Derailed

My birthday list has been derailed because my life has been derailed.

On December 11, I found out that my dad died. No warning whatsoever. He had a heart attack in bed.

I’m thankful that he passed quickly and painlessly (I hope anyway) but sometimes I think the magnitude of shock and grief might kill me, too.

He lived in the house that I grew up in, a seven-hour drive from where I live. I immediately flew home and spent a week with my brother, who lives in the same town as my dad. My dad left no will and no paperwork in order, so much of the week was spent scrambling trying to figure out his accounts. We only paused for brief moments of grieving, where we would cry over the fact that he would never walk through my brother’s door unannounced like Kramer on Seinfeld, as he did on almost a daily basis…or cry as we shuffled through his house and came across a picture of him and my brother’s daughter that he had tacked up on the wall…or found cards that we had sent him years ago.

We made multiple visits to the funeral home in town, having to make decisions about the burial, the memorial service, the memorial cards, the cremains. We have no idea what my dad wanted, but we think he’d be happy with what we chose. I had to write his obituary, which was one of the most surreal moments of my entire life. How do you sum up a person’s life in a few paragraphs?

I’ve been experiencing the first four stages of grief like it’s my full-time job. One minute I’m looking through photos for the memorial service slideshow and I feel completely numb. The next minute I’m running errands and every time I pass an elderly man, I think, “Why does he get to live and my dad doesn’t?” Sometimes I start to go down the road of, “What if I had called him [a few days before he died], heard that he was very sick, and begged him to go to a doctor?” (He had either a bad cold or the flu before he died, which can increase the risk of heart attacks.) I’ve had moments where I’ve thought that I couldn’t go on.

I look to my friends who have already lost parents as inspiration. With time, the wounds will heal somewhat and I will live a “normal life” again. One day in the future, when I think about my dad, I’ll crack a smile instead of break down in uncontrollable sobs. I wait for that day.

 

 

 

 

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Theater for All

When I came across reduced tickets to a production of Billy Elliot the Musical, I immediately bought them—not only because I love the film and musical, but also because it was being produced by a theater company that I hadn’t been acquainted with yet.

Wheelock Family Theatre is on the campus of Wheelock College. The company has been producing family-friendly theater since 1981. The night that my friend and I went, the large auditorium was almost full. It was great to see children in the audience as well as on the stage. I didn’t get involved with theater until I was in high school, but I danced and sang when I was a youngster, and both were wonderful experiences.

The performance was great. I’m sure that the young man who played the lead will be on Broadway someday. He acted, sang, and danced beautifully. I appreciated the nontraditional casting of some characters and the open captioning for audience members with hearing difficulties.

If you haven’t seen the film or musical, I highly recommend both. It’s a classic story of  love and strife among family members, overcoming obstacles, and following your dreams. I also highly recommend this theater company because of its honorable mission.

A Promise to My Two-Year-Old Niece

Dear Niyah,

I promise you that I will do everything I can to ensure you are safe and supported (legally and emotionally) if:

  • You love, and wish to marry, a woman;
  • You decide you will be happier living as a male;
  • You want to use birth control; or
  • You want to get an abortion.

I promise to help your parents and grandparents teach you that EVERYONE is equal and deserves justice, no matter their ethnicity, national origin, religion, ability or disability, gender identity/expression, or age.

I also pledge to do what I can to slow the advancement of climate change. The current outlook on this is terribly bleak, but many Americans are mobilizing and ready to fight those who choose to ignore scientific research.

I admit that I’m scared for you (and every other American including myself), but hope is stronger than fear. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Light and love will see us through.

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A Reunion and a Mystery

A few weeks ago, my dad and I attended a family reunion with 100+ strangers.

Let me explain.

About a year ago, as I was doing some genealogy research, I learned that a family reunion was being planned for August 2015 in the town where my mom grew up. The reunion was actually for my father’s relations, but he grew up a couple of towns over from my mom.

The reunion was for the descendants of William Bloom, my sixth-great-grandfather. I knew that I wouldn’t know a soul, but I had high hopes that my dad would find a long-lost cousin there (he had many aunts and uncles).

I also thought that the reunion would be a good excuse to visit Pennsylvania again. I have many good childhood memories of traveling to see my grandparents and great-aunts in Pennsylvania (my parents moved to New York when they married).

We started off the trip with ice cream at 10:00 am. Hershey’s ice cream…

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It’s not the most exciting drive, but I relished the journey’s traditions, such as clapping and hooting as we came upon the Welcome to PA sign.

I was saddened to learn that “the Indian store” had closed. It was a shop that sold Native American crafts and candy, and we would always stop there to get gas. I was also saddened to learn that we were no longer able to drive through “Stinky Town,” a town with a huge paper mill at its center. Now the highway goes aroouund the town.

We stopped and visited with my aunt and uncle on the way to check in to our apartment rental. It was great to listen to them talk about people they grew up with. Lots of drama in those small towns!

On the way to the reunion the next day, we stopped in downtown Curwensville. All of the places we used to visit were long gone. Buzzard’s candy store, the Tastee-Freeze. The only shop that was open was the Dollar Store and it was packed.

The reunion was held at the town park. When we arrived, there were probably 100 people there already. As we ate our lunch (it was bring your own) we made small talk with our neighbors at the picnic table. Many people had traveled from other states, which surprised me.

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The one descendant to whom we were all related had 14 children. So someone was taking photos of each child’s descendants. My dad and I laughed when it turned out that we were the only people representing poor Elizabeth Bloom. I was glad that we were there to represent!

After chatting with people for a couple of hours, we headed back to the apartment. I walked downtown to scope out a restaurant for dinner. Even though we were staying in the county seat, the place was a ghost town. I saw exactly three stores and a few restaurants/bars. I found a nice-looking restaurant. And I also found this:

A relic from long ago...

A relic from long ago…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, a video store! My dad and I went in and I bought three previously used DVDs. Oh, how I miss browsing the movies at a movie rental shop.

All in all, it was a fun trip and my conversations with some fellow genealogy nerds inspired me to restart the research.

Oh, what’s the mystery, you ask? Well, it has nothing to do with the reunion…

When I visited the Bahamas a few months ago, I was looking to buy some tea at the grocery store. I picked up a box of Twinings “Nightly Calm” tea. I’d never heard of it, but it looked interesting. I ended up loving it.

I’ve been looking for it in stores and haven’t found it yet. So imagine my surprise when I was poking through the bathroom cabinets in the apartment and found this:

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A. What is a tea bag doing in a bathroom cabinet with toiletries.

B. What is the tea that I’ve been searching for for months doing in a bathroom cabinet with toiletries.

I do not have the answers to these questions. I took this as a sign of… something…When I came back home, I ventured to the Twinings website and learned that a grocery store near me should carry it. Hooray!

I leave you with a photo of the open road:

Heading back to Rochester...

Heading back to New York…

Somebody Loves You

A few weeks ago, I volunteered for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention‘s national Overnight Walk for the second time. In solidarity with the walkers, I took the 12:00 to 6:30 am shift.

I walked into a disorganized situation because of the weather. It had been raining for hours and it wasn’t about to stop. In nice weather, tents are set up on a big plaza at City Hall. So most of the tables, signs, etc. had been crammed into City Hall.

The route of the walk, which is usually around 17 miles, had been shortened due to weather-related safety concerns. So when I arrived, walkers were starting to cross the finish line. I didn’t have a set job because of the turn of events, so I stood at the finish line to cheer on the walkers for a while.

The walkers were soaked. Some were excited and grateful as they approached the finish line. Others were exhausted and limping. I witnessed a marriage proposal, which was sweet.

My next task was to help a woman find her luminaria. Luminaria are paper bags that walkers can decorate with messages for and photos of the loved ones they’ve lost to suicide. Once decorated, battery-operated tea lights are put inside and they are displayed by the finish line. Some people choose to put out their luminaria before the walk, and some bring them on the walk and put them out afterward.

Because of the rain, luminaria were placed in a number of random spots. Outside, inside, 20 there, 50 there. The woman I was helping showed me a photo of her luminaria. On it she had written some inspirational thoughts in black Sharpie. I registered the second one, “Somebody Loves You.”

She took the inside; I took the outside. There were approximately 1,800 bags, so I wasn’t hopeful. Like the last time I volunteered, I was surprised by the range of people who had lost their fight against suicide. Parents, children, spouses, friends. One person had lost his fight in 1981 and another had lost his fight a mere six weeks earlier.

I didn’t find the woman’s luminaria. I somehow was able to find her again inside and offered an apology. I felt an urge to look around inside myself. Within five minutes, I found her luminaria. Holding it to my chest, I practically ran to where I had left her, and thankfully she was still there. We exchanged some happy words and a hug.

By about 4:00 am, the last walker had finished. Everyone who was staying for breakfast and the closing ceremony was sprawled across rooms and hallways on the first floor of City Hall. I spent the next hour or two on garbage duty, picking up discarded breakfast items. Exhaustion, sorrow, and relief hung like a cloud over everyone.

At the closing ceremony, a young man who had attempted suicide spoke, and a musician who had lost her sibling sang a song. The AFSP CEO announced that the walkers had raised more than $3 million in that one evening.

I left exhausted but happy that I had helped AFSP in a small way. Please read these statistics and never be afraid to ask loved ones if they feel like hurting themselves. Let’s bring mental health issues into the light.

Message at the finish line

Message at the finish line

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40 things to do on the birthday list!

BirthdayJune 1st, 2015

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