Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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A Thankless Job

Can you guess what it is? Parenting. Well, maybe that isn’t quite fair. Kids are pretty cute and grateful until about age 4, maybe longer if you are lucky. Then it turns off until in their thirties, or maybe when they are off on their own, or when they have kids of their own. That’s what they say anyway.

I’m still waiting. I’m a lot better at accepting all of this as developmentally normal when I have my therapist hat on. When I have my parenting hat on, I’m completely confused. I would literally give my life for these suckers. Don’t they see it? And if they do, how can they possibly not be grateful?

I’ve got a few of them at different ages. One isn’t talking to me, going on month five. When there are grandkids involved, the pain takes on a whole other level. The holidays only increase that disappointment by a hundred times or so.

The teenager… Is it enough to just say he’s a teenager? He’s absolutely great as far as the things that lead kids astray. No drugs, drinking, sex, violence, and so on and so on. But he truly recoils if he brushes up against me. Even when you are trying to do something nice like get him a gift, he is a total disrespectful punk sometimes. I just don’t get it.

Another one is just moody. One day you walk in the kitchen and suddenly there is no eye contact whatsoever. There is no response to even the most simple question. It’s like I’m completely invisible. Like I’m not even in the damn room. I just wonder what the hell happened from yesterday.

I just pray and pray and pray that someday it will get better. I love my children and grandchildren so much that my chest hurts when I think about them. There is nothing more valuable to me than them. As we approach the holidays, I want to say with a thousand percent sincerity, I don’t want a thing from them. Not even the tiniest object. I just want them to love me and I want them to let me love them. Nothing would make my heart soar more than that.

Stinkers. I adore them though.


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Ya Never Know

Frankie and I used to be super close. He has my emotional makeup so I really understood him when others didn’t at times. Slowly we have separated over the years to the point that I hardly recognized who he even was sometimes. Now we are slowly, ever so slowly, finding ways to re-connect.

I think he is so unbelievably resilient. Even though I get frustrated, I can’t believe that he is the way he is with all the losses he has suffered from age four on. He is funny, popular and smart. Then the social worker part of me worries. He must be suffering underneath it all, right? Is he just holding it off until he is 30 when he is in some therapist’s office spilling how much he hated his life?

I remember when he was about 10. He had been in the peer support group at school for two years that focused on kids with loss. Out of the blue he got in the car one day and said matter-of-factly with maturity that shouldn’t be possible, “Mom, I’ve been in grief group for two years. I think it’s time to move on.” And that was that, he was done.

When I look at pictures of him when he was only eight, the age when his father died, I can hardly bear it. The grief comes back like it was yesterday. He looks so tiny. Just so damn little. I don’t remember at the time thinking he was so small. How the hell did a little boy deal with all that?

Tim has never been a taboo topic in our house, nor with our friends and family. But I can’t say it comes up all that often either.

This week, out of the blue, I’m in the car with Frankie and I stumbled upon the right question by fluke and I find out he has a friend whose mom died three years ago. He says they talk about it sometimes. I’m surprised, but very glad that he talks about it. Then he says, “Remember that song ‘Save a Place for Me’ that was in Dad’s funeral?”

I’m stunned again. Of course I do. I had no idea HE even had an inkling. Turns out his friend had the same song played at her mom’s funeral. What a coincidence. And how the heck did that even come up in conversation between two teens?

Final shocker. “Yeah. I’m surprised you’ve never said anything to me when I play it on the piano now.” Frankie has been teaching himself how to play the piano for a couple of years. He’s so talented. He mostly plays pop songs from the radio. He took (well, I say stole) the piano upstairs a couple of months ago so I can only hear through the walls. Usually it’s late at night and if I listen closely I can hear him play and sing before I fall asleep.

Holy crap. He knew the song, looked it up and learned it. I never knew.

I get tingles when I think about it. I shouldn’t worry so much. He remembers and he’s processing. He’s talking. He’s working it out. Knock me over with a feather.

The only thing more mind-boggling is that in a month he will be 16 and driving a car. How did THAT happen?

(Here’s the song by Matthew West  https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=zbsBUf9VKyc  if you want to cut and paste the link)


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Orthodontists

Frankie got his braces off. If anyone asks your opinion about putting braces on a kid at a younger age, I would advise not to. We tried it. It made sense to me. If you put them on early, the goal is to make room for your teeth to come in correctly, eliminating the need to have them later. We did it and the orthodontist considered it a success because Frankie didn’t need to have eight teeth pulled. Frankie and I? We both thought it would have been much easier to have the teeth pulled in one shot. He ended up needing a second set of braces anyway. I had eight teeth pulled when I was his age before I got my braces.

Anyhow, he got them off for the second time this week. He gets the retainers on Thursday. It’s an interesting office. Up until a few months ago, there were only women in the office. I mean, thousands of women. Now there is one young guy that works there. Brave guy. It drives Frankie crazy there, but I love it.

When I came to get him, the receptionist said they post the “new smiles” on their Facebook page and even video. There is a literal red carpet, balloons, etc. to celebrate. But Frankie said he didn’t want his picture posted there or on Instagram. They thought maybe if I talked to him, he would consent. I laughed out loud. Obviously they have no idea what this kid’s relationship to his mother is. He generally tries to do the polar opposite of anything I do.

I told them that he gets mad at me when I post things on Facebook with him. He will say very indignantly, “Mom, I didn’t give you permission to post that.” I ever so politely tell him, “Sweetie, I own you until you are 18. I don’t need your permission. So sorry.” The receptionist laughed. It occurred to me that I don’t sound like a very good psychology person. I should be saying that I need to respect his privacy, or whatever. I guess if I thought that he truly didn’t want it other than to disappoint me, I would try to respect his wishes. But there are lots of people who love and support him and are interested in his life.

As Frankie walked down the red carpet, I told the doc that it was probably my fault he doesn’t like to post stuff. I wrote a book about our family and now he doesn’t want anything to be out there. She looked at me and said, “It’s not your fault,” with a surprised face that wondered why I would ever think such a silly thing.

That’s part of why I love her. She is fun. She is nice. She treats all the patients with respect. But make no mistake. She is clear about where a kid’s place is. Anytime a comment was made, even in the tiniest way, she always spoke up and reminded Frankie that he is responsible for himself. I love her strength. And I appreciate the occasional reminders that I am a great parent and I get to make decisions around the house, in spite of whatever teenagers happen to feel differently (even if it is developmentally normal for them to push the envelope).

I don’t have a good picture of Frankie’s new smile. He let me take one, but it was a frightening picture more than it was flattering. So just trust me. Round two with the braces worked. He looks fabulous. And thanks to the folks at the orthodontist’s office for boosting me in ways they have no idea they even did!


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Deja Vu

I had a visit from Tim the other night. It didn’t come in a dream or in the form of a hummingbird. He came embodied in his now 14-year-old son, Frankie. We have season Sabres tickets (NHL hockey). Tim had them for years and years. When I first met him, it drove me crazy. I thought the household passion for hockey was ridiculous. I remember Colin and Matthew playing mini-stick hockey in the living room and I would say in disgust to my mom, “Who the heck plays hockey in the living room?”

Of course, I have had to eat my words (and my attitude) about a thousand times since them. Frankie and his brothers and friends still play mini-stick hockey all the time and of course, the best place to play is in the living room. I get it now.

We often struggled financially for the first few years of our marriage. I finally saw a purpose for those damn tickets when the Sabres made the play-offs. People could sell their tickets for enough money to pay for the entire next season! Tim was mortified at the mere suggestion of  selling play-off seats and I couldn’t believe it. Then I went to a play-off game with him. Holy cow. I couldn’t believe it. The energy was out of this world. I never asked him to sell those tickets again. The Sabres in the play-offs? Priceless. No amount of money would be worth it. (Ok, maybe a million bucks or something.)

Usually Colin and Frankie get the tickets. They are super great seats. Here is our view of the ice:img_20170110_185749335

See what I mean?

Anyhow, I decided to take Frankie to the game this week. He is a teenager, so of course he wasn’t thrilled with the idea. In fact, he said no at first, but then he came to his senses. Now, he was only eight-years-old when his dad died, but sometimes it freaks me out by how much he can mimic him. Part of me was thinking that I’m the parent so I need to put my foot down. Then I thought better of it and decided not to rock the boat any more than was necessary. Getting him to spend the evening with me was miracle enough.

The first argument, I knew, was going to be parking. Tim knew where to park so you didn’t have to pay. I would only go to one game a year so I would tell him that I wanted to park close and pay. It is cold and miserable in Buffalo in the winter, but he was driving so I always ended up walking and freezing my ass off. Frankie is quite indignant about paying for parking. He thinks it’s ridiculous. It was raining and the winds were horrid, but we parked where he told me to (which was of course, where his dad used to) and walked to the arena. I was cursing under my breath…LOL.

I tried to engage him in conversation throughout the game, but unfortunately I am hopeless. I kept saying the things that absolutely drive him bonkers. Such a woman. I don’t get the intricacies of the game so I comment on things I know. “Hey, number 90 is Ryan O’Reilly? He is the fathead you got for Christmas right? I didn’t realize who he was. He is my favorite player.” Frankie looks at me in shock. Why is he my favorite player? Now I am silent. I can’t possibly explain to him that last year when Emily was in town, she and her friends and I went to a game. Number 90 always warms up the same way and he is different from the other players. He does these stretches that look incredibly sexy and naughty on the ice. I just tell Frankie, “No reason.”

More dumb comments from a mom. Hey, a lot of the players have beards now. What’s up with that? What will they do when it is play-off time when they are supposed to grow beards? Again, Frankie just says, “Grow their beards longer.” He hates that the only thing I seem to notice is the looks of the players. What can I say? I’m a single woman and some of the players that still have teeth are pretty hot.

A second miracle occurred. Frankie agreed to a selfie and even said I could post it. You can tell by his face that he wasn’t thrilled, but he let me.img_20170110_185509102

It was a great game. We actually won. There was a big fight in the first period. Other than embarrassing Frankie by dancing when we scored, we managed quite well together.

Then the drive home (after the long walk to the car) and more arguments about taking the side streets home rather than the thruway. I spent the night with my teenage son and my deceased husband. It was a great night!


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Frankie

I’m learning a lot about cross-country this year. I’m also learning a lot about where the schools are all over Western New York. It’s crazy. Fifty minutes to drive to the school, and the race is about 11 minutes. At first, Frankie told me I didn’t need to come to the meets because it wasn’t a big deal. But one week I was running late and I got a call on my phone. Hmmm… I think in spite of what he says it’s important I be there. You know teenage boys. They want to keep their distance, so this sports thing is making me feel warm inside.

I can’t even possibly explain what it is like to ride home in a car with him for 50 minutes. But I’m going to try anyway. A video would be much better, but if they know you are recording them, the gig is up. Anyone with a teenager knows that the seat next to the stereo buttons is the most important seat in the car. Usually, if I hear a song and forget myself and start to sing or dance, that is Frankie’s signal to change the station. I know, he’s a punk.

Last night was different though. It didn’t matter what I did or not. He was on a roll. Fifty minutes of flipping through stations. Rap is not one of my favorite genres. That is, unless Frankie is the one doing it. When he knows all the words it always amazes me. But when he doesn’t? He makes crap up on the fly and it absolutely kills me. It makes me laugh, then it scares me. What the heck goes on in that kid’s head?

Whatever station is next is just that. Classical. Frankie makes up a quick rap to classical about how the Pilgrims (I assume inspired by his upcoming favorite holiday of Thanksgiving) had developed the first flutes (inspired by the flute song on the radio) the sound of which would lure turkeys to the feast (inspired by the lone live turkey that was sitting by the side of the expressway).

Jazz? No problem. He starts dancing like a very, very chill dude. He mimics a guy who is probably mellowed up by smoking weed, and talks about being “jazzed as shit” by the way the melody has carried him.

Suddenly, he breaks from music entirely and sees a car in the other lane crossing over into ours. He yells at the top of his lungs, “Hey mister! You are smothering me. Smothering me I’m telling you. Man, I need my space!”

Spanish station? He starts chattering rapidly the speed that Spanish usually sounds like. He doesn’t know much of anything in Spanish except counting but he can make stuff up like no one can. He is especially good at the Canadian stations. He is the star French student at school so he throws out random words that sound like he’s fluent.

When I finally get home and walk in the house, I tell Dad I am exhausted and there is something wrong with my son. Without skipping a beat, Frankie puts on his most serious face and says, “Mom, that really hurts my feelings. Besides, that never happened.”

Many times his humor is inappropriate for his age, but he gets away with it because I crack up laughing. He’s funny as hell and creative too. He just tells me that I need to get out more because I’m amused too easily. He has definitely come a long way from his newborn picture that is the logo for Baby Coop Publishing. Did you know that was his actual picture? That cute, perfect newborn face.

Anyhow, I was going to blog about all my new genetic knowledge. Then I was going to blog about “Oc-fuckin-tober” as tomorrow is the six-year anniversary of Tim’s death, which I celebrated by having my first full-blown panic attack in several years. But instead, I decided to write about my nutty kid. He was a bright spot for me. I’m sure words don’t come close to making you laugh the way a video would, but I thought I would try.