Today was her day
To my daughter, who called me when she was moving back to Vegas and couldn’t take Martini. I said without hesitation, I’ll take her! It was suppose to be for a month. I transferred all my Love of my daughter into this one year old pup.
From his website about loss, Howard Lunche describes:“Mourning is the expression of sorrow for the dead. It is what we do to demonstrate the grief we are experiencing, and is the means for sharing the pain and disruption caused by a death. Funerals, prayer, unveilings, wearing black, sobbing, visiting the gravesite, journaling, memorials, and looking at photos are examples of how we overtly express and acknowledge the importance of the one who died and his or her death and absence. It is important to foster grief’s natural and healthy progression toward an outcome of acceptance of, and adjustment to, the reality of the death. Mourning is how we do this.
In summary, grief is what is happening to us; our uniquely personal experience in all realms of our being. Bereavement is about who we are without the one who has died. Mourning is the method by which we alleviate the pain and disruption of grief and solidify the memory of the deceased and meaningfulness of our shared life and relationship.”
We buried Martini’s ashes on Easter Sunday, as we did with her doggy sister and best friend Betty just three years earlier. In a beautiful cardboard daisy shaped box with pastel polkadots, along with all the condolence cards we received, next to the fountain in the rose garden under the juniper where she liked to lay her belly to cool. I see thirteen pink hearts every morning from my kitchen window. Somehow this tribute / memorial art installation, lifts and carries me.
I’ve learned that some mental illness can germinate in the refusal to take responsibility for one’s own actions. That boundaries aren’t in the realm of the mentally ill, and blame is the go-to, with never uttering an apology.
It took me a long time, with much reflection, to navigate beyond the negative misogynistic aspects of a religious upbringing. Insecurities with a need to please, not knowing when enough is enough, and sometimes we simply can’t fix it, or have the means to help someone we Love. Why should we be the ones to fix it, or go into emotional and financial debt. The black hole will never be filled. What kind of ego or guilt takes over our own reason, often times resulting in neglect of self.
The disfunction is all around us; A restaurant manager who says out loud in public earshot, “watch me make a hostess cry”. To sexually harassesing a waitress by cornering her, feeling her breast under her shirt in front of his drunk friends at the close of the night. Or, impacting an entire staff’s income by scheduling the best table section preference to the food server he is currently dating.
The solipsist, void of boundaries, neighbor, who simply doesn’t get-it, inflicting decades of sanctimonious harassment.
A tyrannical manager who announces to his assistant, “it’s your fault”, for whatever personal task was demanded, and the professional project didn’t meet deadline.
The spouse who thinks “helping” is an acceptable form of parenting or household management, instead of sharing in the partnership of responsibilities. One does not babysits one’s own children. You spend precious time with them.
The professional, privy to the grief a client is suffering from a recent loss, incrementally and systematically increases the quote to excess. When challenged, his response “I understand there is an inheritance” Good, quality paid services deserve a fair rate. What justifies spending this kind of money on any skill is having your expectations met. A principled work ethic.
More personally, when our Mother’s second husband methodically isolated her from her family and friends. Controlling her to the point of removing all photos and traces of her daughters and grandchildren, and what use to feel like home when visiting was reduced to a holiday visit in a hotel.
This incivility is heightened with social media, liken to cyber Tourettes, where faceless masses post cruel judgements on public sites. More intimately, an infallibility-complexed friend, or in-law posts on a Facebook wall, other than their own, touting their extreme political view or violent, in-your-face observations of the world, to make a point of being “correct”, in spite of the truth.
All these abuses, if enough, and over time, can fuck you up. Even more so, on a professional level, if in need of the job and income, as most of the population, indeed, are to simply survive. One doubt oneself, and wonder could more have been done or differently. Crazy get in your head, and the obsessive negative self talk is difficult to quiet.
Only a few of these scenarios are my own. The majority have been shared by friends because of my sensitivity and empathic ear. Although, all have taught me, and affirmed, it’s critical to know one’s self. This is never more valuable then when entering a romantic relationship. Give yourself the gift of time, necessary for growth. Learn to value and trust your own feelings, and then one can take responsibility for one’s own choices. Setting clear boundaries, and learning what those healthy boundaries are, can be a life long journey. Although, it’s never too early, or late, to start.
More and more with these life experiences I have premonitions of the manipulation to come. These dysfunctional efforts to control are obvious and transparent. Saying no, when it’s appropriate, reclaims personal power.
Unconditional Love doesn’t mean you neglect in Loving yourself enough to assess and ask “what would make this okay if I really do want to make myself available to this person who is exhausting me”. Being kind doesn’t have to mean being weak. Refusing to allow yourself to be manipulated by toxic drama not only takes care of yourself, but forces the person inflicting such behavior to face inevitable consequences. Don’t get me wrong. Everyone deserves a second chance. Unfortunately, I have learned, third, forth, and fifth chances rarely work. More importantly, we can only control our own behavior. No matter how kind, just or pure an intention, it does not mean it will be received as such.
My own boundaries keep me in check. I’ll consider helping when health and safety are at risk. However, sometimes professional help is the only course of action. Then again, professional help will not work if resisted. One has to want and invite therapy, and/or social services, for the healing to beginning.
In a professional setting, when someone is being a bully, just get more professional. If the abuser is a supervisor, requesting help to re-prioritize jobs and/or seek clarity of salary for tasks done on off hours isn’t unreasonable. VPs, or managers, be certain what personal favor you are asking, or is being offered. Is the “favor” a choice and not an obligation out of fear. Then practice resprocity with a gesture that is from you, not at the companies expense.
With a spouse, support and compromise doesn’t mean your own needs are never considered or continually being minimized.
I’m no stranger to irrational thinking and feelings taking its toll. It took me years of work, and with many “therapist” that were unhealthy themselves, before finding a few who did some real good in their guidance and lifting of my consciousness. I was sick, and all I wanted was to “be normal” I’m a rape survivor. I learned that anger turned inward sometimes results in suicide attempts. I can only conclude that anger turned out, is what, at times, leads to impulsive homicide. The second, and third big depressions I survived where while raising my young daughter. Economic struggles, coupled with more unhealthy choices. Lastly, escalating adolescent behavior with my child’s own destructive choices took me to the darkest of places. Although, high functioning, I, to this day, have traces of PTSD. Just because one does not see a handicap, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
The butterfly of happiness finally landed on my shoulder, and I never want her to leave. Therefore I try to avoid manic or unreasonable behavior in people, films, or books, or what I allow into my psyche, as I never want to go back. Back to that suffocating, repetitive, self hate mind chatter.
I’ve been lifted many times during the valleys of my life; by my friends, my parents, and all economic levels of my work colleges. With the emotional, financial, and spiritual generosity I’ve been blessed to received, I pushed myself, forcing myself to grow, to one day pay it forward, to share, to not get comfortable in only receiving.
Just like that flight attendant’s preflight announcement; in the event of an emergency, be sure to secure your oxygen mask first before assisting your children or elderly parent.
Please, take responsibility, and, good care of yourself.
*Title: coined by Dr. Andrew Bassak in paraphrase my thoughts
*I first read about the “butterfly of happiness” in the book Love, Medicine & Miracles by
Dr. Bernie S. Siegel
A photographer I work with said to me, he detecting I was in a “partly cloudy” funk; “keep going toward your own bright Light”. That is exactly what I’ve done, just striving to be my best self. His words lifted me and became my mantra for more than a year, a time of great loss; Beginning with the decision to put our 18-year dog to sleep as her quality of life and body dwindled, my Mother passing away, although she was 86, it felt sudden. And, within months, the murder of our 20-yr. old nephew, just 20-months after his older 20yr. old brother lost his own battle with Myelodysplasia. Immediately, came a car accident where miraculously we walked away with my husband suffering just a scratch, especially since it looked as if a disco ball exploded in my car and we were both covered with thousands of pieces of glass shards. When I needed my family the most, and my husband would certainly have been greatly comforted by our nephew (my sister’s son) reaching out to him, the coup de grås, was my nuclear family turning their backs and disconnecting themselves from me.
I was in the depths of despair and grief. In time, I started to gain clarity, and as always my dear friend expressed his wisdom. He said to me; they’ve been living unprincipled lives. It was bound to happen. Their choices were to inevitably impact you. I remembered Janis Joplin and her line from Me & Bobby McGee “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” I choose to view the change in my sisterhood as a gift, although it took some time before I actually believed this to be true. If not for this disconnect it’s doubtful I would have pulled aside an ounce of Mom’s ashes with the thought of taking them to Sicily.
Twenty-one months later that is exactly what my husband & I did. I’ve learned so much on our trip to Petralia, Mom’s maiden name, and the name of the two villages that rest in the mountainous region 43 miles southeast of Palermo, isn’t her maiden name at all. No buses or train to transport us, we rented a taxi for €200 Euros, with the condition our driver would not smoke or drive crazy. Toto, our driver, was very kind. He took his duty to heart knowing our intention, turning into our personal guide. Popping in a classical CD, stating “you bambino”, leisurely driving us for 2 1/2hrs. through stunning countryside, stopping to point out sites like Mt. Etna, a natural mountain spring that was made into a watering fountain centuries ago, and pulling to the side of the road where he broke off a branch from the Genista Aetneneis bush.
The clipping was fragrant with beautiful yellow flowers, then Toto successfully explained, in mostly Italian, that this thorny shrub was the plant branches used over two-thousand years ago to make Christ’s crucifixion crown. Toto knew I was in search of “documents” as he put it, taking us to a government building, and guiding us through halls and floors until we came to a clerk. He explained we came from America. She stopped what she was doing opening an armoires of sorts, filled with oversized handwritten bound books of names and birth dates hundreds of years old. I wanted so badly to take photos, but I already felt I was intruding on her day, and since they were vital records, to ask might have come across as disrespectful at the lest, and possibly illegal to do so at the worst, if those names were not my own family’s. During this effort the biggest discovery is that Petralia has been mis-pronounced for three generations, and by many American families besides our own. Phonetically spelled; Pet tra lee-a. Also, that my grandfather had a different last name that was dropped when they immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. When I told the clerk his name was Joseph, she said adamantly “no Joseph, Giuseppe. Giuseppe last name of Petralia.
Then I showed her my Grandmother’s birth certificate, which Grandma Ann had changed the birthdate as she wanted to claim being younger by four years. When the clerk pointed to this obvious alteration I just shrugged my shoulders. Grandma’s maiden name noted on the New Jersey birth certificate states Falco, and how I’ve always known it to be. The clerk again, with hand gestures, corrected the error, and mispronunciation; Falco?!? Fal cone ay! She was so generous, as well as patient, with her time considering I had so little to go on. I thanked her and we left.
Across from the government building is a square with a monument of two figures; a soldier and a monk holding up a sword together, on a pillar. Across from that monument a terrace that overlooks the valley, and town of Petralia Sottana. Directly below this raised stone terrace was beautiful foliage, flora & fauna, and butterflies. There is where we let Mama’s remaining ashes fly.
Not all of the ashes fell out of the herb bottle that held her. I didn’t want to force it, so the tiny bit that stayed behind I took with me back to our rented flat in Cefalu, which is situation directly across from the ocean bluffs. There we emptied the oregano jar completely.
Mom rests next to her husband at the Riverside Veterans Memorial Cemetery, in the hills of Petralia Soprana, and released into the Tyrrhenian Sea of the Mediterranean Proper. How amazing that her daughter and son-in-law traveled the 6,622 miles to make the journey, to mark her life, my ancestors lives, and the adventure that brought them across the Atlantic to the United States of America.Nearly two years after such loss and despair, I am so happy. The storm made way to the most beautiful of rainbows. We journeyed beyond the island of Sicily. I journeyed back to me…Fulfilled, living my life in truth, peace, freedom, and forgiveness. My proclamation of my sister’s rejection being a gift, in spite of how much I miss her, as it turns out, is true after all.
Suggested film for anyone who has had family immigrate from Europe through Ellis Island.
My father was a huge influence in my life. I can not imagine who I would have turned out to be without him. And, much later in life, standing up to him made it possible to stand up to men, and for myself, in general.
Even though I made poor choices, and I have allowed myself to be put in negative situations, what others end up learning, once I’ve had enough, is mistaking my kindness for weakness. Dad hated when I was bullied. He would try to hold back, but often times he couldn’t stand it and would go out of his way to make it better.
Our home in West Covina, moving there when I was just in diapers, was the first home I recall. I even remember the address; 1334 Glendora Ave. With that first home came my first friend, Ricky. We lived next door to the Fox family. I Loved his parents, Helen and her husband. They had two much older children than Ricky, a son and a daughter, who didn’t pay much attention to their younger brother, or me. They were Jewish and owned a deli. To this day I have never had such crisp and tasty pickles as from their family owned restaurant. I would make paper ring chains with Ricky at Hanukkah, and remember fondly their menorah. We rarely displayed candles in our home, so I found this to be very pretty, and different from our traditions.
Ricky came over to our house daily asking if he could play with me, and when he did my Father dreaded it. More often than not, Ricky would hurt, and make me cry. Everything from bite marks on my hands and arms, to bouncing my hand in the car door. Not sure why my fingers weren’t broken. I just recall a huge bandage on my thumb. Once he got the brilliant idea that he would get the baseball that was stuck on his roof down by hitting another ball up on the roof to knock it loose. He wanted me to watch his know-how so he instructed me to stand directly behind him while he swung his wooden bat, tossing a ball into the air as he aimed to hit it. Well, he smacked me in the head instead, knocking me out cold.
Helen was a responsible, responsive parent. When my sister and I tattled on Ricky for swearing, his mother promptly grabbed Ricky by his ear pulling him into her bathroom, telling us “you stay right here and watch”! She then literally washed Ricky’s mouth out with white bar soap as he struggled and wailed. My sister and my eye’s were the size of saucers!
My childhood recollection of our backyard was an expansive green lawn. Ricky and I were playing as usually, and as usually, he made me cry. As I turned to run into the house, my Father was standing right behind me in an angered Jolly Green Giant stance. Scanning up from his knees, to his 6′ 1″ height, he was indeed a giant in stature. He pointed at Ricky and said “hit him”. I looked down, shook my head no. “If you don’t hit him, I’m going to hit you”. Gulp… as I turned to Ricky, his distance, and the backyard itself, instantaneously grew further away from me as if a warp speed burst just occurred. Ricky was frozen as I slowly approached him. With all my courage, I slapped him across the face. I couldn’t believe I did it! He went running and screaming to his home. I turned to look at my Dad, still stern, he said, “how did it feel”? I said good, and then he affirmed what I’ve been learning my entire life, “sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself.”
The most tender of his rescues was when our family went to Balboa Island Crystal Cove beach. My parents and toddler sister were under the umbrella, and I spent what felt like hours collecting sea shells. I was in my own world, completely content, gathering beautiful treasures. An older boy than me, came up to me, seeming friendly at first, then he stole my entire day’s beach combing. Returning to my parents blanket quietly suffering, my Father abruptly left. He was gone for a long time. I thought perhaps he had gone looking for the young thief and worried for my Dad. When Dad returned, he brought me out from under the umbrella and told me to dig in the sand. I didn’t understand, but he was smiling, and pointing to a specific spot. Low and behold, what I dug up was a huge, gorgeous abalone shell. As young as I was I figured out what he had done. Walking Balboa Island to find a shell shop to buy me the biggest shell he could find, and then hiding it for me to discover. I stayed under the umbrella the rest of the day relishing, and protecting, my grand treasure, not letting it out of my sight, not letting on to my Father that I suspected I didn’t really find and earn this one on my own. Knowing in my entire being, the most important thing that happened that day. Love heals.
When I choose to marry Grant I did so knowing we would be childless, and I would grow old with this young man. Grant had gone through Nephritis during puberty, a serious medical condition which is the eighth highest cause of human death. The doctors told him it was very likely he would be sterile. We were so young. I didn’t even know who I was yet, let alone my needs. Grant had a sense of humor, handsome, and although he went through periods of being estranged from his family, they were wonderful, and I Love them to this day, very much.
My father woke me up the morning of November 29th with “God sent you a rainbow for your wedding day”. He was always so sweet like that. My parents over extended themselves with an upscale coastal venue reception, around the corner from where we were married at the SB Mission, the Santa Barbara Women’s Club Rockwood. The night we returned from our Cyucas honeymoon to our cottage on Bates Road, we were woken by a phone call from my parents. They said that the concierge of the SBWCR had called. That someone, or persons from our wedding party had stolen antiques from the venue. The SBWCR wanted to call the police and investigate our entire wedding guest list. Once I heard “antique” I knew it was Grant’s best man Juan. I said his name out loud. I recalled seeing and commenting on a beautiful antique bench at their apartment, he and his girlfriend recently acquired. Stunned, as they were struggling, no way could they afford such a beautiful piece of furniture that she claimed they bought at a yard sale. I was mortified. My parents were amazing. They talked the concierge down from outrage and requested that if everything was returned could the incident be dropped, no charges pressed on Grants friends. My Father said to me “honey, I remember what it was like to be young. I made mistakes too. Grant’s friends just need to return everything and none of the guests will be investigated. If they make good, we won’t be held responsible to reimburse the Women’s Club for the loss.” It took about a month, with long distance phone charges we too couldn’t afford, to wrangle the two other groomsmen who lived out of town.
We were hippies, I worked in a Mexican restaurant in Carpinteria, Grant surfed. On our way home from a party in Gobernador Canyon in our VW Bus, with our dog Buddy, two friends, a surfboard & fully loaded tool chest, we rounded a corner a bit too fast and rolled the van 3 times before settling on it’s side in a ditch of the most powdery soft dirt. I remember bracing myself as I watched stars, black, stars, black, stars, hearing the metal scrap the asphalt, and thinking I have to stay alive to make sure everyone else makes it. I was stuck & couldn’t get out at first. It was bad, could have been a whole lot worse, thankfully we all survived, especially Terri as it looked as though the entire bus was resting on her head. Grant and his friend Adam flagged down a car, asking if they would take me & my girlfriend Terri to the hospital. My Mother always said (in a New York accent), “make sure you wear clean underwear because you’ll never know when you’ll be in an accident”. Thanks Mom. Should have listened. I was wearing the biggest high waisted old lady choners. My good friends showed up in support and proceeded to watch as I was stitched up from a horizontal two-inch cut on my right mid back. All I could think of is they were seeing me in granny panties.
Within a couple months I started getting sick, loosing my cookies almost daily. Shouldering the economic responsibility was taking it’s toll. Honestly, I thought I had an ulcer. Grant suggested I see a doctor, but I dismissed it as I was still having my periods, and because of his childhood illness. Finally he convinced me. On our way up to my gynecologist he said “they have a pill now and it makes the pregnancy go away” Circa 1976, this sounded dubious to me. When we got to Dr. Horton’s office and after testing, the doctor brought us into his private office. He said to us “you have company”. I was stunned. Grant asked about the pill he invented and the doctor said no, there is no pill. Grant expressed that knowing now he can have children he’d like to wait. Dr. Horton replied, “If you want to terminate your pregnancy you’ll need to decide right away because you are already 2 1/2 months along.” He proceeded to tell us a story, tenderly, about when he was a medical intern and his wife got pregnant. They just couldn’t afford to have a child so they planned to drive to Mexico to get an abortion. Then he turned this beautifully framed 8 X 10″ picture on his desk around so we could see it. He said “this is my son”. “I’m going to leave you two alone for while”, and he walked out of his office and closed the door. I knew as soon as I heard I was pregnant I wanted to keep this child. I fell to my knees at Grant’s side and said “I have to have this baby”. I was so relieved when he agreed. Grateful I never indulged in drugs or hardly drank any liquor at that time in my life, my negative imagination would have been increased. For the most part I felt I should have a healthy baby. And, I’ll never forget Dr. Horton for, without judgement, taking the time to share his heart with this very young “deer in headlights” couple.
Time to call my parents. When my Father answered and I announced I was pregnant, there was complete silence on the other side of the line. Finally I said, Dad? He responded with “I thought he was sterile”. Well, “obviously not”. We hung up and I burst into tears. Then he called back apologizing. My Mother had reminded him how his mother reacted when they told her they were pregnant with me. How she gushed. He was ashamed and asked if I would ever forgive him. “I Love you Dad” My parents helped me paint the baby room, bought all the furniture, and paid for a year of diaper service.
My baby shower was overshadowed by the untimely death of my 18 year old brother-in-law killed by a drunk driver. My father-in-law signed the papers to take Guy off life support the day of the shower. I wish we had cancelled. It was too difficult to pretend for the sake of my mother’s friends and family. Maybe my Mother thought the celebration would lift my spirits, and my in-laws, it didn’t.
The day I went into labor was the day we were scheduled to go to the doctor to assess inducing as I had gone into my 10th month. I was 185lbs, and not a healthy 50 pounds extra weight. I had to quit my waitressing job after looking “too pregnant” so we sustained ourselves on WIC government stamps, which was mostly dairy. This was helpful since I craved a gallon of milk a day. A small stipend of Food Stamps helped purchase a few vegetable for the midnight cups of salsa I would drink as if tea. I also use to hitch hike to my check ups at the clinic in Goleta, which was terrifying. I never told my parent about that. It would of made them angry at Grant. Determined to look glamorous, I planned to wash, and straighten my extremely curly hair at the first couple of contractions. I heard it takes hours before going into hard labor. My labor amped up within a half hour and we were off to Santa Barbara in mid-week morning traffic. Grant was so excited he kept pointing to his writhing wife to the other work bound drivers.
I had my baby girl on March 15th, 1977 at 2:04 in the afternoon, all 9lbs. 12.5oz of her. I was 22 years old, a baby myself with a freak show for a body. Terribly ill-prepared, I formed opinions by rebelling against what others tried to suggest to me. Pregnant during the car accident, interestingly, she imprinted, as my baby was born with a birth mark on her right mid-back that looked just like my scar from the accident. I was so in Love with my child. So much so, that I believed she was a sacred gift from God (indeed she was), and her thoughts and feelings were superior to my own, leaving her to be in charge much of her young years. My biggest, just one of many, parenting mistakes; not valuing and trusting my own good sense. That being said, I was still her parent. Parenting, Motherhood, an act of selfless Love.
Grant and I both had our hearts cracked open with this new life. If he had any reservations, they melted away as he bounded with his daughter. More often than not when a young couple comes together before they are ready to share life’s obligations and responsibilities they unravel. We grew apart. More accurately, I grew past him. It took me a long time to get over Grant, and being thwarted into the workforce as sole provider. Even longer to forgive him. What do you call someone who is immature, flawed, and abandoned his own daughter….human.
Mom was still living in Brooklyn pre-Depression, most likely in Kindergarten. She & her siblings use to walk down to the naval ship yard and collect metal slugs from the construction site. Coins to a very poor child’s imagination. They would use them as money for board games they made.
Mom decided she was going to cheat, so she put a handful of the jagged coins in her mouth. Her brother Frank, always up to some sort of shenanigans, as usual, made her laugh. And, when she did, she accidentally swallowed all the slugs! Her brothers & sisters ran to tell their parents, and at first my Grandma & Grandpa couldn’t believe this happen. Then, once they realize the danger was real, they rushed their little Nancy off to emergency.
The doctors didn’t know quite what to do, so, they told her parents, Anna & Joe, to feed her cotton sandwiches. The theory was the cotton would wrap itself around the razor sharp edges of the coins as not to shred her intestines. Well the strategy worked, and other than follow up trips to the doctor’s office, Mom survived. The first of many chapters in her life where her ideal of how things she thought ought to be would be perforated. Then again, maybe that experience taught and shaped her moral core. Mom was a good, honest, kind women who always made lemonade out of lemons.