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A letter to Dad on his 70th birthday*

*Which was March 13, but then we had this whole global pandemic happen, so I think he’d understand my cause for pause.

 

Dad's birthday
Slick Rick,
It’s hard to believe you’ve been gone six and a half years. I remember thinking you were so young to die at 63, and now today, you’d be 70. SEVENTY. That sounds so old somehow.
I’d like to think you’d be watching the world news without worry, knowing you’d already survived a terrible car accident, a few wars, and a massive stroke. You always had an eye out for prepping, whether it was with stockpiled paper goods or those Army MREs we thought were such a novel treat for dinner.
I know you’re so proud of Adam. He’s been resilient as ever this past year, welcoming their third baby girl into the world and overcoming some awful work news. He brought you a beer today, of course, and I hope your neighbors at the cemetery don’t mind that he doesn’t share. You’d love all of your grandkids equally, but I’d kill to see you and L have a battle of wits. She would wear out your patience and then give you that devastating smile to make you melt.
You must be proud of Mom, too. She sold the house on Rusty Circle, the same one where you had the stroke and spent the last days of your life. She’s making big changes that are scary, but she’s not alone. You’re always with her, even if she’d prefer if sometimes you’d just let her spoil the granddaughters without question. Her move to be closer to the kids is something you both would have enjoyed in this phase of life together.
I hope you’re proud of me. I’m trying to write more in my free time, which I’m getting a lot more of lately. I’m doing well at work and constantly look to you and Pop for the encouragement to keep doing what I’m doing, not worrying about what others think. I have some incredible friends who made root beer floatinis in your honor tonight and I cried even more than you did when we saw Mr. Holland’s Opus.
There’s a lot that’s happened in the last year, and I hope you’re still listening to me each day. I know you’d prefer I curse less and have more patience, but I do have you to thank for those qualities so it can’t be all that bad.
I miss you every single day and can’t believe how much you haven’t been physically here to see. I can’t believe how much there still is to come. All I can do is hope and pray you’re watching over us; taking breaks with Food Network or The Weather Channel; and grilling burgers to your heart’s content for all of our loved ones up there.
Sending you all my love,
Mouse

When Mom Was My Age

Courtesy of Family Archives

As you can guess from my 30 Before 30 series, I turn 30 in two months and three days.

When Mom was my age, she was giving birth to me. She also had a three-year-old son, who was with her parents in Daytona during the tumultuous delivery. She’d recently celebrated her seventh wedding anniversary with her college sweetheart. She was a few years into her teaching career, after needing to pivot from a criminal defense role in South Florida.

When Mom was my age, she was juggling being a wife, mom, educator, homeowner, and a million other adjectives I haven’t experienced yet. She was sacrificing some dreams and goals for those achievements, never once blaming or resenting us for the path she pursued.

When Mom was my age, she had no idea how harrowing this birth would be. She had no idea her husband would suffer a stroke in eight years, changing her marriage and parenting plan overnight. She had no idea what we’d become or pursue or achieve; she just did her damnedest to ensure we were brought up with strong morals and guidance.

When Mom was my age, she was on the cusp of 30 — maybe pursuing her own List of sorts before the milestone birthday arrived. She’d likely been to 10 concerts (now guess which one was fake) 😤  She’d experienced a lot, but still had so much more to come.

Although Mother’s Day is two weeks away, I couldn’t let today — the exact age she was when I was born — pass without acknowledging how grateful I am for everything she did for me then and has continued to do ever since. 143 always, Momma.

Courtesy of Family Archives

That’s What Sheryl Said

Since my dad’s death in September 2013, plenty of tears, questions and confusion has poured out of me. This wasn’t my first big loss in life, but it has absolutely hit the hardest. Yesterday, for example, wasn’t just Father’s Day — it was also my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary — and it was brutal.

I’ve read eons of articles about coping with grief, learning how to get by, and the like. I’ve had nightmares about all the milestones my dad will miss, including career successes, a walk down the aisle, starting a family, my own anniversaries, and so on. I’ve felt a gamut of emotions, ranging from anger to emptiness.

It wasn’t until earlier this month, when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s essay about the loss of her husband, that a new feeling emerged: hope.

In it, Sandberg explains the lessons she’s learned in the 30 days since her husband’s death. The emotions. The questions. The confusion. I read through blurry eyes with tear-stained cheeks and big, ugly sobs. This passage, in particular, spoke to me:

“I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was ‘It is going to be okay.’ That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, ‘You and your children will find happiness again,’ my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, ‘You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good’ comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple ‘How are you?’—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with ‘How are you today?’ When I am asked ‘How are you?’ I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear ‘How are you today?’ I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.”

I highly recommend you take some time to read the entire essay — even if you haven’t dealt directly with grief, Sandberg provides excellent context for helping others deal with death.

Since September 2013, I’ve actively said that we as humans are not well-equipped to deal with loss. There is no manual, but Sandberg’s words are certainly a start.

Courtesy of Facebook
Sheryl & Dave Sandberg, from a recent FB post

Here’s Some DADvice

 

Courtesy of Family Friends

OK. I’m ready to talk about it.

I’ve dreaded today pretty much since my dad died last year. Well, to be fair … I’ve dreaded many days since then.

And our family is uniquely challenged: Each milestone is not only our first without him, but our first with my niece, who was born 13 days after his death.

So here we are, another first. And as hard as it is sometimes to get up and face the day, I have my dad’s voice echoing in my head, pushing me to remember:

  • Check the forecast: It’s not always accurate, but you’ll be better prepared knowing what storms are out there.
  • Learn from mistakes: If you make the same one twice, it’s no longer a mistake. It’s a choice.
  • Respect the past: The work ethic, loyalty and discipline defined elder generations for a reason and should be revered.
  • Biology doesn’t make you a father: Uncles, grandpas, brothers, cousins, neighbors … every man who’s contributed to your growth has been a dad to you.
  • Keep on cruising: Life might deal you some shit circumstances, but they won’t define you. What you do with those circumstances, does define you.

These little nuggets of Slick Rick’s wisdom have helped carry me through the hardest of times, even helping me to smile today.

Especially for Brother, who celebrates his first Father’s Day with his beautiful baby girl. He — among others — may not realize it, but being a father figure in my life has truly saved and shaped me.

Wishing you and yours a happy Father’s Day. God bless.

Courtesy of Brother

Good Grief

Courtesy of GoodGrief.TV

In the five months since my dad’s death, there are many things I’ve left unsaid. Many blog posts I’ve drafted, many journal entries I’ve crafted, many people I’ve shafted.

There have been countless tears without nearly as much closure as I expected.

And isn’t that so stupid? How can I expect anything?

Sure, I’ve been to more than 20 funerals for various friends & family — but nothing prepares you for the loss of an immediate family member.

I’ve gone through many stages, sometimes simultaneously. My laughter over a fond memory bubbles up anger and resentment for not flying home more often in the three months between his diagnosis and death.

The anger continued last night, when an NBC reporter questioned Olympic skier Bode Miller about his brother’s death. Overcome with emotion, Miller was unable to finish the interview.

I was reeling over the reporter’s inability to recognize she should stop asking questions and just shut the hell up. But Miller is more gracious than I, and he understood she had no idea he would break down at that moment.

Everyone deals with grief differently … that’s no surprise. What is surprising, though, is how often people make these situations about themselves.

They don’t know how to deal with the loss. They can’t handle seeing you cry. They can’t imagine what you’re going through.

What they don’t realize is that sometimes, they don’t need to do anything — just be there for you.

I’ve held my tongue and left many things unsaid in the months since my dad died.

Part of me wants to let go of my guilt that I didn’t say enough when he was alive.

Part of me wants to lash out every time someone tries to change the subject, when I really just want to cry it out for a few minutes.

Part of me wants the words to come out, free of judgment, instead of bottling them up for fear of burdening someone else.

And all of me wants him back here just for one day, just so I can say everything I didn’t.

How-To: Prep for Your Sibling’s Offspring

Brother and sister-in-law are expecting their first child, a girl, and she could arrive ANY. DAY. NOW.

I won’t even attempt to understand the range of emotions they’re experiencing.

Instead, I’ve got an incredibly helpful how-to guide for us aunts- and uncles-to-be — you’re welcome in advance.

Step 1: Get a Kick-Ass Shower Gift

Courtesy of Francescas.com

Thanks to Pinterest, this one is pretty easy to execute. Good thing, since it’s one of your first tests as an Aunt or Uncle. No pressure.

I used a combination of my friends’ creativity and my knack for rhyming one-syllable words to give Brother and SIL a clothesline of onesies, bibs and pacifiers.

They passed it around the room for everyone to see. Each clothespin had a verse that coordinated with its attached item, and the clothespins together formed this poem:

 She’ll steal your heart,
she’ll make a splash,
add sunshine to your days
& take Daddy’s cash!

You’ll both be suckers
for this precious child,
& she’ll always love you …
even when she’s wild! 

When life gets messy,
you know who to call.
I’m just a plane ride away —
parenthood will be a ball!

Oh, and don’t forget to remind your sibling how great you are with some aunt- or uncle-specific onesies. My favorite? That little number from Francesca’s.

Step 2: Learn How to Babysit

Courtesy of Hairpin.com

I discovered these Six Guaranteed Low-Effort Toddler Games just a few weeks before I found out about my SIL’s pregnancy. While I still have a couple years to practice, I feel a little bit better knowing I can entertain my niece with a piece of toast. No, really.

Step 3: Study Up!

Courtesy of George Hodan for PublicDomain.net

My blogger friend from the kuhniverse is a founder of this awesome magazine for nannies. It has tons of tips and tricks for caretakers (read: Aunt or Uncle YOU), and it validates that there is not one right way to raise a kid.

I can’t wait for their first hardcopy issue to come out in January. Till then, Like them on Facebook for entertaining updates.

Step 4: Pray. A Lot.

Courtesy of someecards.com

To be completely honest, I am terrified for my niece to come into this world. I really, really, really don’t want to screw her up.

What if I bump her fragile elbows into furniture? What if she hates visiting me in New York? What if — God forbid — she CRIES during my watch?

I’m leaving a lot of it up to faith on the good ol’ trial and error method. And, I’m eternally grateful that I can give her back after any traumatic time with me.

So, there you have it. Just a few simple steps to ensure you get Aunt/Uncle of the Year and totally keep your family from questioning how you’ve made it this far in life without a helmet.

Please, hold your applause.

WO: Weekly Obsessions

Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s death. I was in Ireland (her homeland) when the cancer won. I still struggle with the difficult decision I made to stay abroad and miss her memorial services.

It’s been more than a thousand days since, but it breaks my heart every time I think about that choice.

So, here’s a dedication to my mom’s mom: A woman so fiercely sharp and sassy, she put most to shame.

Image Credits Listed Below

  1. A Margarita (on the rocks, no salt): Her signature drink; I’ll never indulge in a margarita without thinking of my Grammy. As any wondrous woman should, she ordered them exactly the same way for years. Cheers!
  2. Cruising: Married for more than 50 years, my grandparents sure knew how to vacation. Their travels took them many places, and we were blessed to come along at times. Our Bahamas trip the summer I graduated high school was far and away my favorite
  3. Girls’ Night: My mom and grandma spent a lot of quality time together, and I relished any chance to join them. From bingo nights to “AP conferences” (secret beach getaways), so much of my life is defined by those memories.
  4. White Elephant Gift Exchange: Our family tradition carries on every Christmas Eve, but it’s not quite the same. I won magnets, which I fastened into hair clips, two years in a row — and I’ve never treasured silly Dollar Store gifts more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdSG_ipTx_4
My grandpa used to sing her this. We love you, Peggy.

Images courtesy of: Epicurean, CruiseScope, VIMB, Magz

Today Is My Parents’ Anniversary

Today is my parents’ anniversary.

33 years ago, they held hands in a church.
They vow to love and support one another so long as they both shall live. Friends and family — and God, lest we forget — witness the start of a long road ahead.

3 years later, they hold hands in a hospital room.
And they hold their baby boy — the first grandson for her family’s side. He will be a pioneer of many things: fearless, curious and stubborn as hell. He will challenge and change their lives forever.

4 years later, they hold hands in another hospital room.
They can’t hold their baby girl —the doctors deliver diagnoses much faster than they delivered the incubated infant. She will be a fighter: for life, for independence and for respect.

8 years later, they hold hands in ICU.
He’s suffered a stroke. She awoke in the night to find him lifeless. The ambulance sirens screamed, waking their children. The kids don’t understand why Daddy doesn’t recognize them. They can’t comprehend the doctors’ advice that Mommy should make funeral arrangements. They have no idea the impact this day will have.

10 years later, they don’t hold hands often.
The kids have moved away, forcing a harsh spotlight on an imperfect marriage. Their separate interests have become time-consuming; missed festivities, massive fights and mangled feelings are all too common. Their love and support is routine, but no longer remarkable.

8 years later, they hold hands on the beach.
Their son and his beautiful wife vow to love and support one another so long as they both shall live. Friends and family — many who were there in June 1980 — witness the start of a new road ahead.

Less than a year later, they hold hands in a waiting room.
He’s got Stage IV liver cancer, the doctors say. He can beat it with chemo, they say. He’s in the best possible care, they say. Everything we inherited — being fearless, curious and stubborn as hell; and fighting for life, for independence and for respect — we’ve never needed them more.

Today is my parents’ anniversary.
And I just pray for another 33 years of hand-holding and kept vows.

Courtesy of Magz's Archives

What to Expect (When Someone Else Is Expecting)

It is with sheer joy and absolute excitement I can share the following news: Brother and Sister-in-Law are expecting! They’re set to welcome Baby in late September.

My first thoughts after the happy tears dried:

  • Brother will be responsible for another life. We must get this kid a helmet.
  • SIL will be a great mom. Her experience (and patience!) with children is incredible.
  • We need grandparent names for Magz and Slick Rick. I’m campaigning for “Gam Gam” and “Gumpy.”
  • I’m going to have to learn how to deal with kids.

Many will offer their varied opinion on everything from the baby’s name to nature versus nurture, and the list goes on.

Lucky for the parents-to-be, I have nothing to add. I’m deeply unqualified to care for a child — but I’ll be damned if that kid isn’t the best-dressed baby in Florida.

And just as I learned last Christmas to not joke with children about presents, so I’ll learn how to be an awesome aunt. I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome the next generation of Wittyburg kids to the world.

Courtesy of someecards.com

And I’m absolutely OK with that.

Moose Getting Married

Dear Moose,

I can’t quite believe you’ll be married by this time tomorrow. Even though you said from day one that Stephanie was your future wife, my brain is just now processing that your marriage begins in less than 24 hours.

Nearly all of my childhood memories — as happy as seeing you earn Eagle Scout and as sad as Dad’s stroke — revolve around us being a dynamic duo.

From fights so bad our family questioned us ever being friends to you and Steph taking me in post-college, we’ve managed every level of friendship. We were each others’ most bitter enemies and then the only thing each other had — all within the span of a couple decades.

There’s no doubt in my mind that yours is a marriage that will last a lifetime. The love and respect you two have for each other is admirable, and I know it will only grow as this next chapter begins.

Picture of a Picture = Classy

You’ve been there for every milestone in my life, and I’m so thrilled to celebrate this monumental day with you.

With love –Mouse