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.