Saturday, December 2, 2017

Grief is Good

My husband Joe died six years ago this Tuesday. My son was 15 months old.

A 33 year old widow.

A boy barely a year old without his dad.

Although the grief was palpable, there was no way to know then the journey that was ahead for the two of us.

How could it be that just as my own grief was finding its settled space that then I would be watching my son only beginning his grief process? 

How could it be that just as I was establishing a balance of living life and honoring Joe's memory that grief would then start all over again in our household in the heart of my sweet 7 year old child? 

Who said THAT was ALLOWED?

Allowed or not, it's what happened. In fact, it has been happening in varying degrees since my little guy was about 3 years old. But this year it hit like a ton of bricks around Father's Day. There was an emotional night on the soccer field after practice. There were many heart-wrenching conversations about feelings of loss. It was all accompanied by plenty of tears - of both the mommy and then-6 year old varieties.

Thankfully, I had been made aware of an incredible program located not too far from us called Good Grief and we quickly went for an introductory meeting.

Although my son was hesitant at first, they had him sold with the fidget spinner in the welcome bag. Ever since that first visit, he has grown more and more comfortable with the people, the space, and with bringing his grief into the midst of it all.

Thanks to Good Grief we have grown emotionally and in our relationship with each other. For me, much of my time there so far has been about learning how best to support Domani as he both gets to know his dad better and grieves his death. For his part, Domani has found a crucial space for peer support. He now feels more comfortable asking questions about his dad and is more open about sharing what he is feeling when something strikes him. I am thankful that he is moving forward in these ways. Good Grief has been the space that we each needed.

These past two weeks leading up to the 6 year anniversary of Joe's death were significant for Domani in his grieving, but perhaps even more so for me. It was during the course of these two weeks that I fully realized he is in the midst of his own grieving process. There are ways that his process affects me, but I feel like he is now making his own way. 

Up to this point, I have shared about various pieces of our grief journey on this blog. However, it has become clearer and clearer to me over these past two weeks that Domani and I are now at a place where he has stories that are his alone and not mine to tell. So, when he has big moments along the way (as he did recently) and I am privileged enough to be part of them I have come to understand that the right thing is for me to be present and supportive, but let those moments truly belong to him.

I struggled a lot with what I should do as I watch him through these moments and I'm honestly not sure if I've landed in the right place. I did write about the progress I observed him making over the last two weeks and I saved it as a private post for him. I hope that someday when he is a bit older he will read it and it will mean something to him to have a record of that time from my perspective. Maybe at some point he will want to share it or maybe he won't. Either way, it will be his to do with what he wants.

In the meantime, I'll keep sharing moments from my own life, knowing that once in awhile those moments will include my little guy.

November 16th was one of those moments. It was the 3rd Thursday in November and that meant it was Children's Grief Awareness Day. Before this year, it was a day I knew nothing about. Now that my son and I are both participating in peer grief support groups our participation in this day was a no brainer. He wanted to wear the special shirts that Good Grief was providing to participants and I took on the task of spreading the word to family and friends using some brochures and social media. I came across and shared this TED Talk titled "Grief is Good" which I found to be particularly powerful.



Nothing could have prepared me though for what happened at my son's school. On November 15th I sent him in with a brochure about Children's Grief Awareness Day and a note explaining how he would be participating the next day by wearing his Good Grief shirt. That afternoon, my cell phone rang and I found myself choking back tears as his teachers asked if it would be okay to send out a request to the parents of his classmates for the children to wear blue in support of the grief day. I was overwhelmed by their thoughtfulness and care and agreed that would be a wonderful thing to do.

In our Good Grief shirts for CGAD on November 16th

As I was walking him to school the next morning, I let Domani know that his teachers had sent out a notice about Children's Grief Awareness Day and that some of his friends in his class may wear blue to school to show their support. He was so happy. Later that day when I got a notification that a photo had been posted to the classroom app I cautiously opened it up, hoping that some kids had remembered and worn some blue. What I saw was my smiling son in the middle of a sea of blue, arms slung around two classmates in the happiest way. It was a most amazing moment and I was thankful beyond words.

The support network that I see growing around him reminds me of the one that surrounded me in those first months and years after Joe's death. It was critical for me as I grieved and is one of the reasons why I am in such a different place now six years later than I was then. Now as Domani grows and begins moving through his own grieving process, I am encouraged that he has his own network of friends, family, and caring adults to see him through. If there is one thing that the last eight years going back to Joe's diagnosis have taught me it's that we are stronger when we do the hard things together. What power and blessing there are in community and solidarity!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Seasons of Love and Grief

September is already on its way out and with any luck it will take with it the summer weather that has stuck around just a bit too long. We are officially into the fall and soon enough the weather will undoubtedly catch up. Without fail, the change of season from summer to fall is a trigger for me. It was the time when Joe's health started to decline and so the fall included the last times that he, Domani, and I ventured out as a family. This year, though, the summer, too, carried its own weight so as the calendar turned to September and I felt the usual stirrings, I also felt myself finally starting to process the months that had come before.

I have realized several helpful things.

One - Loss and grief are unpredictable and can never be packed up in a neat box. In many ways, I have born witness to the pain of loss and grief in the lives of my friends and family over the past several months. In my own home, I continue to engage with my son as he works to process his dad's death. The quote that keeps coming back to me is one of my favorites from Anne Lamott.


I am thankful for the ways that I have moved from mourning to joy in my own life even in the midst of additional losses and the distinct pain that comes with them. I am also glad that I have learned enough about myself and the ways I grieve that I can do it with patience and find the strength through my faith to be there for others who are experiencing a loss. 

Two - There are some people who are in our lives for just a season and that is perfectly fine. It's important to soak up all of the good from that time, learn lessons where applicable, and let go when the time is right. It was true for me in more than one way over the last few months and the letting go has opened itself up to more good than I could have thought possible in even this short time - new people, new experiences, personal growth, deeper relationships - in a word, it's been healthy. It makes me think back to the biggest example of this in my life so far - when I finally accepted the end of a toxic relationship only to open the door to reuniting with Joe. Expending energy on pieces of life that are better let go keeps that energy from all of those other healthier places. I'm relieved that I was able to leave behind the toxicity all of those years ago and to once again accept when the season called for change and the redirection of my energy now.



Three - Although a week plus at Disney World certainly tested the boundaries, I could not be more thankful for my family. All 10 of us took on Orlando for our family vacation this year and it was not lost on me how lucky I am to have a family I can enjoy myself with for that long in such a high stress environment.

While we were there, I watched my super-mom sister Karen navigate her 3 children all under the age of 7 around 8 days of Disney World, ensuring that they saw and did each thing they wanted to do. It was nothing short of miraculous and we have over 700 official Disney pictures to prove it. 

I watched my dad tear up as he witnessed his grandkids getting hugs from princesses and then laugh with joy while getting his own photo with Chewbacca. It was not too long ago that my dad couldn't even walk around the floor during his hospital stay let alone spend 6 days walking around Disney World. At that realization, I was the one with tears in my eyes. We had serious life conversations late into the night while lounging in the hot tub, played insanely competitive poker games wagering whatever random things were lying around the dining room, and covered more miles than I can count making memories that will last a lifetime.

A very happy Dad making friends with Chewbacca

I've always known that my family is something special. After all, not only can I survive a week at Disney World with them, but they inspire me, encourage me, hold me accountable, and love me unconditionally. But there has been something about these past few months that has made me realize on a deeper level just how fortunate I am to have such a close-knit, loving family in my life. They are a lifeline and God knows I need that right now more than I ever have before.

The whole family with Chewbacca

Heading out to the field to run the bases
 after our last game of the year!
Four - Baseball is still my oasis even when the Mets are awful. Whether it was Citifield, Citizens Bank Park, or PNC Park, taking in a Major League Baseball game this summer was one foolproof way to calm my nerves and reset anything else in my life that seemed off kilter. Now, the standings don't lie. This was a tough season to be a Mets fan. The injuries. The drama. The "trades". The losses after losses after losses. My Neil Walker shirt still teases me every time I flip through my closet. Domani's Lucas Duda growth chart stares at us from the wall each night when I put him to bed - a bed that has a Curtis Granderson fathead within reach in one direction and a Thor news article in the other. This season with its high expectations that came crashing down has felt like a million tiny papercuts that never stopped coming.





Waiting out a rain delay, finding some hope in a rainbow
Yet even on our worst days this season when it was nearly impossible to find a "fan" with a good word to say, I still had the privilege of enjoying baseball with my son. We did it for 20+ games between NYC and Philadelphia and because I never know when that privilege may be taken from us, I will never take it for granted. Domani is a smart and enthusiastic baseball fan. He studies statistics, watches replays, and now knows more about the Mets roster than I do. He cheers for his Mets in any and all circumstances. It is a pleasure going to games with him.

This season he decided that he wanted to choose an American League team to cheer for as well. To make his decision, he studied. He spent many weeks following statistics and standings, reading about players, and checking out replays from games. About two months ago, he chose the Twins. (There was, admittedly, quite a bit of lobbying from my co-worker Mr. Seth, although this only served to make Domani resistant initially.) I guess the good news now is that at least one of us has a team to cheer on into October. It also doesn't hurt my "Ya Gotta Believe" optimism that Mr. Seth's Twins finished last year with 103 losses, even worse than our Mets this year. Tonight, I watched them celebrate clinching a Wild Card spot. You never know what can happen in a year.

Showing off his Twins hat and batting stance
Five - When I think I can't, I still can. A running lesson re-learned. While I was training for the Philly Marathon in 2014 in hopes of qualifying for Boston I learned a lesson on a particularly tough 10 mile run that powered me through to qualifying then and still stays with me - "When I think I can't, I can." The problem is that recently I have been talking myself out of it in a hundred different circumstances. This past month I decided that no matter what I would not let that happen.

Earlier this year I had signed up for the Newport Jersey City Half Marathon because it was a package deal with the Newport 10k. I fully intended on doing some training for it, but I didn't. I have no good reason for not training. I just didn't. Even so, I am still in decent running shape and my doctor assured me the week before the race at my annual physical that all systems were go. So, I decided my mantra would be "when I think I can't, I can" and even though an Afghan Whigs show the night before got me into my Jersey City hotel at 3am I was at the start line and ready to go by the 8:30am gun time.

Mid-race selfie with the Statue of Liberty
It was my slowest half marathon ever. Slower than the first one I ran in Miami Beach for my birthday. Slower than the Disney World one when I stopped and took photos with characters. Slower than my slowest by over 5 minutes. But I felt so good about it. I hadn't run the distance in a year so completing the race at a steady pace left me feeling powerful again. I'm claiming it as a personal victory because that is exactly how it felt - a beautiful reminder that when I think I can't, I still can. I feel like it's a mantra I can start carrying again in my life and one that I can allow to seep in much deeper than just for running.

Six - Music is still my best medicine and concerts my ultimate church. All summer long I had been looking forward to the fall for one big reason - all of the concerts. Starting with The Afghan Whigs in September and ending with Voodoo Fest in New Orleans, I spent the summer listening to music and longing for my opportunity once again to hear it all live.

Brooklyn Steel. 9/16/17


The Afghan Whigs shows did not disappoint. Three shows, each of them unique. So many of my friends there with me. Music that stirred up all of the feelings. A meet and greet with special merch in Philly. The performance in its entirety of In Spades at The Bowery Ballroom. Front and center with some of my most favorite people for a rock your face off set at Brooklyn Steel. Remembering Dave Rosser with love alongside others who got it.


With Malinda. Philly. 9/12/17

Into The Floor. Philly. Viva La Rosser. 9/12/17

Live Afghan Whigs shows can keep me going for weeks except that this time my music high was interrupted by some shitty news. I couldn't even process it when I saw that Charles Bradley had died. I thought back to when I first saw him in September 2012 at ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror Festival in New York City. I stood near Greg Dulli watching him perform one of the most exciting sets I had ever heard. I remembered October 2014 when I saw him open for The Afghan Whigs at The Beacon Theatre. He was my favorite part of that show and by that point I knew the words to almost all of his songs I had listened to him so much. His music changed me that night and continues to change me as I listen to it today. It's almost as if I have little personal revelations whenever I listen to his songs. Before his cancer came back he had returned to touring and was scheduled to play at Voodoo Fest in October. His name on the lineup was one of the reasons I so wanted to be there. I'm going to miss the Screaming Eagle of Soul, but am so thankful that I can continue singing along with my decidedly worse voice to his soul-shaking music.


EPILOGUE - Over the past few days as I have been writing this post, Domani has taken an interest in having me read to him from this blog. It's a little overwhelming. It started out one night when he was feeling sad about missing his dad and wanted to hear some stories about him. Having already read him the many photo books we have multiple times, I got the idea to offer him something a little different. So, I pulled up a post from 5 years ago that had come up in my Facebook memories and I read it to him. We laughed and cried together. At several points I stopped and asked him if he wanted me to continue reading, which he did. We finished that first post and he wanted me to read more. The following night, he again wanted to hear one of the "poems" I wrote about his daddy. We read the post I wrote on the first anniversary of Joe's death. He especially loved the photos and the parts of the post that mentioned him. He told me when we were done that he wants me to keep reading to him about his daddy. Reading those posts to him was an incredibly bonding experience. I'm looking forward to more of it as he is ready.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Grief and Baseball and Running

I woke up last Wednesday morning still sleepy and reached for my phone, looking forward to yet another sunny day at the Jersey shore. There was plenty of stress brewing back at work and my body was feeling ragged, but at least I was on vacation. I was away with my little guy and he was with his cousins. We had books to read, salty air to breathe, and the ocean to play in.

Before starting my day, as I do most mornings, I wandered between Twitter and Facebook to see what was new with friends and family and the world around me. What was new was grief. 

GRIEF PART ONE

First it was one random post. Then another. And then a flood. Until finally, it was the only thing in my timeline. Dave Rosser had died. Dave Rosser, who not only played guitar with The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins, but also with The Afghan Whigs. Dave Rosser, who was not only an insanely talented musician, but a remarkable human being. Dave Rosser, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.

With Dave Rosser before the October 5, 2012
show at Terminal 5 in NYC

Talk about ripping a bandage off an old wound. Our favorite music. That same pesky fucking disease. Even right down to them both playing the guitar. These moments don't happen anywhere near as often now - almost 6 years since Joe died - but when they do, it's a bitch. It was a day of not knowing what to do with myself. 

By that point in the week I was finishing up a book called Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles and starting a book called The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike. If not for the insight from these two books this week I might have found myself today in a messy heap on my bedroom floor. More on the rest of the week in a bit.

BASEBALL LIFE ADVICE

Baseball Life Advice was one of those books that had me alternating between talking out loud to the author as if she's my BFF, crying behind my sunglasses, and trying to downplay my obnoxious guffaws. My reading of it seemed to be timed perfectly with what was unfolding in my life. So it goes sometimes in what I like to think of as these miracle moments because when I chose this book for my vacation reading I obviously had no idea what would be brewing.

It only took me the first chapter to know that Ms. Fowles is "my people". It's there where she explains her deep affection for baseball with prose that had me wiping away tears and carrying on whole conversations with the text. Except for a few details, I could have written many of the words myself and that was incredibly comforting.

In one section she writes, "Baseball became "my thing," and its stadiums my church, a place to pray in times of hopelessness, the source of a solace I couldn't find elsewhere. I never feel more human, or more sane, than I do inside a ballpark." 

And I thought, "Yes, yes, YES!" 

Baseball has been my medicine since Joe died. Going to games with my son. Going to games with friends. Being alone at games. There is both communion and medicine for me at the ballpark. The crack of the bat. The taste of a pretzel and a cold beer. The isolated cheers that grow to fill the stadium. A stolen base. The predictability of the 7th inning stretch. The crowd on its feet for that final strike. The deafening roar at a game-winning homer. Knowing that more often than not my Mets will break my heart and that will remind me of life too...because that is what's real. 

Ms. Fowles includes in her book a quote from Roger Angell's book The Summer Game which has stuck with me all week.

"This was a new recognition that perfection is admirable but a trifle inhuman, and that a stumbling kind of semi-success can be much more warming. Most of all, perhaps, these exultant yells for the Mets were also yells for ourselves, and came from a wry, half-understood recognition that there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us."

Truth be told, I've been feeling very "Met" recently. And not the 2015 postseason-bound Mets or the 1986 World Series Champion Mets or the 1969 Miracle Mets. I've been feeling a lot like the "now" Mets and it seems like every time I turn around there is a new thing in my way. This year the Mets seem to have injury upon injury and I just seem to be accumulating life stuff. 

I wasn't going to get to a ballpark until Saturday, but thankfully we filled in the gap with some baseball on the beach with the kids. It was my son's favorite part of vacation and for sure one of the most tender times for me to both watch and join. It was impossible to do without envisioning how Joe would have fit into the mix. I guess these things were on my little guy's mind too.


GRIEF PART TWO

It was two days after the news of Dave Rosser's death when he approached me on the beach looking sad. He cuddled right up to me and wanted to have his beach towel wrapped around him. Once he was comfortable I asked him what he was thinking and if he was ok. I don't think I'll ever forget what he said to me.

He told me that he wants to be a baby again. When I asked what he meant he said that he wants to stop his life where it is and start it over again because he misses his daddy. If the news of Dave Rosser's death was like ripping a bandage off an old wound, these words from my 6 year old were like that scene from Temple of Doom where the beating heart is ripped out of the guy's chest. I couldn't even catch my breath as I processed what it meant for him to think this deeply about his loss and how much he wants to have his dad here with him.

I do everything I can to surround him with love and help him grow, but I cannot give him his father back. I can grieve with him (which I did) and I can share stories with him (which I did), but there is this space in his life which Joe occupies that I just cannot fill for him. I am realizing more and more that he is on a grief journey too. He certainly will rely on many of the people around him to love and support him, but in the end it will be his journey.

RUNNING

There were many lovely things about Catriona Menzies-Pike book, not the least of which being that it kept encouraging me to run while I was reading it - encouragement which has not been easy to come by for me of late given some seemingly endless health challenges. The most important part to me though was a section at the end because it captured my own feelings towards running while also reminding me to be gentle with myself through all that life throws my way.

"I might not have become a champion, but I've become a runner, and somewhere along the way I stopped raging about what my life might have been like if that plane hadn't crashed. That's a life that I can now see has been plotted by surprises: including both an horrific airplane crash and the discovery of contentment in running. I've been fit enough to run marathons and, in between, I have slowed down and sped up again, delighted by my body's capacity for renewal. There are many limits to my progress as a runner: some of them lie within me, some are beyond my control. Instead of trying to master the contingencies, I just live with them."

If there is one thing that I have learned in my years of running since Joe died it's that so much running advice is also good life advice. So, perhaps for me right now life calls for a little less of trying to master the contingencies and a little more trying to live with them.

Last night, the little guy and I were back at the ballpark and for good measure I went in my Viva La Rosser shirt. It just felt right.

With my son at the Trenton Thunder game
July 4, 2017

(I encourage you to check out both books... Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me by Stacey May Fowles and The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Trainspotting Redux: Choose Life

Today my husband Joe would have turned 42.  Instead, it is the sixth time his birthday will pass without him here. Even six years later there is still a sharp tug each year when the month changes to April and I still have a cry when I wake up on the 4th unable to wish him a happy birthday. It's just one of those days where inevitably grief weighs in.

It also happens to be one of those days that has come with a life lesson for me.

In 2011, when he celebrated his 36th birthday I was in Bangor, Maine on an assignment for work. We had discussed it when I was first told about the trip, but since neither of us were in the habit of making a big deal out of our birthdays unless it was a "big year" we figured I might as well just go. I have no idea if he quietly hoped I would refuse the trip and stay, but my own mind was just not there. I was overwhelmed with my workload and a 6-month old and a husband undergoing chemo treatments. I wasn't thinking about life. I was just trying to do it.

Besides, he was doing well. If you looked at him at that time you wouldn't have even known he had cancer. We both thought he had plenty of birthdays left. But the thing I know now is that April 4, 2011 when things seemed to be going ok and when he seemed to still have plenty of birthdays ahead of him was exactly the moment that I should have made celebrating his a priority.

I knew it before I even returned home from that trip. Before his health started to decline that fall. Before he died in December. It's one of those moments that continues to define choices I make today and for that I am thankful.

It meant some incredibly special moments with Joe and Domani in the months that followed (and some other less important things that fell to the side). It has meant not only fun birthday celebrations with family and friends, but also the seizing of countless everyday moments. It has also meant learning how to say no to the things that would steal away the opportunities for those moments whenever it is necessary.

In our home we celebrated Joe's birthday today. I took off from work and went to watch T2: Trainspotting. Twenty one years ago this August Joe and I went to see the original Trainspotting on our first date. It seemed fitting to spend his birthday seeing what Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are up to now. On the way home from the movie, I had a great visit with a friend from high school and finally got to meet his lovely wife. Visiting with them left me marveling again at the beautiful simplicity of mutual love and the truly meaningful aspects of the work I do - both valuable reminders to me right about now. 

When I picked up Domani, the two of us spent some time looking through old photo books and talking about his dad. Then, I bought Domani a small gift in honor of Joe's birthday and we met up with one of Joe's best friends for dinner at our favorite Mexican place. Our dinner plans were Domani's choice for Daddy's birthday. 

Being away for Joe's birthday in 2011 is a regret that I learned from and so I no longer regret it. My life has undoubtedly been richer because of the choices I've made since then.

I wish I could remember the whole new "choose life" monologue from the movie today. But this part certainly applies...

"Choose the ones you love.
Choose your future.
Choose life."

Getting ready to head in for dinner tonight.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Five Years

Five years ago the Giants had lost to the Packers in a Sunday Night Football game that they almost won. If not for leaving Aaron Rodgers with enough time on the clock to get into field goal range, Eli Manning might have led the Giants to a victory over the undefeated Packers. Instead, the last Giants game I watched with my husband was a narrow defeat, which then somehow paved the way to a miraculous Superbowl season. Joe died the morning after that loss to the Packers, right about this time 5 years ago.  It's startling to my spirit that it has been five years. As I said in another post, it passes like a flash and like molasses all at the same time. Who knows what this season has in store for our Giants given the way those Cowboys seem to be rolling along, but I will admit that quite a lot has changed in five years.

Five years ago, I was a different person. Spiritually, physically, and emotionally. It certainly began with Joe's diagnosis, but even more so after his death I have changed. The things that were important to me then are just not that important to me anymore. The ways I spent time then, I tend not to anymore.

More people. More travel. More health. More experiences. More life.

I run and I race. I go to Mets games and Giants games and Rangers games and Red Bulls games. I protest. I eat and I drink and I enjoy it. I do my best to say prayers with my son every night. I go to concerts.

I celebrate everything.

I choose time with family and friends over time at work. I try to learn something new every day. I make plans with friends. I organize get togethers.

It's not that I didn't do any of these things before, but the rhythm and drive now is just different.

I see this change in my friends and family too and for that I am thankful. Every time that someone tells me she is living her life differently because of Joe my heart leaps. I think to myself "we are breaking through"...."we can get to what matters"...."the world of our children will be different".

On the last day Joe was alive, he and I looked back through the photo album from our honeymoon. We had gone to Boston. We ate Boston Cream Pie every day and toured the history and ate and drank. We let our competitive edge run wild playing the Megatouch game at the bar around the corner from our hotel. Five years later, I can play Megatouch anytime I want in my basement thanks to Joe who bought me one for our first Christmas together. And, thanks to my own competitive edge, I can reach out and touch my Boston Marathon medal right from my bed. In my book, that has earned me all the Boston Cream Pie in the universe.

Five years ago, the Mets sucked. Even through the misery, we brought Domani to his first away game (in Washington, DC) and to his first home game at Citifield, but our boys finished the 2011 season 4th place in the Division with a 77-85 record. That's a far cry from the fun of last year when Domani got to live it up at Citifield during the postseason and even this year when we squeaked in to a Wildcard game despite a rash of injuries. Now, five years later, we are looking forward to a 2017 with Yoenis Cespedes on the roster for 4 years and plenty of young pitching to keep things going.

On the last day that Joe was alive, our son Domani gripped his hand and said "dada". At that time, Domani knew all of two words - dada and doggy. Five years later, he can read and write "daddy" along with dozens of other words. Oh, and he almost knows more Spanish than I do. Each day, I walk him to the school across the street from our house, just like Joe and I had planned out eight years ago when we decided this was the perfect home to buy. Domani is potty trained and opinionated, has already run his first 5k race, and knows how to sing, dance, and act. He is also one of the kindest and most compassionate kids I know.

Five years ago, Joe and I were watching Greg Dulli on a solo tour in Philly. We were at The Trocadero and it was the last concert we ever saw together. We sat in the balcony because he was not well enough to stand on the floor as was our custom. Right after Joe died from colon cancer, Greg's band The Afghan Whigs announced a reunion show which turned into a tour which turned into a new album. Now, five years later, the guitarist of this, our favorite band, has colon cancer and I'm about to head to New Orleans for a benefit show. Talk about FUCK cancer.

On the last day that Joe was alive, we were surrounded by friends and family. As much as things change, some things stay the same. Those same people are all still with Domani and me today. Joe's best friends have made a point of being my best friends and they love Domani with all they've got. Joe's family continue to take us in as a natural part of their family and for that I couldn't be more appreciative. There have been births and deaths, engagements and weddings, and our circle has had more than our share of health scares. It all makes me deeply grateful for such a strong core of support.

And I am even more thankful for the way it has grown over the last five years. There are so many more amazing people though who have been added to the mix since Joe died. I have made friends through grief and friends through work, friends through running and friends through the Afghan Whigs, friends through church and friends through the Mets. I have even been lucky enough to fall into a new relationship after five years of being out on my own.

Five years ago, Joe would have been the first to tell you that I wouldn't have even looked at an olive and certainly would never have eaten one. I could barely run two miles, let alone 26.2. I had no idea how to check our home oil tank, had never mowed the grass, and freaked out over killing any bug. Oh, how times have changed in the Deak household. Joe would be surprised. But somehow, I think he already knows. After all, I'm one that believes in signs and he just keeps leaving them all around.
From yesterday at the cemetery.
I listened to "Who Tells Your Story" from The Hamilton Mixtape
performed by The Roots (feat. Common and Ingrid Michaelson)
"Who lives....who dies....who holds on to all our lives....
Time and time and time again....will they tell your story in the end?
Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

If There Were No Love...

There are some things about this day that I remember as if they were happening right now in this moment. The sickening haze that settled in to that patient room as we listened to the unfamiliar doctor tell us that it was the end of the treatment road for Joe. The long drive home in our Kia Sorento - the last time I would drive anywhere with him. The phone calls and the family and the tears as we gathered.

It was a Wednesday. Just like today.


It's no wonder why the heaviness of this past week has felt that much heavier. Five years passes in a flash and like molasses all at the same time.


Today, I am simply thankful for the people who have supported me through it all and for these words from Zig Ziglar which have helped me through many difficult moments over the last five years...

"If there were no love, there'd be no grief."

Amen, Zig.


CaringBridge Journal entry by Anne Luck-Deak — 11/30/2011

It is late and we are all quite tired in the Deak household. After a long night last night which included a visit from the hospice nurse, we went to Joe's oncologist today. Joe had been scheduled for his next chemo treatment, but given his weakened state it was hard to believe they would do it.

That proved correct but on top of that we were told by the doctor covering for Joe's regular oncologist that no further treatments would be possible. A punch in the gut. And she wasn't particularly helpful or sympathetic. Another punch in the gut.

While we were there Joe was given oxygen and some fluids. He also had a nice nap while receiving the fluids. Thankfully, after returning home we got a visit from his hospice nurse and later a call from his regular oncologist. His oncologist's heartbreaking conclusion was still the same but it was helpful to have our questions answered and to hear the details about his reasoning. The honest truth is that it was very difficult for Joe to travel to Basking Ridge today. His weakened state makes even a walk from the living room to the bedroom a difficult task, let alone walking around to get ready and then out to the car. It would just be too much for him to continue going through the motions of treatments which aren't really having an impact on the cancer.

We will receive some additional services from hospice and are still considering any other possible options for Joe. Please pray for wisdom in how to proceed and for peace during this seemingly impossible time.

As difficult as today was, it was nice to come home to a freshly cleaned house and some yummy food in the fridge. We have the most amazing support network and I have a suspicion it will only get better. Love to you all!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sometimes the Mets Miracles Happen Off the Field

Last week, when Domani, my sister, and I arrived at my friend Scott's house to ride with him to the Mets game, Domani jumped out of the car and yelled not the expected "Let's Go Mets", but "3-2-3"! It was spontaneous and sweet and it was one of those moments of the 2016 season that I'll never forget. Who would have thought that come the fall we would be cheering with passion not only for our Amazin's, but also for our now-beloved section of Citifield. But, so it goes.

3-2-3! The hats Scott made for all of us :-)
On November 21, 2015 Domani and I went to the ballpark bundled up against the cold and picked out our 2016 seats. How we ended up in Section 323, Row 5, Seats 10-13 may have been random, but I am convinced now that it wasn't without some divine intervention. We were coming off the high of a thrilling postseason and practically ran to the Caesars Gold section anxious to pick out the perfect 2016 seats. Aside from trying to pick a good view and a Saturday plan, though, we had no idea what we were doing. We just snatched up the first ones we came to that looked good. As we made our way through the checkout line to purchase our seats we were excited at the prospect of 20 games in Section 323, Row 5, but there was no way we could have known then what an amazing year 2016 would be for us and how special those seats would become.

Select a Seat on 11/21/15
As I sit here now, I am exhausted after a weekend of cheering on the Mets in Philly and I'm counting the hours until we are back at Citifield on Wednesday for the Wild Card game. Nothing has made me realize more what a miracle those seats became in my life than this time right now.

With our Section 323 crew (plus a few) on 10/1 in Philly
I'm not sure if there was a particular moment when our little crew in 323 transitioned from fans who cheer together at games to all around friends, but by the time 4th of July weekend rolled around we were planning our first tailgate and by the end of the season we were together in Philly watching the Mets clinch the NL Wild Card. Now I can't imagine my "Mets" life without Scott and Diane and Joe and the kiddos, friends, and family members that come with us. They really have become like family and our section has become something special.

With Scott, Diane, and Joe
Scott and I were the only ones who knew each other before the season began, but even our proximity in 323 came down to fate. After finally dragging Scott back into the excitement of Citifield last season, he decided at the beginning of the year to buy a seat in a 20 game plan. He was debating between a couple different locations within the ballpark and before I could get back to him with where Domani and I were sitting he let me know where he had bought - it turned out to be a seat right behind us.

To his left ended up being Diane and to his right Joe.

That's right. For those of you who go way back on this blog and had to re-read that to make sure you got it right...There was to be a Joe and his son sitting behind us and to the right at Citifield for the 20 games of our Saturday plan (well, at least most of them).

Let's pause here for a philosophical interlude from Anne. It's been repeated in posts on my blog more than once, but it has been on my mind a lot as this season, especially as the beauty of section 323 unfolded. It's this framed poster that my best friend Erin gave me not long after my husband Joe died.


Erin knows me well and knows how Joe's death changed my perspective on life. The things listed there summarize it nicely, but what has blown my mind is the way that so many of them have come together in this last year.

I started attending games with Domani as a planholder after Joe's death in December 2011. Before that, Joe and I would go to several games a year and always try to make a trip or two to games on the road (we had been to DC, Philly, and Boston). That included the year after Domani was born while Joe was sick when we took Domani to his first game at Citifield and made a Labor Day weekend trip to DC for the Nats series. Becoming a planholder was my way of "doing what I loved and doing it often". In the years since Joe died, Domani and I have been there to witness some amazing baseball moments together and my little guy has become quite the Mets expert. The games have been our bonding time and the place where we bring friends and family to share in it. In no small way, they have been a place where we have worked through our grief and moved towards joy and meaning.

Perhaps that is what made this year in our section so special. Somehow, in the midst of the high fives and more than occasional hand wringing and face palms over our Mets, we ended up talking life. We have gotten to know about each other's joys and pains, hopes and fears, and, whether our team was winning, losing or desperately clinging to one last sliver of hope, the Mets kept our bond together.
Celebrating a win on 9/3 - photo credit to the selfie queen Naomi
With our crew in 3-2-3, we're there for each other not only at games and when it comes to the Mets, but in the "other stuff" of life too. There are plenty of places where our views on life and the Mets diverge (The Mets ARE just fine without Daniel Murphy thankyouverymuch and don't even get us started on the presidential election) but when you find the fellow widowed mom who will call you up on the day your son starts kindergarten just to check in sitting behind you and to the left at the Mets game, you have won no matter how many times your team has lost.

As if finding some amazing new friends for you and your son weren't enough, section 323 finally did for me what all of the dating apps under the sun for the last 4 years could not do. In a plot twist that truly belongs in a movie (perhaps one a la Fever Pitch?), I started dating the guy who sat behind us and to the right at the Mets games. The guy named, of course, Joe. I waited for something to go terribly wrong because it always does. I expected some epic bad news that would send everything off the rails. But the truth is that I started this 2016 season ready to root for the Mets with my son and my friend Scott and I am now staring down the postseason up one fabulously supportive girlfriend and an amazing relationship.

With Joe in Philly on 10/1 - photo credit to Diane :-)
One thing that many of us who have been through a loss talk about are the "signs" you encounter afterwards which serve as reminders of your loved one and encouragement along the way. My grandmother (G-Mom) who died in February came through big time on the Mets signs this year and she wasn't even the Mets fan in our bunch.

It all started with the guys. At some point about a third of the way through the season the male half of our section started a little cheer to encourage home runs from our Mets. AP-PLE. AP-PLE. AP-PLE. It was all in reference of course to the Mets Home Run apple of which my son is a huge fan. (We also randomly chant "Broccolini" and "Cauliflower" but don't ask about that because I'm not sure I could explain it.) The AP-PLE chant was simple and contagious. The kids, of course, loved it. I feared that my 5 year old would at some point be chanting it in public and have it mistaken for a much more dubious hockey chant. But it stuck and cheering for the Home Run Apple when the Mets were at bat became a 3-2-3 thing. And on at least one occasion it became a 3-2-4 thing as well. Maybe someday it will be a Citifield thing.

Three weeks ago when my family gathered to sort through my G-Mom's Christmas things I was feeling overwhelmed. There were many reasons, but mostly because the one thing I really wanted to do was to talk with her about the joy in my life - how proud I was of Domani starting kindergarten given all he was going through, how happy I was to be dating Joe, and how great it was to have Naomi living with us in NJ. But I would never again be able to have those conversations with her and having that realization sink in once again made me so sad.

I was talking to her in my head about those things while looking through some of her ornaments when I came upon a whole bunch of APPLE ornaments. There they were. No one knew quite why she had them or if she even put them up every year, but there they were. I couldn't show them to Domani fast enough. Somehow, with those apples packed up and on their way home with us I felt complete peace. It was as if G-Mom had answered all of my anxious ramblings with a simple found gift.

The apple ornaments from G-Mom
After that it seemed like apples were popping up everywhere. In the store. On the radio. Wrapping paper I found buried in my closet from over a decade ago. Domani even spent a whole week learning about them in school during which time he perfected his "apple" chant in Spanish (manzanas). You can say it's just the time of year, but I'm calling it a nod to 3-2-3 and all of the goodness that has come from this year - the fun times shared, the friends made, and the anticipation of what still lies ahead. We couldn't have asked for a better group of people to find their way together and I am beyond thankful.

We won't be sitting in 323 on Wednesday for the Wild Card game, but we'll all be at the ballpark and undoubtedly at some point the Apple chants will ring out. I can't wait.

Let's Go Mets!