Broken Heart Syndrome


There are times in life when a person’s heart has to react to so many emotions at once that it seems as if it might just burst.  It seems as if the heart will simply become some kind of little supernova, exploding into a million tiny pieces and then fading out completely.

The past week has been that kind of heart threatening time for me.

There have been moments of real sadness, where my heart and my soul feel both leaden and solid, sinking down into the very depths of the earth.

I have found myself facing the shocking, but not unexpected, realization that my career as a teacher of young children is over.  Well before I wore myself out, before I ran out of sympathy, tenderness, connection, strength, love, I find myself on the brink of retirement.   “I’m not ready!” a part of me cries; “I want another chance to teach the Revolution!  I want more time to Read Aloud!  I want another class to love and shape and encourage and support! I’m not ready……”

And I find myself somehow embroiled in a stew of emotions with my siblings, the people with whom I shared the most important moments of my early life.  How to help? How to support? What is the “right thing” to do?  My heart is so heavy I can barely carry it around.

And yesterday we lost one of my childhood heroes.  My handsome, funny, endlessly entertaining Uncle, Lenny Merullo, went to join his parents and his eleven brothers and sisters in the next world. He took his brashness, his cocky grin and his 1945 World Series Ring with him into the afterlife, and all of those who loved and looked up to him are left bereft.

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He was the last of his family; the last of the Byron Street East Boston Merullo clan.  He was the last living member of the Chicago Cubs to have played in a world series.

He showed me how to throw a curve ball.  He taught me to field by holding my glove right on the grass and keeping my eye on the ball.

He brought me to Fenway to see young players when he was a scout.  He introduced me to Frank Malzone, who told him, “She looks just like you!”

Wow. Tonight my heart is heavy.

For the past few days, this combined grief has pulled on my heart with an almost unmanageable heaviness.  My eyes are leaky faucets, and I am at a loss for how to explain what I feel.

But the past week has also been filled with a sense of incredible lightness and joy.

I will be free at last when I retire. No more worrying about data; no more trying so desperately to squeeze my students and myself into the neat little boxes of the Curriculum Units.  No more trying to please those who will not be pleased.

I will be free.

I’ll have my life back, my time back, my peace of mind back.  ” I am so ready!  Let me go, let me go!”

And Uncle Lennie is free now, too; I am sure that he is at his best right now, racing across the infield of Heaven, flashing that irresistible grin.

His Mamma is waiting for him, hands on her ample hips, ladle full of sauce at the ready.  She will scold him for being late, pass around the basket of bread, and serve her children their dinner.  They will tease her and laugh with her, and dip the bread into the sauce.  They’ll pour more wine, tell more outrageous stories, and talk over each other.  Pappanonni will sit with his wine in his hand and listen.

It will be a happy, joyful, loving time.

My heart, my heavy, aching heart, will soar with theirs as I picture my Dad listening with shining eyes as his big brother shares his stories.

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12 thoughts on “Broken Heart Syndrome

  1. Karen, I had no idea you had this wonderful uncle! What an amazing life he had and how terrific of you to share his story, and how moving to share your grief as well as your flight to freedom. Hugs to you my friend.

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  2. I’m very sorry about your Uncle Lenny. I read about his career when you posted about him before. I had been thinking earlier today that Beau Biden has been reunited with his mom for the first time since he was three, and you evoked the same exquisite scene for Lenny. I pictured Beau’s mother running toward him and enfolding him in a huge hug.
    At Mass today, we had a seven-year-old girl with a fatal brain tumor receive the sacraments of healing, first communion, and confirmation. She looked lovely in her white dress and veil, but it was also a reminder of the bride she’ll never be. It was a wonderful ceremony, filled with smiles and tears, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone’s hearts were bursting with conflicting emotions. Her grandmothers sat on either side of her, with her great-grandmother next to one grandmother and her parents next to the other.
    I picture your dad and mine watching baseball together, with your dad wincing at my dad’s endless puns. Now I’ll add Lenny to that picture.

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    • Thank you, my friend! I am so saddened to hear about the little girl in your church; I still can’t come to terms with a God who takes children from their parents…..
      Uncle Lennie lived a long and happy life, and was truly ready to go on to the next step. I’m sure he’ll meet your Dad out there, in the baseball next world……

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  3. So sorry you’ve lost your Uncle Lenny, but so glad for you that you had him, and for such a long, wonderful time. I love that image of the big table in heaven. That’s the way I picture it too, when I need a fix of folks that have gone on.

    I’m glad and sorry that you’re retiring — now I KNOW I won’t get to have you as my 5th grade teacher. But you have made a difference in the lives of those kids who were lucky enough to have you — and you will be remembered fondly by them, I’m sure. You’ve earned your rest! Besides, isn’t there a grandchild on the way? :0

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    • Yes, there sure is a grandchild on the way! And I get to be a “Stay at home Nonni” with her next year!
      As for that dinner in Heaven image….When my Dad died, we all invoked that idea in our conversations. Three months later, a “medium” told one of my brothers, “By the way, your Dad wants you to know that there really is a big pasta party in Heaven.”
      Wow!

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  4. I’m sorry for your losses; they are big ones that can weigh a heart down tremendously. I read Lenny’s obituary in the NYT this morning, but found your wonderful remembrances about Uncle Lenny quite meaningful. You may be nearing retirement, but I bet you will still continue to teach, just different things with different students, and you’ll be free to do it YOUR way.

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