were so smart because of their Mimi. None of us had anything to do with it.

I always think “What would my mother do?” when I am faced with a situation where I am unsure. It’s a true gift.

My mother’s story of strength and courage has helped to make the lives of other people who were diagnosed with cancer a little easier. She gave them hope and courage. She was a tremendous example of how to live life with a serious disease. For mom, it was not about just going through the motions. My mommy lived, as you all know.

Mom used to say that Chrissy, Lori and I were so different and that each of us had some of her in us. WE have every intention of sticking together and hope that together we can be half the woman she was on her own.

IN addition to her trials and tribulations, she was blessed with a wonderful family, a loving husband, children who adored her and grandchildren that idolized her. I am not sure how we will navigate through this life without her, but I am confident that the strength and courage she has passed to us will not end with the physical loss of her on this earth but, will live on in us through her spirit.

IN the end, Mommy didn’t suffer. She was at peace. I have no doubt that we will meet again. She will be as beautiful and loving as always. Until then, I am saying goodbye to her from Daddy, Al and me, Michael and Jack, Chrissy and Jay, Lori and Chris and Gavin. And, of course, from Hope, Barkley and Brody.

We love you, Mimi, and we always will.

I’m unsure of the author of this poem, but my cousin Cathy sent it to me today, and I think it will bring us all a little comfort:

“I am standing upon the seashore.

A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts

For the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.

I stand and watch her until at length

She hangs like a speck of white cloud

Just where the sea and sky come

To mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says:

“There, she is gone!”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull

And spar as she was when she left my side

And she is just as able to bear  her

Load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone

At my side says, “There, she is gone!”

There are other eyes watching her coming

And other voices ready to take up the glad

Shout;

“Here she comes!”

And that is dying.

Mommy, go in pace. Your parents, your friends, cousins and everyone that you have loved who have gone before you are waiting. They will keep you until we meet again.

My mom’s favorite expression was “county your blessings”. She certainly did. To honor her memory, I ask that you all go home tonight and do just that.

I love you, Mommy. And I always will.

All of Us

I still live in the town I grew up in.

Well, actually, I did move a couple of towns over for a very short time but, I ended up coming back and planting my roots here, if you will.

Some people may find this odd. I know many of my childhood friends have moved away.  Maybe they feel on to bigger and better things.

I find comfort in living in the town where I grew up.

I still get my prescriptions in the same pharmacy where I used to buy my Love’s Baby Soft and Bonne Belle strawberry lip gloss.

I still get birthday cakes for my family at the same Carvel where my mom got mine when I was a child.

Until just a week or two ago, I still went to see movies at the same theatre where I went on some of my first dates and shared some of those first exciting and awkward kisses.

I have the same family doctor that I have had since I was a teenager.  Until a couple of years ago, I saw the same dentist that used to put on fake glasses with the fake nose before giving me sweet air, in order to make me laugh and not think about the pain that was coming.

I drive approximately two minutes to my childhood home to visit my mother.  My children play downstairs, where my friends and I exchanged dreams, plans and hopes for the future.. Where we comforted each other through break ups, picked each other up after disappointments and sang Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince songs at the top of our lungs.

Jill’s parents also still live across the street from my parents. She is my oldest and best friend. When I am walking to my car after leaving my mom’s, I can almost hear her yelling “see you tomorrow” from her door, as she watched me run from her house to mine late at night.

I am still in touch with many of my friends from childhood, junior high and high school. I feel blessed about this. For everything I’ve gone through, there is a comfort in having relationships that have lasted so many years. It’s a comfort that these people have known me for so long and knowing that despite what I have gone through, and despite all of the ways I have changed, they still love me. It makes me feel worthy. It makes me feel safe.  It makes me happy.

When I am hurting, or worried, or just having a bad day, I try and conjure up a memory from an easier time; playing kick the can, sharing secrets with Jill during our sleepovers, taking swimming lessons with Vincent at Crab Meadow, twirling my baton in the Memorial Day Parade, proudly wearing my bubble gum corsages, made by my girlfriends, to school on my birthday, getting my ankle bracelet from Randy, falling in love for the very first time, going to house parties, Robert Moses and concerts at the Coliseum. Applying for, and being accepted to, college, meeting my future husband…

All of these things happened here. There are memories around every corner for me. These happy memories have helped me to get through some pretty rough times.

I’m glad I still live here. It has had a big hand in my mental and emotional recovery.

If you don’t live where you grow up, be sure and go back and visit. Relive and remember the good times.

It helps the bad ones get fuzzy around the edges.

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