I Dreamed of My Father


Some dreams are only dreams. They come to us through the mixing of our yearnings and our fears. They drift through our sleep, filled with images and sounds forged from both memory and wish.

They feel as insubstantial as clouds. They exist, but they are made of nothing we can touch.

But some dreams are more. Some of them, when we are very lucky, are truly visits from those we have lost.

Last night my father came to see me. He came to me as I slept because he’s been gone from this earth for more than ten years now.

I dreamed of my Dad.

I dreamed that I was walking in a foggy place. I couldn’t see what was around me, but I felt myself moving. And then I saw him, my Dad. Right there, right in front of me.

I felt myself begin to cry. I felt the pain in my chest, and in my throat. There were tears on my face that I felt as they moved down my cheeks. I sobbed and felt the loss of breath.

In my sleep, I reached for Dad, expecting to be aware of him only as a dream. I expected the one dimensional feel of him; an image that I could see but one that would have no substance.

Instead, as I hugged him, I felt the warmth of his breath in my hair and the feel of his arms around me. A shock of recognition and awareness jolted through me, and I said, “Oh, Dad, it’s really you!”

He laughed. His real, Dad laugh, and put his hand on my cheek. “Oh,” he said, in his own voice. “I’m here! Don’t cry!”

I held his hand in mine and looked at his fingers, his knuckles, the way the skin was pulled smooth across the back of his hand. I felt the rough texture of his palm and the pads of his fingers.

These were details that I’d forgotten about him. Awake, I would never have known them again.

But he was there. Smiling at me, laughing at the foolishness of my grief. As often happens in these vivid, “visitation” dreams, I knew what he was thinking without hearing all of his words.

“It’s OK! You’re fine.” I felt that he was amused and touched by my sadness, but I knew that it didn’t worry him.

And then the visit was over.

I don’t remember him leaving, but I remember waking up, feeling comforted, but feeling cheated, too. He had been there, for really real, but he was gone again.

I dreamed of my Father. I smelled his skin, felt the softness of his hair. I was held in his arms, against his familiar chest.

It was him. He was here.

I want to go back to sleep. I want him to come and see me once again.

Dad and I, once upon a time.

Tamir Rice


Tamir. Just a little boy.

Tamir. Just a little boy.

Look at that face.  What a beautiful boy.  He could have been of my students, making me laugh in the middle of a math lesson.

He could have been one of the kids on my son’s sports teams. He could have been at my daughter’s birthday party. He could have been my neighbor’s child.  He could have been my own.

What a beautiful child.

And he is gone, taken from us by a gun.

I mourn the loss of yet another innocent young life, killed for no good reason.  I was sick when I heard about what had happened to him, literally sick to my stomach.   This child was playing with a toy gun when he was shot to death by police officers who were told to respond to a report of a “guy with a gun” in a local park.

I was sick, disgusted, horrified, angry when I saw the images of the patrol car pulling up to confront the kid with the toy.

I wanted to be furious at the cops who failed to warn him. I wanted to be enraged at the speed of the lethal response.

But I can’t.

I can’t blame those officers. I keep imagining what it must feel like to have to confront men with guns every day.  I keep thinking about the gun crime rate in Cleveland, where Tamir held his airsoft gun. (Gun Epidemic in Cleveland)

I can’t stop wondering about the complete and total insanity of our current gun soaked culture and how many children have died from gunshots in the past ten years.

Cleveland, like so many American cities, is rife with gun deaths. You can read about the deaths of infants, caught in the crossfire in this article: 5 month old killed by gun. You can check the crime stats for the state of Ohio here: Gun Death Stats.   People in Ohio are dying from suicides, homicides and accidental gun deaths at an incredibly outrageous rate. Tens of thousands of people are involved, every single year, in some form of gun violence.

But gee, you say. Tamir was not holding a real gun! It was just a toy!

OK.  So let’s think about these so called “Imitation guns”.  Seriously?  American companies think its OK to manufacture and market guns that look exactly like real guns???  Here is what the “Airsoft” folks had to say after the death of young Tamir on the night that he was playing in a park with one of their products:

Airsoft guns are not designed to kill or seriously injure. The novelty guns shoot small plastic pellets and come in all shapes and sizes, including pistols and rifles, said Chip Hunnicutt, Marketing Manager for Crosman, a New York-based company and one of many manufacturers that produce the guns.

“They’re recreational products. I wouldn’t call it a toy,” Hunnicutt said.

Ohio has no restrictions on the sales of airsoft guns, a State Attorney General spokesman said. That means minors can purchase the weapons.

So when those officers were called to that park on a cold night, and were confronted by a young man/boy with what sure as hell looked like a REAL gun, and they shot him dead right then and there, it was a horrific and unacceptable tragedy on every single level.

But I can’t make myself blame the cops.  I can’t.

I do blame those who claim that “guns save lives”.  I do blame those who refuse to admit that handguns have no purpose other than the killing of humans.   I absolutely blame those who make money off the sale of “imitation guns” that look just exactly like the real thing.

I blame everyone who refuses to accept the fact that we are in no way a “civilized country” when we calmly accept the slaughter of babies, tens of thousands of them every year, so that adults can play with guns.

I blame the NRA. I blame Congress. I blame the media. I blame the President and the Vice President and the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader and the extremist who pretend that outlawing handguns and assault weapons means “taking away our guns.”

I blame every single adult in the entire United States of America who is willing to call the death of a 12 year old boy with a toy an appropriate price to pay for their “gun rights”.

What about Tamir’s right to grow up? What about his right to play in a park in his home city?  What about his rights, huh? What about the rights of our nation’s children to go to school, or the movies, or the mall, or a local restaurant, or a park without fear of being shot to death?

What about our rights as parents to raise our children in a truly civilized country?

We all failed you, Tamir.  And I am so sorry.

Mind over Momma


Sadie, aging far more gracefully that some of us.

I can’t tell if I’m dying or not. What do you think?

So I should know by now that my old dog Sadie is practically a mind reader. She is more sensitive to human emotion than most mental health professionals could ever hope to be.

I should know that by now, right?

I mean, ever since she came to us, some 7 years ago, Sadie has been reacting to my slightest emotional expression.  If I cry over a sad movie, she lowers her head and stars to shiver, gazing up at me with her big sorrowful eyes.  If one of us raises our voice to yell at a bad move by one of the Red Sox, she slinks downstairs to hide behind the furnace.

When we laugh, she wags her tail and pants like a puppy.

When I’m scared or worried, she comes to sit beside me, leaning her solid body against me to give what can only be described as a doggy hug.

So when Sadie fell ill with a mystery disease, and began to experience everything from diarrhea to excess thirst to a caved in skull, we thought it was the beginning of the end.

We started to talk softly around her.  There was a lot of, “Oh, poor old girl!  Poor baby. Oh, my poor baby girl.”  We started to think that we should give her extra love, extra treats, extra hugs and brushes and walks.

Over the past three weeks, our fluffy old girl began to really slow down.  She was sleeping most of the day away.  She stopped wagging her tail and spent hour after hour hiding behind the couch.

Her stomach got worse, her symptoms increased. We talked about euthanasia. We consulted with the vet.  We tried to spend quality time with our beautiful old girl.

She kept getting weaker. She no longer stepped out onto our deck as we arrived home, singing and jumping around in her joy at seeing us again.

And last Friday we debated whether or not we should go away for the weekend with our friends. They had invited us to spend three days out on Martha’s Vineyard in their new boat.  I really, really, really wanted to go, but I felt guilty.  What if the old girl gave up the ghost while we were away?  Paul and I talked it over, then decided that it would be OK to leave the dogs in the tender care of our youngest son, Tim.  We knew he’d be careful and would appreciate Sadie’s fragile state.

But we forgot that Tim is only 23!  He isn’t thinking “end of life care”.  He apparently came in the door full of life and youthful energy.  He brought a friend.  They cooked, they went into the hot tub, they listened to music. I’m sure they laughed a lot and hung out with friends and drank beer.

They gave Sadie her medicine, but I guess they forgot to pity her or sniffle over her. I don’t think they ever remembered to say, “Oh, you poor old girl…..”

So, yep, you guessed it.

As we drove down the driveway after our weekend away, both dogs raced out onto the deck, both barking and singing and howling with pleasure.  Sadie danced around, her tail going a mile a minute, her big furry face filled with a happy doggy smile.

She’s been full of energy ever since.

I should have figured.  As long as I keep thinking of her as a spry old broad, she’ll keep acting like one.

Way to go, Tim!  Way to go, Miss Sadie!

Eternal Rest


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For most of my life, I assumed that my final resting place would be a graveyard.

Everyone I ever knew followed that typical American path; you die, you are embalmed, you have a wake where everyone kneels in front of you, praying and thinking “Jeez, she looks awful…..”

In my experience, the end of life was marked by church, uncomfortable black clothes, a wake, a funeral and a big lunch afterwards.

I assumed that one day I, too, would lie there like a sunken, waxy version of my worst self, surrounded by dozens of cloyingly aromatic flower arrangements.  I assumed that I would then be lowered into the ground in my gleaming wooden coffin and that a big headstone would be placed there to mark my location.

It didn’t seem so bad to me when I was younger! I have always loved to wander through old graveyards, reading the stones and trying to imagine the people below me and the lives that they had left behind. It seemed sort of romantic in a strange way, you know?

But now I am older.  I’m a bit closer to that final rest than I used to be.  And I am experiencing more wakes, more funerals, more loss.   I have friends who are battling life threatening illnesses.

So I’ve been rethinking my original plans.

First off, I am not so sure that I want to be pumped full of chemicals and placed in a sealed casket.  I mean, I eat organic, locally grown veggies.  I clean with vinegar and baking soda.   Why would I want to spend eternity with chemicals in my veins?  And why the super sealed casket, lead lined and “water safe”?   Once I die, I realize, I will not be coming back.  No need to stay dry.

And holy crow! Why would I want my family to spend that much money on something that will only be seen for four hours?  I’d rather have them use the same funds to take a nice trip to Italy and drink to my memory.

So…..I have been thinking about a “green burial”.  Put me in a simple pine box, let me decompose and become fertile ground for a nice lilac.

But I had an experience yesterday that made me rethink even that idea.

I was attending the funeral of my wonderful, funny, fun loving, lively Uncle Lennie.  We had been to the church, and were now approaching the graveyard where he would be laid to rest.  It is a beautiful, green place in a lovely little New England town.  Trees, flowers, beautiful thick grass, carefully maintained headstones.

But there was a sign at the gate that caught my eye.  It read, “No bicycles. No dog walking.  No playing.”

No playing?  No playing?

What does that even mean?

My Uncle was a professional baseball player.  If we played catch one day by his graveside, could we be arrested?

What if we brought a chess set, and decided to enjoy a calm fall day by playing chess and remembering our Uncle?  Would that be against the law?

Could we play a violin or a guitar in his honor?

No playing?

I don’t understand.

I do realize one thing, though, as I think about my own “eternal rest”.   I would hate like hell to be left in a place where dogs were not welcomed.  I would never, ever rest easy in a spot where children were forbidden to romp and frolic and laugh and play.

The only thing that would be sure to make me haunt this world would be to force me into a joyless, child free, dogless place.

I am thinking a lot about cremation and the “scattering of the ashes”.  I would love a chance to spend eternity in the Atlantic Ocean. Where I would most certainly play with the dolphins!

Life is such a winding road


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It’s a funny thing, but this Christmas has me thinking about death.   Oh, not in a scary, sad, “ghost of Christmas future” kind of way.  More like in a “So I wonder what happens next” sort of way.

My oldest child got married in July, and two of my closest friends are about to become grandparents.

I’m thinking about the fact that my generation is in the process of taking the next step up the ladder, making way for a whole new generation of young parents and their babies.  I’m thinking that life has carried me along the winding road to where I am now, and that everything that has happened before now has led me to be ready for this next step upwards.

I don’t mind thinking about my own turn as “Nonni”, whenever it comes my way.  I don’t mind leaving the parenting to a younger set.  I don’t mind being the one who will one day get to cuddle, spoil, tickle and hand back.  I’m ready.  Life is a winding road, but it leads us all to the next phase.

And I’m thinking so much about my Dad.  He loved babies, he loved kids, he loved holidays and crowds and too much food and really good conversation and chaos and laughter.  He loved us.   A lot.

My Dad died six years ago.  For me,  the world seemed to stop turning after his death; how could the world go on without him?  But gradually I realized that the seasons continued, the days flowed by, the children grew and my hair went slowly grayer.  My life went on, but I also began to understand that his did, too.  I felt him, I “saw him”, I talked to him in my dreams.

I have felt my father’s hand and his hug and his breath many times over the past six years.  A few months after his death, my daughter needed emergency surgery.  When she slowly awoke from her anesthesia, she told me, “I was with Grampa. He was wearing a flannel shirt and he sat with me, holding my hand. We were at a little round table. I felt so safe with him there.”  She told me that she saw my Dad look at his watch, then look up at her.  She told me that he said, “You’ll be OK now.  Time to go.”  He got up, hugged her, and left.

And she woke up, looking at me.  She knew that he was with her.  I knew it too, because I felt it deep, deep in my heart.

This morning I read the blog of a wise old curmudgeon who goes by the humorous name of “Daddy Bear”.   In his thoughtful post “New Year Thinkering”, Daddy Bear thought about his own death.  He phrased his ‘thinkering’ in such a lovely way that I understood that a lot of people hold my belief that life goes on, even after death has found us. You should read his gentle words. You will find comfort and inspiration.

This Christmas, I had my children around me.  I felt my father in the room with us, smiling and laughing and enjoying the love that they feel for each other. For Dad, family was everything. He valued his family more than anything else in his life. I felt his spirit in the laughter and joy of my boys on Christmas. He would have been so proud of the love that my children feel for each other!

This Christmas, I gathered with a huge group of my cousins and their children, eating the same traditional Christmas foods that go back generations.  We ate octopus (“pulpi”) and squid and shrimp, cooked the same way that my Grandpa taught us to cook them. My Grandpa who has been gone for 28 years.  We ate “Nana pizza” cooked exactly the right way by my sweet niece Angela, who copied her Nana exactly, although Nana has been gone for seven years now.  And it occurred to me, as I hugged my cousins and ate my “boopie” and drank my wine, that my grandparents have achieved a kind of immortality through all of us and all of our children.

Life is a long and winding road, and none of us can ever predict the roadblocks or the washouts or the detours.  Still, we go on, because we can’t turn around.  Life is a winding, bumpy road, but we are committed to reaching its end.  Life is a funny, surprising adventurous road, and sometimes I think we all wish we could pull into a rest area and just let the traffic go on by.

But we stay on the road, because we have no choice.  We bump along, enjoying the scenery as much as we can. Eventually, we come to the parking lot, where our personal road comes to an end.

But our kids drive on, past where we have stopped. They carry our hearts, our smiles, our round eyes, our preference for salty over sweet.  They drive right on, covering their own winding, bumpy roads, long after we have stopped driving.

And we live on, because our children and their children carry our spirits within them.  We live on, because even after we shed these achy old bones, our hearts stay close to those we love.

This Christmas, I am thinking quite a lot about true immortality, and about the many ways that each of us will live on. We will all live on through those who have loved us. If we leave behind a loving and happy family, how much more secure is our immortality!

Dedicating this post to my funny, smart, loving, feisty, immortal Uncle Bob.

Mon Papa


Grande_mosquee_Kairouan2_SIt was 1973.  I was a high school junior.  I was scared to death.

Somewhere in the course of the school year, for some reason that I can no longer recall, I had signed up to join the “American Field Service” program.  I had signed up so that I could become an exchange student and travel somewhere abroad.  I had filled out all the paperwork, signed all the forms, gone through all of the interviews.  I was ready to travel.

To Germany. Or Austria. Or maybe to Wales.  I imagined myself chatting comfortably with English speaking people in beautiful European settings. I imagined just enough quaintness to feel as if I was somewhere “away”.

I never envisioned myself living on the edge of the Sahara dessert, under a red African sky, listening to the call of the muezzin as the sun set into the dusty hills.

But that is just where I found myself in June of 1973.  In the dusty Tunisian  city of Kairouan, surrounded by the 3,500 year old walls of the ancient Medina.  The air smelled of jasmine and heat and spice.  It was so dry that it seemed to crackle, and I felt the sun like a pressured weight on the skin of my neck. I hadn’t even known that the world could feel so foreign. Nothing was familiar.

I had met my Tunisian sisters, young women who were beautiful, graceful, charming and totally foreign to me. They all spoke English, but it was the musical sounds of French and Arabic that were swirling around me as I tried to make sense of my new surroundings.  I knew that they were all trying hard to make me feel welcome, but I remember that on that first afternoon, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of strangeness and confusion.  The whole world seem a bit surreal to me at that moment, filled with dangers and enticements that I had never imagined.  I met my Tunisian mother, a quiet, smiling woman whose kindness did nothing to alleviate my sense of dislocation.  I felt as if I had traveled all the way around the earth, leaving behind my sense of belonging, my sense of the rightness of the physical world around me.  I felt a little bit lost that first afternoon, sitting on the little balcony of the family apartment, desperately trying to understand the conversations of the family.  Desperately trying not to miss my own home, my own familiar family.

Suddenly I heard a man’s voice, calling loudly and somewhat forcefully, “Ou est ma nouvelle fille!?”  (“Where is my new daughter?”) I remember feeling suddenly embarrassed, inadequate. And supremely out of place.

Then he was there, Papa Barrack, smiling broadly and warmly, without even a trace of awkwardness. He wore a white robe and black plastic sandals.  He was not tall, but he was a force. His personality filled the room, embraced us all, pulled me in.  From that moment, I never doubted that I was a member of that wonderful family.  Papa Barrak made it so, and it was so.

Over the course of the three months when I lived with the Barrak family in Tunisia, I learned many, many things.  I learned a lot of French and bit of Arabic. I learned about a new culture, and new foods and new music. I learned how to dance to that music, how to make my hips move independently of my shoulders and my feet in time to my hips.  I learned how to cook and eat couscous, I learned about the mosques and about the beautifully haunting call to prayer.

Most of all, though, in that wonderful summer of ruins and Carthage and French pop music and skinny dipping in the Mediterranean, most of all, I learned that people are just people. I learned that a Moslem Dad in North Africa and an Italian Catholic Dad in Massachusetts had more in common than anyone could ever have described to me.  I learned that Dads of teenaged girls are proud and loving and protective and annoying and wonderful.  I learned that Mom’s living across the globe from each other faced the very same trials, and the same pleasures.  They shopped, they cooked dinner, they beamed when the kids ate what they had cooked.  They wanted more help around the house, but they understood when it wasn’t forthcoming.  I learned that kids are just kids, that families are just families, complete with love and arguments and annoyances.

From Papa Barrak, I learned that when someone is there to greet you, you can be at home wherever you find yourself. Even at the edge of the dessert, in a land that smells of jasmine and heat and spice.

Adieu, Papa Barrak. Repose en paix.

“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.

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It takes a village


You all know the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Well, tonight I am realizing just how true that cliche really is, and how much more there is to the story than simply the raising of the child.

About 15 years ago, I met a sweet young kindergarten teacher. She was gentle, thoughtful, very beautiful, and she possessed an innocence of spirit that made this older woman want to hold her close and help her through the struggles of public school teaching.   She and I worked together with many children, she as the classroom teacher, me as the speech/language specialist and special education connection.

I remember watching her mature, watching as she learned the ropes and developed her skills in teaching and in meeting with anxious parents.

And I remember, so clearly, one Valentine’s morning.  I was in her classroom to help with a reading lesson.  Suddenly, a group of men stood in the doorway, wearing black vests and bowties.  The tallest of them, sporting a wicked grin and an armful of long-stemmed red roses, said, “Dave sent us to serenade you!”  The four men came into the room, arranged themselves around the little tables filled with cut out paper and crayons, and began to sing.  The lush harmonies of a barbershop quartet competed with the giggles of delighted five year olds, and the teacher stood motionless in blushing beauty.

I remember when her sweetheart (another of my colleagues) proposed, and she accepted. I remember seeing photos of their wedding.

And I can clearly remember when they announced that they were expecting their first child.  She was still the kindergarten teacher, and he was teaching phys ed, keeping the hordes of active children in check with his firm, calm, gentle hand. All of us at school were delighted for them! It was such a sweet story, and we all basked in its warmth.

I remember meeting that sweet first born girl shortly after her birth, and I remember my pleasure when I found out that she was going to be a big sister.

When the second daughter was born, I remember attending an end-0f-year party with the parents and both little girls. I can recall, so clearly, shooing the parents into the back yard to relax a bit and to let their toddler play while I held the sleeping infant girl in my arms. I remember her smell, the softness of her golden hair.  I remember the laughs, at my expense, when other teachers called me “Nonni-wannabe” and teased me about my skills as a baby rocker extraordinaire.

I remember the shock that I felt three years ago when we were told that the younger child, the sweet golden haired baby, had been diagnosed with leukemia. I remember the sorrow, the helplessness, the prayers.

I wished on falling stars for her recovery. I picked four-leaf-clovers.  I prayed, I sang, I tried to make bargains with God.

With all of my colleagues, and with all of the friends and family and neighbors of this young family, I baked and made suppers. We raised money to help defray the terrible costs, we donated gift cards, we wrote checks.  We hoped, we offered encouragement, we engaged in every kind of magical thinking.

For three long, long, years this family has fought the good fight against a vicious and insatiable disease.  That little girl and her Momma were away from home for over a year, trying everything to keep her alive. Her big sister and her cat and her Dad stayed at home, working to keep the home fires alight.

For three terrible, deceitful years that poor little kid underwent every possible treatment to defeat her awful foe.  She struggled, she fought, she kept going against all odds. By all accounts, she kept on laughing, kept on demanding, kept on living as long as she possibly could.

Last night, after so much pain and so much suffering, her little seven year old body could take no more, and she succumbed.

How do we make sense of such a thing?  What can we possibly say to explain how such an unfair and unwarranted event could be allowed to happen? Where is God? What is he thinking? Where is the plan? What purpose was served here?

I have no words to put meaning to what this loving, kind, generous family has had to endure.

What I am left with is this: Every day is a gift.  Every child is a blessing.  Every life is worth everything.  We must all take care of each other, every day.  And in honor of this brave, strong warrior of a girl, we owe it to all of the children on earth to fight as hard as we can to ensure that they live well for every minute that is granted to them.

It takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village to mourn a child, and to comfort and support those who are left behind by the loss of that child.

In honor of Meg,  3/25/05-7/4/12