The Next Big Thing

As I sit by his side, watching his chest, waiting for movement (validation that he is still breathing) my senses are alive. I hear his elder mother sing gospel hymns softly; hymns that she has known for 80 or more years. I feel his calloused dry hand in mine becoming colder. It seems that it is already lifeless. I am close to his head and smell the foul, dry breath that comes out of his mouth. I kiss his forehead as a reminder that we are still here with him. As she heads for the door, his wife speaks, “I’m going to have a cigarette.”

“No, mama,” I say strongly. “Stay here. Come sit next to me. It is time.”

I have been watching, observing. We have been waiting for death for days and the pattern of breathing I have come to know has changed in the last minutes. Somehow I know that if she leaves now she will regret it. She looks at me half surprised I gave her such a command and half questioning what “time” I allude to. Our eyes connect and she now understands as I begin to taste the tears running down my face. She comes to his side and takes my seat next to him. She begins to sing some song I have never heard about her baby’s eyes or his baby’s eyes maybe something blue eyes. I can’t follow as she barely sings. I am still holding his hand. His mother switches from hymns to prayers, naming her God in every way she can as if by doing so her son will be carried away by a group of Deities to Heaven. “Dear Jesus, Holy Lord, Heavenly Father, O Lord, Our Lord, Father in the Promised Land.”

The three of us hold vigil as his weak body seizes up to take its last breath. Exhale.

Pause.                             I close his eyelids.

There is something incredibly humbling and beautiful poignant to witness someone that you care for take their last breath. When you accompany someone through their end of days, it is not something you ever forget.

I had the opportunity to help take care of Tony for a few years before he died. He actually lived with us for over a year from the time when he could barely walk to the time when we could no longer properly care for him. During this time and while he was under hospice care, I fed him, I gave him his medicine, even awkwardly changed his diaper a couple of times. I would sit and watch endless reruns of Law and Order with him.

Much like death there are times in our lives that demand help from others; sometimes just to be a witness and testament to whom we are and what we represent.  It is during the most difficult times, usually at the end of a chapter, when we are in the greatest need of an escort. And, we are all in need of escorts; someone to hold our hand, to plead for our soul’s happiness, to sing a love song, to remind us that they are still there, with us, escorting us to the next big thing.  

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20 Things That I Love

daughters – a decade ago

My daughters, although they do not belong to me. They have their own thoughts and their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.

Music that makes me wiggle.

The smell of fresh cut grass.

Waking up without the need for an alarm clock and to the smell of fresh brewed coffee in the morning.

Being employed in a position that I value with a mission I believe.

Almost anything Italian.

#15 Via Istria, Longare, Italy – my childhood home

Dancing like nobody is watching.

Receiving surprise packages and hand written notes in the mail.

Hydrangeas. I love that they change colors depending on their environment and always deliver a beautiful overflow of petals.

karaoke with colleagues

My colleagues (most of them). They make special event soundtracks for our team with songs like, “Hold On” and “Say What You Need To Say” to get us through the tough days. They will show up with water guns and bubbles to break up the rough spots. They are not opposed to sumo wrestling or paintball as mandated fun and will sing on cue and when needed during a conference call and still manage to get things done.

Making the amount of money I need to survive and living within my means.

Walking through my front door after returning home from a trip. It feels like I am giving myself a giant hug.

The writings of Kahlil Gibran. They make more sense to me than any religious book ever did.

Baby laughter. The sweetest sound.

Brayden laughing

Studying positive psychology. Makes me happy. Go figure.

Relationships that include mutual respect, gratitude, helpfulness, Individuality, humility, humor, loyalty, drive and adaptability.

Making homemade pizza and drinking wine with people I love.

Strong, competent, intelligent female friends.

Bali, Indonesia – pic I took from monastery

Discovering new cultures.

My pursuit of happiness.

5 Epic Cruise Lessons

I have returned from my recent cruise to the Bahamas and I am skeptical about the “fun” people are having on these fun ships. I must admit, my cruise was unique; even the news covered it. (News4Jax coverage of Cruise) Here are some lessons learned, although I am not sure how epic they really are.

#5 – If you want to smuggle something in or blow something up, do it on a cruise. One of the screening checks on the way in consisted of the security gate inspectors sticking his head into our shuttle van and asking us if we had any weapons. Ummm…..no…??? On the way out, I was not checked nor charged for the numerous over the limit duty-free vodka in my bags. Security is not secure on cruise ships. Just sayin’.

#4 – Free is not always good. I am truly disgusted by the amount of people that appear to go on cruises simply for the all you can eat 24/7 food options…buffet, sit down, room service. Just because it is free, does not mean it is good for you. The average stomach is the same size as your fist. People were walking to their tables with 2 or more plates of food piled high with 3-4 times the amount of food portions that should be digested; so unhealthy. I think my sister said it best, “I’m no health nut, but there are some pretty disgusting things happening on this boat.” The physical trainer I spoke with told me that the average cruiser gains 7-14 pounds during one trip. Holy cannoli! I don’t want to be average.

#3 – All people puke sometimes. Most people puke on rocking boats. For about 27 hours, the cruise was almost like a scene from the Titanic. I believe it possible that the boat may have been attacked by a family of giant squids. People were injured…one lady knocked out cold after a fall down the stairs, a few people on crutches, some lady in a wheelchair got beat up pretty bad. Remember all that free food that people gorged themselves on? Yeah. Want to guess how that turned out? The ship rocking closed the gift shops as items were falling off of shelves and breaking. The bar was closed temporarily as all of the glasses fell to the ground. Shows were cancelled because it was impossible to stand upright for any period of time. Waves were coming up over the ship and flooded rooms in the front and the back of the boat. Electricity actually went out in these sections of the boats. People were sea-sick; they were sick from other people puking and probably scared sick. I stayed tipsy and that seemed to work well.

#2 – Land Sickness is real. Seriously. I am sick today (2 days home) and have the tendency to bump into things because I am dizzy.  I was not sick on the boat despite the 40 foot waves and 70+ mph winds (Big Waves and Wind), but apparently land is not such a good thing for me this week. How does that happen? It’s a condition coined Mal de Debarquement Syndrome literally translated as “sickness of disembarkment”. No bueno.

#1 – My family is fabulous. (a.k.a. Being in 40 foot waves brings clarity.) Okay – so this is not really a lesson, more of a reaffirmation. The majority of my recent extended family interactions have been good examples of the definition that urban dictionary provides, “A bunch of people who hate each other and eat dinner together.” (except we haven’t had dinner together in forever). I am unbelievably thankful for the family I have that believes in the unwritten definition we share. My family has a genuine care and concern for each other and are able to step into that space even if it has been a long time since we last interacted. There is love there. There is an investment in each other. It is unconditional. It is not temporary. It is not greedy. It is forever. This is what family is to me.  This cruise reminded me of the definition of family that I want and need to have in my life. I love my extended family and am so thankful for the times shared together – big waves or not.

Uncle Rod

I slept with a woman last night because that’s what you do when her husband dies and there is no one else to hold her hand while she tries to remember every second of the last day with her husband until she falls asleep from exhaustion at 2:34 in the morning.

My uncle died at the young age of 54 and I am heartbroken. Uncle Roddy was spectacular. He told the silliest jokes, had such passionate views, a genuine smile, the coolest handshake (included shooting pistols) and absolute committed love for my aunt. He was proud and worked hard for all that he had. He was not afraid of physical labor. He was not afraid of calling people out when they were wrong. He was not afraid of owning his mistakes. He was not afraid of investing in the souls of other people around him. This is what I call love. He was not afraid of love.

A cowboy at heart, he and my aunt stirred my daughters’ interests in horseback-riding, raising their self esteem in the process and created forever memories that will never be forgotten. They helped me to mold my girls into the brave, beautiful women they are today. My uncle taught me so many things…like how to handle what we like to call “unscheduled dismounts” off of horses to using your hand to know what time the sun will set. He was my family before we were family. Always gracious and providing to others and now he is gone, too soon.

In his memory…tell silly jokes, be passionate, be genuine, smile a lot, be cool, create goofy handshakes, love. Be proud of what you are and what you have accomplished, appreciate physical labor, stand up for your beliefs, apologize when you should, love. Life’s too short to be anything but happy. Be happy now.