All In Your Name

Dear Dad,

I can’t believe that it’s been eleven years since we last saw you. Eleven years since anyone has called me “little girl”. Eleven long years without your unshakeable sense of what is right and what is wrong.

I wonder, often, what you’d make of us now.

I know that you would love your four beautiful great grandchildren. I know that you watch over them. You see them play, see them grow, see them laugh. I know that. But what about the rest of us?

You are in a better, more forgiving place now. Do you see our mistakes and our sorrows, and do you understand the frailties that have lead us here? Do you forgive us for where we find ourselves?

Dad, we’re doing our best to take care of Mom, just the way you asked us to. I remember you telling me that you didn’t want to leave “my girl” and asking me to make sure that we looked after her as tenderly as you always did.

We’re trying, Dad. And I think we’re doing OK. She’s safe and she’s well loved. And we all talk about you all the damn time!

What must you be thinking about the situation in our country right now? You have no idea how much I wish that I could hear your voice, weighing in on our anger and our fear and our broken and damaged country.

You fought for this country, when you were barely more than a child. What must you be thinking now?

I can only imagine, knowing your strict moral compass. I can only imagine.

Dad, I miss you. You’re here every day with me, smiling at my grandkids. I feel you over my shoulder as I refinish Paul’s old desk. I remember your lessons about sanding with the grain, and using my tack cloth.

I feel you when I am celebrate with my sons as they get ready to marry the women that they love so much. You’d be so proud of them, Dad.

And there are such funny things, too, in my memory of you. I can’t look at dominoes without thinking about you playing with the kids. I can’t drink bad red wine without hearing your laugh. Every time I try to draw a straight line on the paper schedule that we make for Mom each month, I hear you telling me to mark the top and bottom.

“Measure twice, cut once,” Paul says, repeating one your many lessons. “All things in moderation,” I said to a local farmer yesterday as I bought his beef and lamb, knowing that we’re supposed to be eating less meat. “All things in moderation, including moderation.” The farmer laughed, and so did I. I felt you standing right beside me, laughing with us.

Your lessons surround us, and guide us, even now.

Tonight I turned on some music. (It’s all on the computer now, Dad. So cool and so convenient! You’d be amazed and fascinated to see it.)

I was making pickles and drying herbs as the music played in the background.

And suddenly I heard a song called “All in Your Name” by a beautiful young songwriter and singer named Heather Maloney. And I couldn’t stop crying.

I guess that’s OK, huh? It’s OK to still grieve for you.

You were our hub. You were the anchor. We miss you so very much, every day. Without you, this world is just little less honest. A little bit less sure.

And so much less fun.

Pulling Back the Veil

Grampa with my youngest on his first birthday.

Sometimes I think I’m a tiny bit psychic. I might suddenly think about one of my kids and have that child text me right then. I sometimes know what song is coming next. I’ve had dreams about things that actually happened while I was sleeping.

I’ve had a few experiences where someone who had recently died came to me in a vivid dream to say “Please pass on a message to my family. I’m fine and I don’t want them to be upset!”

Still. I am no true psychic.

I just wish that I was!

I wish that I could understand messages from those who have passed on into the next reality.

Because sometimes I can feel my Dad.

Sometimes, like right now, I KNOW that he’s here. I feel his warmth, I hear his breath. He’s talking, but I can’t understand him.

There is veil between our worlds. It’s so thin that it seems beyond ridiculous that I can’t just pull it aside and ask, “What’s up, Dad? What are you telling me?”

He comes when I’m sad. When I’m confused. He comes at times when I question my own self worth, and second guess every single thing I’ve done or said in the past.

He comes then. And sometimes I am able to see him shaking his head, and smiling just a little. I see his brown eyes and the shape of his cheek. I see/feel/remember the smell of him as he held me to his chest. Old Spice, warm sweat, Dad. And I KNOW that he’s here. Sometimes I can make out the general shape of his thoughts, “I love you. I miss you. I see you with those kids. I’m proud of you.”

Sometimes I know that I’m just making it up, that I hear what I want to hear.


Right this very minute, as I sit in my glider in my living room, looking out at the cool grey afternoon, I feel him so insistently beside me. He wants to me know something, to understand or to do something, but I can’t hear him. I can’t see him through that veil of smoke that drifts between us.

I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep myself open and try to hear what it is that he is telling me. I feel his love, and his support. I feel his gentle humor. Whatever it is that Dad is telling me right now, it is something that will comfort me. Of that I am sure.

I just need to be a better interpreter of the next world. I need to learn how to pull that curtain aside, if only for a minute.

Just a boy

When I think of my Dad, I think of competence.   He was only 29 when I made my appearance in his life, but still, my every memory of him was of calm, assured competence.

I remember Dad in my earliest memories working in our yard. I have a clear image of him telling all of us, all of the neighborhood kids, to stand back.  He was going to kill a nest of ground wasps that had taken up painful residence in our yard.  We waited inside the house, where it was safe, while Dad took on the dangerous task of dealing with the enemy, so frightening to a five year old and her friends.

I remember Dad taking apart car engines, fixing lawn mowers, building shelves, turning our unfinished basement into three finished rooms, complete with carpeting, lights and  panelled walls.

Dad was never awkward, never at a loss in a social setting.  He was never loud, never boastful, but he was always at ease. I remember him at weddings, parties, neighborhood cookouts.  Always charming, always kind.

When I got married and had children and a home of my own, it was Dad who was always called upon to come to the rescue.  How to finance a new septic system?  Ask Dad. How to build a shed for all of our gardening supplies?  Dad again.

He was our compass point, our true North.  His was the voice that we heard in our hearts as we contemplated each youthful mistake.

Mom was home and hearth; Dad was the roadmap to adult life.

In his last years and months, my Dad faced a range of ailments that left him physically weakened and largely dependent on others for his daily care.  But he never lost his competence, his assurance, his dignity or his role as the family leader.  In a wheelchair, one side of his body made nearly useless by a stroke, Dad was still the one we went to for advice and guidance.

I have never thought of my father as anything but mature, able, confident and supremely in control.  Dad has been gone for almost five years now, and I still ask him for advice.

Last Thursday I was visiting my Mom, as I do most weeks.  She was busy at the stove, making a delicious dinner for the two of us, and I was seated in my usual place at the kitchen table.  I picked up my wine glass, and wandered into the dining room.  On the  table I found a large, faded manilla envelope with old fashioned type-writer lettering on the front.  It was addressed to my Dad.

As I opened the flap, my Mother came to my side.  “I was cleaning out a drawer, looking through some of these old things.”, she said.  “They were Dad’s.  From the war.”

We stood together, my Mother and I, looking down at the yellowed envelopes that lay on the tablecloth before us.  With a surprisingly unsteady hand, I slid each piece of paper out and read the words so carefully typed on each one.  An acceptance letter into the US Army, dated in 1944. A request for uniform and clothing supplies before reporting: pants, jackets, a “watch cap”, even socks.  A roster of names and addresses for the soldiers who had served in Dad’s Third Army unit.  A letter of thanks signed by Harry S. Truman.  A typed, faded reminder to sign up for health and life insurance from the Army before time ran out.

Mom and I smiled and talked about each document, touching them with reverence and love, commenting on the quaintly ancient look of each typed letter.

Then I reached for the last envelop.  I felt something solid inside, something that was clearly not made of paper.  I lifted the flap.  Something slipped into my hand, and I gasped.  I held two small tin dogtags, tied together with string.  There was my father’s name, Edward A. Merullo, and a number.  My fingers closed over them, holding them tight. My heart sped up, and I felt tears fill my eyes.

I had never seen these dogtags before, not ever.  I knew that my father had served in WWII, but that fact seemed like history, not reality.  It didn’t really register with me that Dad had been a soldier, for real.  Not until last Thursday.

There I stood, a mother of three children who are all older than Dad was when he wore those tags.  I stood perfectly still. I stood in tears.

I stood there, holding those little bits of metal, so much lighter and less substantial than I have always imagined them to be.  And I pictured them lying against a boy’s chest, moving with each beat of his heart.  Growing warm from his skin as he stood sentry duty in Germany in 1945.

And for the very first time, I thought of my father as an unsure, unformed boy of 19.  Going to war.  Wearing his army issue jacket, pants and “watch cap”, his dog tags clinking as he marched.  I thought of him in danger, afraid.  Missing his own parents.  Missing home.

And it made me love him and miss him even more.  I wish that I had seen those dogtags when he was still with us, when I could have asked him what he was feeling as he slipped them over his head for the first time.

Fathers day 2006

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.  We miss you.

“All Things in Moderation”

My Dad knew how to have fun.

He loved life, and he loved all of life’s pleasures.  He laughed a lot, he ate well, he loved my Mother a whole lot.

And he loved a good glass of single malt Scotch.

I remember my Dad buying me a Scotch as a cousin’s wedding. I remember us sampling his array of fabulous imported Scotch gifts late, late one Christmas eve.

I remember the day that the oncologist told my Dad that his days were limited, that there were no more treatments to try.  The doctor asked him, “What will you do now?”  and Dad laughed, while the rest of us cried.

“Well,” he said, “First of all, I’ll have a shot of Laphroig.”

My Dad knew how to celebrate within reason.  His motto was “All things in moderation.” Sometimes he would add, with a twinkle in his eye, “Including moderation.”

Today would have been his 86th birthday. If I had my wish, I’d be sharing a glass of good Scotch with him tonight, looking back on a life well spent.

Instead, Paul and I shared a glass in his honor.

We miss you Dad.  We know you would want us to be laughing at happy memories of our lives with you.  We know you would want us to grieve in moderation.

We’ll try.

Salute!  A la famiglia.


To have lived well.

Sometimes I wonder how I will know that I have lived well.  How will I be able to measure my days, when they have come to an end? How does a person assess her own worth, figure her true value, determine the sum total of all that her life has achieved?

I’m very lucky, because I have one sure way to measure the value of my time on earth.

I will measure it against the life that my father lead while he was here with us.

My father was a special person.

He wasn’t rich, not by a long shot.  I have great memories of my parents saving pennies in a jar so they could take us on vacation every summer.  I remember the sense of luxury  we felt when we went out for pizza every few months, the whole huge crowd gathered around the table at “Kitty’s”.  We were anything but “rich”!

My father wasn’t famous. He wasn’t known beyond his own circle of family and work and neighbors.  He didn’t have “fans”.

But the thing is, he was deeply admired and loved by just about everyone who knew him.

My father was fair.  He was honest. He listened and he asked good questions.  He remembered people, and asked about their families and their lives. He shared what he had.  He made people laugh.

He wasn’t afraid to be silly; I remember him dancing the “Pogo” at one cousin’s wedding, bouncing across the dance floor in his three piece suit.  He played with his kids.  He sat on the floor, long after he should have stopped, to bounce his grandchildren on his knees and to hold them aloft on his bent legs to play “airplane”.

He was firm, and sometimes a little rigid.  The world to him was clear and unambiguous.  To Dad, “right” was “right” and “wrong” was “wrong”.  There were no excuses and there was no gray area.  He held all of us to the same high standards that he held for himself.

My father knew how to love.  He was a loyal friend.  He loved his family beyond all measure, and we always knew that.  He loved my mother as much on the day that he died as he did on the day they met, some sixty years before.  And he let her know it every single day.

How can I measure the value of my own life?

I will measure it by the grief that my siblings and I feel today, on what would have been Dad’s 85th birthday.  More than three years after his death, I still feel my father beside me every day.  I hear his laughter, I see his face, I feel the warm strength of his embrace.

A life has been a success, I think, when it leaves behind it a sense of loss and a sense of blessing, all at once. My father has surely left both.  His absence is a gaping hole in all our lives.  His blessings are seen in the way that we have learned to love each other and our own families.  They are found in the lessons that he taught us about facing  our worst fears with grace and courage.

When Dad’s wake was held, the line to pay respects stretched outside the funeral home, across the parking lot and into the lot next door.  The people who knew him waited for almost two hours for a chance to say goodbye.

That is my measure of a life well lived.

Happy Birthday, Dad.   Thank you.

Melancholy, baby

I wish I had been born in the Victorian Age.   I probably wouldn’t have loved the corsets or the lack of indoor plumbing, but I think I could get into the swooning part.  I would enjoy spending a few hours, or days, on a couch in a darkened room, with lavender water in a cloth over my eyes.

It might be nice to be seen as too fragile and nervous to face every day life. A Victorian Lady was allowed to take to her bed with the vapors every now and then, just from hearing bad news.

That sounds good to me right about now.

You see, lately I have been struggling with a real sense of melancholy.  Life is feeling like a challenge.

I am not depressed: that implies a longer, deeper and more profound feeling than what ails me.

I am not really sad; life is full and rich and all is well in my world.

I’m just……melancholy.  I miss my babies, as anyone who has ever stumbled by this blog surely knows. I miss the days of active motherhood far more than I ever thought I would, and with far more sorrow that I anticipated.   But its more than that.   I miss my father, especially around my birthday. I miss his voice.  I miss his brown eyes. I miss the fact of his existence.

I am melancholy for my past.  I want a chance to play with my brothers and sisters again. I want to run through the sprinkler and get in the station wagon and go on vacation.

I am wistful for friends who have retired, moved away, grown distant.  I am missing my school as it used to be in all its creative glory.  In the old days before all the tests and standards and rubrics.  I miss those days.

And I have been on the edge of such sad stories, too.  Unexpected death in the very young, loss and illness and sadness.  I am watching friends as they try to cope with the unthinkable.  It drags on my soul, after a while.

So I am finding it harder and harder to just keep going , to just keep pushing through the demands of every day. But what’s my choice?  I would feel weak if I had to miss work or skip the grocery shopping or fail to walk the dogs.  In 2012, a woman needs to just chin up and keep on plugging.  A modern, progressive, professional woman can’t just pull the curtains, place her limp wrist across her eyes and fall onto the couch.

So I wish that I could live back in Victorian Days, just for a while.  I really want to swoon for a few days. Just till I feel better. I’d even be willing to wear a corset…..

The Kitchen

When I was a little girl, my Mom’s kitchen was the center of the universe. It was the place where our whole big brood gathered every night for dinner. Where we shared the day, passed the bread, argued about who would wash the dishes.

The kitchen was where my Dad made pancakes every Saturday morning, letting Mom get a little rest and a break from her usual role.  It was where we ate Italian cold cuts on round rolls called “spuckies” every Saturday afternoon, my Dad at the table with a pencil on his ear and a salted beer in his hand. It was where we did our homework after supper.

When I got older, and went out on weekend nights until after my parents were asleep, it was the warm light of the kitchen that welcomed me back, and lit my way to my bedroom.  The kitchen table was where I sat to  read the paper, where I learned to make bread, where I rolled out my first miserable failure of a pie crust. One infamous Christmas night, when I was about 25, I sat up until 3 AM with my Dad, taste testing his array of single malt Scotches and waxing philosophical about life and love and the smoky taste of peat.

When I grew up and had my first child, I found myself coming home to my parents’ kitchen.  I’ve fed my babies in that kitchen.  I’ve bathed them in that sink.

My friends have sat around that table with coffee and cake, with wine and cheese, in anger and in joy.  I have heard good news in that room, and have shared the grief of sudden death there.

I sat with my Mom at the kitchen table carefully counting out my father’s pills as he lay dying down the hall. Days later,  I held my sister’s hand as we planned his funeral.

Tonight I am at my Mom’s house, sitting alone at the kitchen table. I come here every week for a meal and a visit, usually spending the night in what was once my old room.  Usually Mom and I sit at the table together to eat, then go to bed at the same time.  Tonight, though, she is feeling sick, and has already gone to bed.  I am left alone in the kitchen, looking at the familiar walls and pictures and mementos of the past.  Feeling the arms of my family curving around me as I look out the window into the yard where I once played.  Soon I will turn out the lights and make my way by touch down the hall to bed.  I will lay my head in the place where it once belonged, and close my eyes and dream.

I wonder if I will dream of my Mother’s kitchen, filled with children and pets and the music of her pots and pans.  I wonder if I will dream of my Dad, pulling his beautiful wife into his arms, onto his knee, laughing as he sits at the head of the kitchen table.

Spirit guides


I’m not usually much of a TV watcher.  Those so called “reality” shows just astound me (THAT’S reality? Seriously?).  I have tried, but I just can’t get past the canned laughter and snarky comments on most sitcoms.  And don’t get me started on the current crop of crime dramas.  My mom loves them, but she has a far stronger constitution than I have; I am completely creeped out by the slightly decomposed corpses in every episode.

No, I’m not a big fan of TV.

Except for my secret vice (which won’t be so secret anymore, I guess).  Ready?

I am absolutely addicted to those ghost hunting paranormal shows. The more farfetched, the better.  I love them all.  Ghosts, spirits, entities, residual haunts…I can’t get enough.

I think my fascination started after my Dad died, and I began to read about evidence of the afterlife. I stumbled onto “Ghost Hunters” and realized that I was truly looking for proof that life continues after death.  As silly as it sounds, as silly as it is, I find some comfort and reassurance in the whispered voices of the “EVP” recorders on those shows.  I choose to believe, and these shows help me to do it.

Yesterday I had three blissful hours all to myself, so I wrapped in a blanket and turned on a marathon of “Long Island Medium”.  This show follows a loud, brassy woman from New York who works as a medium.  It shows her “reading” people at official gatherings, where she charges a fee. But it also shows her suddenly approaching strangers in stores, salons and on the street.  She just marches right up to these people, whose faces are uniformly filled with skepticism and caution as she approaches. She announces, “I’m a medium, and I have a message for you.”  Then she describes the loved one who has “passed” and is standing nearby. The people begin to tear up, they all recognize the spirit, and they feel both validation and relief.

I love it because every message is the same, episode after cheesy episode, encounter after encounter.  “She says to tell you that she’s at peace, and that she is always with you.” “He wants me to tell you to stop worrying; he is at peace, he’s happy, and he watches over you all the time.”

I love both parts of that message, so much!  I love the idea that my Nana is happy and peaceful, and that my Dad is healed of all of his ills.  Even more, I love hearing that they are nearby, taking care of me and of those I love. I love the idea that one day I, too, will be able to see and hear and care for my family from “the other side”.

Last night I heard some sad and scary news about my young nephew who looked absolutely hale and hearty just a few days ago at the family Christmas party.  This morning he faces surgery for testicular cancer. How could this happen?

Last night I dreamed of Nana, gone now for almost five years.  She was laughing, and her voice was so familiar and reassuring.  She was outside of my house, in the woods near the yard, like a little Italian sprite, dancing in the starlight.  She kept saying, “I’m here!”  I haven’t had such a vivid dream of her, haven’t felt her presence, in a long, long time.  It was a strange dream, but I woke up feeling comforted.

I’ll keep my prayers flowing today for my nephew.  I will pray for a simple and straightforward surgery, and a total, complete recovery. I will pray for strength for his parents and his sister, and for comfort for all of them.

And I will send a special request to Nana and to Dad.  I know you two are out there! I know that you are watching over the family that you loved so much.  Please keep a hand on everything today.  Please take care of Russ and stay very close to his side. Please be strong and loving Spirit Guides to all of us.

We love you!


I always thought of missing someone as an emotional reaction.  You know, I wake up, the person isn’t around, so I feel sad.  A heavy heart, an achy throat.  A psychological reaction.

I hadn’t really thought about “missing” as a physical, tangible thing.

This Christmas, I am missing my kids and my Dad in a way that feels like a punch.  And it is the physical, touchable, real things that I miss, not just the idea of their presence.

I miss their voices.  Mostly, of course, I miss my Dad’s voice. His laugh.  His slightly flat rendition of “Home on the Range”.  I miss the sound of him asking me “How are you?” I miss the rhythm and the cadence of him telling a familiar story from his days at home as one of 12 children living in an apartment in East Boston. I miss, I miss, I miss the way he said my name.

I miss my boys’ voices, too, although its only been a few weeks since I heard them.  I miss the deep, resonant “Hey, Mammadukes” of my Matt.  The sound of him describing an idea to me, trying to convey his excitement and his awe about an advance in metaphysics, the halting start and stop as he searches for the right word to fully paint the picture.

I miss Tim’s voice.  His humor, his laugh, his mellow tenor as he sings along with a new band that he is showing me.  I miss the sound of both boys together, laughing, talking about subjects that totally escape me as they trade joking insults.

I miss their breathing, their snoring, the way they cough.  I miss it all.

I miss the hugs from all three.  My Dad’s shoulder, the feel of his cheek, the smell of his Old Spice.  I miss giving my boys a squeeze, and being surprised each time by how big and solid they are.  I miss holding all of their hands.

I know that this reaction is maudlin and somewhat foolish; my Dad lived a long and happy life, and died at a relatively “ripe old age”.  But I miss him.   I know that my boys are just a drive away, and will be home for the Christmas holiday.  But right now, at this moment, surrounded by Christmas crazed children,  I miss them so much.

Life is very rich, and filled with so many happy times and wonderful experiences. I get to see, hear, hug and talk to my daughter every day.  We share friends, colleagues and occasional dinners. I love my job more than I can say, even when it totally wears me out. I love my husband and thoroughly enjoy our time together and our time with our friends.  My dogs are wonderful!

But I am still blue.  Dad, I miss you with every molecule of my being. Boys, come home soon!  I need to fill up my empty spaces with the sounds and touches that I am missing so badly this afternoon.


When I was in the first grade, I think it was, we learned a song about the fall. The words said,

“The wind blew out of the North one day,

and cried ‘September’s begun!’.

Then swiftly, mournfully sped away

To whisper that summer was done.”

Ever since that time, the coming of September has brought with it a sweet sadness as I get ready to say goodbye to the warmth and light of summer.  When I was a young mother, raising my babies, the onset of September meant the tearing separation of our return to school, when I would have to rush away every morning and rush home at night to squeeze in a few precious hours with my babies before bed.

Ten years ago, of course, September was marked forever by the terrorist attacks that stole our innocence and introduced a new sense of wariness and loss.  September 11 rolls around every year, and we shed new tears for the victims, the heroes, the family member left behind to grieve.  Some of us mourn, too, the simple days before that one, when we somehow believed in our national invincibility.

As my children grew up, September became known as “move in” month, when my young adult kids would move out of my house and into campus housing.  September became, for me, the “empty nest” month.  It was a month for letting go, for waving goodbye, for staying up late to worry about smoke alarms and dining hall meals.  September became my goodbye to motherhood month.

And three years ago, on September 15, 2008, my father lost his battle against melanoma. His death is the saddest and most difficult event in my largely charmed and hugely blessed life.  I miss him every single day, multiple times each day. I hear his voice when I hammer a nail, fix chipped paint, mow the grass. I hear his laugh when I pour the wine or serve the pasta.  I see his face when I look in the mirror at mine.  I think of him with a special sweet pain on his birthday, on Christmas, and of course in September.

This year has been particularly poignant.  This is the tenth anniversary of the terrible attacks in 2001.  The whole country is mourning again. I have been in tears over and over as I have compulsively watched the footage of those terrible hours.  I can’t stop crying, but I can’t look away.

Today my family gathered to remember my Dad and to mark the anniversary of his death.  We shared food, and wine and stories, as we always do.  I have dreamed of Dad every night for the past three nights. I felt him beside me as I washed dishes in his kitchen, or threw the trash in his garage.  I remembered our last family gathering with Dad in our presence.  We played music, we ate pasta, we touched his lips with red wine.  We said, “I love you.” over and over again.

September comes every year.  It brings memories of loss and of sorrow.  It brings the end of warmth and the voice of the North wind.

But I am a teacher.  For me, in spite of the sadness and melancholy of the month, September also brings new pencils, new clean notebooks and new school shoes.  Most importantly, September brings a whole new group of children to show me yet again that life is about the future and that every day is a new and exciting day.