gratitude-a-thon day 2087: get busy living, or get busy dying

I got an email on Saturday morning that let me know that a guy I went all the way from Kindergarten to high school with, had died. I had that reaction we get when we aren’t prepared for something we learn. A questioning of the words, a full-body tingle, a quick reread. He’d been sick for many years, battling some sort of lung issue. And now he was gone.

It wasn’t that we were very close friends, we weren’t, but we were certainly friends. Oh, he did ask me to the Senior prom, which I’d had to say no to because I’d already said yes to someone else. And we did share that outdated and ridiculous superlative pick of being Best Looking in our senior class. And we may or may not have had a date in Boston after college that ended in a make-out session in my Newbury Street apartment, which was like kissing your brother and we never saw each other again! But like so many people I went to school with, he was a constant, the low din of background music, the Bethel backdrop of growing up. See, I never moved once. I grew up in the same small town, in the same old creaky Victorian house for my whole life. It was like that for many of us. There were generations who’d inhabited that tiny town. Everybody knew everybody. And the people you went to school with, who showed up every September with new haircuts or new bras, a few new inches, or the fear of having an erection in class, were such a constant in your every day, you’d remember them the rest of your life.

There are many reasons I feel sad over this way-too-early loss. One is that it is premature. Yes, I know, he wasn’t 25 years old. But it’s still too soon, there are still too many happy and astounding experiences that will never be. His wife shouldn’t be widowed. His kids shouldn’t be without their dad. Two is the wake-it-on-up call that says Jeez, here’s where we are, class of 1977–we’re dying now.

Armand Menegay. That was his name. He was smart and gorgeous and athletic and had a great personality. He’d created a good life. One that shouldn’t have ended so fucking soon. But he reminded me to be more present today, to love a little harder and louder, to remember that as Andy says to Ellis in the Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.” We all have that expiration date looming. Grateful to have known you, Armand. Here’s to you.

gratitude-a-thon day 2061: you can count on change

When someone dies, I always think of the line Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz when she is in Munchkinland, and someone or other has left, “My! People come and go so quickly here!”

Because it’s true. Whether it’s death or divorce, marriage or babies, watching your kids grow up, or a friend move away, we’re in a constant state of flux. This gig is short. None of it lasts.

One of my first cousins, Judy, left the earth yesterday. She was in the end stages of Parkinson’s and fell down and hit her head and valiantly fought, but in the end, she passed. It’s such an awful disease and she had it for a long time. She is free now, free of that body that was bogging her down.

Because I am the youngest of all of my first cousins, there are many who are much older than I am, like Judy, who was 86. Because of the age difference (although she was fucking ageless, looking truly beautiful until the end), I have always been much closer to her daughter, who is my age. To me, Judy was glamorous and fashionable and warm with an amazing talent for design, a deep spirituality, good energy, and an easy laugh–a progressive and true original. I fully imagine that Judy will give heaven a design makeover worthy of its name.

Gratitude for those who come and those who go, as we learn to embrace the changes that keep rolling in. This is one of our tasks here, to recognize the impermanence and have at it while it’s fresh–to be with someone in the now-ness.



gratitude-a-thin day 511: a sliver of light in the dark


06ef988ba4ceb019af5b803ce21fd211When you lose someone, in the moment there is just pain. Searing, penetrating, all-encompassing pain. We cry more tears than we think we have. We can think of nothing but what is gone. Somehow we plod through the quicksand of grief. Eventually, at some point, which seems a little different for everyone, we realize the kindnesses afforded us when our pain was too big to hold alone. We see that old friends come forward to keep us afloat, and people you never knew show up, honoring what’s been lost in unusually life affirming ways. Suddenly one day, we see that deep inside the loss there are some gains. Not that the loss is a happy thing, but that even in all the pain, a happy thing can also exist.

I have made the loveliest connection because of a loss. I still wish the loss was a silly dream, but I am so grateful for the pretty little flower that grew out of this wreckage.

gratitude-a-thon day 420: what’s left


I keep trying to forget that a friend of mine died almost two weeks ago. I keep trying to push it out of my mind, move it over, find a big field to put it, where it isn’t so IN MY FACE. Because when I think about her, when I think about her being gone, I get an overwhelming bunch of feelings that seem like they could just take over the ship.

It’s funny how you can have a genuine connection with someone that you don’t see that much. But Katie was so electrifyingly dynamic that her impact on me was Empire State Building huge. I keep thinking of that smile, dentists everywhere would envy, and that passionate conviction she toted around like an extra limb, and that they are no longer in play, and how damn sad that is. For those who knew her, and those who didn’t.

I’m listening hard to what she left behind.


gratitude-a-thon day 414: saying goodbye, and why we ever said hello to start with

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Today I will go to the funeral of my friend Katie. It will be a hard day.

Some people are surprised I knew Katie, because of the 23 year age difference, and because my kids were older than her son. It’s funny how during the school years, your schedule often only allows you to pair off with the people who are doing exactly what you’re doing, or who have children who are close enough in age, that you can throw them all together while you have an adult conversation, or make a meal, or polish off a bottle of wine (or two).

For a while I thought I might open a store, and for a few years I sort of set up a store in my living room with a mix of what I would sell in a real store, as kind of a test kitchen. It was also kind of a party, with food and wine and girl talk. Anyway, that’s the first time I met Katie. Someone brought her over to shop. And I was literally stunned by how beautiful she was. I think I said to her, “You are gorgeous, Who are you?“She was like 5’9, with long hair and perfect features, and a great body and killer style. Anyway, I talked to her and we clicked in some funny way, and then I saw her at a party not long after, and then we just sort of had this funny little relationship, in which we didn’t spend a ton of time together, but we messaged a lot on Facebook, and we just got each other. There was some sort of no bullshit zone we got into. She told me her whole story, because as she said to me, “You’re so open, it makes me want to tell you everything.” She acknowledged it was odd, that she didn’t really do that a lot. But I understood, and appreciated it. Because that girl had a lot of story. And I could hear it, I could take it in, because I am older, wasn’t her contemporary. And because I have very openly on this blog shared my own difficulties, with my dad’s alcoholism, and how that has affected every part of my life. She liked that age hadn’t diminished me. She liked my kind of 55, and knowing that’s what hers could be like. She appreciated where I’d been and wanted to know what I thought about things she struggled to try and figure out, that I’d already been through, stuff lots of 32 year olds struggle with, and then some. She loved the blog. As for me, I loved her incredible energy, and her quick mind, her take on the world, and the way she worked at her life, to make it good, to make it right. It wasn’t easy for her. She had such a brilliant mind. It was unusual in its brilliance, like the brightest star you’ve ever seen in the sky. Amidst all the serious talk, we would also talk about clothes, and where to get a good blow dry, and girlie stuff like that. It was kind of hilarious to be in the middle of some intense topic, and at the same time discuss the merits of highlighting your hair.

The last time I saw her we had lunch at Rifrullo. She wore a shirt with a big heart on it. And we talked a lot. And I ordered the gluten free bread, which I’d recently had there for the first time. And Katie was on a no carb diet, but she had to taste it, and she went bananas over it,  just like I had a few weeks earlier. I told her  that Colleen the owner had given me the recipe. She messaged me later in the day for it. I sent it. Ironically, It was called The Life Changing Loaf of Bread.

I am going to miss that girl, that sparkly, ball of brilliance. I will really miss those conversations. She had zillions of friends, so I feel lucky she streaked through my life. Because I loved our funny little friendship. It made me think, and made me laugh, and made me better.

gratitude-a-thon day 414: a heartbreaking work of incredible genius


She was staggeringly beautiful and brilliant. Her talents defied right brain/left brain categorization. I was mesmerized by her presence. It was colorful, and graceful, and bawdy and big, filled with a contagious energy. Her heart was ten times the size of the moon, and her love for her son was huge and deep and desperate. She had a particular brand of magic that always left me thinking, out of breath, happier. There wasn’t anything about her you could call ordinary. Her engagement with life was deep and meaningful and soulful and silly. She ripped into it like you’d bite a sandwich after you hadn’t eaten in three days. She hungered to help the world, add her mark to improve the parts that were broken. She was a singer/songwriter, a nurse practitioner, a volunteer, a model, a daughter, sister, wife, mom and friend. She told me she wanted to be me when she got older. I told her she must really aim higher! She was only 32. And this weekend she died. I am grateful to you Katie McQuaid Toig, for allowing me in. Your departure seems a sin against mankind. The sky was the most delicate color of pink last night, and in a moment it was dark. I feel quite certain that was you. Telling us you’d arrived in a happy place. The tragedy of your loss has pulled a black veil over my heart. But I will remember that sky, when I remember you.

gratitude-a-thon day 355: you grieve until you don’t

I brought these to Peter’s memorial service, which was perfect and beautiful–in his backyard–with friends and family gathered under a large tent, taps and a bag pipe player, too.

The thing is, I didn’t think I would be this sad. But here I am days after my cousin’s memorial service, still crying at the slightest provocation, feeling fragile like a piece of delicate high-end wedding china, small in the face of loss.

The sky is light blue, my hydrangeas are in full bloom, and the beach is ready for the taking. We’re smack in the middle of my favorite season, and yet it might as well be winter, because Nina Simone, you got nuthin’ on me; I’ve got the blues.

Dying is part of this show, but Jeez, it’s not the fun part. They should really try to make this death thing a little more fun.

But to know that you loved someone so much that you feel a little part of yourself has been surgically removed, is lucky in some bizarre (and painful) way. And that’s how I feel, that gnawing in the stomach that loss delivers like UPS, an overall sadness, an achy breaky heart.

The gratitude comes in waves, of having been fortunate enough to have known someone you truly loved. I just wish it didn’t come with this heaping side order of sad.

gratitude-a-thon day 348: fuck you, cancer

A handsome, young Peter in the navy. He was really cute.

My heart feels like a bowling ball this morning. It’s overcast out there and cool, but ugly. It will likely rain, and that’s good, because that’s how I feel. My cousin Peter passed away in his sleep last night. I saw him only three weeks ago, when he traveled up to the Cape to spend some time with family. We knew he was very sick, and none of us could quite stand the fact that he, at a healthy, vibrant 74 had been hit with lung cancer to begin with. He was still working, ironically as a hospice nurse, when he was diagnosed. it seemed cruel and silly for the roles to turn on him. And yet, they had.

Peter had so much sweetness. He was always good to me, from the earliest times. I remember when he was in the navy, he went to Rome. And he brought me back a plate with a Christmas tree on it. I loved that plate like it was a limb. I used it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I still can’t quite believe that he lugged a breakable item home for me, his littlest cousin, all the way from Italy. It has always seemed to me improbably adorable.

Nancy and Peter, married almost five decades.

Talk about a good marriage. Peter had one of the best marriages, if not the best marriage, of anybody I have ever met. Married for 49 years, his wife Nancy is beautiful, smart, and patient. To have a conversation with her is to feel heard. To listen to her southern accent is to be calmed. An only child, son, cousin, friend, and dad to an awesome brood of three, a grandfather to nine, he relished family connection.

The only good thing about Uncle Louie’s funeral is that I got to spend some good time with Peter. It would be the last time I would see him healthy.

Riley knows good people. He took to Peter instantly.

Happy to have this photo with Jake and Peter.

And so as I sit here and cry, I will think of Peter joining my mom and my Uncle Louie at the all-you-can-eat pasta bar in the sky. It’s the only way I can make this loss ok.