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I hate the feeling I get when hearing of a young person’s death. Emptiness swirls in the pit of my stomach and anxiety rushes through my bones. I guess when you are young you think about death but hope it is a long way off. Hearing the news of Heath Ledger’s passing saddened me. He was too young to die and had a whole life to live. For reasons unknown his journey into this world ended. His mission was completed.  I choose to believe that we all have a purpose. There are certain people we are meant to meet, influence and learn from.  We evolve, create then transcend. It just makes more sense when this happens after living a long life. Even in death, he affected millions of people and possibly opened their eyes to how short life could be. That in itself is a lesson we must learn.

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 I witnessed distant cousins of mine bid farewell to their father this week. In today’s world, he was a young man at the age of sixty-two. This family was always admirable. They were a team and you knew it. Both of the parents were strong, goal oriented, rise to the top individuals. They showed their children that with hard work anything could be accomplished. They gave them wings and encouraged them to fly when the time was right. Even though the father battled cancer, he never wanted his children to stick around and wait for him to die. He wanted them to get out and start living their life, so at the end of his, he could see how much they grew. Walking into the funeral home it was obvious how much this man was loved. There were people everywhere paying their respects, reminiscing about a time they shared with him or just sitting quietly on a chair as tears rolled down their cheeks. When it was my turn to hug and offer my condolences to my cousins, I noticed a beautiful thing; all three sons were wearing the same tie. As I walked up to the coffin to pray for the safe return home of the soul of their father, I observed that he too wore the same tie as his sons.  When I wrapped my arms around their mother, it was noticed that she and her daughter both were wearing the same shirt. What a class act, I thought. Even in death, they are a team. Death takes away the people we love but it never can make the impression they left with us disappear. This family left an impression with me that I would never forget. A team’s dynamic changes with the loss of a key player, but the players left behind play harder and stronger. Demonstrating it was the person lost they will forever play for. They will pack away their team uniforms, knowing the captain is no longer with them. But he left them with the courage it takes to become a captain of another team.

“Pathetic,” the sound of my husband’s voice uttering this word woke me from a deep sleep. “What?” I mumbled back. He could not believe that he heard the alarm clock music blaring from my daughter’s room down the hall and around the corner and I didn’t. At some point during the night he was asked to go sleep in her room (probably because of a nightmare). It’s he who sets the alarm clock, so in situations like this morning he expects me to wake him once it goes off. I do not think this is too much to ask and I would if I heard it the way he heard it. You see, I have a problem. The music of the alarm clock becomes part of my dreams. I have danced many times to the music that was supposed to be waking me up. There is always a situation in my dream happening at the exact moment the alarm clock goes off. For example, I’m at a party talking to some friends, in the midst of our conversation music gets turned on (actually the alarm clock) a friend smiles and says “Let’s Dance.” We be-bop through my dream laughing, grooving and spinning about through random rooms in a house I have never been in. I have also slowed dance with a handsome man (sometimes my husband, sometimes not-Hey I can’t help what I dream can I?). It’s not just the music that makes its way into my dreams it’s the news as well. Last week a male reporter was talking about how a horse in New York City got spooked and ran into a tree and died. The information being told became part of my dream and it haunted me for hours after I woke up. I dreamt of the crash. I’m no psychic and I’m sure the crash I saw in my dream was not the actual scene of the horse’s demise but it still felt very real. Years ago we lived in a small apartment on a busy street. Our walls were thin and there wasn’t much that couldn’t be heard. You would think I would have heard a fire truck’s siren going off across the street. I didn’t. I woke up the next morning went out on my back porch and started talking to the neighbor. It was then that I was told of the fire across the street and how the trucks were there for most of the night extinguishing the flames. What was scarier was my husband slept through it too. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had a dream that night of myself wearing suspenders and big boots standing on a ladder with a hose in my hand. Dreaming to me is like a drug; once I start I don’t want to stop, unless of course it’s a nightmare. I think dreaming is similar to what heaven or hell will be. We are moving about through worlds, dealing with situations, dancing like fools and having conversations with others. But it’s all done on a spiritual level. I like to think if we can live in our dreams than we must exist after death. And thinking like this makes the idea of death a little bit easier to swallow.

A person never realizes how much time has gone by until they see the child they once knew become an adult. As a child I never looked at anyone and thought has it been that long? Probably, because I was the one people were looking at thinking that. I was the child. Now that I am the adult I find myself coming across this situation more and more. Growing up everyone looks the same to you. You don’t see the aging process happening, it’s pretty much smoke and mirrors. The aging isn’t as obvious in a person older than you as it in a person younger. A few years back I taught catechism to five fifth graders. They were sweet and their looks were innocent. This past summer I ran into a mother of one of the kids and asked “How is Anthony?” She pointed behind her and said “Here he comes now.” I was expecting to see the eleven year old cutie pie that sat across the table from me.  He was now taller than me and his face was no longer a little boy’s it was a young man’s. He smiled and waved, I’m sure he saw that I was surprised. I knew time passed but I guess I didn’t realize just how much. I look at my own children who are growing up right in front of my eyes and try to capture who they are today. Because I know tomorrow they are closer to being that child- whom someone else looks at and receives a reality check.  If we could just preserve their youth in some type of time capsule for the moment we long for them to be children again. We could flick a switch and make it happen. I now understand the advice I received when I became a first time mother, “Honey don’t wish away their childhood because when it’s gone you will be wishing for it to return.” Though my children are still young I know they have already grown too quickly. If they are getting older that means I am too.  As a child I never thought life went by half as fast as it does now. If only we had a pause button we could enjoy it longer. But then we would never get the chance to move forward. We would be forever pausing or rewinding but never advancing and what fun would that be?  

I listened to a song the other day and thought -this would be a good song to hear on a bad day. The kind of song that makes you feel like somewhere someone knew how you were feeling and they arranged for this combination of soul touching lyrics and spirit warming melody to be played for you. After concentrating on the words your mood begins to lighten and you find yourself feeling okay. Okay, because you were touched through music and it changed the way you were thinking. So, today I decided to send out a song that someone somewhere might need to hear.  

If life is hard today – wait for it to get better.

Sometimes dreams feel so real that it’s hard to believe they’re not once you awaken. Last night I had one of those dreams. When I woke up my cheeks were damp from tears I must have shed while dreaming. I dreamt someone I loved died. I can recall the emptiness I felt when I was told she was gone. It was as if I was drowning, but the water I was swimming in was life. I panicked and grabbed at air trying to pull the reality that I knew back into the reality I was now in. The same way a person would grasp for air to fill their lungs. But the air this person gave me was gone and my lungs collapsed, metaphorically speaking. I sat up in bed reassuring myself. I was relieved to enter back into the world I knew. I remembered the last image I saw in the dream. It was the girl walking out a door, I only caught a glimpse of her. By the time I saw her she was already on her way out and I knew she’d never return. A sentence kept repeating in my head which prompted me to write the following poem.

I caught a glimpse of her, she didn’t see me.

She carried a bag and walked through the door, it was her exit.

She wouldn’t be coming back

Her silhouette glided

The light of her existence turned black.

Like a hole with nothing I am empty.I reached for her, she never knew.

She was gone. She passed through the door and entered eternity 

 I am not embarrassed to say I love to waitress. I don’t feel inferior to those who have careers rather than jobs. I have the ability to carry on an educated conversation without sounding like I am pretending to know something. Which I have to say is a pet peeve of mine- A person who knows a little bit about something but tries to incorporate their knowledge of that something into most conversations. All that shows me is, they don’t know much about anything else. I know a little bit about a lot of things. And I have learned from the people I have waited on. They have taught me things I would have never learned in school. Lessons they learned from living life. A sweet man in his eighties instructed me to cherish all moments with my children. He told a story about dates he took with his daughter when she was a little girl. First he would take her shopping for a pretty dress. She would come out of the dressing room smiling. She would twirl around and loved a dress that would fan out and spin. From there they moved on to dinner. I could see the adoration in his eyes as he told the story. What I didn’t foresee was what he would tell me next. At eighteen his daughter was hit from behind by a Mac truck on a highway and she was killed. Remembering those dates with his daughter is what kept him going. When I get mad at my children and find myself annoyed I think of the lesson he taught me. He also advised me that my son will treat his wife the way he sees his father treat me. He said the best thing a father can do for his children is love his wife. I love that, and you better believe I passed that lesson right to my husband. An older woman who comes in solo most of the time educated me on the love a child has for their parents. From her I learned you are never too old to love your Mommy and Daddy. She is well into her seventies and loves to tell me stories of her youth and the time she spent with her parents. Her father taught her to garden and every time she speaks about him she refers to him as– my daddy. At first I thought it was odd that a seventy some year old woman would refer to her father as daddy. But then I saw in her eyes a little girl. The little girl she once was told it. I have waited on well educated people and people with no or little education. I am not knocking education because lord knows it is important to have. But education does not make you a good person or a smart tipper for that matter. I have had doctors tip me less than the men who mow their lawn. I have had teenagers tip me more than two of their teachers. I learned a lot about people from being a waitress. I know when to walk away or approach a table cautiously. When I see a certain glare in a woman’s eye directed at the man across the table. Every once in a while I am still fooled. And it can go either way. The couple who is dressed impeccably and speak so kindly and compliment the service I give hand me the bill with an embarrassing tip. I was sure they would have tipped well. Why you ask, because I fell for the polished well spoken version of a customer. In the end they didn’t pay well. I am ashamed to say I have looked at the man with dark blue mechanics uniform, dirty fingernails and thought “This one won’t be good.” It happened to be the best tip of the night. Most restaurants don’t require a degree upon hiring but I can guarantee by the time you leave a waitressing job you will be well educated in life.I do have a degree but waitressing is what allowed me to be home with my children and that is what is important to me.A friend of mine directed me to the writing below a while back and I loved reading it. It is about a Genius Waitress written by Tom Robbins. I wish I wrote it      

Of the genius waitress, I now sing.Of hidden knowledge, buried ambition, and secret
sonnets scribbled on cocktail napkins; of aching
arches, ranting cooks, condescending patrons, and eyes
diverted from ancient Greece to ancient grease; of
burns and pinches and savvy and spunk; of a uniquely
American woman living a uniquely American compromise,
I sing. I sing of the genius waitress.

Okay, okay, she’s probably not really a genius. But
she is well-educated. She has a degree in Sanskrit,
ethnoastronomy, Icelandic musicology, or something
equally valued in contemporary marketplace. Even if
she could find work in her chosen field, it wouldn’t
pay beans–so she slings them instead. (The genuis
waitress is not to be confused with the
aspiring-actress waitress, so prevalent in Manhattan
and Los Angeles and so different from her sister in
temperament and I.Q.)

As a type, the genius waitress is sweet and sassy,
funny and smart; young, underestimated, fatalistic,
weary, cheery (not happy, cheerful: there’s a
difference and she understands it), a tad bohemian,
often borderline alcoholic, frequently pretty (though
her hair reeks of kitchen and bar); as independent as
a cave bear (though ever hopeful of “true love”) and,
above all, geniune.

Covertly sentimental, she fusses over toddlers and old
folks, yet only fear of unemployment prevents her from
handing an obnoxious customer his testicles with his
bill.

She doesn’t mind a little good-natured flirting, and
if you flirt with verve and wit, she may flirt back.
Never, however, never try to impress her with your
resume. Her tolerance for pretentious Yuppies ends
with her shift, sometimes earlier. She reads men like
a menu and always knows when she’s being offered
leftovers or an artificially inflated souffle.

Should you ever be lucky enough to be taken home by
her to that studio apartment with the jerry-built
bookshelves and Frida Kahlo posters, you will discover
that whereas in the public dining room she is merely
as proficient as she needs to be, in the private
bedroom she is blue gourmet virtuoso. Five stars and
counting! Afterward, you can discuss chaos theory or
the triple aspects of the mother goddess in universal
art forms–while you massage her swollen feet.

Eventually, she leaves food service for graduate
school or marriage; but unless she wins a grant or a
fair divorce settlement, chances are she’ll be back, a
few years down the line, reciting the daily specials
with her own special mixture of warmth and ennui.

Erudite emissary of eggs over easy, polymath purveyor
of polenta and prawns, articulate angel of apple pie,
the genius waitress is on duty right now in hundreds
of U.S. restaurants, smile at the ready, sauce on the
side. So brush up on your Schopenhauer, place your
order–and tip, mister, tip. She deserves a break
today.

Of her, I sing.

Tom Robbins

We shopped Tuesday but not for pleasure. We had to pick out the dress that my cousin would be buried in. My younger sister and I picked up my aunt and drove her to the mall. I couldn’t believe how strong she was during this difficult time. She told us how she was able to call almost all of Sharon‘s friends. Her son’s tapped into Sharon‘s buddy list and was able to get a lot of contact information through her e-mail files. The names they couldn’t retrieve from the computer they got from her cell phone. “We found everyone but her friend Jenny,” my aunt said. She proceeded to tell us how Jenny was a friend of Sharon’s. They worked together years ago. Jenny was in her late thirties when she had her first child and decided she wanted to be a stay at home mother. She left her job and spent the days enjoying her new daughter. My aunt knew Sharon kept in touch with this Jenny, but for some reason there was no contact information for her anywhere. To make the task even more difficult my aunt did not know her last name. For most of the car ride she talked about how sad it made her that this friend would not hear the news from the family. She didn’t want this girl to have to open up the newspaper and see a picture of Sharon in the obituaries. We racked our brains trying to think of someone else who could have known her last name. When we pulled up to the store our focus changed. All that was on our minds was finding something Sharon would have approved of. My aunt requested we look for something blue in color, nothing frumpy and it had to be age appropriate. After searching four different stores we found something we all agreed Sharon would look good in. The night of the viewing our family all gathered at my aunt’s house for support. I got there later, after most were gone. We sat out on the back porch and talked about all of the small ways Sharon‘s presence was already being felt. Like my sister hearing a song on the radio that reminded her of Sharon. Or Sharon’s nephew waking up in the middle of the night (the night she passed away) and telling his mother that a spider was tickling him. But the one that topped it all was regarding the friend her mother wished she could get in contact with. “Remember the story I told you in the car about Sharon‘s friend?” my aunt asked. “The one you didn’t have a last name or phone number for?” I replied. My arms swelled with Goosebumps even before I heard the answer. And yours will fill with them too after I tell you what happened. For those of you who read my blog- Losing One of Our Own, I explained that my cousin moved back in with her parents when my uncle grew ill. She lived with them but still kept her home a town away. My aunt and her son drove up to the house to gather some pictures and things. On the way out, he grabbed the mail. In the mail was an invitation to a home cooking show from the friend my aunt told us about. And her phone number was across the bottom. This is why I am a firm believer in the theory of everything happens for a reason.  I don’t need scientific studies to show me proof. I don’t need another person’s confirmation on the validity of my belief. All I know is, there was a mother who was mourning for the loss of her daughter but still managed to be concerned for another person’s feeling. Somewhere someone heard her concern and took care of it for her. God knew it was one less thing she would have to worry about. A non believer could debate me all day long about how this proves nothing.  I know what I know. And I hope everyone one day will be lucky enough to see.  I’d rather believe there is something and hope I’m right. Then believe there is nothing and fear I am wrong.

         

Heaven needed an angel

One who was smart and kind.

They searched the earth

She was very hard to find.

 

Sharon’s spirit shined bright like the sun.

Heaven caught a glimpse and knew she was the one.

They didn’t ask our permission, we would’ve never agreed

She was one of us and now our hearts are left to bleed.

 

Today her spirit has been freed and she will fly

No doubt she will protect us until the day we die

She will watch over her family and keep them secure

She will be by their side when life is hard to endure

 

She is preparing her home for when we get to see

She is planning the celebration for our jubilee

She will ring the bells and gather everyone around

She will show us pictures of the day she was crowned

 

For a queen she is inside of Heaven’s doors

No longer will she suffer heartaches and wars

Until the day we meet up way beyond the sky

Take care our love, use your wings and fly

Our family is mourning. We got news on Sunday night that one of our cousins died suddenly. She was only thirty nine years old. We have always been a close family. In our childhood years we spent a lot of time together. My father came from a large family. All of his brothers and sisters lived within blocks of each other. Many of them had large families of their own. The amount of first cousins I had was too many to count. Growing up we spent many weekends together at a cabin in the country. We would fish, play softball, horseshoes, and take hikes in the woods. After all of the activities we would gather around the picnic tables and enjoy a feast. Each family was known for specific dishes. My uncle (my cousin who died father) was famous for his Manhattan clam chowder. A huge soup pot would simmer on an open fire all day long and when he yelled “Soup’s ready,” we would run to stand in line with our little Styrofoam cups and plastic spoons. It was the highlight of the day. No one made clam chowder like Uncle Sam. As we grew older the Sunday afternoons at the country lessened, partly because we loss a five year old cousin tragically,(A tragedy I remember very little about). I was told it made it harder to participate in the outings with one less. In my twenties we managed to get back together on occasion. It felt like old times, our faces were older but we still looked forward to the same things, fishing, hiking, eating, and most of all each other. Those moments came to an end as the family grew. The cousins married and had children of their own and we lost touch even though most of us still lived within walking distance. Life took over and our close knit family grew further and further apart. I would see my cousins at other family functions- weddings, Christmas parties and sad to say funerals. This is not the funeral I thought I would be attending. The funeral of a thirty nine year old kind hearted cousin. Sharon was the middle child of my father’s oldest brother. She had a younger and older brother. She was godmother to her youngest brother’s two children and was going to be the godmother of his third. She loved Penn State football and hockey games. Her intelligence was incredible. She was the family’s accountant and helped all of us out during tax season. As I explained before, our family is huge so you could imagine how busy that time of year was for her. But she did it all. Anytime one of us would have those girly type parties whether it was jewelry, home interiors, Tupperware or a cooking show, she was a guaranteed guest.
When her father grew old and started to lose his reality she moved in with her mother to help tend to his needs. Her death made me realize that family is family. You could separate for days, months even years. You could have friends that know more about you than any of your cousins could ever imagine knowing. But in the end, at times like these it is your family that gathers around and lifts you up. Cries with you, remembers for you, and circles around like soldiers entering a battle. Each soldier holds a different title but every responsibility serves a purpose. Sunday night we gathered, we cried, we sat in silence when words were pointless. We wished this was a cross we didn’t have to bear. In the earlier days we stood in line for the clam chowder. Now we stand in line waiting for the moment the cross is too heavy to hold and we offer our assistance. United is the family who loses one of their own.