Lessons in Death

My brother just died after a long battle with Cancer. Fucking Cancer.

Anyone that knew us knew we were polar opposites.
He was Republican – I am a Democrat
He had 4 kids – I have no biological kids
He was aligned to my Mom — I was aligned to my Dad
He watched horror movies — Me — NOPE!!
But we were still brother and sister and toward the end of his life we learned to put away our differences and found appreciation in common ground.

We even took a funny picture at my Dad’s funeral.
“Look Dad, your kids are getting along”


My mother took us all to Disney after my Dad died. It was probably one of the best weeks of my life. Jim and I had time to just hang out together and enjoy food and rides and the company of family.

Its a Small World Ride

Jon and I got married in May. My brother and my humor continued as you can see in the photo below.



My wedding May 27th, 2018.

When I knew his life was coming to an end, I started to text him. I realized there were so many things I didn’t know.
Here are a few out takes from our conversations —

His Favorite Bible Verse
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who calld you out of the darkness into his marvelous light 1 Peter 2:9

I asked him is favorite thing about each of his kids

Jackie – her humor
Jenny – her kindness
Jasmine – her humor
Colin – his thoughtfulness

The last text from him said “Thanks” in response from me texting him “Happy Birthday from the Bahamas”

Two days before he passed I did a Facebook Video call to tell him goodbye. (thank you Kris)
I’m sad I didn’t get to hold his hand or put my hand on his cheek in those final hours — but at least I got to say goodbye.

I know he is in a better place, with those we loved that passed before us.

RIP Jim.




A Star is Born

A Star is Born, what a beautiful story that was all too close to my own. For me the becoming a star was my launch from working in the theater (backstage) to having a very successful career in IT. And, having Charley get so jealous and resentful of me when I got my job at Microsoft. And, my loyalty to him — even through the cruelty, addiction, and his recovery.

The one tiny detail they nailed, and probably went unnoticed, was the dog. The dog was sitting outside of the garage when Bradley Cooper’s character killed himself.

When I found Charley. Lucy and Thelma were laying right next to him. After he was gone, Lucy would sit by the door and watch for him. It was heartbreaking.

I feel it’s important to tell these stories — to not sweep feelings under the rug. I know this kind of story is not what people want to read on a sunny Sunday morning.

It’s made me who I am today…which is someone that stands up and lives her truth. I just wish there was a way for others to get to this place without having to go through this kind of life altering event.

A poem after the loss of my father

My grief lives in little boxes.

I put them up on a shelf

Like gifts to revisit

But the gifts bring pain

Sometimes I can choose when to open them

And other times they are like that surprise that shows up on your doorstep

The unwelcome guest that no matter how many times you tell them you are not interested in what they have to offer…they keep coming back

Some of the gifts are worn, dusty, old

Others still have their shine, their newness, the luster that attracts me to pick them up, examine them, hold onto them for a while.

How much would I love to replace the gift on the shelf with one more cup of coffee

One more late night piano concert

One more story

One more hug or kiss.  One more I love you

How is it we never learn

Never talk about this pain

How much more can my heart take?  How does one continue to live…

Funny how something that has caused me so much pain…I call a gift

My gifts have names

John
Jared
Barbara
Cindy
Myrtle
Peter
Lily
Mike
Charley
Bruce

Each one of these lives had impact.  Big or small.  And they will always be remembered in my heart.

My first Christmas as a Widow

Originally posted on Socci.com December 27th, 2015

I could have made various choices on how to spend my Christmas holiday. I decided to spend it mostly alone. I did go to a co-worker’s house for Christmas eve and that was a nice time. Christmas day was quiet. I had been binge watching a series and I watched the last 2 episodes Christmas morning. Around 2pm I decided to go out. I went to see the movie “Joy” and went out to eat…nothing fancy. Just food.

I felt it was just what I needed to do this year. Norma posted a youtube video on her Facebook page that Charley made a few Christmas ago. I looked at a few more of his videos, and had a good cry. When I think of the Charley I miss, I miss who he was at the beginning of our relationship…before things became so twisty and complicated. I believe his is at rest now. He deserves to peace he only had for moments at a time living on this earth.

Charley’s Eulogy

Originally posted on Socci.com November 14th, 2015

Charley spent his life surrounded by Leo’s.  His mother was a Leo, the mother of his children is a Leo, his daughter is a Leo, I’m a Leo, and we even have a dog named Leo.

Charley was a beautiful, brilliant, and complicated man.  Musician, IT guru, HAM radio operator, star gazer, and photographer.

When Charley shared his music, he was sharing his soul.

Right or wrong he was raised by his mother to believe that his lot in life was to take care of his older brother Joey, who had Down’s syndrome.  I am told he had a very special bond with his brother, his first CD was labeled For Joey.  I believe I saw a glimpse of that when he met my cousin Todd, who also has Down’s syndrome.
He was so tender, so understanding, so gentle.

When Charley was in High School he met Jackie McLean.  He would go to Jackie’s house in Hartford and take private lessons.  He looked to Jackie as a father figure. He continued his music studies at the Hartt School of Music.  Hoping to take his music to the next level, he bought a tiny studio apartment in New York City.  He didn’t stay there…he ended up back in CT.  His brother died, and he knew it was time to make his own life.

Part of that life included meeting Hedy, with whom he had two amazing kids…Alex and Norma.  Alex inherited Charley’s musical talent and Norma inherited his brilliant mind and we are so proud of her for getting accepted to UConn.  Charley wished he could have spent more time with and done more for them.  He loved you both deeply…hold onto that.

The other part of that life included going to IT school and then moving back to NYC.  That is where we met.  We spent over a month and 100 emails back and forth before actually meeting in person. Yes, we were an online dating success story. I will never forget the first time we met, how beautiful and deep his eyes were.  I worked in the theater at the time and used to make dates between shows because I would always have an excuse to leave to go back to work.  On my first date with Charley, I was late getting back to work.  We went on 2 more dates that same week and were inseparable after that.  Because I had my days free for the most part.  I would spend Friday afternoons with him at his job…this is where he introduced me to the world of IT.
We spent the first 3 ½ years of our marriage in that tiny apartment 365 square feet, 1 square foot for every day of the year.
We would have been married for 12 years next Feb…on what would have been his 50th Birthday.

And now I would like to continue with words of his own.  Published in 2009 on his blog.

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I’ve posted this before. I keep returning to it – and it never fails to remind me how deep and complex we are. It is so easy to trivialize, to label, to stereotype… and we forget that each of us was once somebody’s child. We’re not cartoons. We’re not liberals and conservatives. Inside each of us lives a child who longs to be understood.

Years ago when I first met my wife, she gave me a copy of a beautiful story.

I was anxious to share everything there was to share about myself – and I wanted her to know everything about me – both the good and the bad.

We spoke about things like regret and we also spoke about forgiveness. We spoke about what it means to lose yourself and lose your way.

I long for a community like the one in this story. I long for love and support of those who remind me when I’ve lost my way and help me find the real me whom I forgot.

How many of us could benefit from hearing our song sung to us when we’ve lost our way? How many of us sometimes need to be reminded who we truly are?

The Song of A Life

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she
goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child.

They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses
its unique flavor and purpose.

When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud. Then they
return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child’s
song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child’s song.

When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the
people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song.

Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family
and friends gather at the person’s bed, just as they did at their birth,
and they sing the person to the next life.

In the African tribe, there is one other occasion upon which the
villagers sing to the child.

If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or
aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the
village and the people in the community form a circle around them.
Then they sing their song to them.

The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when
you have forgotten it.

Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or
dark images you hold about yourself.

They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness
when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your
purpose when you are confused.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song
to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not.

When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and
when you feel awful, it doesn’t.
– Author Unknown

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Charley had the opportunity to go to The Democratic Republic of Congo when he worked for the International Rescue Committee.  He loved the people he met there and the experience he had.  While he worked at the IRC he attended Columbia University where he earned his Master’s in IT Management.  He used those skills to start his own IT consulting firm when we returned to CT in 2011.

Unfortunately in these last few years in CT Charley lost his way.  Instead of having someone to sing his song, he was met by a chain of events that triggered the deepest and darkest voices that he battled with since he was a child.

He also spoke of how alone he felt, how his family was gone.  His Brother, Father Peter, who he was just starting to have a relationship with again before he passed away, and Mother Lily were gone.  Reminding him that I and his kids were still here failed to console his grief.

So while I am going to miss him, miss listening to him play…at random…a string of songs on the piano.  Or the Bach Cellos suites as a method of practicing his saxophone.

Or seeing how excited he would be over a new QSL card from a new country he contacted via his HAM radio.  How happy he was when he had a good night playing with Other Orchestra in Hartford.  And just sitting out on our deck watching the planes go by and tracking where they were going with an app on our phone and dreaming of the trips we could take when we were old.  …or star gazing at night.

I am going to take peace that he is with all of those he loved that went before him and the struggles of this mortal coil are over.  Charley liked to say that we are all made of stardust.  I swear there is a new bright star in the sky.

The Funeral

Originally posted on Socci.com November 13th, 2015

The kids and I did some of the planning together. We went to the funeral home together and picked out the various things, the urn, the prayer cards, etc. Hedy and Norma had suggested doing the funeral itself at the Deep River Congregational Church…honestly at first I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have a formal funeral. We were not church going people, even though we both did believe in God…we are more of the spiritual/we are made of stardust kind of folks. but, after such an outcry of attention from friends and family near and far…I decided to go ahead. Norma and I met with the minister to plan the service. Tim Haut, the minister, was amazing. We planned the service a few weeks out so that Hedy (the kids Mom) could be there.

I choose a few entries from Charley’s blog to be read. Invictus was read by our friend Rex Denton, and A Letter from Rudyard Kipling was read by Charley’s step-sister Linda Compton.

And there was music. Tony Sherr played “Peace of Mind” and Alex Nakhimovsky, Frank Lombardo, and Rex Denton played Ave Maria and another selection that seemed to be a mashup of Charley’s music. They were all incredible.

I made it through giving the eulogy. and other friends had some lovely words to say about Charley.

Norma gave a heart wrenching speech of how unfair and unfinished she feels about her Dad’s death. Very honest and very on point. I am proud of her courage for getting up and being honest about how much this just sucks.

We ended the service singing “this little light”. It was something Charley had been playing a lot in the last month he was alive. All the guys got up and played. It reminded me of the New Orleans mummer parade. It was absolutely beautiful.

The Days Between

Originally posted on Socci.com November 11th, 2015

Between the day Charley died and the day he was cremated I took off work.  I am so very lucky to have a job and manager that supports me during this time.  I spent most of that week in shock.  I can look back at it now and realize that is what it was.  Along with having to pass the news to people, plan the funeral/cremation/memorial.

Charley had been attending meetings and was gone most evenings. So around 9-10 PM every evening I would think he was going to walk in the door.  Then when I reminded myself he was not, I would go to bed.

The hardest things that week was watching Lucy grieve.  I think at this point she knows he’s not coming back.  But for awhile she sat by the front door, or in the yard looking down at the HAM radio antennas.  Like Charley was going to emerge from the lower part of the yard and hang out with her.

Lucy Waiting

My neighbors are incredible.  My KIA decided to not start the moment I was suppose to head to the funeral home.  So I jumped into Charley’s Volvo and went to the funeral home.  My neighbor, who is good with cars, jumped it, took it to the auto parts store, and put a new battery in it.

My other neighbors brought me food, every night for awhile until I told them to stop.  I had forgotten to cancel my Blue Apron delivery so I had a box of food fit to prep 3 meals for 2…with 0 motivation to cook.  I also received 2 huge fruit baskets.  I finally juiced the oranges and grapefruit for a delicious drink, and cut up the apples and pears and made a “crisp” dessert out of them.

Grieving is such a process…like an ocean…sometimes calm and other times the waves just hit you and knock you to the ground…and it’s OK.

Attending the Cremation

Originally posted November 11th, 2015

I started to watch a YouTube channel called “Ask the Mortician” This was before Charley died.

She had started out as a crematory worker, and I am finding out this is how most people start their funeral director life.

So, I knew I could be there when Charley’s body was cremated.

I thought I would either be scarred for life or it would help with closure.

When a body is cremated in the State of CT you don’t have to embalm the body if there will be no showing. I was glad because I knew Charley didn’t want to be embalmed. I don’t either. The body has to be in a container. In this case its a wood base and cardboard box. They use cardboard tubes under the container to help roll the container into the oven. I hate calling it the oven. Anyway, Alex joined me to watch the container being placed inside. I had a rose placed on top and that was the only   smell that came over me The crematory itself is a small building with a reception area that has a desk and a few comfy chairs. There is a large glass window and behind the window where the bodies are cremated. So they have the container in place and raise the curtain so you can see it being placed inside.

Then they close the door to the oven and close the curtain. I was told that I could stay so I did. The gals were so nice to me. We talked about how the gals choose this for a profession. About other losses. Then she told me she was going to “move his body” and did I want to see. I said yes. I braced myself as she opened the curtain again and then opened the door. I looked inside as she very gently moved his skeleton forward. The flames were hot white and orange. The most prominent thing I could still see was his spine and ribs. His spine looked so strong. The bones pure white. Peace came over me in the most comforting wave. She closed the door and I was ok. I decided to open up YouTube and played one of Charley’s videos and cried. She opened the door 2 more times and each time there was less to see and at the end it was just glowing embers. It looked like a field of stars. It was peaceful and beautiful. They rake the cremains into a container and then process them. The cremains go into a bag that has the medallion the body was cremated with attached to it. Then they go into the urn. The urn was warm when they gave it to me. I placed him on the passenger seat and took the scenic way home. I felt much better once I had his remains back home.

The Day my life changed forever

Originally posted on Socci.com November 10th, 2015

it was Sunday morning. Charley and I had been sleeping in separate rooms for over a year at this point. This habit started out of conflict and then became habit as I found I slept better alone. Well, thank goodness that is not a transition I had to make after becoming a widow.

but I digress….

it was Sunday. I woke up and decided I should let Lucy out first, many times I would let Lucy “sleep in” with Charley.

Then, I saw what no spouse should have to go through. At first it didn’t register with me, the dogs were on the bed and Charley looked strange. He didn’t stir like he usually would when I went to get the dogs. I noticed he wasn’t breathing, then I noticed he was cold, ice cold.

I can’t tell you how many thoughts ran through my head. I had found Charley OD’ed on psych meds in 2008 but was able to bring him round that time.

I called 911.

I knew he was all ready gone.

They still tried to revive him.

Then more police and firefighters came…the poor young volunteers that had probably never seen a dead body before.

It took 4 hours before they finally took his body to the ME office.

And then I was alone, and I had to start making phone calls.

It’s one thing when it is your own pain, your own despair,

but when you have to tell someone that their friend, father, son-in-law, died. you change their life forever too.

And it sucks.