Thursday, February 26, 2009

Trying to figure out how grief works -- honestly

I haven't been completely honest with you this week, and I feel guilty about that.

I wrote the blog about my mom's birthday on the night before her birthday. At the time, I felt optimistic that this birthday would be easier than past ones. After all, this would be the 6th year my family has been through this. And I strongly believe that time heals.

But sometimes that's all just bull. The day comes, and it's as sad as it ever was. Dad and Jordan both get stubborn and argue with each other. I play referee and ask them to be flexible, to get along, to stop fighting. We can't agree on anything: the time to meet, whether our dog Sadie should come or not, what restaurant to eat at afterward. We drive around aimlessly and end up at a diner none of us want to be at. But really, none of us want to be anywhere on this day. As my dad says, "It's not a good day."

I don't want to tell you these things because I want to believe -- and I want you to believe -- that it gets easier with time. Part of that is true. But I also think we need to accept that some days just suck. And often times those days are birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. They're just hard. Even 6 years later, I have trouble admitting that because I just wish I felt better about it.

Grief has a time delay sometimes, too. I got in a big fight with Mark on Tuesday and bawled my eyes out. How much of that was leftover stress from Mom's birthday? It's really hard to tell where one emotion ends and one emotion begins.

I'm sorry if this isn't the sunshine picture I usually paint. But I believe in being honest with you. I hope you'll be honest with me, too.

Big shout out to my girl Ashley who started a blog about surviving from a rare form of liver cancer. She's so brave in so many ways! Go give her some comment love.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Surprise Party: Discovering Sally's real age

At the cemetery on Sunday, huddled under umbrellas and staring at Sally's tombstone in the rain, Dad asked my brother and I, "How old would Mom have been today?"

"65," I answered smugly. "I wrote about it in my blog last night."

"Wrong," Dad said.

"No! I'm right! 65!" I said.

"Wrong," Dad said again.

"I counted! 2009 - 1943..." I said

" 66," Dad finished.

"Shoot! I lied to everyone. I said she was 65." I said.

"Well, mom was 2 1/2 years older than me, and I'll be 64 this year," Dad said.

"You're going to be 64?" I asked.

"Yup," he said. "Like the Beatles song."

"Dad," I pretended to scold, "are you getting old?" I caught his eye and smiled.

"I hope not!" he laughed.

"'Will ya still need me? Will ya still feed me? When I'm 64'." I sang, off-key. Click the "Play" button below to hear the Beatles sing it!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

February 22: It's Mom's birthday today

Today's sort of a special episode of Sally's Circle. It's February 22, a date that means a lot to me and my family. It's Sally's birthday.

Of all the holidays that remind me of Mom, her birthday is one of the hardest. Birthdays are super-happy celebrations in my family. We always go out to dinner, give cards and presents, and blow out candles. It's a time for family and togetherness and laughter. It's strange to feel sad on a holiday that was always so happy.

So, on February 22, I often can't help but imagine what we would do today if Mom were still alive. Maybe I'd go home to Long Island to go to Tofu, Mom's favorite Chinese restaurant. Or maybe Mom and Dad would have a new favorite restaurant in Long Island. Or maybe since Jordan (my bro) and I both live in the city now, Mom and Dad would drive in to Manhattan and we'd try someplace new. It would definitely be the 4 of us. Or maybe Mom would ask if Mark wanted to come, too, and he'd say yes because he liked her so much and thought she was so funny. Dinner would be filled with trading hilarious stories and Mom would probably say something flirty to the cute waiter, and I'd feign total embarrassment, and then later brag to all my friends about how she gets more and more ridiculous every year.

Tomorrow I will go home to Long Island. My dad, brother, and I have a tradition where we go to the cemetery together on her birthday (we also go in August on the anniversary of when she died). We spend a little time there, anywhere from a few minutes to 20 minutes or so. We talk about how old she'd be now (65 -- shh, don't tell her I told you), the things she liked (teaching, the Gap, Seinfeld), the things we miss (her stories, her laugh). Sometimes we remember the funeral or sitting shiva or nice things other people said about her. We debate whether this year it feels like she's been gone a long time or short time (after all, what is 6 years?). I usually spend most of the time talking to Mom in my head, telling her what's going on in my life and imagining her responses. Before we leave, Dad says "We miss you" and makes sure we all hug. He's such a good dad.

After the cemetery, we go to a diner and eat lunch. At lunch, we don't usually talk about Mom or the past. We talk about the present: Jordan's real estate business, my job or how Mark's doing, dad's girlfriend Susan, recent things in the news, etc. It's general, comfortable, run-of-the-mill talk. And I think it's usually good for all of us to just spend time together without necessarily dwelling on the birthday. After all, that's what the cemetery was for. I think we get most of it out there.

So, with the Saturday Night Live closing music buzzing from my living room TV, I'll also bid you goodnight. Wish me luck tomorrow, but don't worry about me. I think it'll be OK.

Do you have any traditions that bring you comfort? How do you feel about going to the cemetery? Do you feel like that person is there, or not really?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Help From Above: Mom led me to my favorite photo

Hi there,

It's late at night (way past my usual bedtime), but I'm having trouble turning off my computer and going to sleep, so I thought I'd write to you.

A funny thing happened this afternoon. I was looking for photos of my mom to use in my book proposal, and I realized I couldn't find my favorite photo (the one you see here).

Remember that this photo was taken in the '90s, way before the invention of digital cameras, so the only keepsake I have of it is the actual photograph -- and maaaybe the negatives somewhere in a shoebox, but who knows?

Perhaps I should explain why I love this photo. It was taken at my cousin Deena's Bat Mitzvah in Los Angeles. I was 17 and senior year had just begun, plus I was in California with my 4 closest girl cousins. What could be better? More importantly, the event is the last memory I have of my mom being 100% healthy and happy. The party was in the fall, and my mom was diagnosed that January.

I know it's stupid, but in the last 6 years since she died, I've made this "the wandering photo." Sometimes it appears crammed between two CDs in my bookcase. Sometimes it's used as a bookmark. Sometimes it's propped up against a different framed photo. Sometimes it's tacked to my bulletin board. I just really like to "happen upon it," since it always makes me smile.

Well, today when I was actually looking for it (and not just "happening upon it"), it was gone. I searched everywhere. All the places I mentioned above, plus my photo shoebox, my nightstand, my sock drawer -- everywhere I could think of. I cursed myself for being so disorganized and swore if I found it I'd change my irresponsible habits. How could I treat photos of my mom so carelessly? These are all I have left.

Frustrated and depressed, I slumped against the side of my bed and took some deep breaths. Calm down, I told myself. Think clearly and the hiding spot will come to you.

Suddenly, as if a hand were guiding me, I squinted more closely at the bookshelf right in front of me. Sure enough, tucked under a few new novels was my photograph. I thought I might start crying, but as soon as I saw the photo, it made me smile -- even more, because I knew my mom had led me to it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unexpected Connections: The instant bond of parent loss

Happy Sunday!

I'm home from Myrtle Beach and having a bad-TV-movies and jammies night. I've already watched Must Love Dogs and Failure to Launch. Oh, and did I mention I ate take-out Thai? In some ways, this is the best kind of night.

My trip to Myrtle Beach to help with the marathon
was hard work but also relaxing. Getting 70-degree weather and warm sunshine can do amazing things for the soul. I was also really proud of my friend Jes, who walked the half-marathon, and for Team Prevention's 100+ readers who walked the half- or full-marathon. Big congrats to everyone!

I didn't walk this year (maybe next year!), but I did reach a different kind of milestone. While chatting with a coworker during the trip, she revealed to me that her father passed away six months ago. We shared a really nice moment remembering our parents, talking about their lives and deaths, and appreciating how being together made us feel less alone.

"It really does get easier," I told her, the words sounding wrong as soon as I said them. After all, when everyone told that to me, I didn't believe them. Only later, when I had healed more, did I understand that what they said was true.

I just wish that as someone who went through loss, I had a more sincere-sounding phrase. I guess those cliche sayings are actually the most true, though, and that's why they've been said so many times by so many people.

So tonight I'm wishing good thoughts for my new friend, and to all of you, who are also my new friends. Now back to TV ; )

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm heading to Myrtle Beach!

You must think I'm quite the traveler. First Syracuse, NY (read about my adventures here) and now Myrtle Beach, SC. Two trips in one month is rare for me. It's left me exhausted and excited all at once!

Luckily, Myrtle Beach holds no emotional strings for me the way Syracuse did. In fact, I've never been to South Carolina before. I'm going to help out at the BI-LO Myrtle Beach Marathon, one of several events throughout the country in which Prevention magazine (my employer) organizes Team Prevention, a group of women who walk a full or half marathon together. It's an amazing event where I get to actually meet the readers of Prevention magazine and

About a year and half ago, shortly after joining Prevention, I walked a half marathon with my close friend (and used-to-be roomie) Jes who is also on staff there. You can see us celebrating our glory above.

I planned to walk the half marathon at Myrtle Beach, but injured my feet in the training process. Stupid blisters! Instead, I'll help out, get to know the readers, and maybe walk the last few miles with some of the readers. That's usually when they need the most cheerleading (and as you can probably tell, I do love being a cheerleader!).

Wish me luck. I'll try to log on and report from the beach!


Monday, February 9, 2009

My Syracuse Trip: How to forgive the scene of a crime

If you're unhappy, Syracuse University could easily make you suicidal. Sunshine is nonexistent from October through March, making it the epitome of a gray and dreary winter. It's no shocker that this is a prime location for S.A.D., aka Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that occurs largely from lack of sunlight. To top it off, Syracuse, NY gets more snow than any other large U.S. city, averaging 115 inches each winter.

But I'm going to tell you what I realized over the weekend, on my first trip back to the place I spent 4 years of college: It's not Syracuse's fault.

For the past 9 years, since my freshman year in 2000, I have been angry with the Central New York city. Syracuse took me 5 hours away from my sick mother. Syracuse was where I returned just 2 weeks after she died. Syracuse was where I experienced the hell of my grief: the overeating, the weight gain, the pneumonia, the inability to cry because of how afraid I was to face my own sadness. Syracuse was the place I said "good riddance" to after graduation and told my roommates that I had no desire to return.

And yet, this past weekend I did return -- and I smiled so much my face actually hurt at one point! Seeing my friend Marissa with her roommates reminded me of my girlfriends, and how much fun and laughter we shared together. Meeting with my old professors made me reflect on how much I learned from studying under some of the most intelligent journalists I know. And playing Flip Cup and Asshole at my favorite bar, Chuck's, made me realize how much FUN I had in college.

Grief in the land of beer pong is both grief and beer pong. Maybe being able to let loose during those years is what balanced my grief and made me eventually able to accept my mom's death... because I knew I could still have fun, and that because of that, I'd be able to live.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reporting live from the airport!

Hi gang!

Well, I officially love Jetblue. They redesigned their JFK terminal and I never thought I'd say this about an airport, but this place is HOT! Faux French bistros, a steak house, trendy shops, free WiFi, and a sleek bars everywhere you look. Did you ever think you'd be able to sip a martini just a few feet away from your gate? It's awesome.

I'm being boring and drinking Poland Spring instead of a cosmopolitan. No, I'm not a prude. I'm just saving myself for $3.50 pitchers at Chuck's, my favorite bar at Syracuse. I have priorities, ya know.

They're calling my flight -- gotta run! Wish me luck.

P.S. I'm not nervous anymore. I'm super excited!!!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Grief in the Land of Beer Pong: Reflecting back on my college days

I graduated from Syracuse University in 2004. Now, 5 years later, I'm going back to visit for the first time since graduation. I leave in 2 days!

College was a mixed experience for me. I made the most amazing friends (still some of my closest), got an incredible education which shaped my career in magazine journalism, and really grew and found myself -- whether through playing drums in my band or falling in (and horribly out) of love.

But college was different for me than it was for most people. My mom was diagnosed with cancer a few months before I received my letter of acceptance from SU. Leaving my family to attend school 5 hours away left me worried and guilt-ridden and lonely at times. Nights were often spent chatting on the phone with my mom instead of goofing off with my new friends. And during the summer between my sophomore and junior years -- smack in the middle of my college experience -- my mom passed away. My last two years at Syracuse were spent grieving in the land of beer pong.

Despite (or in spite) of everything, I'm going back to SU to do something I always dreamed of: talking to the students. I'll chat with them about my job as a web editor for Prevention magazine, but my focus will be job hunting and The Resume Hero, a resume and cover letter side business my boyfriend Mark and I created.

Don't worry about me, though. My super-awesome intern, another Marissa B. (can you believe it?), will escort me around and even put me up on her couch. I'm lucky to have such an upbeat, sassy gal by my side during a trip that's bound to be nostalgic and emotional even beyond my expectations.

I'll report back either from campus or as soon as I get back on Saturday. Wish me luck!