roam with the angels, marine

In September, I wrote a post about my growing up friend Tiger, who was battling horrible cancer. This morning at 6:15 AM, Tiger went home to God.

His beloved wife Sarah was at his side.

One of his brothers contacted me, who is another kind of forever friend at this point. I owe my two friends whom I was with at the an apology, because I completely lost my composure (in a face mask no less) when I got the news. I knew the end was coming, but I don’t think you’re ever completely prepared for it nevertheless.

Tiger was also a friend to my husband growing up. They were in the same class in high school at Shipley. I was the year ahead of them. Tiger and I had been friends since I think I was about 14. I actually was friends with him a couple of years before my husband got to be friends with him.

2020 is just one of those years where I am ready for the next year. It has been a very difficult year for so many reasons for millions of people. This is just another glaring example of dear Lord, what a year.

And I don’t know about any of the rest of you but this is the year where I’ve been having weird dreams. Dreams of people who are no longer with us like my father, or people I am no longer connected to for no more of a reason then life took everyone in different directions.

I don’t know what all this means, and the dreams haven’t been bad it’s just been kind of pleasant. And I’m wondering if dreams can be a little more pleasant when the reality of the world we are living in is that it’s a little harsh right now.

And I know people are going to think I sound like a bit of a nutter, but my friend Tiger who died early this morning was in one of my dreams last night in the wee hours of the morning.

The dream was not anything weird or anything bad or sad, he was just wherever I was outside in someone’s garden and came up to say hello. I woke up shortly before 7 AM remembering that part of my dream because it was nice, and also because Tiger was probably even more of a rabid gardener than I am.

After I heard the news he passed away, which wasn’t until about lunchtime today, I’m still wondering if there was a reason I had that dream last night? This is where my Irish DNA kicks in and I feel a little fey, but I’ve had these experiences before over the course of my life.

When I found out the news I was with friends and for that I am really grateful. When it’s somebody who’s your own age who had meaning in your life it’s just so damn hard and it doesn’t matter how young or how old you are, it’s just hard.

This is just yet another reminder, a very somber reminder, of the value of life itself. Sometimes we take things for granted. And if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take life for granted.

I know Thanksgiving is going to look very different for people this year. But don’t be sad if it’s just a smaller group of family, be grateful that you can spend any of it together or even together virtually over a zoom call.

Life will go on, but I wanted to pause and take a moment to write about this. Tiger was a United States Marine for many years of his life, so that is why I chose that title for the post. It was very important to him.

Thanks for stopping by. Live your lives gratefully and always appreciate the magic in ordinary days.

life, loss, live your best life

You know you are firmly ensconced in middle-age when people you know or knew die.

The latest round of people I know passing away began in late December when a good friend of my mother’s passed away. This lady was a cool woman. Loving, independent, complicated. Her death was hard on my mother, who had the flu when her memorial service occurred in early January.

I didn’t go to her service. Part of me wanted to, but she was another cancer death and as a cancer survivor they are just so damn physically, emotionally, and mentally painful to attend.

The other thing is this would have been a see and be seen crowded Main Line memorial service and I had just had knee surgery. So even if I had wanted to be there, I couldn’t have been because I literally couldn’t bend my knee enough to stand on a stone floor of a church or sit in a pew.

I made my peace with my decision, and I am glad I knew her. She was a friend of my parents who early on treated me as an individual and not merely one of my parents’ children. When you are growing up and you really wanted your own identity to show through, you appreciated the people who were able to do this. You appreciate the people who see YOU, don’t you?

When she had died I hadn’t seen her in a few years. Life has just taken everyone in different directions. But occasionally we used to email or text. I’m glad I knew her.

However, 2020 brings death closer to my doorstep not because of relationship, but age. Two of my generation. Two whom I had known since high school. Contemporaries so to speak.

Neither of these people were my best friends or my closest friends, but because of how I knew them and when, it has hit home. Sadly.

I have memories of both of these people as teenagers and as adults. A man and a woman.

The man was always just a nice person. Not perfect, sometimes foolish, but always nice. At one point in time he was a brother-in-law to someone I know. Suffice it to say he was always much nicer than his relative. This man fought a battle against a cancer that was always going to win. He was brave and positive about it. Even on hospice. I respect that.

The last time I had spoken with this man was before he ever received his initial cancer diagnosis. He was back in the Philadelphia area and was moving yet again. He moved a lot the last years of his life and I think my greatest impression of his last decade of his life was that he was somewhat nomadic, looking for a place to put down roots again, literally moving from one end of the country to the other. That aspect of his life was tinged with sadness I think. I also think he was lonely.

I have memories of him from high school that are almost like Polaroid snap shots. He was part of a pack of boys I knew. He and his friends dated some of my friends back then, and were just part of even more extended friends group.

The woman who recently passed away who was familiar to me, was also part of that fabric of those growing up years. She was not someone I was close to ever. But I knew her. She was a close friend of two women whom I still know. I actually have memories of them with her. Laughing. Having a great time.

The laughter of youth sometimes seems so far away, doesn’t it? But if you listen closely enough you can still hear the echoes.

When I saw the woman a few years ago, she actually wasn’t particularly pleasant to me. At the time I thought it was strange because we had always been o.k. Now that she has passed, I realize how ill she probably had been even then. I never knew how sick she had been until she died. We weren’t close, so I wouldn’t have.

These passings are something to ponder because they are my generation. That makes you think. I remember as a little girl my grandparents and great aunts reading the obituaries almost daily. And it seemed like far too often there was somebody between the pages of the local newspapers that they knew.

Loss and passings certainly makes you value life, no matter how difficult it can be at times. After all, life has peaks and valleys, doesn’t it?

But I swear, middle age is like a weird right of passage. You hopefully know better who you are as a human being, but it’s also about life and loss. You also sometimes wonder is your life exactly what and where are you thought it would be at this point? I know I have thought that.

And I do know that I am lucky. I am blessed and I don’t use that word lightly or frivolously. I had breast cancer in 2011 and I am here in 2020 to write down all my random streams of consciousness that sometimes make my readers scratch their heads.

Life is not perfect. And someone who tells you life is always perfect is either not being honest with you or with themselves. Life is what you make out of it, but there are peaks and valleys and bumps in the road. I guess it’s how we adapt to those changes that makes us who we are, that defines us later in life.

So tell those who matter to you that you love them. You never know the path life will take us on. Live your best life.

Pax.

another unexpected loss. good-bye tom murray.

Tom at the Harriton House annual Plantation Fair in 2008 with reporter and photographer Ryan Richards.

Tom at the Harriton House annual Plantation Fair (Bryn Mawr, PA) in 2008 with then reporter and photographer Ryan Richards . Tom supported local events and he would pop up at many personally, not just send a reporter.

Yesterday I went to say good-bye to my friend Al Terrell.  This morning I am writing about saying good-bye to someone else I called friend.  Tom Murray, Managing Editor/Lead Content Manager of The Daily Local, our Chester County daily newspaper.

Yes Tom, yes Sam, I know…I just buried the lede. But it is like I have to get my head all wrapped around this. And this one is tough.

It was not quite a year ago that I wrote my blog post about Tom Murray coming on as managing editor of The Daily Local .

We had a joke he and I from way back when he took over for Warren Patton at then Main Line Life (eventually Tom’s job grew and he helped create the whole thing known as Main Line Media News and bring multiple papers together.) When he had come on board to Main Line Life, I had as a local blogger and community activist with the then fledgling Save Ardmore Coalition (back in the days of eminent domain for private gain in Ardmore) sent him an email welcoming the “new sheriff in town.”  He laughed and we became friends.  

Just like that.

These photos I am sharing are my favorites that I took of him. September 2008 at the Harriton House Fair in Bryn Mawr. And one he sent me when I said I wanted to write about him assuming the editorial helm at The Daily Local. The other is a newspaper box from Saturday. And a photo shared by whom he first referred to as “his lady” when he first told me about her, Terry Hardin.

Terry sent me this photo this morning. She loved him so much.

Terry sent me this photo. She loved him so much.

Tom gave a lot of us voices back in the day and today, and all my reader’s editorials were published under him. His “As I see it” columns for readers to have a voice.

But he also then became a friend.

I loved talking to Tom. He was a real daily newspaper guy. He was also a modern media guy and not afraid to try new things, new media platforms. He also was with Patch early on – when they were actually micro news sites and not just regurgitations and shameless re-publishers of the work of others that they are today.

When I was stiffed on fees for some freelance writing last year, he was someone whose wise counsel I sought.  What he told me left me better prepared to take on writing assignments after that.  And I loved the few choice words he had for the person who reneged on payment and said I was a lousy writer. “You know you can write, ” he told me “How many years did I edit what you wrote?”

Tom and Diane - photo taken at Harriton Fair 2008.

Tom and Diane – photo taken at Harriton Fair 2008.

I watched him support his late wife Diane through cancer and we all learned the hashtag #distrong . Like everyone else who knew him our hearts all broke a little when he lost Diane. And then when he met his Terry, we smiled and our hearts were happy.  He and Terry were to be married.

One of Tom’s photos from his Main Line Life Days when he also has a local access TV show.

I was at a dinner party Saturday night with my sweet man n Philadelphia when I checked my phone around 10:00 pm. At 9:47 pm my childhood friend Bob Robinson had messaged me to tell me he had heard from Tom’s son Ian that he had suffered a fatal heart attack around 7 pm. Bob and I shared Tom as a friend.

Behind me I heard the chatter of a happy dinner party as I stared at my phone re-reading Bob’s message. A surreal moment. There I am having a conversation with myself in my head “No, no, no. This can’t be true, it must be a mistake” and around me the cheerful banter of friends.

Because of Tom I got to know so many great people who I am lucky to call friends today. One of them, Cheryl Allison (who was a reporter at Main Line Media News for years) said to me

“I’ve never known anyone who was more passionate about the process of gathering and reporting the news. What many may not have known, but what I had the opportunity to witness, was how Tom delighted in finding, encouraging and mentoring talented young journalists starting their careers.”

Another friend, Caroline Mangan O’Halloran, who wrote for him when he was with Main Line Life and Main Line Media News and now pens the fabulous Savvy said to me

“I am terribly saddened by his loss. Tom was my boss at Main Line Life after Warren Patton. Tom and I bantered about (and disagreed) over many things, but he always played fair and shot straight. He respected everyone and was a kind and generous man. An old-fashioned newsman, he was a a truth teller. I too plan to pay him tribute in SAVVY.”

Truer words were never spoken.  He encouraged the inner writer in both professional writers and citizen journalists.   (And yes, perfectionists of the craft of writing I have done these two quotes like this on purpose.  They are beautiful and I want them to stand out.)

I started blogging before it was quite fashionable, and when I started it was often perceived as a bit scandalous and definitely controversial. He was an early champion, yet would call me out if he felt I could do better.

As I had mentioned earlier, during his many year tenure at Main Line Life/Main Line Media News I wrote a lot of reader’s editorials. I wasn’t the only one – Tom was a big believer in the vox populi or the voice of the people.  Tom is one the many traditional journalists I know that has helped me become a better writer. More importantly, this guy does good newspaper. He did the First Amendment and “sunshine” right.

And so I am writing about Tom for my blog. As I write I remember a really great guy and friend. And a man who was a true newspaperman, a dying breed indeed. True newspapermen are to journalism as cowboys were to founding the west. Mavericks, yet good and true. And so darn American if you want to distill it down.

I thought of Tom Saturday morning when we went over to the D.K. Diner in West Chester for a bite to eat in the afternoon. The first thing that greeted us before we went inside was a Daily News newspaper box.  Way back when in the days of Main Line Life I would always tell him if a box emptied out fast.  He liked to know which issues were selling big time.

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Life is fleeting.

RIP Tom Murray. So many of us will miss you. I had no idea when we spoke last week it would be for the last time. The future of true journalism just dimmed a little.

Updated: JANUARY 25, 2017 — 3:21 PM EST by Bonnie L. Cook, Staff Writer @cookb

The Heron’s Nest: RIP, Tom Murray – an ‘old school’ newspaperman

  • By Phil Heron editor@21st-centurymedia.com @philheron on Twitter
  • Jan 23, 2017

Tom Murray, old-school editor with love of the future, dies
By Michael Rellahan, Daily Local News
POSTED: 01/23/17, 5:00 PM EST

Tom Murray had sent me this photo a little over a year ago. Tom at work. He loved the newspaper business even when it frustrated him.

Tom Murray had sent me this photo a little over a year ago. Tom at work. He loved the newspaper business even when it frustrated him.

life and loss

Friends who were at the vigil last evening at Shipley in Bryn Mawr for Cayman Naib shared the above photo with me. I don’t know about all of you who read my blog, but I bet there are a lot of us who woke up today once again thinking about the Naib family. They have experienced an unspeakable tragedy. Just like (but for different reasons) the Hannagan family of Downingtown did on Valentine’s Day.

It is completely unfathomable to me of how anyone would feel after losing a child. I almost feel guilty for expressing condolences to these families because I don’t know them, and I didn’t know the children. But these crazy things that throw curveballs in life can happen to anyone, can’t they? Unless you were born with a heart made of stone how can you not feel empathy and sympathy for these people? How can your heart not break in some small way for them?

I remember growing up,  a student back then at Shipley, when fate took the lives of two young women I knew. They were not classmates of mine but they were schoolmates of mine, and one in particular was a fairly good friend at the time.  In the case of both of these girls from many years ago, they both died because of automobile accidents for lack of a better description – one was in an accident and one was hit by a car while running. But it left a huge hole in our school community at the time for some of us, along with what it did to their families.

As a freshman in college, one of my classmates, committed suicide the night before parents weekend was supposed to begin.  He jumped out of a window in a floor above mine in the dorm where I lived. I remember waking up to sirens and flashing emergency lights. He had been a really nice guy, and although not a close friend,  ironically  it ended up he was a cousin of some sort of a girl I knew from high school. I still to this day remember clear as a bell snippets of the memorial service held by students on campus for him. Someone played Follow You, Follow Me by Genesis on a stereo and the music wafted all around us.

There are particular parts to the lyrics that I can still hear in my head when I think of this:

I will follow you will you follow me
All the days and nights that we know will be
I will stay with you will you stay with me
Just one single tear in each passing year
With the dark,
I see so very clearly now
All my fears are drifting by me so slowly now
Fading away
I can say
The night is long but you are there
Close at hand I’m better for the smile you give
And while I live
 I will follow you will you follow me

 

I think we are all ever mindful of how fragile life is. And how like it or not everything can change in an instant.

Cayman’s death was ruled a suicide a short time ago.  Depression hits all ages .

But we can’t stop living can we? We can’t live wrapped and safe in cotton batting locked away from the world. The  thing is this however: when tragedy befalls a young person it is so much more magnified in it’s awfulness for lack of a better description. I can’t even imagine what it’s like directly for the families involved. Selfishly, I don’t want to imagine that.

When things happen to children we all can’t help but be affected, especially if we are parents in any form. Whether natural parents or stepparents or adoptive parents, it affects us. It didn’t happen to any of us, but we know but for simple twist of fate anything can happen.

But I guess the important thing is how we deal with loss. I’m not talking about those people personally grieving who are experiencing  it in the first person and have to work through it, I’m  speaking of the rest of us.

We can’t let tragedy and sadness swallow us whole, we have to pay it forward. As parents we have a very special obligation and a simple one: to love and teach our children well. We want the best for them but I think what  happened in the past few days makes us mindful once again of how we have to pay attention without smothering.

We were all kids ourselves, once, but it was a long time ago. Times have changed, life has changed the world is very different. It behooves us all to ensure that our children can talk to us no matter what.  Being an adolescent is the best of times and worst of times quite literally.

But the thing is this: with girls we often have a better idea of what is going on because they are just more verbal and more communicative. Boys for the most part, weather in whole or in part, are still waters run deep. And the reason for that I believe is because historically and societally men and boys are raised to be stoic and not show emotion and be strong. We have to let our boys know that it is not a weakness to talk to someone about what is going on or talk  if they are upset.

I have a teenage boy. Trust me, I know there are days he wishes I would just be quiet and not talk so much and not ask so many questions, just like there are days I wish I didn’t have to pry things out of him. I am working on the abbreviated version of conversations with a teen boy as in fewer sentences, but I am work in progress. But after this weekend, I am mindful of how, whether he wants it or not or might be embarrassed or not,  I need to tell him more often how much he means to me.

Love is a very powerful emotion and we do need to tell those in our world of any age how we feel about them. It sounds like a dorky Hallmark card, but life is a precious gift. We need to celebrate it and appreciate it while we have it. The importance of being together and not allowing people we care about to feel all alone, also can’t be overlooked.

Love and loss or part of the cycle of life. And both can cause enormous heart ache. But when the dust has settled , we always need to be mindful of the gifts we have. Live and be the best human beings possible is one of the best ways to celebrate any life lost for whatever reason.

Hug your kids, people. Hug your loved ones. Talk to them. Call the ones farther away to see how they are doing. Appreciate the life we have. It’s not always perfect, it’s a work in progress, but it is so much better than the alternative.

Say a prayer for young boy who was named Cayman and his family, the Hannagan family of Downingtown…and whomever else you think might need a little of what my grandmother referred to as “Irish insurance”.

Teen suicide is an ugly reality. This is a mental health issue . That is the conversation we should be having in public and taking away the stigma – as adults we should be helping kids through difficult times safely. The pressure on kids today can be enormous. Let’s not make this about finger pointing because the average person is not equipped to recognize the signs of teenage depression.  That is not a negative statement, either.

Depression manifests differently in kids versus adults and I have been told this by a friend who is a mental health social worker in another state. Teen suicide is ugly. It’s not something that teens or adults want to think about.  It’s unpleasant and difficult. But it does happen. Teen suicide is very real, and is preventable.

We as human beings must advocate for taking the issues of teen depression and suicide out of the shadows and  into the light.  It is time to remove the stigma attached to depression and related mental health issues.  We’re all human beings, after all. And I think if we learned anything about what happened here to this sweet boy Cayman Naib, it is that we all have a lot to learn.

Parents  need to be  honest and admit  at times it can be a struggle when communicating with the teenagers in our homes.Togetherness as a family that is positive opens many doors, and face it, what is one of the hardest parts of raising teenagers? Communication. And communication isn’t social media like Facebook and Twitter, e-mails, chat programs, it’s a real conversation. Sitting down and talking even if it is light dinner conversation. Real and tangible contact and human interaction is so important with regard to interpersonal relationships at any age.

As my friend Liza says love, only love. Without love,  life is very gray.

Thanks for putting up with my rambling stream of consciousness today and for stopping by.

Cayman 1

to the naib family on the loss of cayman

cayman

Dear Naib family,

I just learned your devastating news and I wanted to add my voice to the many voices extending sympathy. I am so incredibly sorry. I don’t know you, didn’t know Cayman, only knew what a sweet boy he was through mutual friends who have children who attend school with yours.

My heart breaks for all of you in this time of sadness and no words can adequately express how any of us feel. He is your child and I am so sorry for the pain and sadness.

I am sitting here in tears, and you all are strangers to me. But the simple fact is when you become a parent, even a step parent like I am, you begin a journey of love that is like no other. It is complicated, messy, wonderful, amazing, enriching, and spectacular all at the same time. My child is but a year or so older than Cayman so this hits very close to home for me for this reason. Again  I am so truly and deeply sorry for your loss.

My most heartfelt condolences and prayers.

To my readers out there, please say prayers for Cayman and his family. This is such a  devastating loss that no human being would ever want for another.

Reluctance

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost

RIP

 Philadelphia Inquirer: Police sources: Body of Cayman Naib, 13, found in creek bed near family home
Mari Schaefer, Inquirer Staff Writer

Last updated: Sunday, March 8, 2015, 4:20 PM
Posted: Sunday, March 8, 2015, 3:57 PM

The body of 13-year-old Cayman Naib, who disappeared from his Newtown Square home Wednesday night, hours before a snowstorm, was found Sunday by searchers, his family said in a Facebook posting.

A police source told The Inquirer that the youth was discovered about 1:30 p.m. by a search team with K-9 dogs in the bed of Darby Creek, a few hundred yards from his family’s home on a 13-acre property on Harrison Drive. The source said the location of the discovery was off St. Davids Road and Paper Mill Road.

The cause of death was undetermined. It was not clear if the youth’s body was in water. The body was turned over to the Delaware County Medical Examiner’s office.

 

passages

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Have you ever had a memory flash through your mind that is so real and tangible, it’s almost like it was happening at the moment you remembered it?

Today, clear as a bell, I had a memory of myself as a child looking out the window in winter. When I was really little, we lived in a very old house. The windows were large and original to the house, and weren’t all air tight like modern windows.

Today I remembered the windows in winter time. The smell of the cold and the crisp cold air leaking in from the outside. I remembered looking out the window onto a snowy street and then blowing on the window to make a little cold frosty pattern that then quickly disappeared. And then just like that, the memory was gone.

This has been a bit of a weird week.

Yesterday I got a Facebook reminder that an old friend was having a birthday. This was a woman I hadn’t seen in many years because life had taken her way out of state where she had gotten married and started a family.

A few years ago we had reconnected and sporadically had kept in touch with an occasional call mostly to leave a message, or Facebook message. So yesterday I went to her Facebook page to say happy birthday. Only what I saw was a post for someone I don’t know saying she had died.

Google, that thing that is a blessing and a curse of online research, led me to her obituary. It really got to me. I was also upset that although one of this woman’s siblings was actually in my class in high school and there was a third sister that somehow people that knew this friend never knew she had died. Out of sight and out of mind in the saddest of ways.

Yesterday I had another one of those crystal clear flashes of memory. I saw my friend basically as I had last seen her. She was a petite woman with a beautiful smile that was almost shy as it developed at times and sometimes it was wistful and other times mischievous. She also had this deep throaty voice. The memory made me smile through tears.

Today another friend said goodbye to her dad. He had been ill and on hospice. When I was talking to her on her way home from saying good bye to her dad and starting the frenetic process of everything that falls under that horrible phrase “final arrangements” I had my third flash of a memory for this week. Of my own father, two days before he died and when he was on hospice.

It was my parents’ wedding anniversary. We watched a movie. The original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn I think it was. My father turned his head slightly on the pillow and smiled a slight and very weak smile. That is my last memory of him. And then today, poof the memory was gone.

And you know what else in this week of flash memories and weirdness? Trees full of lots of cardinals in my back garden. Every day. About a dozen, if not more. I heard an old wives tale once long ago that said a lot of people feel cardinals appearing represent loved ones or people you cared about and knew who had passed away. When you see them, supposedly those who had gone before you are visiting. Makes you wonder.

Thanks for stopping by.

2015/01/img_3031.jpg

they don’t make women like that anymore

20140415-153600.jpgSouth Philadelphia, July, 1935. My father is the little baby in everyone’s arms, and at that point less than a month old

Chester County is home to many cool artists, writers, filmmakers, and so on. One of my favorite contemporary authors is Lisa Scottoline. She calls Malvern home base.

I was drawn to Lisa’s books initially for the Philadelphia-area settings. But my affinity grew with the characters in her books who lived in the little neighborhoods in South Philadelphia like the one where my great aunts, Millie and Josie lived once upon a time. A lot of Lisa’s books had characters based in a way on her life experience and once she became a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, some of what she wrote was also based on her mother, Mary Scottoline.

I do not know Lisa Scottoline. I have met her at book signings over the years, including ones set up by my mother way back when she started to write. But her little nuggets of what can only be described as “growing-up Italian” have made me laugh, made me smile, and sometimes just shake my head over the years. Probably because I am half-Italian.

Lisa Scottoline fans learned via her author Facebook page that her mother, (known to readers as “Mother Mary”) passed away on April 13th, or Palm Sunday. I hate to say that is so Italian, but it’s so Italian. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully, it just to me, IS.

Here is an excerpt of Lisa Scottoline’s recent column:

Chick Wit: Mother Mary, down but never out By Lisa Scottoline, Inquirer Columnist POSTED: April 14, 2014

I am very sorry to have to tell you that Mother Mary’s health has taken a dramatic and unexpected turn for the worse, so this won’t be a funny column.

Except for the fact that she is at her funniest when times are darkest.

She’s been newly diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, has moved up north with me, and has entered hospice care at my house. Mercifully, Brother Frank, Daughter Francesca, and family and friends are all around her, and she is resting comfortably. So comfortably, in fact, that the hospice nurses, who are saints on wheels, cannot believe it. One nurse asked Mother Mary if she was having any pain – and she pointed to me……Please don’t think my tone herein is inappropriate. This has always been a column about family, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, and I think it’s appropriate to have both here, maybe even in the same sentence.

I would guess if you’re a fan of this column, and especially of Mother Mary, that you have a great sense of humor, and the Flying Scottolines have always handled disaster with humor. In fact, catastrophe is our middle name.

That’s why you pronounce the final E, to make it Italian.

I also know that many of you have gone through this heartbreaking journey yourselves. If you have, you already know that hospice plunges you into a world different from any other, filled with irony and incongruities.

I laughed and I cried when I read this column. It made me think once again of my great aunts who lived at 11th and Ritner. It also made me think of my father whom we saw through hospice at home too. It is a very intense time when a family member goes on hospice, but it isn’t all sad. It gives you some final and very lucky times with those you love.

Please read the entire column….especially if you come from peasant stock like me.

Today my friend Bonnie Cook wrote the obituary article on Mary Scottoline and here is an excerpt:

Mary Scottoline, 90, ‘Mother Mary’ to author Lisa Scottoline BONNIE L. COOK, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER POSTED: Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 1:08 AM

Mary Scottoline, 90, formerly of Bala Cynwyd, the hilarious, sometimes profane, larger-than-life maternal figure known to readers as “Mother Mary,” died Sunday, April 13, of lung cancer at the home of her daughter, Lisa, the author and Inquirer columnist.

“We are heartbroken to report that Mother Mary passed away at home this morning, though she was at peace and in the embrace of our love. We choose to remember her as here, making us laugh,” Lisa Scottoline said Monday on her Facebook page.

Mrs. Scottoline dealt with her final two weeks the way she did everything; she was cheerful, unfazed and funny.

Near the end, when she couldn’t speak, she communicated with family and caregivers by means of a whiteboard. How are you, they wanted to know.

“Aside from this crap, I’m doing fine,” her son Frank said she wrote.

The youngest of 19 children, Mrs. Scottoline grew up in a strict family in South Philadelphia. More or less ignored, she had to fight for attention….When daughter Lisa and Serritella wrote about the rough air between mothers and daughters in their Inquirer column, “Chick Wit,” and books including Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim, they found that Mrs. Scottoline’s persona flowed seamlessly onto the pages.

“She loved being in the book,” said Lisa Scottoline. “Her personality and spirit was big enough for any room twice over. She stood for a good, strong, funny woman.”

The stories resonated with readers, who found elements of Mrs. Scottoline in their own mothers.

Fifteen years ago, Mrs. Scottoline (pronounced Scott-a-LEE-nee) went south to Miami Beach to live with her son, Frank. She was very well-liked, he said. She enjoyed cooking Italian meals and pampering her pets.

She always said exactly what she felt. “Thank you for today,” she once told her son.

I took a large excerpt, I know, but this is a very cool piece about a woman I wish I had known, but at the same time over the years I felt I knew on some level because I had a couple of these no nonsense yet completely amazing little old Italian ladies in my life, my great aunts.

Mary Scottoline, like my great aunts was a force of nature. She leapt off the pages written by her daughter and granddaughter. And every single time I smiled and thought of my great aunts.

My great aunts were also very opinionated and matter of fact. My Aunt Josie had been the working girl while her sister, my Aunt Millie kept house. Josie was the most direct of the two. She was the strong one, and my Aunt Millie was the softer of the two, more ladylike. Aunt Millie always had one small bottle of Coca Cola at 4p.m. every day unless she was watching her figure, and at those times she would skip it.

The aunts never married and as was the tradition, the unmarried siblings lived in the house they were born in. The other character in their life play on Ritner Street (who also never married but had a girlfriend) was PJ, my Uncle Pat (Pasquale). PJ was a gruff and lovable guy who sometimes terrified me as a little kid. He did not have a mean bone in his body, but he liked to tease his little great nieces in his big gruff voice. He also did cool stuff like make wine in the basement. PJ died when I was pretty little. I think it would have been neat to know him as I got older.

The great aunts would say things like “you kids”. As I got older I realized that meant everyone under about 60 years old.

When we stayed with them as little girls we went to early mass. As in it was still dark outside. Hence the famous family joke “it’s holier when it’s earlier.”

Millie and Josie taught me to make pasta. By feel, basically. A little of this, a little of that, and rolled out by hand on the huge ceramic topped kitchen table. (I often wonder if that table is still in my father’s sister’s garage. It was such a big table that no one has had a kitchen big enough to hold it as far as I know.) Millie and Josie’s kitchen always smelled of a combination of tomato sauce and coffee. I loved that table and all it’s drawers.

Oh and speaking of that kitchen table? Did any of you out there love the movie “Moonstruck“? Remember the scenes when they hustled everyone into the kitchen to talk at the kitchen table over coffee? I am sorry but those kitchen table scenes to me are hysterical because as a kid I remember all the grown-ups sitting around the kitchen table solving weighty world issues….over coffee. You could never have enough coffee no matter what time of day or night. And Lordy, it was all high octane strong coffee. No decaf there.

They also had a canning kitchen in the basement and I remember my aunts putting up tomatoes and pickling hot peppers and cucumbers and things when I was little. The produce came from my Aunt Rose and Uncle Carl’s garden in Collegeville. Collegeville was referred to as “the country” in those days. No developments back then, and they originally backed up to a farm with horses. (Of course today Collegeville is like one big development, but it didn’t use to be.) Aunt Rose was one of their two sisters who married. The other sister was my grandmother, Beatrice.

When we were really little girls, my sister and I often spent New Year’s Eve with our great aunts and their other little old Italian lady friends. I remember one’s name was Tomasina. We got to stay up with them as they watched Dick Clark and whomever on the little black and white television in the kitchen. They would all be clustered around the kitchen table. I think they played cards sometimes. And they gave us watered down anisette at midnight to toast the New Year with them. And did I remember to say the kids weren’t allowed to touch the television sets? We weren’t.

In the summers, the great aunts would sit on the front stoop with folding lawn chairs, and all the other ladies and their families up and down the block would come out as well to escape the heat of the large, but not air-conditioned at the time South Philadelphia row houses. The street was alive with the music of voices in Italian and English, a cacophony of sound.

All of these Italian ladies were opinionated. They said it as they felt it, and it just was. But they were also the most compassionate, smart, and loving women.

They don’t make ladies like this anymore. I am very lucky I had a few in my life, even for a while.

So Mother Mary Scottoline, I did not know you in the traditional sense, but did know you in another sense through my own personal experiences with my great aunts and their friends. If I had any anisette in the house, I would raise a toast to you, as reading about you over the years has helped me keep my memories of my great aunts alive.

To my readers, thanks for stopping by on this rainy day. Always remember what you are from, it is a part of who you are.

loss.

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Loss is a big word.

I was thinking about the word “loss” yesterday as my arborist completed day five of our post-2014 ice storm clean up.

Our woods have experienced a loss. Many saplings and trees were damaged beyond salvation during Mother Nature’s winter ice storm whirlwind in February. A lot of trees were salvageable and as our arborist and his crew righted our trees and made them safe, I thought about loss in the context of the cycle of nature.

This loss to our woods, a nature made culling, has opened up the canopy of our trees. Light will reach the woodland floor where it hasn’t in years and years. That means with proper care and love, our woods will now renew itself.

So in a sense, the loss of tree and plantings courtesy of ice storm 2014 will have a positive side. That positive side is new growth and renewal.

But what I am also wondering is, can we as humans, apply that to our own existence as well?

We lose people in our lives for various reasons all wound up in the cycle of life and death. But what if we looked at it as God pruning our life canopy, much like Mother Nature did with the tree canopy of my woods during Ice Storm 2014 but a few weeks ago?

I am not trying to trivialize the losses we experience as human beings, only trying to see it as a life pruning that opens us up for renewal and new growth, or perhaps to say God’s plans for us are not originally what we thought and we need to have faith.

Whether the loss is of a friend or loved one, or the loss is due to death or life circumstance, it hurts. You are hurt and sad, you can be angry for a time, and then comes the life canopy opening to the sky for renewal and new growth. So if you can let go of the negativity and hurt, you get peace and acceptance. And one day, your heart is lighter and you are once again looking forward and are hopeful.

Getting to that forward place and feeling hopeful is work. I know because this is sometimes inner battle I have struggled with. But I figure at the end of the day we need to live and just let stuff go. Release it back. If you have ever had people in your life you could consider stuck for lack of a better description you can see what hanging onto the bitterness and negativity does to them. It is personal choice whether or not you accept that for yourself. Again, not trivializing this as it can be really hard work.

Losing people to death has a finality, obviously. So once you get though he cycle of grief and loss you can hope to put a period on it. Losing people to other life circumstances can be a little more tricky, and the emotions there can be quite complicated. But loss isn’t the end of everything, unless you allow it, right?

This week a dear friend’s little sister unexpectedly became a young widow. I understand the position all to well and a few short years ago I watched my sister struggle through the same thing.

It is so hard, no other way to describe it. Both of these women lost husbands who were extraordinary human beings. I wish my friend’s sister all the peace and love her world can give her because this is grief and pain you wish on NO human being. And when you are the loved one of someone going through this there are just periods of helplessness, because nothing you do feels like you are making it better.

Life is a cycle. Do we glow with it, grow with it , or rail against it? I don’t have those answers. I just saw what some will say is a weird parallel. But if you can think of certain events as life pruning, maybe it makes it easier to release the negative, embrace the positive, and retain the hope we as human beings need to grow?

Thanks for stopping by on a slightly contemplative Sunday before yet more snow. But the good thing is I have seen a few bits of green emerging as just the tiniest of green tips below some snow that melted. You know, renewal?

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sweet dreams jim…..

This morning I received one of those phone messages you don’t want. The “call me when you get this” kind of message.

Last night a lot of us lost a very special person, our friend Jim McCaffrey. I had written about him in March when we discovered he had been diagnosed with MDS or Myelodysplastic syndrome, a malignant disorder of the bone marrow.

For years Jim covered our news up and down the Main Line and in Philadelphia. Via Main Line Times, the Then Wayne and Suburban Times and also for the Bulletin. Jim was so much more than a terrific reporter and amazing writer, he was an incredible human being. He was just one of those truly good people it was an honor and privilege to know.

When we saw him at the fundraiser we threw for him this past spring to help defray his medical costs and upcoming bone marrow transplant at Stanford University Hospital in California, I was struck once again by how damn lucky we all were to know him. He greeted us all with big hugs and that wonderful welcoming smile he had and moved us all to tears when he spoke towards the end of the fundraiser. He is just one of those rare people you meet who are just that innately good. He is one of those people that can inspire others to pay it forward in life.

Since the fundraiser we had all been following his progress at Stanford via his Facebook page and website and email updates. Many of us, myself included swapped text messages and emails with him. He fought so hard and was so positive in the face of something so daunting that we thought he would just survive this. Alas that was not to be.

Yesterday, on his birthday, Jim quietly passed away in California with his family at his bedside. The tears roll down my face as I write this, but I know deep down inside how lucky I was to know him. He was just an awesome human being.

Sleep well, Jim. You fought a brave fight and we will miss you. Thank you for sharing your world with us. We are all better for having known you.

loss.

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Loss is indeed a four letter word.  I have cried so much today my eyes hurt and are but swollen slits in my face.  I am feeling my grief so much right now it is palpable, raw, and in Technicolor.

My little dog slipped away today.  Iggy is gone and I am so sad as I write this that I hope this post makes sense.

Some people might think I am crazy for writing about this while it is so new and so raw, but truthfully writing has always been my catharsis and I need to get this out. This is such a hard day.

It was almost three months ago to the day that I lost Iggy’s adoptive brother to old age. When I said good-bye to Mr. Peanut on October 11th, I did not think in my wildest imaginings that Iggy would go over the rainbow bridge this morning. But he did just that.

In December we found out Iggy had dog lymphoma.  But it was so early that we decided to roll the dice and try dog chemo.  I took Iggy to Dr. Ann Jeglum at Veterinary Oncology Services and Research Center on East Nields Street in West Chester.

As a breast cancer survivor taking my dog to his own oncologist was not easy.  But I wanted him to have options because his disease was in the early stages.

Dr. Ann Jeglum and the vets and staff who work for her at VOSRC are simply amazing and I am so glad I did this for my dog.  I saw a lot over the past month Iggy has been a patient and truthfully these are the kind of folks you want looking after your pets in all situations. And they truly look after the humans in the pets’ lives too.

Anyway, at first Iggy was responding very well, but then a couple of days ago he stopped wanting to eat very much and became increasingly lethargic.  At first we thought it was just the side effects from having had four straight weeks of chemotherapy. But yesterday morning my dog looked at me so helplessly… and off we went to VOSRC.  They saw us right away and I knew from the looks on their faces it wasn’t good.

Ends up Iggy had contracted a urinary tract infection and with his chemo compromised immune system couldn’t fight the infection.  So they put him on a doggy I.V. to rehydrate him and give him antibiotics.  They also did an ultrasound.  We left him to be cared for overnight. No one knew yesterday how everything would play out, so I wanted to give him a change to turn the corner.

This morning shortly before 9:00 a.m. one of Dr. Jeglum’s vets, Dr. Lindner phoned.  Iggy’s prognosis was not good and he wasn’t improving.  So we made the difficult decision to come in to say good-bye.

Only the phone rang again.  Iggy passed before we could even get there to say good-bye.

I accept that it was his time, and like a couple of my friends said he and his brother were sent to me to get me through a difficult time in my life and knew I was ok so they could go.  But I still feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest and someone played racquet ball with it.

Of course it doesn’t make it any easier that this week is the 5th anniversary of Iggy coming home to me from Main Line Animal Rescue.  Iggy had been a foster dog for a MLAR volunteer who came for a playdate with Mr. Peanut and never left.

Iggy and his brother gave me some very happy years with them and did indeed get me through some crazy stuff including abandonment and breast cancer. When I was going through seven weeks of radiation, he and his brother were happy little faces greeting me at the door every day when I came home.  They transitioned with me out to Chester County and my new life, and were loving being country dogs.

Iggy loved being in Chester County and being able to run in great big fields with other DSCN1857dogs.  He loved chasing the crazy fat squirrels in the back yard and conquering the “dog proof” trashcan.  He was a giant dog with a big heart in a little body.

Only today his little body just gave out.  I am devastated I wasn’t there when he passed, but I almost wonder if it didn’t happen that way because of losing Mr. Peanut such a short time ago.

In between the tears I keep waiting to hear the clickety clack of little feet on hardwood floors.

It was a privilege to have this dog in my life and I wish he had lived to a ripe old age instead of just 9.  Yes my heart is incredibly heavy.

I will leave you with this: Iggy is yet another reason why good animal rescue is so important.  He had been abused early in life (among other things) and he and I were both so lucky he came to Main Line Animal Rescue. He gave so much unconditional love to me as well as companionship. And if it wasn’t for Main Line Animal rescue we never would have met.

Good-bye my sweet boy.  I know you are with your brother now. Try not to bark at too many squirrels over the rainbow bridge. I love you little man and  I will miss you.