Remembering Joe

Three years ago today….my brother died. Alone.

I had just talked to him the day before. Sent him a pizza for dinner. Planned to get together over the weekend.

He was doing well in his recovery. I thought.

My dad got a call October 4th, a call my parents had been praying never to get.

We don’t know the details, because people living in the house with him didn’t call the police right away. They took his phone and erased things that could implicate them. The let him lie there.

I hate thinking about what his final moments may have been like. I hate knowing his life ended in such a sad and lonely way.

I know he didn’t want to die. I hate that hope died with him.

I think of my brother often. I talk to him at night before I sleep, hoping we can meet somehow in my dreams so I can hug him and know he’s ok.

This week the memories from three years ago demand to be relived. And so today, on October 3rd…. the day Joe died…. I spend the day wondering what was he doing at this time? And now at this time? Was he still alive right now, at 8pm? When did it happen, when did he die? Did he know he was dying? Did he feel alone?

And tomorrow. The 4th… I get the call from my dad. And I go crazy with grief all over again.

And every day, up to the 10th, when we lay him to rest. It’s still so clear.

My poor mom.

My poor dad.

We have gotten to the point of being able to remember him without always crying. We often laugh in memory of things he’s said and done. We discuss things he would have liked. We remember him with love. We miss him.

But still, this week is hard. I guess I didn’t expect to feel so raw, like it just happened all over again.

The need for one of his hugs, for his one-dimpled smile, for HIM to comfort ME is great.

So I wait. And have faith.

I have to believe that he is waiting for all of us that love and miss him…. and one day my mom will have all of her kids together again.


Bad Good Days

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I went to my parents house today for a little family get together and early Fathers Day celebration.

After eating the requisite grilled meat and other cookout fare, we started a game of corn hole. It started out slow, with me showing off my excellent skills of throwing past the board. My 8 year old was my partner, and together we managed to end the game at 11 – 0. We did not win.

My parents then joined, my mom partnered with my brother in law, and my dad with my sister.

Since the parents were standing at the same board, they didn’t realize they were on different teams until about halfway through their game. Thanks to skills of their partners, that game lasted much longer than my 10 minute warm up session.

At one point I decided to go inside and start cleaning up so we could bring out the cake.

I watched my family from the kitchen window as I worked.  I saw my parents laughing, really laughing. It was the kind of laughing we took for granted before Joe died. That completely happy in the moment laughing that is so hard to chase down since he left us.

Of course, when I feel happiness, I feel Joe’s loss right along with it. I saw my family, and I especially noticed that I DIDN’T see my brother. He wasn’t laughing with us as we teased Dad about how he used to mix all the old cereal together when we were growing up. He wasn’t making fun of the parents with us as they learned how to navigate the game of corn hole. He wasn’t there. But his loss was there with us, always with us.

I probably imagined what Joe would say or do about something at least 10 times today. Him being there, and being healthy with us would have been so wonderful. And it hurts to laugh without him.

As I left them, my mom walked me to the door. As we said our goodbyes, she put my thoughts into words. She had felt his loss today, like every day. And because of that, every day is a bad day automatically. Today was a bad day and a good day, and we have to get used to this.

Cardboard Joe

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My brother has been gone for 6 months.

I still try to pretend it’s not true, but sometimes reality just smacks you in the face.

Like at Easter.

Joe made the punch for holidays at moms house. It was his thing, none of us knew how he did it, but somehow he mixed an awesome pink concoction with floating islands of sherbet just perfect for toasting over croissants and cheesy potatoes.

So, we made the punch because we feel maybe that not having punch would make us feel worse and miss Joe more. Having it gives us a chance to remember the good times with him, although the punch this year was definitely not on par with what he could have made for us.

And it makes us miss him anyway.

I used to say I wanted to get a life sized cardboard cutout of my brother. Just to have around. I really miss his smile, his personality, just him in general.

I think maybe sometimes it would be cool to have “him” in our holiday photos, posing with a cup of punch…. it would feel like he was still there a bit.

It wouldn’t replace him though. It wouldn’t talk or laugh back…. and I think the worst thing would be that it wouldn’t age as the rest of us aged. And I could never throw it away, it would feel like I was throwing my brother away.

So maybe no cardboard cutout.

Story of three birds



It has been a really, really long time since I’ve posted.

I am attempting to find the time to find myself again, so tonight this is my therapy.

I would like to tell you about something, and I want to write it down so it STAYS, and it will be remembered.

My brother died.

He died like a lot of brothers, and sons, and fathers, and sisters, and mothers, and wives and people we LOVE are dying.

He chose heroin that one last time.  Because he’d been doing so well, he must have thought he could get away with it. Just once more.

And so the story begins in the worst way, getting a call from my dad as I was leaving the funeral of someone else I loved. I hate to think about that phone call, and my reaction. Pounding the steering wheel as I drove and screamed and cried and screamed all the way to my parents house. Calling my sister. Walking up the driveway together. Seeing our parents. Dying inside.

And coping the only way I knew, by staying really busy, and trying not to think about whose funeral we were planning, and how we were actually going to have to admit that he was really gone.

So it was the next night, well, about 2am. I was busy working on the funeral program. Not tired, just focused on making it the best damn funeral program ever. Something that he would like, something that somehow would convey just how much he meant to us, and how special he was, and how much he will be missed.

Finally, I decide I needed to get to bed. As I’m getting my pajamas, then lingering over more photos of my brother, I talk to him silently. Why??!  Why?! I want answers, I want to be mad at him, but I can’t be. I know he didn’t mean to die. I want to know he’s ok. I just need to know, please Joe…. can you let me know you’re ok?

I’d gotten to the point of numbness eventually, exhausted and mechanically brushing my teeth, the last person awake in a silent house. By the time I was rinsing off my face, I realized there was this….noise…. it’d been going on for a while somewhere in my head. It was like when you notice the TV is still on after you’ve tuned it out for so long….

I focused in on this sound…. and realized it was a song. What the…… I was hearing the words of a Bob Marley song over and over in my head.

Don’t worry about a thing…..

’cause every little thing

gonna be alright….

Complete with background music. I wasn’t thinking this…..I was HEARING this.

Now my brother was a bit of a Bob Marley fan. He had T-Shirts, he could play those songs on the guitar, He dressed up like Bob Marley for Halloween in college.

But I never thought of these songs. I just knew what it was when I heard it. And I believed I knew why I was hearing it. It was days later we found a video of him singing this song…. those exact words.

I never even knew the name of that song until we tried to find it and play it after I told my family. Three little birds. We all have it downloaded now. We played it a lot leading up the funeral. We played it at the gravesite as our friends and family said their goodbye to my little brother. As the rest of us, the four remaining siblings, stood together and cried, and said goodbye too.

It’s a small comfort, but a comfort just the same.

In honor of my Grandma, for Mothers Day.

Oh, I know you think this is going to be some sappy post about how much I love my sweet granny, and how there is just no one like her in the world.

Well, I guess that is half right. There really was no one like my Gram, but she would kick my ass if I ever got sappy when talking about her.

Gram was a tough lady, she had to be. She gave birth to 10 kids and managed to raise them all into successful men and women, keeping them in line and never tiring of all the work that comes with such a brood.

Of course, I didn’t meet her until a bit later…..

Now my first memories don’t give justice to the greatness of that woman. I used to stand in her bedroom doorway as a little kid, probably 3 or 4, and watch her snoring as she slept. I hid a piece of bologna in her yellow pages once when I didn’t want it, and the garbage somehow didn’t seem a viable option. I remember her always wearing a housedress, always being in the kitchen, always cooking. She was no nonsense, but never scary. Grandma cooked real food, rolling out noodles for chicken soup, tirelessly pressing down edges on pierogi’s, she always had something boiling on the stove.

My family moved a few cities away when I was about 5, so we saw her less often, but visits were all that much more exciting. Her house meant eating dry roasted peanuts and drinking Tang. It meant listening to her talking and laughing with my mom, and whoever else was there. Buckeye fights in the backyard, and country music always playing softly in the kitchen. It was always a place to look forward to.

In my teens, and especially after I could drive, I could visit grandma myself. Usually I went with a cousin who was like a sister to me. Gram loved having us visit, and we loved the attention from her. We could walk to her house from my cousins house, sometimes making up games on the way. “Ok, here’s the deal, you have to get in there and get a dryer sheet, a graham cracker, and get Grandma to say “hot pickle pants” before we leave. There was an unfortunate incident that resulted in breaking one of her glass jars as we dared each other to see if we could get parts of our body to fit into it, while we stood at the top of her concrete basement stairs…. One of the few times she actually got fed up with us, and may have threatened us with a broom in some way….

Grandma had a way of forcing you to take things from her. She’d come to me and grab my hand, shoving a five dollar bill into my palm. As I started to refuse, she’s just talk over me, somehow talking through her nose and her clenched teeth at the same time in this slurry, hurried, loud whisper “Kimmy, just take it, use it for gas money, don’t you give me that crap…” talking over me until I gave up, and gave her a hug, and thanked her. This is how she forced me to take $100 from her when I got my first job out of high school, she bought my first outfits for work.

As I got older, we talked more and more. She was never bossy, never pushy. She was never one of those “woe is me” ladies that might seem like a chore to visit. She would tell us stories of her growing up, good times and bad. One thing I always loved is that you could ask her anything, ANYTHING….and she would not be offended. When with my cousin, we would sometimes even try to shock her with questions, I am sure completely inappropriate. So many times she would just start laughing in her unique way, free and loud, inviting you to laugh with her. She’d just say “you girls are crazy!”

My grandma didn’t drive, and didn’t get out much with all those kids. Even after her own kids were mostly grown, she somehow ended up watching a lot of us grandkids. The woman never tired of us. Perhaps because she didn’t have much excitement in her life, on the rare occasion she did get out, she made sure to enjoy herself. This was usually at a family cookout, or reunion. Gram wasn’t a drinker, but she did like an occasional beer. It was a standing joke, if grandma has a beer, you don’t want to be the one standing next to her. Without a doubt, something will set her off laughing, and with the laugh would come a swinging arm punch to the closest person, just to punctuate her happiness.

Grandma spent some of her golden years living alone in an apartment, I think the first time she had ever been alone in her life.  It was during this time she had her heart attack, and my aunt that normally spoke with her the most must have been out of town. I remember being at work, and grandma called me, or maybe my mom called me to tell me gram was having chest pain and refused to go to the hospital. That crazy lady sat at home during her heart attack and refused to call EMS. Finally, she agreed to let me take her to the hospital so I drove like a maniac all the way. Somehow she likes to think I saved her, I didn’t, but that began an even deeper love between us.

When I decided to go back to school for nursing, grandma was my biggest cheerleader. When I continued on to get my Masters, she rallied even harder. I can’t tell you what a high it is to know there is one person who truly believes you hang the moon….. and I didn’t deserve it at all, but I somehow earned a place of honor in my grandmas affections. I had a rocky relationship with some relatives, and as Gram got older, she took perverse pleasure in extolling my virtues to all those who least wanted to hear it. She would tell me with glee, “I don’t let ANYONE say anything bad about my Kimmy!!” She was incorrigible.

I would come visit her, and sometimes it would only be once or twice a month….. we’d decide on where to get lunch from and there were specific instructions I had to follow. I was NOT allowed to order food on the way, no no no, it would be soggy, or cold for sure. I had to wait til I got to the restaurant, and then wait. Of course I still ordered on the way, I had kids with me usually and sitting and waiting for 20 minutes with a newborn is never a smart idea. If Gram found out….oh, she was pissed. Grumble, grumble…somehow everything tasted wrong. This is something we laugh about now, trying to outsmart grandma, and never quite being able to do it.

She was just so thankful for anything you gave her, any time you spent with her. It made me feel so good to be with her, especially with her always telling me how special I was…and once I started working on my Masters, she would end our visit with a stern face, “Kimmy….you better finish!!” I would promise her, and the plan was for her to be around for that.

The one thing I didn’t ever want to face was losing her. Even as a child, I talked with her about this. I made her promise to come see me if she could after she died, but not to scare me. Just to let me know that everything is ok. I know as the years passed that it had to happen, but I would tell her later that she wasn’t allowed to die ever.

Well, Melanoma came around….with other ideas.

Let me just say that there has never been an easier patient. Every hospitalization brought her new friends and admirers. She loved making friends with the nurses, and teasing the doctors. She never wanted to be a burden on anyone, and she never was. Her melanoma started in a very unusual place, and she was asked if her case could be used for teaching purposes, complete with photos and everything. My grandma, that so refreshingly non-traditional old lady actually joked about posing for x-rated photos…..and how it took this long in life for someone to ask her. We laughed in the face of her stupid cancer.

Near the end, it was difficult. At the time of her passing, she had all of her children, and a few of us grandchildren around her. We spent days sitting next to her, many times all sharing her bed, wanting to be as close as possible.

Now something you should now about my grandma, she was never one to throw around the “I love you’s”…. she let you know how she felt in a million other ways, but to get her to say that was a rarity.

The last time she and I spoke, when she was ABLE to speak…… she said two things to me. She made me PROMISE to finish school. And she told me she loved me.

One year later, I did finish my Masters. Happiness marred only by not being able to see the smile on her face.

But she knows.

I talk to my grandma all the time. I like to think she can hear me, that she’s following along with my life. I know I have been blessed to have her in my life, although I selfishly wanted more time.

This Sunday will be the second Mothers Day without my Grandma. I just want her to know that it sucks without her, but I am carrying on, and thinking of her always makes me smile, and sometimes cry too. I miss her everyday, and still catch myself wanting to call her, or run over for a visit. Sometimes I really miss her advice.

I am so thankful I knew my Grandma so well. I hope anyone reading this takes a moment to think about their mom, grandmother, loved ones in general….. and realizes that there isn’t always tomorrow. Say your I love you’s today. Buy flowers, stop over for a visit, let the people in your life know you love them. And THANK them for loving you.