43 Things I Am Thankful For

On this Thanksgiving day, I wanted to reflect on the positive things in my life. I feel it’s important to spell these things out because it can be easy to take one’s blessings for granted. I chose 43 things not because I felt I should have at least as many things to be grateful for as the number of years I have spent on this planet. They are in the order they popped into my head and not necessarily in order of importance.

43 Things I Am Thankful For

  1. The gift of Life
  2. My decision to move back home to be near my parents
  3. Living in a warmer climate after 24 frigid winters in Massachusetts
  4. Spending a lot of time with my Dad before he passed away last year
  5. Becoming closer to my mom than ever before
  6. My devoted, selfless, loving husband
  7. My sisters, brother-in-laws, niece and nephews
  8. The 18 years I got to spend with my cat, Hunter, who passed away October 16th
  9. My kitties Gwenny and Normie, their crazy antics, and their adorable vocalizations
  10. A safe and secure roof over my head
  11. Plenty of good food to eat
  12. The ability to pay my bills
  13. Never having been physically or sexually assaulted
  14. Growing up in a relatively safe and peaceful town
  15. My poor health, which motivated me to finally start taking care of myself
  16. Finally learning to love working out and lifting weights at the gym
  17. The ability and opportunity to attend college and grad school
  18. My sense of humor and personality, which people seem to enjoy (for the most part :D)
  19. Physically living closer to my family
  20. The encouragement and support of my friends and family who believe in me
  21. That I learned to love reading
  22. Social media that allows me to keep in touch with friends and family far and wide
  23. Easy travel access to New York City
  24. The ability to eat, sleep, walk, dress, and wash myself without assistance
  25. GPS/Phone capabilities that give me directions whenever I need them
  26. Learning to drive and getting my driver’s license
  27. Learning to live without a TV and cable
  28. Online streaming of the few shows I want to watch
  29. The staff at Bregman Veterinary Group for all the care they gave Hunter in the last year of his life
  30. My former vet who let me pick his ear about Hunter’s medical care near the end of Hunter’s life
  31. My EMDR therapists who helped me through some rough situations
  32. The ability to see and talk to friends long distance via Facetime
  33. Volunteering with kitties in need of forever homes
  34. My daily meditation routine that transformed my life
  35. That I can afford the medication I need in order to function as a person with fibromyalgia
  36. The friendly, supportive staff at the LA Fitness gym in Lake Success, NY where I work out
  37. Spending holidays with my family
  38. A home that is an oasis from the world
  39. The privileges that have allowed me a better life than other people and better treatment from other people
  40. Access to great dental care by a funny, talented, and singing dentist whose office staff puts me at ease
  41. Warm socks
  42. A cup of hot tea on a cold day
  43. The year 2014 that brought me writing, blogging, and more writing

I hope you’ve been inspired by my list. Go ahead! Write yours out, too.

Goodbye to My Lovely Zia

Unexpectedly, my Zia – Italian for aunt – passed away in the hospital at 3am in this morning after brief illness. I’m not going to get into the condition or what happened because that’s not what this post is about. I want to share some memories of my aunt and think about some happier memories.

When I think of my Zia Lucrezia, the first memory I have is spending Thanksgiving at her house. The 3 major holidays of the year went like this: We went to my Zio Raniero’s house for Easter; to my Zia Lucrezia’s house for Thanksgiving; and, for Christmas, both sides of the family came to my mother’s house.

If you’ve heard the phrase “from soup to nuts”, then you would know that such a phrase was actually a reality in our large, Italian holiday dinners. Out of all the dishes, I remember a few in particular. Her turkey and stuffing were moist and delicious. Zia made the best holiday dessert: lemon cake – spongy white cake with lemon and sugar. I remember waiting with anticipation all year just to be able to taste her lemon cake again. I recall sitting around the dining room table cracking nuts – walnuts, almonds, and, of course, hazelnuts. Shells were strewn all over the place. What a mess!

I remember Godzilla movies playing on the TV. Or was it football? I seem to remember football in later years, but I would swear to you we watched Godzilla movies on TV all afternoon. I remember sitting in the living room, post feast, and watching my crazy boy cousins running around, going in and out.

By the time I moved back home last year, my aunt was elderly and ill. She’d had at least two open heart surgeries that were very hard on her. A once chubby woman, she had become thin, frail, and could only speak in whispers. But she still had her mind and her spirit.

One day after my Zio Luigi died in July, my husband and I took my mother and my Zia Lucrezia out to lunch at a diner. We had a good time, just the four of us.

In the last few months since my uncle died, my aunt accompanied a son and his family on a trip to Canada to visit her cousins. Then, last month, relatives of hers came to visit. They toured NYC, and my aunt and her sons and their families, in rotation, went sightseeing all over the place.

Saturday night, she fell ill before going to church and was taken to the hospital instead. My husband, mother, and I went to see her that evening. She was awake, and we got to tell her how much we loved her.

When we came back on Sunday, she was much worse and ailing. We left with heavy hearts, and woke up to news that she was gone. Right now, we are in the calm before the wake and funeral storm. Watching someone decline is difficult. Having someone die after a brief illness feels like  a slap that wakes you from a dream.

I love you, Zia Lucrezia. I wish I had asked you for your lemon cake recipe and been able to make it for you for once. Just once.

Blessed be and peace to you, dear readers.

Confessions of a Polyliberamorist

I have a confession to make: I love reading more than one book at a time. Sometimes it feels like I dive into a relationship with a new lover, only to set them aside and dive into a relationship with a new one, going back and forth until both are over.

Currently, I am in the middle of three books: Witches by Erica Jong, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Karyl McBride, and Philomena by Martin Sixsmith. And when I say I am in the middle, I am about half way through each of these books.

Witches is a fun, well-written journey through witches and witchcraft. The pages are beautifully illustrated by Joseph A. Smith. And I mean all  the pages. Even the table of contents and the font are given over to building a story of mystery woven with history. If you want a leisurely stroll through witch history, past and present, this book is a good place to start.

In addition to witch history, I read a lot of self-help and psychology books. I picked up Will I Ever Be Good Enough? after a recommendation by a friend with a mutual interest in family relationships. If you think you are the daughter of a narcissistic mother, this book is helpful. I can’t say that it fits my situation very well, and I found myself reading and skimming quite a bit. The topic seems to be well written by a psychologist with personal experience, and I would recommend it, if you were interested in the topic.

I borrowed Philomena from one of my sisters, and I picked it up again yesterday after cleaning up the printer desk and a shelf above it. I started reading last night, and spent more time this afternoon. Martin Sixsmith is a former journalist who knows how to build suspense. Maybe it’s the story, but, with each sentence, Sixsmith layers one feeling of growing terror on top of another. The cruelty of those who claim to speak for God blows my mind. My heart goes out to children and parents everywhere who are separated from each other by means beyond their control.

All these book-lovers, all these fleeting relationships. I can burn through books faster than a fire burns a line of fluid. One of these days, I might find myself satisfied with one and only one book at a time.

Great Doc Award: Dr. Lewis B. Lane

My mother sees Dr. Lewis B. Lane in Great Neck for her arthritis. Dr. Lane is the Chief of Hand Surgery at North Shore LIJ University Hospital. I accompanied Mom last month to a checkup appointment with Dr. Lane for the arthritis in her hand. 

So after Mom broke her hand, I took her Mom to an appointment with Dr. Lane who wrapped her arm up with a half cast. Unfortunately, the half cast and the arthritis do not mix.

With arthritis, moving your hand helps diffuse the inflammation. With a break, moving your hand can delay or prevent the healing. The half cast caused severe arthritic inflammation and swelling throughout the hand while also sending her pain through the roof. She has been battling the battle of the hand problems ever since she fell on the 6th. 

By Saturday the 23rd, the pain had gotten particularly bad. I called and spoke to the on-call doctor, reiterating the unfortunate situation to Mom about how to treat her hand: take the Percocet that she got from the hospital, use ice, take off the cast as long as she doesn’t use the hand too much. 

On Monday, I called the office and got a morning appointment for Tuesday morning. Mom got a cortisone shot in her hand. The pain of it surprised her as she had no pain with previous cortisone shots in her lower back and knee. Dr. Lane said it would take at minimum a few days to take effect and as long as one to two weeks. She might get some improvement by this weekend. 

Unfortunately, my mom has continued to have severe pain in her hand since Tuesday. I called Dr. Lane’s office and left a message. I wanted to know if there was any better medication that my mother could take instead of the Percocet since she still has pain even when she takes it. The staff person said she would get a message to him because he was out of the office and that he would call me back. 

Within a couple of hours, Dr. Lane called me back and we spoke at length. Dr. Lane and I talked about a range of things: whether or not the Percocet had Tylenol in it (it does), the problem my mother is facing with her dual hand issues, and the limitations and problems of pain management for elderly patients.

I have explained the challenges of a break in her arthritic hand many times to my Mom. But it’s hard when she suffers, wants relief desperately, and I am unable to do that. All I can do is offer sympathy, support, and be there for her. 

But back to Dr. Lane. He asked about whether or not she was depressed, suggested I talk to her doc about meds or therapy, and spoke empathetically about her predicament. He talked about his experience dealing with his own elderly mother and even complimented me on being there for my mom, saying there was a special place in heaven for people like me. I said I hoped there was.

I can’t say enough good things about Dr. Lewis B. Lane. Not only is he an incredible doctor, he has a calm demeanor, treats his staff and his patients with respect, explains things clearly, possesses a great bedside manner, is caring and empathetic, and is very funny!

I adore this man as a doctor, and I told him I thought he was a doll.

Because he is. 

Family + Accidents = Stress! Whee!

The last nine months have brought death and destruction to my family.

No. Seriously.

My third grade teacher and close friend of my parents died in November, my father died in December, and my father’s brother died in July.

The August icing on the accident-cake? Yesterday, I received a call from my mother, shakily telling me that she fell. I was able to get an approximate location, and my hubbie and I went to pick her up. She fell, hurt her arm, received a huge gash above her right brow, got a concussion and knocked herself out, and got extremely nauseous and vomited.

I called an ambulance who gave her a neck brace and tried to lay her down, but she was incredibly nauseous and had to sit up. The ambulance and police were all great, even cracking jokes. One said he hadn’t lost anyone that day. I told him to go lose someone else’s mother. Even my mom laughed.

While mom was taken to the hospital, we popped on by home to pick up her ID and insurance info. We waited outside the trauma unit for about an hour until we could go in and see her. The CAT scan for internal bleeding from the concussion came back negative, and X-rays showed a wrist fracture. She was wheeled into a bed stall in the ER while she waited for a bed.

My sister M went to the hospital at 11am to find that my mother was still in the same spot. A hospital bed never opened up. Machinery beeped all night long, and my mother didn’t get any sleep. My mother wanted to go home, so they discharged her.

Unfortunately, the broken wrist is on her preferred arm, which makes a whole lot of things difficult. Since I’m home, I will be helping my mom with meals, shopping, getting dressed, etc. In fact, anything that involves using your hand. It might get a bit tricky. At the very least, a cleaning lady is going to be involved while Mom recovers; I barely like cleaning my own place!

But it’s all good because this is the reason I wanted to move back home: So I could help my aging parents when they need it the most.

On a positive note, my mother pulled two, 2 lb. tomatoes from the garden just the other day. Here’s a photo of my mom with the meaty toms!

Mom's 2 lb. toms

Mom’s 2 lb. toms

Saying Good-Bye … Again

Four days ago, I got word from one of my four first cousins that my father’s brother had been taken to the emergency room. My Zio (the word for uncle in Italian) Luigi had gone to sleep the evening before and could not be woken from his slumber.  Later that day, I heard that he’d been moved into hospice and that he wasn’t expected to live longer than one day.

My husband, mother, and I drove to the hospice to say our good-byes. My aunt, Zio’s sons, their wives, and his grandchildren were there. My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew joined us to say our respects. My Zio’s breathing was labored, and he was using an oxygen mask. The similarity in his looks to my father during his last days was striking and unnerving.  Around 8:45pm, seven months to the day that my dad passed away, my uncle stopped breathing, surrounded by his family.

We attended both sittings of the wake yesterday. Near the end of the second sitting, each of my cousins stood up and spoke about my uncle’s legacy as a husband, father, and grandfather. Their stories told of a man who worked hard and was hard, but also of a man who loved and supported his family financially and emotionally. One cousin invited his 10 year old son up to say something about his Nonno (grandfather, Italian).

I’d watched my little cousin during the second wake. He went up to my uncle’s casket several times on his own. My husband overhead him ask another cousin’s wife questions about the state of his Nonno and other questions about death and dying. He got up to the front and said, “I love my Nonno, and I’m gonna miss him.” He stood there briefly with a frown on his face, burst into tears, and ran to his father.

My mother and I, along with others, burst into tears. It’s one thing to be sad. It’s quite another to watch a beloved grandchild lose it, his heart pouring out for everyone to see, and to keep a straight face. I can never do that. And I’m glad that I can’t. If I could, I would not have gotten the chance to see my cousin’s children interact and play and grieve openly. They reminded me both of the joy and of the loss that I was feeling.

This morning, we attended mass. We drove out to the cemetery in the funeral procession. It amazes me that people do not know the rules about funeral processions and the prohibitions against breaking them up. I really think New York State needs to put out PSA’s that alert people to the rules. It’s really frustrating. That and hearses that speed to the cemetery. Keep in check! People are following!

A priest said a brief mass, invited attendees to sprinkle holy water on the casket, and then my uncle’s casket into his mausoleum. We drove back home and had lunch at a local restaurant with the rest of my family.

The amount of social interaction required for paying last respects, wakes, mourning, funerals, and family luncheons overwhelms me. Afterwards, I need to hibernate, so I buried myself with reading manga on the couch for 3 hours. I have only gotten up to go for a walk with my husband, and write my blog.

Zio, I hope you’re feeling better than the you have during the last three difficult months that you experienced. I’m glad I got to see you in rehab a couple of weeks ago, but it would have been nice to speak with you one last time. Good-nite, Zio.

Love you.

Family Visits

I drove my visiting sister A and her husband G to visit our 84 year old uncle in a rehab facility. My uncle L, who has been in the facility at least a month, is experiencing  congestive heart failure, requires oxygen, and is experiencing organ failure.

If you are not familiar with congestive heart failure, let me give you a brief synopsis: The heart, no longer able to pump blood effectively, means less oxygen to the brain, a reduced capacity of the lungs to get oxygen into the body and more fluids in the lungs, and organ failure. The brain, kidney, and liver, among others, no longer function optimally. Death isn’t necessarily imminent; my husband’s mother lived with it for years.

Whether his memory is being affected by the congestive heart failure, or whether it is due to another condition, such as dementia, I find it hard to visit him. While we visited, my uncle told me the same stories about my father that put him in a bad light, which he has told me at least once every time I have seen him since at least December. These things happened 60-70 years ago. But so what? 70 years ago, approximately 30 years before I was even born, is too long ago for me to care. I did get angry with my uncle and told him that I didn’t want to hear it.

I asked him: What’s happening now? What else can we talk about now? Can I help him now? What is there to do? Because whatever happened has happened when my father was alive. He is dead. I am glad that my uncle didn’t give the “traitors” help when they didn’t want to help my dad. But so what? Those people are long gone.

I grew up spending Thanksgiving at my uncle’s home, and, in reciprocation, my cousins, uncle, aunt on my father’s and my mother’s side used to spend Christmas with us. I have some great memories of watching Godzilla movies at my uncles on Thanksgiving (thankfully, I was not subject to watching football).

At this point, whatever it is my father did or didn’t do, whatever it is my uncle thinks or doesn’t think, whatever stories he has to tell, I no longer care. When all the players are dead, some of them for many, many years, it is time to move on.

In some ways, having a great memory such as my uncle has is wonderful. He remembers all the birth years of his half-siblings and siblings, starting from 1900 to himself in 1929. Given that he came from a family of 10 and this is 75 years later while he is sick with congestive heart failure, I think that’s pretty damn amazing.

But having an amazing memory is a problem when you repeat the bad stories of your deceased brother over and over again. Yes, I was upset earlier. But I also have compassion for him. The way we think when are elderly is a product of all the ways we have thought through our entire lives.

Do I like what he says? No.
Do I like what he thinks? No.
Is he elderly and ill? Yes.
Am I going to stay worked about the things he says about my deceased father, his brother? No.

I just don’t have time for that shit anymore.