A Few Good Laughs

Remembering my mom, one day at a time.

Talk to Me

I just realized that I never linked to my “latest” post over at The Equals Record. Oops. 

It appeared over a month ago, but please take a look here, if you’re so inclined. I wrote about my daily conversations with my mom, and even after 900+ words and over a year of thinking about it, I don’t really have the words to express how much I miss them. Sometimes it feels like I’m missing a limb, when I remember I can’t call her. Like I said, I don’t have the right words.

In other news, it’s finally spring (yippee!) and one of my new pieces is going to be included in print (again!) as part of Equal’s next print edition. I can’t lie - I’m really proud. I’ll make sure to post more information here - in a timely manner, of course -  when I have it.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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Making Mistakes

Talk about under the gun.

I eeked out my latest Equals Record piece, while in Florida last week, with about 30 seconds to spare. I hit “submit” around 1 am, after furiously writing for most of the day. I’ve been busy traveling for work and play again lately, and it’s hard to fit everything in, as hard as I try.

Speaking of travel, we were in Rochester this past weekend, celebrating what would have been my mom’s 71st birthday. A group of us spent the afternoon on Saturday cleaning out my mom’s closets and drawers, sorting through 40-something years of belongings in a matter of hours. My mom’s cousin Barb and my great-aunt Lena ordered us all around, for which we were especially grateful. It’s funny what we all hold onto, or more precisely, what we can’t bear to part with. For me, it was a few of my mom’s nightgowns. Old and outdated, Pat might consider divorcing me if I climbed into bed wearing one, but into my pile they went. My Aunt Lena took a rosary, Barbara asked for a pile of silk scarves, and Nikki saved my mom’s pink bathrobe, her “honey,” as we referred to it. Beth really only wanted a jewelry box, something that Rachael played with on countless occasions, when she and Mimi hung out upstairs together. Jen saved my mom’s costume jewelry for the kids, putting it aside for dress-up in the years to come. Meg found a simple bag she had stitched herself, most likely in Home Ec class some 25 years ago. 

We spent the rest of the weekend running around after 6 kids (ranging in age from 5 months to 7 years old), celebrating over chicken parm (and yes, it was delicious - even my gluten-free version), attempting to bowl, and appreciating every single moment together. 

I’m including some outtakes from the weekend. And again, the link to my latest Equals Record piece, should you be so inclined.

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Both Sides

Oh, hey there! Just popping in quick, to direct the few of you who still check out this little tumblr site (thanks for that, by the way!), to my latest Equals Record piece. My inspiration came from a feeling that in some ways, maybe I’ve only been telling one side of my mom’s story - the good side, that is - which, of course, is how I want to remember her. But, life is messy, and even more than that, full of unexpected twists and turns. I want to make sure I record it all. Take a look here, if you’d like. 

I’m off to Florida tomorrow, for work first, and then some play (with this lovely friend of mine). I hope there is plenty of sunshine ahead for us all.

Source: unknown via Alison on Pinterest

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December

Well. Once again, it’s been awhile. This seems to be a reoccurring theme, prompting a resolution for 2013: to visit this space more often. A lot has happened since I was here last, so much so that I think a list is in order:

1) I wrote two new pieces for The Equals Record, the first of which was inspired by our first Thanksgiving without my mom - and more importantly, the food that she cooked and created a family with. Take a look here.

2) We celebrated my parents’ anniversary. December 7th, D-Day, would have been their 44th wedding anniversary. My dad was surprisingly upbeat when I talked to him that day, and my family (sans me) acknowledged the day with a dinner at my sister Meg’s house, to also celebrate her boyfriend Mark’s 40th birthday.

3) And speaking of Meg and Mark, they got engaged! Mark surprised her by dropping to one knee in front of family and friends at a second birthday dinner in his honor (you only turn 40 once). In typical fashion, they already have a date, a venue, 2 officiants, 6 flower girls and ring bearers, 6 bridesmaids/groomsmen apiece, and a dress (for Meg, that is). How bittersweet it is, to be planning their big day without my mom, but how lucky we are to be surrounded by family and friends who insist on being involved. What could have been a sad day for Meg, trying on dresses without my mom, turned into a party, as 6 of our cousins (ranging in age from 13 to 70) joined us for shopping and lunch.

4) Nikki celebrated a birthday on December 10th, and I followed her two days later. I wrote the second of my two new Equals Record pieces in the wake of my birthday - take a look here.

5) Christmas. Oh, Christmas. I don’t even know where to start. I guess I could start by telling you how we decorated my dad’s house after Thanksgiving, trying desperately to replicate my mom’s decorations from years past; or about the decision to open gifts at my sister’s house on Christmas morning instead of at my dad’s, a change close to 40 years in the making and fraught with more than a little sadness; or about decorating cut-out cookies with my sister and brother-in-law a few days before Christmas, taking care to remember my mom with more than one inappropriately colored cookie (a yellow tree! a green star!), driving Mike to drink in the process; or about singing Go Tell it on the Mountain with Rachael at Christmas Eve mass, laughing at the choir’s song selection and missing my mom so much it hurt; or about Christmas Eve with the Bradys and feeling more grateful than ever for traditions; or about waking up at my dad’s house on Christmas morning, and how, for the first time in 34 years, my mom wasn’t puttering around downstairs, brewing coffee and putting the final touches on Christmas; or about a moment I’m not proud of an hour later, erupting at my dad as he sat unshowered at the kitchen table, writing out checks for all of us when he should have been dressed and ready to go; or finally, about watching my nephew open gift after gift and seeing the pure joy on his face, reserved mostly for my husband and anything truck/train/helicopter related, and realizing once again that everything was going to be ok.

It’s been a hell of a year, and one I wouldn’t relive for anything. The good news, of course, is that there’s only one direction we can go from here. And so I say, bring it on, 2013. But, first, some pictures (I’m alischramm on Instagram - come follow along!).

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The Faithful

Where oh where does the time go? Once again, it’s been weeks since my latest post was published over at The Equals Record. I was nervous about this piece, wondering if anyone would misinterpret what I wrote. It’s certainly a possibility when you start putting your inner-most thoughts and feelings on public display, even in this very small corner of the internet. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: my friends, all of them, make my world a better place. I’m really not so sure where I would be today without each and every one of YOU. So, I’ll say it again and again: thank you, my friends.

I’m back in New York, after a week in Rochester for Thanksgiving. We made it through our first big holiday without my mom, and I’m still processing my thoughts on that. But, for now, because this is my blog after all, I’m leaving you with a gratuitous photo dump of these friends of mine. Love.

Brookie’s wedding

Berkshires crew

Sam turns 1!

Syracuse + Katie

The best ones

We love you Samburs!

Wine “tasting”

These two

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Four Feet

My latest post is up - or I should say, has been up - at The Equals Record. This story makes me smile, mainly thinking about my mom ending up with bird poop on her sweater during the NYC marathon. To this, I’m sure she would roll her eyes and say, as she always did when my sisters and I were poking fun at her, “You all are going to miss me when I’m gone.” She was right, of course.

I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately, partially because of an insane travel schedule and partially because, sometimes, it’s not an easy thing to do. Writing, that is.

But today, as we brace ourselves inside, waiting for the wrath of Hurricane Sandy to materialize, I’ve settled in to write a bit. Coming off a beautiful week in California, celebrating one of my oldest and dearest friend’s weddings, I have words inside me again. I’ll be back here soon, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of our trip. For all of my friends and family on the East Coast, stop looking at the torrential rain and wind outside your windows immediately, and look at these instead:

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Never Forget

My latest post is up at The Equals Record. This wasn’t the story I originally set out to write. I tried, for days, to write about Pat and I celebrating our first wedding anniversary after the year we’ve had. I wanted so badly to write this story - to make some sense of how it felt to celebrate the past year, when the truth is this year has really been an exercise in surviving, not celebrating. It struck me, as I tried to write this story, that my parents would have celebrated their 44th anniversary in December. 44 years. An eternity.

I put that story aside, instead writing about one of my mom’s many pearls of wisdom. I don’t know what it says about my writing process, or my connection to certain memories, but that story - albeit a short one - flowed freely from me. No hesitation, no rewrites.

My sister and I took Hudson to Wickham Farms in Penfield this weekend. As he rode the kiddie train ride, smile wide, Meg quietly pointed to one of the fathers standing nearby. It was the palliative care doctor who took care of my mom in her last few hours. I didn’t even know what palliative care was until that day. The last time I saw him he was wearing a suit and lab coat, stethescope in hand. I almost didn’t recognize him, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, but Meg doesn’t forget a face.  I try not to think about the last time I saw him, truthfully. My mom would hate to be remembered that way; she would “kick our asses” (her words) if we dwelled on the end. So, instead I write about all the stories that make up the middle. Big and little moments that define, for me, who my mom was.

My amazing yoga teacher Amanda often plays music in class that first makes me cry, and then makes me go home and immediately download it (Pat would call this an immediate gratification problem). Today’s class was no different.  I didn’t recognize the song or the artist at first, but I did hear the refrain, over and over. Please remember me. It has played on repeat tonight, as I write. I think about how my mom would like to be remembered, and hope that I’m making her proud.

Go take a listen and then, I hope, tell your family how much you love them.

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Mimi

My latest post is up at The Equals Record. It was a doozy, this one, or as my sister referred to it, gut-wrenching. There has been a lot of uncertainty lately - ups and downs, ins and outs - both for me and some of my nearest and dearest. It’s been a tough few weeks, and Pat, ever upbeat, told me that everything is going to be ok. We’ll be ok, he said - and Jen, on bed rest, will be ok. And he’s right, of course. But then, I wonder, what about my mom? Is she ok? As a Catholic, I’m supposed to believe that she’s gone home. She’s with my grandparents, aunts and uncles - so many who left us before her. Another conversation from those long days in the hospital comes back to me in this moment. One of my mom’s best friends, who herself lost her mom at a young age, told us that it’s always hardest on those who are left behind. “This isn’t hard on your mom,” Kay told us. It made me pause, that thought, and still brings me some comfort as I ponder these elusive questions.

But then, I think about all the moments my mom is missing here, and I wonder how she can be ok, wherever she is. She had so much more life in her; so much more that she had planned to do. I realize I sound like a petulant 5-year-old, but it’s just not fair.

But as we all know, life is not fair. If it were, my mom would be at my sister’s house right now, helping get the new baby’s nursery ready, laughing at Hudson’s toddler antics, cooking dinner, and simultaneously keeping us all on track through this rough patch. Instead, we wake up each day with our “What Would Janice Do” mantra, and do our best to move forward with the memories. Day by day by day.

I’m really proud of the words I found to write about my grandma and my mom. In the midst of some of the hardest days I’ve encountered, those words remind me of just how lucky I am.

Image by Melange Photography, via

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Reaching

I am admittedly an open book; or, as Pat likes to say, I have no poker face. But beneath my public statements about how NYC drives me crazy on most days, how I have little to no sense of a “budget,” and how I’m scared about what Romney means for the future of America, lay a few deep, dark secrets. We all have them, don’t we? For years, this secret - my biggest fear, really - was the thought of losing my mom. It made me lie awake some nights, that thought. And when I got the call from my sister on February 14th, Valentine’s Day nonetheless, that my mom was suddenly non-responsive after spending the day in the emergency room with kidney stones, this fear bubbled over.

So, it’s safe to say that even before I was faced with the reality of losing my mom, I thought about the possibility. I played games with myself, with God even, about how much longer I might have with her. As the youngest of three, and with parents who started having children later in life, I’ve felt cheated in this regard, knowing that I would most likely lose my parents before most of my friends. I just never imagined it would be now.

I remember distinctly a story that my mom’s friend Mary Jo told during those long days in the hospital. She said that just a few months earlier, around Christmas time, she and my mom were talking about the holidays. My mom must have been telling her what we had planned - the family gatherings, the gifts for Hudson - and even in the midst of all the fun and festivities, she told Mary Jo it just wasn’t the same since her mom died. I remember feeling the weight of that story - of my mom’s admission - and the realization that it doesn’t matter how old you are, it’s never a good time to lose your mom.

*Christmas*

I had this sense, for the first month or so after my mom died, of reaching. Reaching out to family and friends to fill the gaping hole that my mom had left. I felt in limbo, not sure who to share the various minutia of my day with. Who really cared what I had made for dinner? Who wanted to know where I decided to store my wedding china? My minute-by-minute plans for a Saturday afternoon?

My nephew, the light of our eyes for the past two years, and especially the last six months, turned two a few weeks ago. There was a party, and cake, and gifts, of course. But there was a moment at his party that stuck with me, beyond the Thomas & Friends cupcakes or the basketball hoop that the adults had more fun with than the intended 2-year-old recipient. Hudson, smiling and laughing all day, surrounded with the people he knows and loves best, took a tumble, as toddlers do. My brother-in-law, one of the best fathers I know, reached him first, picking him up for a big hug and the reassurance that he was ok. Still crying, Hudson’s first instinct was to reach for my sister. For mom. I teared up, understanding how he felt.

I spent the majority of this past weekend on the couch, fighting a summer cold, and watching the Olympics, as Pat played poker with the guys. As I moved aimlessly through the day, the urge to call my mom felt stronger than it had in months. My subconscious failed me repeatedly, allowing me to reach that dangerous area where for a split-second, you’re not entirely sure of reality. How quickly I rebounded each time – and how crushed I was as I remembered.

*Happy*

I always wonder what my mom might say to me in these darker moments. Would she utter her most pragmatic – and quite hilarious, really – advice, “Life’s a bitch and then you die”? Or would she sit down next to me on the couch, rubbing my leg like she did, and tell me to take it one day at a time?

I suppose I might never stop reaching for her. In hindsight, perhaps she never stopped reaching for her own mom. But, when I read this, I think maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through.  It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”


- Ann Lamott

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Things

My latest post is up over at The Equals Record. I feel especially protective about this story, as it’s not just about my mom and my personal journey, but it’s also about Pat. About losing his dad at such a young age, and the ways our lives inexplicably change in the blink of an eye. 

Pat could teach us all a thing or two. He’s not perfect - his cooking skills and his patience could be improved on any given day - but he certainly knows about loss, and especially, the choices we have in life after such a loss. His very pragmatic view is that we typically have two choices when faced with adversity, struggle, or loss. We can wallow in it, and wonder why our lot in life is so shitty, or we can learn from it. We can pick ourselves up by our bootstraps - make lemonade out of lemons, if you will. And the thing is, he’s actually done that since his dad died. His father’s interest in personal investing and the small inheritance he realized when his dad died led him to pursue a career in finance. So, he moved to New York with a dollar and a dream, and after years of hard work, long nights, and weeks of eating nothing but pizza and canned tuna, he’s more than on his way.

I can only hope to honor my mom’s legacy the way he does his dad’s.

Image via Pinterest

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