No Magic Words

You know that feeling when someone passes away, but you don’t really know them, and you feel for the people that have lost them?  That’s me this week.

As the usual reader knows, my brother-from-another-mother is a man named Kevin.  A brief backstory on Kevin’s family tells us that he was adopted.  In his early teen years, he discovered he had two sisters, Jessica and Melissa.  This delighted the boy who wanted family, as all kids do, and he was happy.  Over the years, he has grown closer to both of them.  I know Jess pretty well, as we are almost the same age and she lives in state, while Melissa, the youngest, has been elsewhere for some time.  We’d met a few times, but I don’t know her the way I know Jess.

The other night, I woke up around 2am, for no reason. There was a text from Kev on my phone, stating that his little sister had died.  I knew he meant Melissa, in the way that I sometimes know things.  He wasn’t awake at 2am, but I wanted to hop in my car and drive to his house and hug him, because ohmygod, I would be crushed. 

I was a little crushed.  She was too young, it was a tragic accident, and it hurts when someone you know passes, no matter what your relationship.  And then, I ached for Jessica, who grew up alongside her sister, and Kevin, who I think always wanted that chance, to grow with siblings.  I mean, we always had each other, and I consider him to be the brother I never had, but it isn’t the same, especially when you’re an adopted kid looking for some sort of tether to your heritage. 

He went to Tennessee the next day, where Melissa lived.  Were it a decade ago, I would have dropped what I was doing and gone with him, but alas, it is not.  Instead, I went to work, but I worried all day.  I worried for my friend, and hoped he would be alright out there, and when he came home, he described the whole experience as “intense,” and I suppose that is probably the best word to use.  I felt intensely when I heard she was gone, not for myself, but for her siblings that loved her so much.  I felt sad because I always meant to hang out with her, for real, as adults…and I will never get that chance.  But furthermore, her family will never get the chance to see her grow and change and become more herself, and that is what makes me sad. 

I am sad for my friend Jessica.  I am heartbroken for my brother, Kevin.  But I have no direct contact to Melissa, so I feel almost fraudulent in my emotions, as though I have no right to have them.  Alas, I know, through years of therapy, that all emotions are valid, and embracing them isn’t the end of the world.  So, I will accept that I feel terrible, but I know it is only because people I love are hurting. 

Perhaps the gods will grant me some magic words to say to make it all better.  Probably not, though.

Edit: Melissa’s gofundme can be found here.

Eulogy of an Actor

It is 9:30am on a Saturday, and my nose is running because I have been crying a little.  You of course won’t read this until Monday, but I’m writing now because the thoughts are raw and fresh, and I need to put them down on paper.

This morning I woke up and went on Facebook, as I do, and the first post I saw was my friend Tilke’s headshot.  What surprised me, was that it was on another friend’s page, not her own.  At first, I thought it must be a promotional for their new movie, but closer inspection proved me wrong-Tilke had passed away, and the photo was a memorial to her.

Wait, what?

Down the Facebook rabbit hole I went, in search of any information and hoping this wasn’t true, although this mutual friend would not have been wrong…and he wasn’t.  She was gone.

One night, many years ago, we were standing in front of a bar in the February cold smoking cigarettes and practicing Russian accents.  We had just done a show, Cowboy Mouth, and she was the female lead.  It was the first time we worked together, and I saw immense talent in her.  Really, if you asked me who in the Buffalo theater scene could have ridden the rocket all the way to Hollywood, I would have told you that person was Tilke Hill.  Anyway, she said something to me about how I wasn’t pursuing my other interests at the time, which was true.  She saw no reason why I was still stage managing without also directing, acting, writing, etc.  She had great plans for us to do a show together, where we would act and direct ourselves-we picked The Kathy and Mo Show.  This didn’t work out, because…well you know when a person is in a toxic relationship, and they’ve got a friend who calls it out?  Tilke called it out to me.  The company we planned to perform with was a problem, and she saw it before I did. 

And, as the true friend, when I left that toxic situation, she was there to help pick me up, by asking me to do props and help her direct some scenes in a show at a different theater.  It is the last show I worked on, and to this day I don’t fully understand what it was about, but I do know that it showed me I didn’t need to be tethered to something that was holding me back.

I don’t know that I would have had these realizations without Tilke.

Now, I left the theater world, and when I did, I lost some friends.  It’s no one’s fault, just that life pulls you apart.  However, there are certainly people from the theater community that hold very special places in my heart, and Tilke was one of them.  These are people you always kind of hope you will work with again someday, and that’s how I felt about her.  I always thought, maybe someday, we can throw together Kathy and Mo and achieve a dream. 

But then, life…and death.  The sudden sucker punch that takes someone out of existence and leaves you feeling hollow and sad.  Sometimes in life, people come into your world for a brief moment and set it on fire, and when you sift through the ashes, you can find the real treasure. Tilke was that sort of person. What I would not give to be standing outside a bar in the cold, having one last cigarette, and practicing our Russian accents.

Rest in peace, my friend.

A Corona Christmas

Ok, first of all if you haven’t seen the cute thing I did to my website, please go click over there for a second.  I’ll wait.

See it?  That took two days and a half hour in a support chat.  Anyway…

Christmas is tomorrow.  I used to hate Christmas, and I really don’t know why.  It has always been the hardest part of the year for me, and still is, but the difficulties have lessened with time.  You would think it was because of the horrible Christmas in 2006 when my aunt Ka died, but no, this dislike started long before that, around the time I realized Santa was a sham.  But little things held me…like doing the whole Xmas thing for my sister when she was born in ’96.  I was 13 and already jaded about the holiday, but she made it fun again.  Then one day my therapist suggested I come up with a tradition to do each year that I could look forward to.  I think she meant like go buy yourself an ornament or make a special cookie, but I went all out and started cooking Christmas dinner every year for my family.  With the exception of the dinner during which Ka slipped into a coma, it has always been a joyous affair.

But that is nothing compared to Christmas Eve.

I have never had a Christmas Eve celebration without my Gram.  Every year she throws a party (save one year when she had back surgery and my aunt and uncle threw it instead.)  It is the best party of the year, as EVERYONE shows up.  My Gram has nine children, almost all of whom have kids, and some of those kids have kids.  Not to mention the cousins.  It’s an event, and one I anticipate every year with great joy.

Alas., Covid.

Now., first of all, my family knew that this year, Christmas was going to suck.  We knew it on March 16th, when my Poppa died.  It just won’t ever be the same, no matter how you spin it.  But then, another wrench thrown into the plans as a pandemic forces us apart.  My poor Gram

That’s all I can think of.  My Gram.

My other grandmother, Lois, died when I was 7.  She lived with us, and my Grandma Pat (henceforth and forever, just Gram) lived on the other side of town, so I didn’t see her much.  I do remember though that after Lois died, Gram became a little more present in my life…or maybe I just started developing more memories of her.  Either way, she was there, and I was grateful.  Especially after so hard a loss.

And now she has had probably the hardest loss of her life, her husband of damn near 70 years.

And, she has to cancel her Christmas party.  I would be beside myself.

So, this Christmas Eve looks very different, and it is the first one on which I will not be seeing Gram.  I am comforted by the fact she is coming to my dinner however, which is a much smaller affair than years previous, when I would invite anyone who didn’t already have plans. 

Usually, at this time on this day, I am rushing to finish last minute details.  But there are no cookies to bake this year.  The gifts have been purchased and wrapped for almost a month.  Cards sent some time ago.  I had much time on my hands this Christmas, so I got ahead of myself.  Now, all I have to do today is prep a casserole and make a coleslaw.  Then tonight I will be going to my parents to have a Christmas drink with them.  Then home, to bed, to anticipate the following day.

I think the reason I don’t dwell on the death of Ka on Christmas anymore is because of my family.  Not just my Gram, whom I adore, but my aunts and uncles and cousins who I get to see each Christmas, and it takes me back to when we were kids again.  But my family…they are the ones that were there when Ka left.  Take my aunt Mary…the night Ka died, she was right there, holding my hair back as I threw up my gourmet Christmas dinner at the news that Ka would be leaving us.  She stepped into that aunt role even deeper after Ka died, in the same way Gram did after Lois passed.  Or my cousin Katie.  We were best friends as kids, and grew apart in some ways, as people do when they get older.  But the night Ka died, she took Bern to her house and let her spend the night…she was there for my sister when I could not be.  These are just two people out of like 45, each of whom I have a story about illustrating their love.  I will miss them tonight.

But I look forward to tomorrow, which I something that in my youth I dared not dream of.  I look forward to opening presents with my parents and sister and husband.  I look forward to cooking dinner for Gram.  I’m even looking forward to my Christmas outfit, complete with…makeup!  Gasp!  (I gave up makeup for Corona the way you give up chocolate for Lent.)

Anyway, I wish you and yours a very Happy Holiday. Hold the people you love close to you, even if they are a world apart at the moment.  Love with your whole heart, and hope for a better tomorrow.

PS 920 words.  My finger is killing me.

The Love Remains

I’ve only really personally known one person that killed themselves.

(That’s a harsh way to start a post, huh?)

I’m not going to share his name, because we were only friends for a short time and because of that I somehow feel that his death is not really mine to mourn.  Still, when I logged onto Facebook one day and saw all our mutuals posting tributes on his wall, I cried.  I thought, as I’m sure everyone did, that if he had just reached out…maybe I could have done something.  But we weren’t close.  We worked together for a while, and I was his Secret Santa one year.  Hung out a couple times.  What could I have possibly done, except point him to a suicide hotline?  But maybe that would have been enough.  Who knows? 

(That was, completely coincidentally, the year I started doing the AFSP Out of Darkness Walk.  They read a list of names, and his was on it…I felt my heart drop to my shoe.) 

Last summer, I saw a guy in a crowd that looked like him.  For a second, I thought it was a ghost, that’s how close the resemblance was.  I remembered how I felt when he died…that I lost someone I once called “friend,” and felt powerless.  I don’t feel as powerless now.  I do the walk every year and raise funds to save lives, lives like his.  Lives like mine. 

That helps.

Anyway, after I saw this ghost it got me thinking of people in my life that I have lost contact with.  It’s a lot.  Like…a hell of a lot.  And it is all depression’s fault.  It went and convinced me these people didn’t really care about me in the way I cared about them and kept me from reaching out to maintain friendships that were important to me.  I thought to myself, that if one of these people committed suicide, I would be heartbroken.  I wanted people to know that despite my mental health keeping me from being present, the people I love will always be with me, and can always call on me when they need to.  So, I started sending messages.  About one a month, to people I loved and missed.  When I would see a meme or something that reminded me of someone, instead of just thinking “Gee, I miss so-and-so,” I would send it to them with a message. 

And so, I talked to my college buddies.  I had coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen for three years.  I reconnected with one of my besties from high school.  At Christmas, I sent messages to people I did Xmas shows with when I was in my teens.  I just so happened to message my middle school best friend the night before she got engaged.  Yesterday, I messaged a friend I haven’t seen in at least a decade AND my former therapist.  My point is that I tried to reach out, and good things came of it.

And…

I hope these people know.  I hope all the people I have ever met in my life know…that I am here.  If I loved you before, I have not stopped.  I wrote a play once, and the premise was that love, in all its forms, does not dissipate.  Take a relationship…you may break up, it may be awful, but you loved them once, and that love lives on in your subconscious whether you acknowledge it or not.  Or, someone you’ve had a falling out with…for instance, there is a woman that I’m pretty sure doesn’t like me.  And that’s fine.  She doesn’t have to.  We had a falling out many years ago, and I personally don’t think she’s ever forgiven me.  Again, that’s fine, it’s her prerogative.  Still, if she called me in a panic, I’d summon the part of me that used to be friends with her and run to her aid.  It’s just the kind of person I am, and why I believe that the love remains.

I do not give up on people.  It may seem that way at times, because I fall into depressive episodes that can last anywhere from an hour to five years.  I hate losing my people, be it to distance, time, or circumstance.  I will always, always be here.  Do not hesitate.  I don’t want to hear them read your name at the suicide walk, guys.

And also…maybe I just miss you.

My point is to reconnect.  To try to do something to maintain the relationships that mattered to you, even though the world seems to have gotten in the way.  And if you’re in a really dark place, all the more reason to reach out.  And if you need me, I’m here.

Just One Week

March 15th

I am sitting on the sofa watching the news when my cousin G comes in, the first of the girls to wake up after their sleepover.  She crawls under my blanket with me and puts her head on my shoulder.  I love my kiddos, but I have known G since she first arrived here on planet Earth and we have an inexplicable bond.  She watches the television as I sip my coffee.  A breaking news alert comes on, and it is Erie Executive Mark Poloncarz telling us there are three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our county.  G turns to me, tells me she is scared.  I reassure her that kids are mostly unaffected and she shouldn’t worry, but she clutches my arm and tells me no, she’s scared for me.  I tell her I am strong.  I will be fine.  In my head I am screaming, because I have diabetes, and that alone makes me high-risk.  Still, I am not that worried.

March 16th

I awake to a text from my sister.  “Are you up?”  It is barely 7am, and I already know in that moment what’s happened.  “Did mom call you?”  No, she did not.  I call her, and her phone is off.  I call dad, no answer.  At this point I am certain.  I text my father “What is going on???” and he calls me, finally.  “I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.”  Oh dad…I already knew.

When we got to my grandmother’s house, I did not think of Coronavirus for a single second. I ran right to my Gram and hugged her, and we sobbed together.  I hugged each of my grieving aunts and uncles.  I sat with my cousins and tried not to cry.

March 17th

Usually my favorite day of the year, when Mark said “Happy St. Paddy’s” to me, I shrugged.  I’d forgotten.

March 18th

I sat on the sofa watching the press conference about the virus and thought to myself, how on earth are we supposed to have a funeral?  Any idea of a lunch afterwards was ruined with the closing of all restaurants.  The funeral parlor said they would monitor the number of people at the wake.  However, there’s something like 38 people in my immediate family.  The church told us they could only service immediate family, though theoretically anyone could come in while it was open to “pray.”  I couldn’t help thinking that this was not what my grandfather deserved.

March 19th

My family was there. Several older people who knew Poppa showed up for quick visits.  There was hand sanitizer and wipes everywhere.  There were warning signs posted on the doors.  I, who hates wakes on principle, actually thought that it wasn’t as bad as I expected.  It was just a long, sad, worrisome day.

March 20th

At the funeral home, no one really spoke.  Everyone was sad.  It was very difficult for me, who does not deal well with such emotions and has a tendency to crack a lot of jokes to try to cheer people up.  Obviously, this was not the place.  We paraded across Seneca St. to St. Teresa’s church, and after we took our seats we were immediately told to move, to spread out amongst the church keeping 6 feet between us.  I took this opportunity to move towards the back where I was more comfortable.  I thought I would be sitting alone, but suddenly there was my sister, throwing herself into my arms and sobbing.  Listen, if one of us is going to get it, both of us are going to get it.  I will not begrudge my sister a hug after she was just a pallbearer for our grandfather.

I made a couple jokes to her in church to cheer her up, like pointing out the members of the fam who have clearly not been to Mass in a while.  She seemed to do a lot better carrying him out.

Instead of a luncheon, we threw a party at Gram’s house, despite the fact that we weren’t really supposed to.  The way my cousin Mick put it, we’ve all been around each other for the past two weeks while Poppa was sick, so if we’ve got it, we’ve got it.  It was relatively small given the big family, and was just my Gram, her kids, and their kids.  It was actually a lot of fun, as people had pretty much packed up their tears for the day and were reveling in the company of family.  I was stressed for a few hours when Gov. Cuomo announced that all non-essentials had to stay home, but then Mark texted me with “I’m essential” and I had a celebratory drink.

That night I went over to my dad’s to hang out with him and his brother Tim, and we drank and laughed and ate pizza.  I fell asleep thinking that maybe, in the end, it was the perfect sendoff for Poppa.

March 21st

Mark and I took a drive, to clear our heads and think of something other than illness and death.  Still, it lurked. It lurked in little moments when Poppa crossed my mind.  It lurked in 30 second news updates on the radio.  It lurked in my husband’s mind, who handles materials from China on a daily basis and has to take three buses to and from work.

March 22nd

Press conference tells me there are now 57 cases in my county.  That’s 54 in a week.  I think back to the previous Sunday, snuggling on the sofa with G, and I feel my heart grow heavy.  Last Sunday, we had our Poppa, still.  Last Sunday, we had our bravery, still. 

Just one week.

My grandmother, taking a swig of her husband of 70 year’s favorite drink.

It takes time.

Thirteen years ago, on the day after Christmas, my aunt Ka died.  It was sudden and unexpected.  She suffered a brief illness and then swiftly was gone, and it broke my heart.

On Saturday night, as Mark was showering and getting ready to go to my family Christmas party, I received word that his favorite aunt had passed, suddenly and tragically.  I had a few minutes with the news myself before he came out of the bathroom, and I struggled with what to say to him.  I remembered the morning after Christmas, 6am, when Sharon (my other mother) came in the door to find me sleeping on the sofa.  Mom was bereft.  Sharon was the one who told me Ka was gone.  She barely needed to say anything, really.  I already knew.  In the same way that my husband already knew when he came into the bedroom and I said “you need to call your mom.”

Mark went to the party anyways, and I don’t know how he did it.  He did pull me aside at one point and tell me that K seemed particularly sensitive to his feelings…she knew.  She was sitting beside me when he mother texted.  She made sure he got a hug every twenty minutes.  In the morning, we went to Tim Horton’s and she ordered two cookies.  I was about to give a heavy mom-speech about sugar when she turned to me and said “peanut butter are dad’s favorites.  That will cheer him up.”

I expected Mark to check out from life for a day or so as that is his usual MO when someone dies, but instead he went hard on the Dad thing.  He woke up and played video games with the girls, then put up their new beds and helped them set up their room.  He picked out a menu for a dinner they could make together, and we went to the store to get ingredients.  We returned to him watching the Bills game, and inviting Kevin over for dinner.  He then proceeded to make some amazing spaghetti and meatballs, and then whipped out the Monopoly board.  He tried to go to sleep early but couldn’t, so we ended up staying up late watching Knives Out (great flick) and then I went to bed.  I awoke this morning to find the whole house asleep…STILL asleep actually, it’s now almost noon.  So, I can only assume they stayed up watching movies after I went to sleep.

Mark said to me at one point that he just wanted to have a good weekend for his girls, and wanted to deal with the grief afterwards.  So of course, I expect some sort of meltdown at some point, but I don’t think it will be that bad, honestly.  I think that having his daughters around for this shocking and sad thing has really helped him.  We hardly ever have just the two of them, but I think the universe knew that’s who Mark needed right now and made it happen.  He would call this nonsense, but I have enough belief in the spiritual for the both of us. 

I was really sad on Saturday night.  I cried at the party maybe three times, and not because of his aunt, whom I have never met, but my own, whom I miss terribly.  Usually I function with the idea that she is away on a long missionary trip to the Philippines or something.  Sometimes the delusion wears thin, and that’s when the tears come.  Still, I think of everything she did for me, and everything she wanted for me, and how much she loved me, and I feel at peace.  But that took time.  I hope Mark gets there-I know he will.  But, it will take time.

Everything does.

Of Grief and Friendship

Hubs asked me a question that knocked me on my butt the other day.  “What were you doing at 23?”  I had literally no idea.  I couldn’t come up with one single thing that happened in 2006.  He knew where he was: “jumping.”  Jobs, women, substances, etc.  My sister Bernie is 23 today, and I wonder if 13 years from now she too will wonder what the hell she was up to.  Probably not.  She has a nice healthy brain that hasn’t been controlled for years by anti-depressants.

There’s some time I have lost.  I can’t pinpoint much of my twenties, not just 23.  I also have no recollection of third grade, which occurred right after my grandmother died. It’s not like the drugs I was using were recreational, aside from some occasional marijuana, and I was never a big drinker, so really I think I have to blame that old cocktail of trauma and psych meds.  I asked my mother what I was doing in 2006.

She told me that’s the year my aunt Ka died, and then the floodgates opened.

I handle death very well and very poorly at the same time.  Poorly in that when it’s someone very close to me, I will block out a lot of the time surrounding their passing.  I honestly don’t remember most funerals I have been to.  I also hate going to wakes, as they cause instant panic attacks.  On the other hand, someone will pass away and I will grieve quickly, which is nice. I unfortunately do this by picturing them on a sunny island somewhere for an extended period of time. 

Ka has been in the Philippines for 13 years.

I vividly remember the night she died.  It was Christmas day, and I had cooked dinner for my family.  She was in the hospital and it would be the first year she wasn’t with us, but I was going to go see her after dinner.  My parents called and said they wouldn’t be home in time and to eat without them.  It was strange.  Then after dinner, as I was serving dessert, Dad called and said to come to the hospital right away.  When we got there and he told me she was unresponsive and unlikely to make it through the night, I ran to the bathroom and threw up Christmas dinner.

That night Jaime and Molly and I went out for milkshakes.  They had a vigil the following day at the convent, as Ka was a Sister of Mercy (a nun, in laymen’s terms.)  My friend Katy sat next to me and held my hand.  The next night there was a wake.  I remember many of my friends coming and that got me through it, but I had a big panic attack beforehand.  Afterwards my friend Tom took me out to a party.  The following day was the funeral, and I sobbed over her coffin, then ran crying from the church.  I remember Christina, my best friend from youth, coming and sitting with me in the reception area during the Mass.  I had other friends around me as well.

The point is that my friends are the ones who got me though that, who made it so I could let go to the best of my abilities and send Ka off to the Philippines of my mind.  I went back into my LiveJournal to see what I was doing in 2006, and one thing is prevalent: friendship.  I was spending a lot of time with a lot of amazing people.

That was the year my aunt Mary and I went to New Jersey to meet Kevin Smith.  That was a year of many parties and Jackdaw concerts with Katy, Rick, and Tom.  The year me and Kev got acupuncture.  Endless Wednesday night get-together with Jaime, Andy, Molly, Chelsea, Steve, and Will.  Mad Yellow Sun concerts with Nick and Doug.  The list goes on.  The point is that I was at a low point and didn’t even realize it, and these people were there for me though it all.

Sadly, life, she moves on.  My friends are now scattered to the winds.  Andy and Christina live on different continents.  Katy, Will, Nick, and Doug live in different states.  The friends that I still have here have careers and families and lives to live, just like me, so it’s very hard to keep in touch, and eventually we all move on.

I put a meme on Facebook a while back about missing the bonds I used to have with people.  From that meme, I got an inside joke from my buddy Dennis, a message from Christina with plans to see each other when she’s next on this side of the planet, a coffee date with Chelsea, and plans to meet up with Lissa and Joe, my friends from college. 

Sometimes you just need to say “Hey-I miss your face.”

This is a weird post, as we went from death to friendship.  But what really gets us though death?  Our friends.  Sometimes our family can’t be there for us because they are grieving too, but our friends pick up that slack.  I blocked 2006 because of death, but I reopened that door while reading about my friends.  You, my random reader, don’t know these people, so you’re unaware, but trust me when I tell you that I have been very lucky in the good friend’s department.  They had the power to heal what was hurting in me when I didn’t even realize I needed to be healed.

I have been making a conscious effort to keep up with the people I love for the past few months.  Between my mother’s injury and my father’s radiation, I have been holding the people that matter a little closer, thinking of them a little more often, and trying to reconnect.  So, if you’re reading this and you’re an old friend of mine, please know I love you, and I miss you, and I will always be grateful for your place in my life. 

Call me.  Seriously.  Whenever.