Life

Dear Evan Hansen and my triggers

I knew the musical Dear Evan Hansen was based around the suicide of a teenager and despite having that experience in my life, I didn’t give much thought to how it would make me feel. My brother’s suicide was deep in my past, 32 years ago, a whole lifetime away or so it seemed from where I was. Yet it was a fresh wound on Saturday evening as I sat in the darkened theater on West 45th Street catching tears in a well-used tissue.

Before I go further, I must let you know I absolutely adored the show. The cast, the music, the writing. Phenomenal. I will definitely see it again when it tours in my community and I’ve already downloaded the music on my phone. It’s kind of folksy and very Broadway at the same time. Live theater opens something in my heart and I know I would not want to live without it.

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Life

Ingredients for Spring

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Annual Spring trip to NYC

I’m so happy to see the sun today and feel Spring in the air. It was a bit of a surprise last week when we woke to a thin ground cover of snow (actually not so unusual for the Northeastern town we live in). But eek, my husband and I were about to head to New York City for the weekend to see a couple of shows and I wondered if I had to rethink my clothing choices which heavily favored lighter fabrics (I’m one step from putting away the winter coats). I decided to stick with my spring coat and added a scarf and sweater for layering which worked out just fine. We had a fantastic time, but as is the case with these kind of trips, it went by all too fast.

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Life

Lazing about

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Hello, dear blog! Sorry it has been a while but I cannot say I’ve been too busy. I’m not sure exactly what I have been doing these past few weeks but I certainly got away from writing and blogging. I was trying to keep a schedule of posting on Tuesday and Thursday because I could do that at a minimum, right? After we returned from vacation, however, I was out of my groove and kind of went off the rails as far as a routine goes. I’m not going to lie. I spent a lot of time laying around and reading. It may be just what I needed at that particular time. But all the while, what’s swirling around in my brain is: what am I going to do next?

I’m not ready for a full on job search right now as I decided to take the summer off so I could be home with my twelve-year-old, Liam. He has not had a single summer where he could be a carefree kid. Sleeping in, going to the pool, riding his bike in the neighborhood. We don’t have many of these times left so we’re going to embrace this summer as a (mostly) camp-free zone. For the past several years it has been a jigsaw puzzle of camp planning. Lacrosse, baseball, basketball, extreme (they do obstacle courses – very army-like) and just about every other activity under the sun to keep him busy from the last day of school until labor day weekend. I’m sure he’s enjoyed much of it but at the end of last summer, he was starting to show the strains of camp fatigue.

I’ve got a few more months until summer though, so how will I keep myself busy in the meantime? Lately, I’ve been scouring youtube for content that sparks an interest for me. I love style blogs and vlogs but I’ve found only a handful of women who do it successfully for my age group (over 50). I can no longer dress like a teenager, twenty or even thirtysomething (nor do I want to) and I see plenty of content for that demographic. Nor do I aspire to dress in high-end designer clothing. I do think a person can look great no matter their budget or stage of life though, so I’ve been tinkering with starting my own vlog on the topic. I know virtually nothing about being a youtube-er so I think I’ll do some research on it and see what I would need to get started.

I’ve also been rekindling my love of old movies. When I was in my teens, my mom and I would watch old films on A&E and TMC and I grew to love them so much. It’s great our library system has such a robust collection of old movies and I’ve been going through their DVD shelves in search of some new treasures. Last week I pulled out Mrs. Miniver (a movie about WWII that took me by surprise as it started out innocently enough with the main characters spending money they didn’t have) and The Big Sleep  (starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall). I love to google the actors and read about them on Wikipedia. Did you know Bogart was 45 when he married 20-year-old Bacall?! Clicking on all the links can take up an afternoon in itself! Well, I’m about to go back to the 1930s with Grand Hotel.

MC

 

 

 

 

Life

Treating post-vacation sadness

Me and dad on the Norwegian Bliss

Last week our family (plus my dad) went on a cruise to the Caribbean. It was a great week of sunshine, relaxation, reading and eating (of course). If you go hungry on a cruise ship you have no one to blame but yourself. Liam (the sixth grader) broke his wrist a couple weeks before our departure so I was worried he might be miserable even though we had a waterproof cast protector. Well, this broke at the hotel the morning of the cruise and I frantically called around to area drugstores to no avail. Then I was even more worried about his misery. Quick tip: if you have a broken boned kid, bring two cast protectors if you’re going on a vacation that involves water!

Everything turned out fine and Liam made fast friends with some boys from New York City and we barely saw him for the week. The ship we went on had a racetrack on the top deck and they spent the majority of their time doing that. They also played board games and cards in the library. Every once in a while he’d come find us by the pool and grab a bite with us.

Ready to race

My favorite part was relaxing by the pool with a book (this probably won’t surprise you if you follow my blog). It was great spending the week with my dad too. He has always wanted to go on a cruise and I think it exceeded his expectations, especially in the food department. The cruise had freestyle dining and several very good restaurants and every night he would say that was his favorite.

Enjoying teppanyaki on our last night

We ate way too much and enjoyed many shows including The Jersey Boys (I love a good back story and Frankie Valli’s did not disappoint), comedians, a Beatles band and a musical set in Cuba. We didn’t do much off the boat although we stopped at St. Thomas, Tortola and Nassau as my dad has trouble walking very far. I think it made the cruise more relaxing and the ship is much easier to navigate when most everyone else debarks for shore excursions.

As we were having our final buffet breakfast (if I don’t see another buffet for a while, I’ll be good), my dad said he was feeling melancholy which surprised me and I told him don’t be sad it’s over, be happy it happened (you know that saying). I didn’t want him to be sad. But guess what?

Monday morning It was my turn to feel melancholy. Vacation was over and I’m alone in my house with piles of laundry and all the detritus from our week away. We were also out of half and half for my coffee. I know these aren’t life’s biggest problems but still, I was feeling sad, a bit paralyzed about where to begin while also fighting the urge to simply go back to bed.

There is a saying, “move a muscle, change a thought” and I decided to employ it right away. Get up and move. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Do it, little by little. Start a load of laundry. Put away the sunscreen and sandals. Untangle the cords and put the passports away. I also needed to make a few returns so I got those organized and then I went out and did it. Usually they would have sat until the window to return them was long closed. I even managed to get to the gym.

Here’s the thing I have to remember when I feel overwhelmed or unmotivated – just get going. Once I’m going, it’s easy to keep going. The sad thoughts disappeared and my home looked better than it had a few hours earlier. And at the end of the day I scanned through our vacation photos and felt happiness that it happened and we created some great memories.

MC

Life

Ballroom dancing… for kids

As my son entered fifth grade, we received a mailing about dance and etiquette lessons being offered for local schools. A group of women initiated this program over twenty five years ago where they teach kids in fifth and sixth grades the ins and outs of etiquette along with some traditional dance moves. Dancing with girls! The boys were not a bit interested but the moms banded together and coaxed (bribed) our sons by offering them a fun night out (bugers & ice cream) after the hourlong monthly lessons.

Year one was interesting. It went over well (with only a few groans on the evening of lessons) and if there wasn’t complete joy in the process, there was the camaraderie of the boys getting together monthly. I didn’t know exactly what went on behind those closed doors but at the end of the hour, the kids (probably 50-60 of them) came bursting from the gym in a stampede of energy.

Near the end of the school year, a dinner dance at a local country club was arranged for both the kids and parents to attend. They were deftly handled by the instructors into groups by grade and demonstrated the dances they had worked on through the year – the foxtrot, tango and waltz. It is as cute as you could imagine. The boys dressed in jacket and tie, the girls in fancy dress, hair and makeup as if they were on the way to their first prom.

However, this was as serious of an affair as ever and it looked excruciating for some of the kids as the parents looked on filming every second of it. The night appeared way more enjoyable for the parents who spent the early part of the evening sipping their beverages of choice as they caught up on school gossip. After the kids dutifully performed their dances with each other, we got to dance with them in mother/son and father/daughter variations. I savored it because I was quite sure he’d never agree to doing it in sixth grade.

Fast forward to the beginning of the school year and once again we received the mailing. To my surprise he wanted to do it this year even though most of the boys in his class dropped out. Last week I had the privilege of acting as a chaperone and got a glimpse of the process first hand and I was more impressed than ever.

The first part of the evening was all about etiquette and how to introduce yourself to grown ups. I stood in place as a line of 25 boys of all sizes shook my hand and looked me in the eye as they announced their name and their pleasure to make my acquaintance. I wanted to hug every last one of them.

Then the lesson began. The steps were practiced, the boys and girls in a line opposite each other and the they were paired up to practice for a bit until the music came on. It was easy to tell who didn’t want to be there. It was fun watching the interactions and I have to say there wasn’t a lot of chaperoning involed. We were the only ones from our school at the event because of ski club (my son’s broken wrist kept us off the slopes). We’re about halfway through the lessons but I can already see how they have improved. These are wonderful life lessons for these middle grade kids.

MC

Life

Career change

 

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On January 7th I was thrust into a period of change. I was stunned and sad. Relieved and unsure. I was no longer employed and it wasn’t on my terms and I wasn’t going to like it. How am I to be identified if not by who I am aside from as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, and friend? I have been in the workforce since I was 14 years old and it has mostly been an amazing ride. My first uniform was a long red skirt, black bodysuit, fishnet stocking and 2-inch heels, dancing for visitors at an old west theme park. I always tell people it was the best job I ever had.

The next summer I donned the red and white of a candy striper, unwittingly drafted into this by my mother whose vision for me was to be a nurse. Making beds (hospital corners!), filling water pitchers, running errands for nurses, each day inhaling the antiseptic scent of the aged and infirm. I was as miserable as could be. Our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Winterbottom was a long-term resident and I was afraid of her wispy white hair, crooked hands, and the general sickness of her. I was not going to be a nurse.

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Life

Condolences

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If you knew that my first experience with a close loved one’s death was a traumatic experience in that I was one of the people to find my brother after his suicide (when I was nineteen), it may not surprise you that I haven’t always dealt with the loss of other people’s loved ones in the best of manners. Quite honestly, I would do anything to avoid a funeral home and a casket (open or closed) for many, many years. In fact, it was (and sometimes still is) hard to talk to others about their loss but I have always thought the best route was to send a condolence card. And now Facebook seems to be the place others go to express their thoughts and prayers.

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Life

A Yellow Notepad

This morning as I was doing my own kind of meditation where I lie in bed and send prayers and good thoughts for the day, I asked God to help me see what I should be in the world. On Sunday night we went to mass at a local Catholic college and it was amazing. For me, amazing doesn’t happen at mass all the time, but that night I felt so in tune with what the priest was enthusiastically asserting in his homily and it was all about being who and what we are supposed to be.

It didn’t come to me in a thunderbolt as I mulled this over in bed today but my thoughts drifted to a letter I need to write to a family member to set my side of the relationship right. It’s something I let go too long but it’s never too late, right? The letter needs to be hand written, something I haven’t done in many, many years.

Into my mind popped a vision of a yellow notepad, a notepad I used abundantly during the summer of 1988 to write letters to my brother, Jeff, who had taken his life 17 months prior. I was in the anger stage of my grieving process. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and I was unable to find employment where my parents lived and so my uncle generously found me a well paying flag person job and I went to live with him, my aunt and young cousins 100 miles from home.

Standing in a u-turn on a major highway, alone for 12 hours a day gives a person quite a bit of time to think. I did a lot of that, headphones in my ears as I listened to the soundtrack of that summer: Walking in Memphis, Simply Irresistible, Hands to Heaven and everything by Phil Collins. When I hear these songs I can be transported back to that summer like it was last week.

Back to the yellow notepad. I would be exhausted at the end of the day and even though I had a boyfriend living nearby, I mostly spent the evenings in my room, scrawling out these lengthy messages to my dead brother. I was trying to come to grips with the why, a nearly fruitless endeavor for suicide survivors. This was long before I heard of the concept of a suicide survivors group. I also eschewed therapy, preferring to go it alone (a common theme in my life).

I wrote on those notepad pages until my hand hurt and then would carefully pull the pages from the pad, fold it in thirds as though I were about to tuck it into a number 10 envelope and then deposit it in the top drawer of the dresser. By the end of the summer the drawer was full but I was no closer to the answers I sought. If I packed them up as I left for my dorm that fall, I don’t remember.

Writing on that yellow pad was an integral part of my very long recovery process. Like the songs of the summer of 1988, I can’t see a yellow pad without remembering the angst of my nocturnal writing during those summer months. If I could write a letter to my 20 year old self, I’d tell her it was going to get better. Time heals all wounds is a trope no grieving person ever wants to hear even if it is true.

Somehow, over time (lots and lots of time), my heart patched over and I was able to work through my grieving process. I was able to go on and work with other survivors, listen on a hotline as people called in with the things that weighed heavily on their mind. Is remembering the notepad part of God’s mission for me? I think it is, at least for today because it was the first image I saw when I looked at Twitter this morning. I will keep seeking the clues He sends me.

MC

Life

Beautiful boy

I watched the above titled movie yesterday and I have a feeling it will stay with me for quite some time. It deals with the extremely difficult topic of drug addiction and the relationship between a father (helpless parent) and son (addict). It really blew me away in it’s unflinching portrayal of the damage drugs and alcohol can play in the life of a family.

It hit a little too close to home, though, as we lost a nephew to drugs just two and a half years ago. I met my sister-in-law more than 20 years before when I started volunteer work at a suicide prevention hotline. She was the director of the center and I felt an immediate connection with her as we bonded over losing our brothers to suicide several years prior. Suicide prevention, dealing with the aftermath and support to survivors is God’s work. She is amazing at it and just recently retired from doing it full time for many years. It is work that takes it’s toll and I found I could only do it for a few years before it started contributing negatively to my own mental health. It was through this relationship that I met my husband – she is married to his brother – and I got to see their three kids grow through the years.

Unfortunately drugs became part of one of their twin boys life and after a long struggle, they got the phone call no parent ever wants to hear. I’m sorry but your son died of an overdose. I know they did everything to prevent getting that call but addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet portrayed the father and son but I couldn’t help slot my family members into their parts. To say life isn’t fair seems like a hollow admonition. A beautiful boy was lost and his family is forever altered.

MC

Life

Music for pre-teens

We are at a stage in life where Liam is becoming more interested in music and that is awesome. We have been bringing him along with us to live music (mostly free shows during the summer season) since he was a baby and over the past couple of years he has gone to several (paid) shows with us and is starting to find his own way.

I had bought tickets for my husband Jim and I to see Brett Dennen in November but Jim ended up being away so I brought Liam as my date (pictured above). This was a bit different than shows we’d been to in the past and he was really surprised when people stood up to dance (even a guy older than dad – lol) in their seats and in the aisles. It was high energy and a lot of fun but I couldn’t persuade him to get up and dance with me. Maybe next time.

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