Living as if there is always a tomorrow…

Today was a 9.9 day. I saw the blue sky from my bed as I awoke and I knew it would be stellar!

Arriving in my seat at the dining room table after brewing the perfect cup of tea, I awoke my computer to look on a Facebook page for a picture of my 14 year old who had surely survived her first night at YEA Camp (Youth Empowered Action) in Charlton, MA. I was hopeful that she would experience a week of passion-building, consciousness-raising excitement. I was feeling good!

The phone rang next to me and I saw my sister Cyn’s familiar name on the screen. Family, she is but since she’s not too frequent in her calls, I had a flash of warning before I said hello. “Have you been on Facebook yet?” she asked.

“Not yet, why?”

“I think our cousin David died.” “I don’t know for sure, but it looks like it by his son Jake’s posts.” she said.

It was not for almost 3 more hours that I knew for sure what had happened. No one was returning her calls and Google searches pulled up nothing.

I was already dressed for a morning bike ride, having been granted a “do whatever you want day” by my lovely wife. It was her way of sharing the “burden” of having been gone almost 2 full days of every week for the past 2 years to care for her ailing dad. We are always trying to keep a balance, it seems, of energy, patience, and time. Time, I believe, is the most valuable and also the most elusive…

“I’m going to go for a ride,” I said. “There’s nothing else I can do right now.”

“Please be careful!” she said, as she does and has, for 18+ years.

“I always am.” I responded, as I always do.

When I head out on a ride, or plane trip, or anytime I feel like I might be in danger (for as far back as I can remember), I have surrounded myself in my mind with white light. I can visualize it swirling around me and protecting me. I ask my spirit guides to keep me safe, and today, I added, “It’s not my day. It’s not my time!”

This morning as I repeated that ritual, I felt uneasy. I thought of the speed at which we can go from alive to dead, one minute our flame burning brightly, the next, extinguished. It isn’t fair and it causes pain, mostly felt by those left behind. And then I think about the fact that I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason, yet there are many more questions than I have answers.

No one knows for certain what becomes of us when we die; I believe we’re all mostly just afraid of the unknown. Certainly, we must get a better understanding as we age? I fear we just amass more questions.

All I know is that time is moving at a speed that I cannot fathom and control and that unless I can find a way to slow it down, my flame will be blown out in what seems like an instant!

When I was young, I planned to live until I was 100, but by the time I was 40, I’d revised that to “90 or above would be fine.” Now, I’ve lowered it again and I’m aiming at 85. That gives my kids plenty of time to have kids so I can meet them all, which is something that I never got with my own parents.

My 2 youngest, “the babies, the twins, the little ones,” have just gotten back from a week of overnight camp. They have somehow grown into teenagers at only 11.5 years old, look a foot taller, and seem almost ready to venture out of the nest on their own. Not really, but they do seem much more grown up this week!

“Can we go for 3 weeks next year?” they pleaded

“Really? How would I be able to live without you for 3 weeks? Wouldn’t you get homesick?” I said.

“Well, maybe a little, but it would be fun! Please, Please, Mommy & Mama?!” they chimed.

I thought to myself, “No, that would be impossible. That’s like being one of those parents who just want to get rid of their kids and send their kids to boarding school. Out of the question! Two weeks, maybe, but it’s expensive!”

“We’ll see”, I said, as I mumbled ever so quietly… “never going to happen!”

They keep growing, even when you’re not around. At camp they do things for camp staff that they don’t do at home. Like brush their teeth on the first request as they herd their way towards the makeshift outdoor sinks. They go to sleep on schedule, get up early for extra activities, and try new foods. They bring their dishes on their trays to the dishwasher area! They clean up after themselves…And they make friends with kids who may grow up to be lifelong friends, tethered to each other through distance over the years, and reunited in old-age. These are memories that last a lifetime.

My cousin David died almost instantly from an aneurysm on his brain stem. I doubt that he felt any pain, nor had time to realize how dire it was. One moment he was there and the next he was gone. He had just turned 50 a day before, and left his parents, 2 siblings, 3 grown boys, a lovely girlfriend, 2 ex-wives, and the rest of us relatives reeling with the suddenness, the sadness, and the questions. I still see him as a young boy like it was yesterday, with taped up broken glasses and all of my sisters and his sisters teasing him because he was the only boy and we could.

A few nights ago, before our daughter went to YEA camp, she came to our bedroom where I lay, alone (on a night when the wife was at Dad’s), armed with her computer to show me a hair straightener that she wanted to buy.

“It’s only $79.00” she said. “Can I get it?”

“$79.00! Your hair is gorgeous. You don’t need a hair straightener! And that’s a lot of money!” I said

“It’s not $150.00, like some of the others! Please? I really want it and need it!” she whined.

It went downhill from there. I wasn’t going to buy something that cost that much when we had just dropped a good chunk of money on new school clothes. She continued to whine and I stood my ground. She didn’t even want to consider looking on ebay for a better price on a used one. I finally just told her I wasn’t going to argue about it anymore and to go to bed!

10 minutes later, I called her back in…

“You know,” I said, if you had come in here saying “Mommy, there’s something that I really want to buy, but I don’t have enough money for it. Is there any way I can work it off?” I would have listened with much more open ears. Instead, you came in here like a spoiled teenager expecting that you would just get what you want! We talked more, and she quickly realized her mistake and apologized. The next morning, she was up and dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to tackle the jobs I’d given her. I told her she’d be sore the next day, tired of stooping over to cut saplings on our back hill but would be pleased with herself when she accomplished her goal. 3 hours later, she texted me pictures at work to say she was done!

What was most enlightening about our talk that night, was that in appealing to her to think about being more of a go-getter and to work harder and to find a passion in life, she said to me, “You just want me to be a politician! You want me to be political!”

“Whoa, what?” “Hell, no I don’t! Politicians have to lie a lot, and they don’t do a lot of what they say they’ll do. The good ones are few and far between. I’d never want you to be a politician!”

“I just want you to be passionate about something!” I said. “I gave you life. I gave you a flame that burns inside you, but it’s up to you to fuel that flame!”

“Finding a passion is as easy as setting up a lemonade stand at a busy intersection on the bike path to raise money for your friend whose sister is dying of leukemia!” “You make signs and posters with her picture on it and you raise thousands of dollars, not because people care about the lemonade, but because they see your passion and want to donate!”

“Passion is getting your school to stop selling water in plastic bottles, but instead to encourage kids to bring refillable bottles in and have filtered water dispensers in hallways!”

“Passion is going out once a week with your siblings to pick up trash along the bike path!” It’s your future and your kids’ future that needs to be saved, and I’m just trying to get you to care about that. It’s getting tougher and tougher for people to live in this world and kids need to see that their choices now can make a difference. You need to help be that difference!

We’ll see what Saturday brings when she comes out of camp “empowered” in some way. I’m hoping that she’ll have learned some skills that she will use to fire herself up about some cause and to energize others to do the same. It’s not like she hasn’t had examples!

Life starts and life ends. What we do here in the time that we remain, matters. Instead of living each day as if it were my last, I want to treasure my time and live as if there is always a tomorrow!

R.I.P.

R.I.P. David Cassinelli

Thanks for reading!

Disney, Death, and a good “stiff” drink!

(This is not the Part 2 to my last entry, so if you were waiting with bated breath for that one, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. )

When my big girls were young, their other mom and I took them to Disney. It was my first experience there, so I was as full of wonder as they were. I rode the kiddie rides, took a million pictures and videos, happily paid the exorbitant prices, and had a great time seeing my kids have fun. When my now partner/wife and I got together, we took them again, about 3 years later. The wonder had worn off by then for me, and I was happy to never see another Micky Mouse again!

Fast forward to 2007, when three more kids were added to the family, and my wife says to me, “we should take them to Disney.” “Really? Do we have to?” I really don’t care for Disney, I thought…the high prices, the hoopla, “It’s a Small, Small World” over and over again…what good could come of that? After months of my protesting and her cajoling me, I finally relented and the trip was booked. She was determined that I was going to have a good time!

Unfortunately, what we didn’t know then, was that her mom would be on death’s door in March 2008 when we had booked our reservations . Would she be able to make it until we got back? I told her that I didn’t think so, but her 7 siblings and her dad were all saying, “Go, it will be fine!” In her family’s fashion of sometimes denying the facts that were right in their faces, she believed them and off we went-kids busting out of their pants with excitement! Did I mention that I hate Disney?

There we were, at the car rental place. We just got the airport shuttle and had suitcases in hand, the little ones were 6, middle child 9, and big girl who joined us on her college break, all antsy and ready to hit the cash-sucking wonderland, when her brother calls and says, “You need to come home. Mom’s dying!” I had just gotten the keys to our minivan, unlocked the car, when she ran over, handed me all the extra cash and relevant tickets that she had, gave me a quick kiss, told me she had to go, hugged the kids, and crying, ran to catch the shuttle bus back to the airport! I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. She had just left me to fend for myself at f#%&King Disney?!

So, here we were…8 days of familial bliss. Alone. Single parent. And I’m not only supposed to have fun but I’m supposed to put on a happy face, while my sweet mother-in-law is dying and I’m not there to console my wife?

We made it through that week somehow, sent pictures and videos to her by computer, cried and talked often on the phone, recounted all of our travels, and missed her terribly. It stands out as the single most dreadful vacation in terms of my book of memories, and I’ve had my share of bad vacations! I did miss the funeral, (which I had mixed feelings about), but I knew that she was surrounded by many of our good friends and relatives who would be my surrogate, probably more effectively than I could be. That, I was fortunate for.

Today, it’s the day after the 911 tenth year anniversary. I had intended to work on this week’s blog this past weekend, but I had no time. I had no desire either to sit and write. I woke up yesterday morning and caught the Today Show’s recap of the morning of September 11, 2001 and I was in tears, alone in my kitchen, remembering where I was, what I was doing at that fateful moment, like I was back there in time. We had twins, in utero then, 3 months from birth and we were terrified, devastated, scared, and anguished. Would we have brought 2 more kids into this world had we not been pregnant then? We’ve asked that question many times, but along with that question comes the answer-would we have wanted to miss out on the two beautiful babies that are now our wonderful 9 years olds?

When my oldest daughter was about six, she came with me to see the Southwest with my mother and 2 nephews who were about 13 and 16 at the time. My mother wanted to see things before she got too ill and debilitated by her lymphoma, so off we went. The trip was hard, as my mom’s belly was swelling and her breathing was beginning to get worse, but we trekked on, seeing the sights and taking photos. It was at the Grand Canyon that it happened…I let my daughter leave the car with her cousins to check out the view at one of the stops. It had snowed the night before and the ground was slick, but how slick, I didn’t know because I stayed in the warm car with my mom while they went off to view the “lookout.” All of a sudden, a panic overtook me. All I could think about was what if she slipped and fell, down and down into the canyon? It happened every year to some poor sight-seers and if you don’t believe me, Google it! Two or three every year, and they are often kids whose parents let them get too close to the edge. I knew in that instance that if she had fallen over a cliff, I’d have to jump after her. I would know that I would die too, but it was the only way I could handle the guilt of letting my kid fall over a cliff. Seriously.

I’ve been in tears at least 15 times today, but not all for 911. I was alone yesterday morning while my kids slept, because my wife was tending to her dying sister who will probably not live more than another week or two. It’s very hard having so many in-laws and knowing that we’re getting to the age when it’s going to be one after another sick or dying until it’s our time.

I am very sad for her sister and the life she’s lived. I’ve seen her suffering for years. Maybe that end will be a good thing. But death is not usually pleasant. Death can be very ugly and hard and with it comes anger and stress and fighting and tears and not knowing or not wanting to know. It isn’t usually like the movies when someone just decides to let go, closes their eyes and their head rolls to the side. For any of you who have been through it with a loved one, I don’t have to tell you…it’s not something that you want to have to remember or go through, but you do.

Today, while there is a sadness for my sister-in-law, it was another death that choked me up. It was a tragic death of an 18 year-old daughter of my child’s teacher. She was driving a car with a friend of her mother’s, driving on her learner’s permit, just shy of getting her license. I did not know this young girl, but she was a child, and I have five of them who I worry about every hour of every day. She was hit head-on by a driver, possibly distracted by something, who knows, but this driver crossed the center line, and while the girl tried to avoid getting hit, she was killed. It was senseless and devastating for all involved, and a too-young soul just starting her life is now gone.

As a parent, I try so hard to keep my kids safe, walking a tightrope between being too controlling and being a parent who knows, has seen- can “feel” danger. I’ve had experience. I know. I’ve worked too long and hard raising my kids to let them ride a bike without a helmet, or jump on a friend’s trampoline that doesn’t have a net. I don’t care if their kid never gets hurt. My kids will  be the ones who will break. They will be the exception. Get a net and they’re all set, but why play with fire? Get into a car with your friend’s 17 year-old brother? Uh-huh. Sorry, not happening. I would never forgive that kid if anything happened and I don’t ever want to be in the position where I have to feel those kind of feelings toward any other human being.

I made a reference to my wife the other day that dated me. “Danger! Danger!” said the robot on “Lost in Space,” one of my favorite shows in the 1960’s. Apparently it was only out from 1965-68, so she was only 2 years old then, but for a 5-8 year old, it was priceless! It’s an apt description of my inner warning system and I’m sticking to it!

If you’ve made it this far in my blog, hang on… it’s not as random as you might think. The thought of losing a child of mine will bring me to tears at the most bizarre times. I might be out on a walk, listening to music, rejoicing inside at the most beautiful spring day to come along in a long time and then suddenly I think about one of my kids out riding their bike, not paying attention at an intersection, and “BOOM!” I have so many scenarios that I’ve emotionally lived through from drowning to fires, car accidents, breaking their neck falling down our steep stairs…it’s endless. It’s worrying about what I can’t protect them from, and then they grow up and the worries don’t end, I just see them less.  Senseless deaths are the hardest.  I know that for me, it’s much easier to deal with the death of an old person, knowing that they have lived a full life and it’s time.

Back to my sister-in-law, and for any of you who are dealing with a dying or sick friend or relative, maybe something I’ve written will hit home. As I get older, (and I am not that old despite what my kids think), I do think about things differently than I did in my 20’s or 30’s mainly because I’ve seen so much more…I think ahead more. I think about what I will leave behind, how I’d like to leave this world, and what I still want to do before that time comes. When it’s my time to go, I want to have choices.

I have a pact with at least 3 friends who I trust will follow through with it, that if I ever get to the point that I don’t know that I’m at “that point,” they will mix me up a nice little cocktail and tell me “you told me to give this to you when you got to this point.” Hopefully, I will smile and drink the cocktail.

I don’t want to be a burden on my family. I don’t want to get to the point where I don’t know my family, and I don’t want to die an ugly death. If it’s coming soon, I’m all for making it happen sooner. I don’t want to choke to death on my tongue. I would not want to be drooling or incoherent, and I certainly don’t want to be in pain. If any of those things and the 50 other things on my list occur, it’s time!

When the bill, hopefully, comes up for a vote to allow assisted suicide in MA, I will vote, campaign, and donate to the cause. I hope you will too.
To read the petition:

http://www.dignity2012.org/

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