Six Things: My dear cousin’s heartbreak

The opioid class of painkillers is so effective because they intercept pain messages to the brain, bringing relief to people experiencing severe or constant pain. In mitigating this pain, these medications bind to brain receptors, affecting voluntary functions such as breathing and heart rate. Conventional research indicates that it takes only a couple of weeks to become physically dependent. Before opioid overuse was recognized as a health epidemic, patients could receive a prescription for that class of painkillers without much scrutiny.

Why are opioids so addictive? They trigger our brains to release endorphins, the neurotransmitters that make us feel really, really good. Endorphins trick the brain into experiencing feelings of pleasure and comfort. These feelings are brief, and, when the drugs wear off, the pain can come back even stronger, more intense. This pain or discomfort makes the user want increasingly higher or more frequent doses to maintain those good feelings. 

Nowadays, healthcare practitioners prescribe this class of drugs far less frequently and with much caution. Through the awareness created through this national emergency, health providers are applying more over-the-counter-, holistic-, and physical therapy-based approaches to pain management.

Despite all the awareness, we still have a seemingly insurmountable problem. According to shatterproof.org:

  • Nearly 192 people die each day, In the United States, from drug overdoses.
  • An addicted baby is born every 15 minutes.
  • Some people overdose multiple times in their life, hanging on to overdose again, to perhaps finally get clean, or possibly succumbing to their addiction.

There is no real “demographic” for this disease. It occurs in wealthy neighborhoods and on the Native American Reservations. There do seem to be higher rates of addiction in Caucasian men, and Caucasian women see the highest rates of overdoses.

This is both a tribute and a cautionary tale…

“This disease appears to be most prevalent in the Rust Belt, where heroin is likely to be mixed with fentanyl, an exceedingly dangerous synthetic opioid.”


Coincidentally, the Rust Belt is where my cousin lives. And she has suffered the worst nightmare for a parent. Kimberly (we call her “Kimmy”) lost not one, but two sons to the opioid crisis. I have wanted to tell her story for a long time but didn’t know how to approach her. I didn’t know if she wanted to give strangers insight into her most profound pain and sense of loss. I cannot imagine what she has lived through and continues to manage in her daily life. I can imagine that many of my cousin’s remembrances, reflections, and thoughts as a dark, windowless room, replete with “what ifs.” There is no shortage of what-ifs.

Kimberly runs her mind-movies on an endless reel, replaying good times and conversations, and eventually moving on to the phone calls every addict’s parents dread to receive. As any parent who has experienced this excruciating loss, she wonders what she could have done to rewrite the endings of those movies. It’s our job, in telling these stories, to remind parents that despite everything you do for your children, children become adults and make their own choices. It might be easy to try to shoulder the blame because “that’s what parents do.” But we must admit that we make our own decisions about which path to take in life. Kimberly and Al gave their children a solid foundation. They were loved and had caring friends. They were good boys. But, once you walk out the door, everything can change.

Patrick and Alex

This edition of Six Things is a series of vignettes that my cousin experienced as the parent of an addict. If you have an addict in your life, you may have experienced or said some of the same things as my cousin. If these thoughts ring familiar for you, you have my prayers. I hope that your movie had a happier ending.

Patrick, the Younger Brother

What if I had done something different that day?

When Kimberly’s younger son, Patrick, was a senior in high school, he experienced a bout of abdominal pain that sidelined him from playing a soccer match. After the game ended, Patrick went to the ER that evening. It was Friday before the U.S. Labor Day holiday. They could not get a doctor to see him. Between it being a holiday weekend and his physician experiencing pregnancy complications, he would not be seen by a surgeon until Sunday. An intravenous morphine drip stayed in his arm from the time they admitted him to the hospital and would remain in place all weekend. When he did eventually have surgery, the doctor nicked Patrick’s liver while removing his gallbladder and appendix.

This was probably when things changed for Patrick. When he woke up, “he was a different person,” Kimberly explains. Usually extroverted, bubbly, and talkative, after only 48 solid hours on opioids, he wouldn’t talk directly to anyone. He wanted his room dark. He was in constant pain despite his painkillers. He seemed antisocial and withdrawn. Whereas this type of surgery typically means an overnight stay, because of his complications, Patrick stayed in the hospital for a week. They sent him home with painkillers.

Kimberly says that someone she knows has tried to sue that physician. No one can locate that doctor, but the rumor is that this doctor has left the U.S. She tells me, “What if I took him to Children’s [Hospital] that night, instead of [the hospital we ended up taking him to]?” She wonders if that would have prevented him from becoming addicted in the first place. The movie rewinds every day for a heartbreaking rerun.

What if they had been honest with us?

Things seemed to be getting back on the normal track for a time. Patrick went into the Army reserves but ended up with a medical discharge. Now Kimberly wonders, “Didn’t they do a physical? Did the recruiter care that Patrick may have been using? Do they not disclose such things because they have a quota to fill? What if there was a cover-up?”

What if we were quick to notice the bad signs?

After his discharge, Patrick went home. He picks up a job here and there, but cannot focus on his tasks or stick with anything. It’s just a series of short-term jobs.

After a bit of time, the classic telltale signs appear. Jewelry and other items started missing from the house. His family didn’t notice right away, and, being clever, Patrick adept at covering his steps, kept things on the down-low. It wasn’t until his father noticed that pieces from a model train collection started to disappear that they had a sense that something was wrong.

“We were in denial, but…he’s a good kid,” Kimberly emphatically assures me, and herself. And it’s true: deep down, he was a truly nice person. He was popular. People were drawn to him and liked him. He would do anything to help friends and strangers alike.

Then pain pills started disappearing from the medicine chest. Kimberly was questioning her memory. “Maybe I got rid of them?” she wondered. But she knew better. She was making up excuses for herself and Patrick. She was mortified for her mother to find out. Kimberly’s husband will tell you that the family was in complete denial.

Heroin is cheap. Patrick could get 300 bags for some of his mother’s stolen jewelry. Despite the low price tag, Patrick was using heavily. Kimberly remembers dealers showing up at the house. On one occasion, Kimberly’s daughter went to the ATM and paid her brother’s tab. That was the last straw.

Yes, we did the whole tough-love thing.

You cannot “love your kids off drugs,” Kimberly warns. You do everything in your power to make them better.

But even your one’s family has limits on what they allow you to do to them. It got to the point where they could not live with Patrick anymore. Kimberly and her husband threw Patrick out of the house. He was invited to stay at a friend’s house, at the invitation of the friend’s parents. To this day, Kimberly doesn’t know if the parents knew the circumstances of Patrick’s eviction.

Kimberly and her husband provided Patrick with a cell phone: It was a lifeline to their son. The thought of cutting that line scared her.  Yes, she knew that they should turn off his phone, but she imagined that Patrick would reach out to her for help. However, as you can guess, he used that cell phone to contact his dealers.

Kimberly believes that the hardest thing she ever had to do was to throw her son out of her house. Before their older daughter’s wedding, in fact. This caused a lot of disagreement in the family. However, Patrick managed to pull himself together to attend his sister’s wedding. It turned out to be a lovely day, and they have pictures that capture a seemingly normal family beaming at the bride and enjoying the occasion, forgetting about what seethed beneath the surface.

Kimberly and her sons, attending their sister’s wedding

Rehab and repeat

Kimberly’s therapist – who knows their family well – described the almost unshakable hold that an addict’s obsession takes over. You think of the feeling you get after having a favorite indulgence such as a great single-malt whisky or some chocolate. Multiply that feeling by a factor of roughly 3,000, and that’s what you’ve got with heroin. And that factor only increases. So then comes rehab.

Patrick’s first rehab was located in Washington County, PA. His parents wanted to send him someplace where he would not know anyone. During rehab, the patient cannot come back home, back to their circle of friends and connections and dealers. Kimberly and her husband let Patrick come back home after two weeks. “He had detoxed and was a different person,” Kimberly said. They were hopeful. They thought he was clean for good. They were hopeful that things would return to the way they used to be.

As most people with addicts in their lives know, things don’t always clean up on the first try. Patrick relapsed and they ended up throwing him out of the house again. He went to live with his brother, Alex, in a town nearby. Alex could “watch” Patrick, maybe. Maybe Patrick would not go too far off the rails again. Maybe Alex could save his brother, they all hoped.

There were more admissions to rehabs. They next took Patrick to a facility where Kimberly knew some of the staff. They avoided places too close to home, for fear of the rumor mill and sideways glances. But the staff were so kind, and that was encouraging.

“I always loved to see him after detox,” Kimberly remembers. Right after detox, he was their Patrick again. He was restored to his former self.

Patrick took yet another try at rehab in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful setting, with opportunities to see wildlife, go fishing, and get grounded. Patrick stayed the whole time. When Kimberly and her husband were driving him home after his discharge, he said, “I’m leaving a lot on this mountain.” It was so introspective and encouraging a statement. This, they thought, could be the end of the devil that had such a hold on their son.

Then…another relapse…another rehab…

In his final rehab program, Patrick stayed over 30 days. He was flourishing and did quite well. He secured a counselor, whom he met with once each week. He progressed into a halfway house setting and was excelling in community college.

But the gravitational pull of his addiction was calling him. He met a new set of bad people and was evicted from the halfway house. He met a girl who was using and tried to kill herself. Patrick was only 21 when all this happened.

Patrick’s desperation to gain access to painkillers was taking over his life. We went so far as to cut himself and to jump off a roof. Patrick’s girlfriend called his father to tell him that Patrick cut his leg intentionally. When Patrick arrived at the hospital, the girlfriend and her mother were there, waiting for him. So were the police. Patrick left the hospital, untreated.

All through this back-and-forth, Patrick racked up quite a tab with his dealers. Before he would enter rehab, one of his uncles would settle up with his dealers so that Patrick could go into rehab with a “clean slate.”

After being kicked out of rehab, once again, Patrick moved back in with his brother, Alex. Perhaps Alex would be up to the role of “brother-fixer” once again.

Patrick, who was a charmer and never had trouble finding a companion, had a new girlfriend. Another user, but Kimberly and Al didn’t know that. The girlfriend’s mother led Kimberly to believe that Patrick got her daughter started on drugs. The girlfriend overdosed and eventually landed in rehab in Florida. As far as they know, she is sober with two children.

The “second last straw” was that Patrick was not allowed back inside his parents’ house. He was, however, invited to Thanksgiving dinner by his aunt. Patrick stayed for dinner, and he was talking to everyone. He was in a good mood, despite looking quite bad physically. He was having a nice day. It was almost like old times

Patrick died on a Friday in December, just before Christmas. A couple of days before, he visited his parents’ house. He was no longer allowed to come inside, so he stayed on the porch, talking to his dad. Kimberly dug in and would not go out to see him. Patrick told his dad he was ready to go back to rehab He wanted to try again. Kimberly regrets not going out, “…to get what would have been my last hug from him. I was trying to show him that although I loved him, I could be tough.”

Kimberly reflects on that day as the day she might have received one last hug from Patrick. It didn’t happen. She pictures how it might have been, had she surrendered and walked outside. A few days later, Patrick stopped by his father’s office Christmas party. He died the next day, and his older brother, Alex, found him.

“The system fails us.”

She so desperately wanted the “professionals” to help her son. Yes, they are adults, Kimberly acknowledges, but they are not in their right mind. She laments that the state of mental healthcare in the U.S. is “a joke.”

“This last place…they kept him for two days…only two days. I couldn’t see him. Our daughters visited and THEY agreed that it was a joke. They had him decorating the Christmas tree in the lobby. Decorating the tree…”

She is emphatic: 30-day rehab is not enough! You get false hope, and the providers make you think that everything will be okay. Some addicts stay only 14 days because of their insurance. Additionally, it is difficult to enter rehab. Unless there is an intervention, the patient has to call. The facility performs a phone intake, and they promise a bed “in maybe a couple of days.”

Alex, the big brother

In Kimberly’s words, “Alex’s journey to the end was so different.” Alex was truly affected by finding his brother. Although he had a girlfriend, he felt truly alone and floundered without Patrick.

There were some warning signs. Alex had managed to hold down a job, but he eventually lost that job. Kimberly and Al assumed that Alex and his girlfriend were heavy into pot-smoking. They had no idea, however, that Alex’s girlfriend was an opioid addict. When his girlfriend went off to rehab, and now living a routine existence without his younger brother, Alex was lost. He was at Kimberly and Al’s house every day after work.

But, even with the frequent visits, his parents had no idea Alex was using. Alex went to rehab in Ohio and had a girlfriend who was not using. Al and Alex’s girlfriend were with him when Alex checked himself into the facility. He was there two weeks but was forced to leave because he incurred a severe hand injury, after falling asleep on his hand and cutting off the blood supply to it. The plan was to see a hand specialist, get a diagnosis, then get Alex re-admitted to the rehab facility right away. The facility would not take him back, however, because he was now “clean.”

Proud Uncles

“I begged [the facility] to take him back,” Kimberly remembers, sobbing. “We told them about our other son. I have fantasies about calling [the administrator] back and telling her that Alex had died.” Thanks for nothing.

“I wanted him to test dirty so that they’d take him,” she continues. “I should have given him something. He starting using again right away. I didn’t know he was using heroin, honestly. I thought he was self-medicating with pills. You could not tell he was shooting up.”

Before his passing, Alex was pulled over by a cop while driving Kimberly’s car. He had to be tested, and Kimberly and Al didn’t get the police report until after Alex passed. They had found a needle in the car, and were requesting that Alex appear in court. What if they had gotten their hands on that police report sooner?

The day before he passed, Alex had visited his parents and helped them put together some furniture. That was just “so Alex.”

Alex was so much loved. He impressed everyone with his quiet demeanor. As a testament to his character before he became an addict, Alex’s two former girlfriends showed up for his funeral. Alex was 29 when he passed, one month shy of his 30th birthday.

During our interview, while I was on the phone, crying and laughing with my cousin, this happened…“A red bird just flew up and sat right here! Sitting here…amazing!” Kimberly knows the adage about cardinals showing up as a sign that a loved one is paying a comforting visit.

A prologue

Kimberly’s therapist tells her that Alex had extreme guilt about Patrick’s death. Perhaps there was some enablement guilt or survivor’s guilt. It’s a moot issue now, but what if Alex had been more open and willing to discuss that guilt?

Kimberly keeps a letter in Patrick’s handwriting. It says, “I love you forever and always.” That phrase, in Patrick’s hand, would become a tattoo. Alex’s fingerprint is memorialized as a tattoo on Kimberly’s wrist. When she got that tattoo, Alex’s girlfriend came along. When she got the memorial tattoo for Patrick, Alex got one, too.

I ask my cousin, “How do you get through your day?”

“I try,” she says. Kimberly is, by nature, a cheerful and giving person. “People see me smiling and laughing…” she doesn’t finish that thought, but I know what she means.

She wants and needs to be present for her three little grandsons. They keep her going. She’s their “Gigi.” “Those boys deserve the best of me,” she says.

Kimberly credits the strength and steadfast love of her daughters and her husband with helping her and Al fight through each day together. She realistically acknowledges that parents getting divorced in these situations are typical. “I need him,” she says of Al. “I have friends and family who support me. My friends let me talk about my boys.”

Kimberly and her family live their lives with candor. They do not whitewash what happened to Alex and Patrick. The obituaries are raw and honest.


Patrick Bradley Gaudino, of New Sewickley, born July 11, 1992, died Friday, December 9, 2016, after a long battle with addiction, leaving behind loving family and friends.
. . .

Alexander Mitchell Gaudino, of New Sewickley, born February 19, 1990, died January 3, 2020, after a battle with addiction, leaving behind a loving family, girlfriend, friends, neighbors, and his dogs, but joining his beloved brother, Patrick, in Heaven.

A note from Maura

I realize that it has been a long time since you’ve heard from me here at Six Things. I interviewed my cousin in September 2020 for this post. I have dithered about how to approach this story. I wanted this to be a tribute to Patrick and Alex, but I also wanted this to be a celebration of the strength and resilience of my cousin and her family.

I am a writer. I write all kinds of things for a living and I hardly ever get writer’s block. However, this post was anomalous to most of my writing experiences. I would sit down, and start crafting the story, but it never came out the way I wanted. I would recount the notes I took. I wept real tears as I typed each letter of this truly sad story. I went back to the drawing board, several times, scrapping several other versions of this story. I wanted to get it just so…so right…I fretted about leaving out a pertinent detail. I obsessed over the timeline. I second-guessed my gamble of getting inside Kimberly’s head.

In the end, I decided that the best way to tell the story was to just tell the damn story. I brain-dumped, honed, and fine-tuned. After all this time, Kimberly probably thought I’d forgotten my promise to memorialize Patrick, Alex, and their family’s struggles.

Then, just today, I contacted my cousin to tell her that I’d finished. And I got the blessing I hoped to receive…

Got it! I’m so excited to read it.

I hope it does everyone justice. Let me know if we
need to hop on the phone to clean up anything.

Maura, I’m speechless. I’m reading this and it is my life
with your perfect words. It is so beautifully
written. I’m crying and smiling
all at the same time. Thank you so much. ♥
You are such a special writer (and cousin). I
Can’t thank you enough.

Omg…this makes me so happy! We did it!

Maura, it’s perfect.

I won’t share the rest of what we said to one another. That’s between us.

Rest in peace, Alex and Patrick.


Six Things

The Father’s Day one, where dad is cussing

I’d like to wish Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, stepdads, moms who double as dads, and dads-to-be out there. You have a tough job. I know this because I was a kid once, and though although not wholly reprobate, my four siblings and I probably didn’t make it easy on our dad.

Dad passed away on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, which was not insignificant for him. Although he was too young to enlist during WWII, he joined the United States Air Force soon after high school, when the conflict had wound down, and Korea was heating up. Dad had multiple friends who lost family to that war. He said that when he was in high school, men in military uniforms would come to school with parents so that they could inform a fellow student about the loss of a brother, uncle, or father.

Mom and Dad, before all the kids came along

Dad loved watching the History Channel and particularly liked watching documentaries about WWII. As he would say, “I like to watch Hitler get his ass kicked as often as I can. Never gets old.”

My mother and father met while my dad was stationed at what is now Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. My mom graduated one year early from high school. They married in November when she was 17, and he was 21, and they had me 12 years later. I am the oldest of the tribe. It was [mostly] great to grow up in that noisy house in the DC suburbs.

A baby picture of John

Dad graduated from university: the first in his family to do so. He was the child of an Italian immigrant father, and his father couldn’t understand why dad would want to spend so much time pursuing a business degree from Syracuse. Our grandfather (“Pap”) would say, “If you send a jackass to college, you get a college-educated jackass.” I don’t think that he meant that to be directed at my dad specifically, but Pap worked his butt off on the Pennsylvania Railroad and had 13 kids to support. He didn’t have time for that kind of erudite nonsense.

When stationed at the Pentagon for the second time, my dad said that a stern higher-ranking officer came into the office where he was working, and declared, “I need people who want to learn computer programming.” Tired of “totaling rows and columns,” dad quickly stuffed his slide rule into his briefcase and followed the officer. He was going to be a FORTRAN programmer!

After 23 years in the USAF, dad retired with the rank of Major. Many of his friends went on to retire as Colonels and Generals, but my father had young children to support. He started a second career in the private sector. After a few years as the Director of Data Processing in the payroll section of the Fairfax County (Virginia) Public School system, he took a job closer to home as the Director of Data Processing for Kiplinger Washington Editors.

Dad receives another medal

He and two of his associates at Kiplinger – or “Kip’s,” as they called it, literally started a software company in our basement, in late 1977. They eventually moved to an office, and, when I left Softworks, Inc., there were over 100 employees worldwide, and growing. Softworks had an impressive client list to boot. Dad worked late in the evening, many weekends, and most holidays to get the concern going. He missed concerts, ball games, first communions, and other events. In later years, he often told us how he regretted missing that vast chunk of our childhood years.

My father was the person who steered me toward my career in technical writing. I was floundering around in college, changing majors, trying to figure things out. I liked programming, but I didn’t love programming. But, I wanted to do something so that I could work for my dad’s company when I graduated. I configured my school schedule so I could work two days each week at the office. Dad took me to lunch one day while I was late in my second year. Whereas I was ready to give up on my college career, at least temporarily, my father would have none of it. I had threatened to quit school and go into the Air Force to figure out things. I liked writing, but I realized that I didn’t want to be a newspaper reporter. Over burgers at Joe’s El Rancho, my father told me, “There are these people – technical writers – and they are unique in computer companies.” He proceeded to tell me how the tech writers fill the gap between the engineers and the people who use the software.

“You should see how you can get that done. You can write: that’s the hard part.” I didn’t realize then how much he believed in me.

He encouraged me to do bits of documentation and customer letters and marketing pieces at his company. Before I knew it, I had a portfolio of sorts. When I transferred to the University of Maryland, I sought out the chair of the Independent Studies Program and met with her. We sketched out my “Bachelor of Science in Technical Communication through the University at College Park,” and this is what would lay the foundation for the major in Technical Communication Program at the UMCP. When I graduated, I was still working for my dad’s company. I didn’t go to my graduation ceremony because I would not become salaried until the following month, and I wanted to make some money that day. My dad and mom organized a surprise graduation party for me at work, and it was the best thing ever.

The day I got married, my dad and I waited for the limousine to come to pick us up for church so that he could walk me down the aisle. We had not been alone in years. And, I had certainly never seen my father get choked up. But, as we sat there enjoying some mutual awkward silence, he turned to me and said, “I missed so many of your growing up years. And now, you’re getting married. I remember changing diapers, all you kids…” Then his voice trailed off. He became quiet again and stared ahead. He stopped short of apologizing verbally, but that was his way of showing me that he was regretful about not being able to rewind and take back those years.

The father of the bride

I wasn’t looking for an apology: my father was a great provider. He put five kids through college, and not one of us had to take out a student loan. Unlike many of my friends, I started my adult years debt-free. He taught me how to pitch a softball and how to play racquetball. He paid for my violin and voice lessons. He taught me how to swing a golf club. He and I coached a kids’ soccer team together when I was in my first year of college. When he realized his dream of buying a Porche, he let me take it for a spin. He did what he could to spread himself around while keeping a roof over our heads.

When my mom passed away, my youngest brother was only 17 and still at home, starting his senior year of high school. Dad and Mike were living as bachelors and trying to figure things out. Dad had never really done the grocery shopping, cooking, let alone cared for a kid by himself. All this was in addition to running his software company. It’s only an observation, but I believe that mom’s passing, and dad’s shepherding my brother through his last year of high school, changed his outlook on things. Work didn’t seem as important. Certainly, workaholism didn’t seem necessary.

Dad was understandably sullen and introspective the year following mom’s passing. He walked around like a sighing zombie. After what they would, in the old days, have called a “respectable period of mourning,” some friends introduced him to the woman who would become his second wife. Lee made him happy: they traveled, socialized, and dad seemed to awaken from his widower’s hibernation. He moved to Florida to be closer to Lee, and they married eight years later. They had been together for so long – engaged for several years, even – but I believe that his first heart attack made my dad realize that we are rarely given a second chance at life. He was ready to be a husband again, after several years of dithering.

I stayed in my dad’s hospital room with him the night before he died. My stepmother and her sister wisely suggested I do so. They knew that he was not long to be with us, and didn’t want him to be alone on his last night. I was in denial about the severity of his situation and the probability of his passing away immanently.

Being Italian, dad loved to sing, especially after some chianti or a couple of martinis. And, despite his being Italian, one of his favorite songs was Danny Boy. He asked me to sing that with him at about 11:00 p.m. that evening. I sang while he sort of conducted with his eyes closed, moving his lips to sing, but with no sound coming out. I now know what a blessing it was to be there. He passed away the next morning.

My father died as a result of trying to beat back an avalanche of snowballing health issues. Those existing health issues were exacerbated by a fall that broke his pelvis. The broken pelvis required him to stay at an in-patient facility. I am not a doctor, so mine is not an official medical assessment. However, my observation – and I was there with him during a phase of his steep decline – was that they over-medicated him with opioids. He appeared stoned when we visited him; I hate to say. When his cardiologist complained to the facility about the amount of oxycodone he was receiving, they made him go mostly cold turkey, instead of weaning him off of the medication. He as 84, and, with his other problems, was already health-compromised. He had a stroke as he withdrew the opioids from his system, and about 24 hours later, his tired old heart stopped in response to the shock his body endured.

I wish I had written most of these words while my dad was still alive to read them. It’s too late for me to tell him that, despite his short fuse, some personal digressions, exceptionally corny dad jokes, and despite missing several of our childhood years, he was an excellent father. I ask you that If you are lucky enough to have your dad still, take a bit of time and tell him what he means to you this Father’s Day. Will you regret it if you don’t? Probably: I know that I do.

You may feel like you know John reasonably well because of what I have already told you. However, here are six more things that I think you might need to know about him.

Number 1: “Your dad was a pioneer.”

After I decided leave dad’s company “to break out on my own,” I joined a software startup located in the DC suburbs of Maryland. I was helping out at the Group 1 Software User’s Conference registration desk, and I saw a smartly dressed woman who approached me to retrieve her nametag. When she said her name, it was a name I had heard a thousand times. I asked, “Are you the same Paula C., who worked with John D. at Kiplinger?”

“I am. Do you know John?” she asked.

“I’m his daughter, Maura.” She reached over and grabbed my arms from across the registration table.

“Can you talk?” I walked out from behind the table, and we talked for about one hour.

She told me that dad “bragged about his kids all the time. He was so proud of all of you.” She knew about our pursuits and knew that our mother had passed away a few years earlier. I had never known that he felt any sense of pride about us or what we did. Why did it take a stranger to tell me this?

She had to go to her breakout session, and we agreed to meet for coffee during the break. “I have to tell you something else,” she said.

When we joined up at the break, Paula started by saying, “Your dad was a pioneer, you know.” It wasn’t a question. It was a strong statement. She proceeded to tell me that not only was my father a pioneer in computer software (really? My dad?) but a champion of women in tech. She told me that in the 1970s, when she had her first child, women didn’t typically come back to their jobs after having children. Paula had decided that she would stay at home. After a few months at home, however, she missed her job. Paula and her husband decided that they could make it work, and they agreed that Paula should resume her career. She approached my dad about coming back. Dad had already hired a replacement, and the company frowned upon her returning to work she had left them in a jam. Over some unknown length of time, dad fought for her. He reminded his management of her valuable contributions to the team. They ended up hiring Paula back after much intercession on his part.

“I will never forget how hard he fought for me,” she said. My father never said a thing about this, and he told all kinds of stories from work. I’m so glad that I met Paula and that I had the opportunity to hear this story right from her. 

Number 2: The dogleg left

My dad enjoyed golf in his retirement years. He played starting in the Air Force and picked it up again when he started his company. In fact, Softworks sponsored a yearly golf tournament to benefit Lupus research.

Dad played regularly on Wednesdays. He was fretting about his slice, so he sought out help from some of the golf pros at the Andrews AFB golf course. As far as he was concerned, he was going to conquer one particular dogleg left that was vexing him.

Flash forward [I don’t know how many] months later, and he and his foursome approached the hole-y grail of holes. They all knew that it was my dad’s arch-nemesis, but they chided him about it. They would let him tee-off last so that his cussing would not rattle them. And so that they could poke fun some more.

Dad stepped up to the tee box and struck the ball. It sailed beautifully and went beyond the trees toward the pin. He was pleased, especially since the lessons were paying off. Everyone congratulated him on the excellent tee shot, and they took off toward the green to finish the hole.

Dad began to get frustrated. Everyone else found their balls and took their next shots. Dad still came up empty: there was no ball to be found. Nothing. He figured that he’d just take his lumps and go with the penalty for the hole. One of the foursome proceeded down to the hole to remove the flag.

“Hey, John. I found your ball!”

And with that, he had defeated the dogleg left. He didn’t mind buying everyone celebratory drinks when they returned to the clubhouse. Until the day that Lee moved out of the house they shared, Dad’s hole-in-one plaque proudly hung on the wall of their den.

Number 3: “I’m the sponsor of this show.”

I believe that this was my dad’s favorite saying. I mean, he punctuated sentences frequently invoking the name of our Lord and Savior or by asking for God to curse something or someone, but “ITSOTS” was his favorite saying. It was often the case. If you went to dinner with dad, and you tried to pick up the check, he’d grab it and say, “I’m the sponsor of this show.”

He was the sponsor of the show. He liked that role. He wanted to pick up the check or give someone a hand-up when they needed it. He freaking tipped the chef if he enjoyed his meal at a restaurant. He extended the open bar at every one of his kids’ weddings because he wanted the guests to have a great time.

He was perhaps a bit too generous with his money at times, and it sometimes attracted people with less-than-honest intentions. But, as cynical as he was, John saw mostly good in people. He figured since he had been a poor kid from Freedom, PA, and people had taken chances on him in his life, he’d keep it going. He was paying it forward, for better or worse.

He was, indeed, the sponsor of the show.

Number 4: Dad’s last words

So, I already mentioned that I spent dad’s last night on earth with him in his hospital room. After some hours of tossing and turning, he finally went to sleep. I went to sleep on a pull-out sofa, and it was quiet for a few hours.

Dad had not said much the day before, and he was parched from dehydration and the stroke had impaired his ability to speak. The staff at the hospital were limiting his intake of liquids and solid food. He was having a hard time talking, but I heard him quietly call my name in the early morning hours, the day he would die.

“Maura, I need something to drink.” He barely croaked it out.

“Dad, I have to go get the nurse. They are monitoring anything you take by mouth. I can’t give you anything.”

“Will ‘ya just get me some water?”

“I can’t, Dad. I’ll go get the nurse.”

He balled up his fists and squinted his eyes. As he struck the bed with his fists, he loudly proclaimed, “This…is…BULLSHIT.” I think he also stuck the gerund form of the f-word between “is” and “bullshit,” but I am not 100 percent sure. I was kind of stunned.

He was right, though. It is, and it was, on many levels. And those, my friends, were the last words I would ever hear from my father. You might think, “That’s terrible” or “How awful.” But, if you knew my father for any bit of time, you would know that those words were quintessential to him and kind of summed it all up.

After my dad passed away, my siblings, nieces, and all requisite significant others made their way to Orlando. The day everyone arrived, we met at Beer World (also appropriate for my family) to discuss funeral arrangements and such.

“So, do you guys want to know dad’s last words to me?” After I told the story, when we all had tears of sadness and joy in our eyes, we all decided that every time hence that we should get together, we would need to do a toast, raising our glasses, invoking dad’s last words.

Number 5: The mortician of the menagerie

If you are a parent, you know that you wear many hats: chef, tutor, chauffeur, and others too numerous to name. My dad had to deal with all of the animals we brought home. I found an Afghan hound that we kept for a couple of weeks until someone answered our “found pet” ad in the classifieds. Then there was the litter of found kittens, and the box turtle whose shell dad and a neighbor had to pry open after it closed on my finger. Then there were the fish, a rabbit, and a toy poodle that were our official family pets.

My friend, Richard, had too many guinea pigs. Although I was allergic, my sisters and I convinced my mom that we should be able to take a couple of the rodents off of Richard’s hands. I forget what we named them, but we soon had two squeaky pets in an aquarium on the bar in our family room. They smelled awful, even after changing the cedar chips and scooping poop. Regular maintenance of the guinea pig habitat was part of the deal we struck with mom.

Dad was not keen on the guinea pigs. He called them “the rats,” and he wanted us to keep them outside on the carport as much as possible because he hated the smell, and I was sneezing my head off. He was busy running a business, after all, and had a short fuse for the menagerie.

Although Richard promised us two male guinea pigs, we awoke to a third, tiny one, a few weeks after acquiring the two. Don’t think that dad ever let Richard forget about that. Yes, even into our 40s, my dad would remind Richard about the “two boy guinea pigs” whenever he saw him.

One of the guinea pigs fell ill. We don’t know what happened, but despite our upkeep, one of the little pigs perished. One of my sisters went to feed them on a particular morning and the one did not move. She poked it, and it was stiff and unquestionably dead. Being kids, and being that one of our pets died, we had to do the wailing and crying thing. After we flitted from mourning to something else of a high school drama nature, my dad scooped up the deceased into a brown lunch bag and started off to his car to go to work.

He noticed my two sisters and I were watching him, wondering what would be his next move.

“Look, I am sick of being the God d@^^n pet funeral director. I’m taking him to the office, and I’m going to put him in the dumpster.  Whatever you do, don’t tell Mike.”

We didn’t argue. We felt that we had mourned. We knew that over the years, yes, dad HAD been the pet funeral director. We let it go. As you can guess, this did not stay a secret for long. Mike had a soft heart for animals, and it would upset him.

Well, you can probably see this coming: We don’t know how it happened, and, to this day, no one will fess up to it, but someone got miffed at dad about something and spilled to Mike.

Mike was furious with dad. He waited for him to come home from work that evening. And, in all of his seven years of pent-up fury, Mike confronted dad. “When YOU die, I am throwing YOU in the DEMPSTER DUMPSTER,” he warned.

“That’s up to you,” dad replied. “I won’t know the difference.”

We reminded Mike about this threat when we met up at Beer World to toast our dad. Instead of a dumpster, our dad rests in dignity in Section 55 at Arlington National Veterans Cemetery.

Number 6: Meatballs!

Dad hadn’t cooked much as an adult. He went from his parents’ home to the barracks, to marrying my mom, who was a pretty decent cook. There just wasn’t a need. He did the de rigueur dad grilling, but, other than that, he didn’t go out of his way to create a meal from scratch. And he never did the dishes.

After mom passed away, we would visit him regularly and help put together meals. One week, he invited us all over for dinner on a Saturday evening. We were blown away by what he put together: spinach salad, lobster tail, and steak. He had been practicing, and his practice was paying off. He wanted to make things as normal as possible for our brothers: Mike, who was still at home, and for John, who was away at school, but who would make his way home some weekends. Normal included trying to sit down at least a couple of times each week to have home-cooked dinner.

When dad moved to Florida, he started cooking up a storm. He focused on perfecting his Italian repertoire. He asked his sister, Aggie, for their mom’s gnocchi recipe. He was able to execute it respectably. He was making his sauce from scratch, simmering it all day. And his personal best, his “awesome” meatballs, were making him famous with the cocktail, bridge, and golf set in Windermere.

One Sunday, when I was making my weekly check-in phone call, my stepmother answered the phone. She was gushing as she told me how “John cooked a fabulous Italian dinner” for her girlfriends.

“He even did the dishes!” Say what?

The girlfriends were all taken with dad’s food, especially the meatballs. I had tried to make decent meatballs over the years, but they just didn’t quite reach my goal. So, when she put dad on the phone, I told him that I heard about the five-star review. I needed to get the recipe. However, true to his heritage, he didn’t have a recipe, exactly; Instead, he had a list of stuff.

I once asked my grandmother to give me her recipe for pizzelle, the anisette waffle cookies that every Italian feels obligated to make for Christmas. It was, “I use a handful of flour, some melted butter…” nothing was precise. I could never replicate it. I typically use a recipe that I find on the King Arthur recipe site, instead of the one that might have been passed down to me.

“Dad, the next time I visit, let’s make your meatballs.” It was on.

We worked together in the kitchen, which we had never done, and I watch as he assembled the ingredients, some of which I had considered unusual to meatballs. I copied the elements and method so that I could fashion a recipe for myself, based on dad’s process.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, “Meatballs by John,” with some of his tips thrown in. Note: I use U.S. measurements, sorry.

  • One egg plus one egg white, lightly beaten
  • 3 Tbs. milk; add more, one tsp. at a time, if things seem too dry to sop the milk
  • Packed ¼ C Parmesan cheese, grated (Use fresh, “not that crap from a green can that smells like feet.”)
  • Two thick slices of white Italian bread, torn into small bits
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley (“the good flat kind”)
  • Six fresh leaves basil, torn into little pieces or sliced into a chiffonade
  • 2 tsps. Italian seasoning or oregano, dried
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Fresh ground nutmeg, two passes over the grater (Sorry, but it’s the only way I can explain that.)
  • ½ lb. ground sirloin
  • ½ lb. ground pork
  • One pinch each, salt and pepper
  • Chicken or beef broth, white wine, extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a glass or ceramic baking dish with a light brushing of extra-virgin olive oil. Add enough chicken or beef broth to cover the bottom of the dish, and add a splash of white wine or dry vermouth to the broth in the baking dish. Red wine discolors the meatballs.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large glass (yes, glass) mixing bowl, except for the meats and salt and pepper.
  3. Break the meats into strands, pulling things gently apart and adding them to the other ingredients in the mixing bowl. Using a light touch, or two forks, mix everything, then add salt and pepper. Do not over-work the meat, or the meatballs may become dense.
  4. Form the meatballs, gently, and don’t pack them too tightly. Make them slightly larger than a golf ball for the best results. You want them to “just” stay together. Place each meatball into the prepared dish as you go.
  5. Cook for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, flip the meatballs, then cook for 15 minutes more. (Note from me: I don’t know why, but no matter the size you make them, this always works. Dad figured it out somehow.)
  6. Let the finished meatballs rest on a paper towel for 10 minutes before you add them to the sauce.

Enjoy the meatballs with sauce, with or without pasta, or in a sub roll with provolone on top. You can also wrap each meatball around a small cube of mozzarella di bufala as you form them if you want to give your friends a treat. When you raise a glass of Chianti, don’t forget to honor John with a hearty toast, maybe even the toast that my family uses.

Happy Father’s Day!


Six Things – The Girlfriend Legacy

I am embarrassed to admit that I have never had a lot of close girlfriends. Maybe it’s because I’m skeptical about why someone would befriend me. Every time I start to get close to someone, I retreat because no, I don’t want to buy those leggings you sell. I don’t want to come over and hold your hair back while you puke. I don’t have time to dissect what he said to you, seven different ways, the tone in which he said it, or to muster thin shreds of false hope for you. I am just not a girly-girl: I would prefer to go to Barret-Jackson than to high tea. I want to go to Cabella’s, not Nordstrom.

Please don’t think that I don’t like people. According to Meyers-Briggs, I am quite high on the extrovert scale. I am a social person, and I know lots of people. I enjoy being around people and am not an antisocial hermit. Although this blog installment is not about me, you need to know all of this because, after years of flying mostly solo in the girlfriend department, I was lucky to have a close girlfriend later in my life. I found what most women are fortunate to have. I finally had someone to confide in, someone who shared many of my same interests, and we even worked together at the same company, doing the same job (on different teams). We went to vintage popup markets. We met for lunch or a movie, and we commiserated on work projects. We traded husband-training tips. I had what I was missing in my life: a close girlfriend. I understood all the girlfriend hype. Finally!

On December 2, 2018, Michelle’s husband called me just before 11:00 PM, while I was in a Lyft ride, coming home from a Christmas party. Michelle had suffered a severe asthma attack while attending an event with their daughter. The attack left her unresponsive, as her brain was deprived of oxygen for several minutes, causing irreversible brain damage. I tried to convince him – and mostly myself – that she was going to be okay.

“It’s bad,” he said. I refused to believe him.

I heard from Michelle’s mother-in-law two days later. By her most generous spirit, Michelle was an organ donor. Her husband and daughter had said their good-byes, and the donor network had set about finding organ recipients.

Michelle was in my life for just over 20 short years. And then, most unexpectedly, my best friend was gone.

A week before she passed, my thoughtful friend sent me that year’s l’Occitaine Advent Calendar. Every day leading up to Christmas, I cried as I opened a little door that revealed a small, nicely scented gift. Michelle kept bestowing kindness even after she was gone.

But here’s the thing: Since Michelle’s passing, I have met her longtime friends from elementary school, middle school, and college. I also met her first “adult close friend.” We all knew about each other, but we didn’t know each other. We lived in Texas, Virginia, Arizona, and Illinois, and had never actually met. We finally came together at her memorial service. After the memorial, at the reception, we started talking and laughing like we had known each other all along. We shared stories that Michelle told us about one another, and we quoted her favorite sayings. Because of Michelle, we had found one another. We were like needles in a haystack that were suddenly divined by a magnet. I had a group of women with whom I instantly identified. Although we’re all dispersed, I feel like I have this network – “The Friends of Michelle” – whom I can text or send a Facebook message out of the blue.

Last Saturday, April 18, would have been Michelle’s birthday. Keri, one of her longtime friends, organized a virtual “Michelle Day.” We got together over a Zoom session and toasted Michelle with our favorite adult beverages. We shared our favorite memories and laughed and cried. Michelle’s dad, stepmom, husband, and her daughter were also in attendance. Her daughter is this scary-perfect copy of her mom, with the same head of hair, a great laugh, and her mother’s love of music. It was nice to see everyone and to honor Michelle’s memory.

I was lucky enough to have had Michelle in my life, if only for a short time. Michelle Day inspired me to tell the rest of the world about our friend. I would like to tell you six things that you should know about our friend. She was a genuinely fantastic person, and I pray that this is a fitting tribute, though more than one year overdue.

Number 1: Michelle was a connoisseur of alternative music.

Someone remarked during our Michelle Day festivities that Michelle was probably the “oldest known person to still subscribe to Rolling Stone.” That’s arguably accurate. When we traveled on business trips, Michelle was usually packing a tote full of back issues that she needed to catch up on. She had this encyclopedic knowledge of popular music. Michelle’s forte was alternative music of the 1980s.

If she was in her car, and a song came on that she remembered your liking, you would receive a text of the radio tuner display. If she heard a new release of a song that she thought you’d like, she’d tell you about it or send you a YouTube video or MP3. She was like a human Spotify meets Encyclopedia of Music.

A typical text from Michelle

I say that she was a connoisseur of alternative music, but she was knowledgeable about all kinds of music. Once, when I was trying to decide between two operas on which to spend my annual Opera Attendance Allotment. I had to choose between Lucia di Lammermoor and Abduction From the Seraglio, she advised me to see “Abduction, of course.” What? From which left field did that come? Her advice turned out to be spot-on. She knew me and knew I would enjoy it.

Number 2: Michelle was one of the most thoughtful and generous people I have ever known.

Michelle’s encyclopedic memory was the catalyst for her thoughtfulness. If you told her something that you liked or had an interest in, even if only once, in passing, she remembered it. I told her that when I was a kid, I was a penguin fan. Each year, no matter what she got me for my birthday or Christmas, she would send me “something penguin.” I think I mentioned it once, but she always remembered it.

She remembered birthdays and pet adoption anniversaries, and wedding anniversaries. Each year, my husband and I received an anniversary card from her. A friend sending an anniversary card to another friend is just downright, level-five considerate.

In her final act of selflessness, Michelle donated her organs to several recipients, including a woman in Washington, in her twenties, who received her generous heart. She made it possible for others to have another chance at beautiful lives.

Number 3: Michelle was a dedicated animal advocate.

Okay, we all love animals. But Michelle put her love into action. She volunteered with the Arizona Humane Society and was one of the earliest Rover.com hosts I can remember. She would volunteer to watch our dogs when we would take short weekend trips, and she and her family treated them like royalty.

I cannot remember the number, but over the years, she fostered probably close to 50 kittens, some of those being gravely ill. She wanted every animal to have their best chance at a good life. We were talking on the phone one day when one of her foster kitties passed away quietly from parvo. She was so calm, and I was tearing up as she told me what happened. But you know what? That kitten passed away in a comfortable home, on a soft, clean blanket, with someone who had bottle-fed him, keeping watch as he crossed the rainbow bridge. That kitten did not die alone, somewhere out in the big world.

Michelle made some best friends at the Best Friends’ Sanctuary in Utah

Michelle would have saved a corral of kittens and puppies if she could have. Her Texas girlfriends made a point of volunteering at the shelter where she volunteered the weekend they visited Arizona for the memorial service. That was indeed the most fitting way to have honored her volunteer spirit. Her commitment to volunteering inspires each one of The Friends of Michelle to this day. Some of the Friends have started fostering shelter animals, which they’d never done before.

That is what I would call a legacy of action.

Number 4: Michelle was quite smart.

Michelle was one of those rare people who had equally adept left and right brain abilities, which I always attributed that to her left-handedness. She was great at math, a talent I’ve always admired in anyone, but she was also one of the best editors I’ve ever met. Whenever I needed someone to take a look at a paper I’d written for a graduate school assignment or a customer communiqué I’d written for work, I could count on Michelle to find that one obscure error that everyone else missed. I would send her something to review, thinking that I’d sent her the most pristine copy ever, and she would find something that had hidden from anyone else who’d looked at it. It was uncanny.

We collaborated a lot at work, especially in the last two years of Michelle’s life. If we had to come up with a process or policy for our team to follow, I would write the draft, she would refine it, and we would both work on the final copy. We had an unspoken but discreetly defined workflow we’d follow when we teamed up on a project. I miss that collaboration. I don’t know if I can sync up with anyone else like that.

In 2017, our company transferred me to a team that would afford me more opportunities to work directly with Michelle. I had to learn the product and the processes surrounding it. The company shot down my repeated requests for product training, but Michelle saved my professional skin. She was my mentor on that team. After Michelle e passed away, and I took over responsibility for many of the things we did together, I found myself using her approaches to problem-solving when I encountered technical roadblocks. I didn’t realize how much she helped me at work until I didn’t have her knowledge to draw upon anymore.

Number 5: Michelle’s personality had a balance of seriousness and fun.

Michelle was the fun adult in the room. She was serious about things like managing money, keeping organized through lists, and other necessary things that most of us know are necessary but are loathe to do. Michelle was her family’s de facto accountant, chef, and business manager. She was the queen of the castle.

But Michelle had a fun, mischievous side. She was an expert at coming up with apt nicknames for people at work that we could use to “encode” our messages to one another. She would send the best cartoons and memes, just when you needed them most. They usually harkened back to a long-forgotten inside joke or offhand comment.

At her memorial, I learned that Michelle once snuck out of her house, joined up with a friend, and met a guy from the band Night Ranger. The band member decided that he wanted to meet Michelle and her friend, who worked at the same restaurant, after admiring them from afar. They hung out with him for a while, sticking to Diet Coke, on Michelle’s practical advice. And that’s about as far as it went. I could listen to that story a million times.

Number 6: Michelle was married to her soulmate.

I remember a particularly lovely photo of Michelle and her husband at their wedding. She posted the picture to Facebook on the occasion of their wedding anniversary. She added the caption, “Never a doubt.”

They were such a matched set. They bonded through music when they met while being the wingman/woman for their respective friends on an unsuccessful date. Michelle and Chris hit it off, were soon caught up in a whirlwind romance, got engaged, and married. They always reminded me of the fun, high school couple whom everyone wanted to be around. Their senses of humor, and everything else about them, could give hope to anyone who doubted the worth of marriage. It made me happy to see them and how they interacted. They gave each other buoyancy.

Michelle gave many of us the gift of her light. Someone posted something on her Facebook page after she passed away that sums it up so well:

“There are some who bring
a light so great to the world
that even after they have gone,
the light remains.”

I am forever grateful for that light, no matter how fleeting.


Six Things: The Marathoner

Kelsey began her relationship with distance running when she casually accepted a friend’s invitation to join her in running a half-marathon (13.1 miles). But she never particularly liked running. Her Dad, seeing something she didn’t see in herself, wanted her to run cross country instead of playing field hockey in high school. She went on to play field hockey in college, but she perceived running as punishment. It was punishment for missing a practice. It was punishment for not nailing a drill. It was punishment, plain and simple. Kelsey got hooked on distance running after she finished that first half-marathon, and now, she cannot imagine her life without distance running in it.

Kelsey’s first marathon was Boston. It’s 26.2 miles of hard work, including the noted “Heartbreak Hill.” She finished with a quite respectable time in driving rain at a chilly 40 degrees Fahrenheit. She was soaked to the bone and chilled. Her Mom helped her peel off her drenched clothes, changing in the cramped ladies’ room of a Panera Bread restaurant. Despite being cold, wet, and exhausted, Kelsey knew then that she was not done with marathons. She has run multiple races since Boston.

Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 crisis, Kelsey’s upcoming marathon, Rock-n-Roll DC, scheduled for March 28th, was canceled and not rescheduled as of this writing. She cheerily and optimistically dismisses the “what if…” What might she have been able to accomplish in that race? She has profoundly refined her training regimen, and believes that she has probably trained more efficiently and productively than ever before. But,  as she tells us, she is not “one-and-done” with marathons. Once the circuit opens up again, she’ll start training for her next race.

For those of us who struggle to do a five-mile walk/run, marathons seem exotic, if not un-achievable. We dilettantes see a marathon (yes, singular), perhaps, as a bucket list goal. Marathoners don’t see it that way. You are always prepping for your next race. You are looking for ways to shave precious seconds off of your last time. It’s ingrained in you.

Kelsey lives and trains in the Boston, Massachusetts area.

Here, in her own words, and with my questions and comments thrown in, are the Six Things that Kelsey wants you to know about being a marathoner.

Number 1: Anyone can be a marathoner – if they want to be one.

I find this hard to believe. I have exercise-induced asthma.
I cannot imagine running for “fun.”

Look, if you wanted to, you truly could. It takes repetitive discipline and training. You might need to train at different levels and paces, but really, anyone can do it.

When I was training for my first half [-marathon] I said that I would never run a marathon. I mean, I wondered, “How does anyone have the time to train for a marathon?” And there’s the discipline needed. I was in college. There’s not much discipline in college. I wanted to go out and drink!

But you start looking forward to your training. You settle into it and get into a flow. You embrace the training and enjoy it. So you train in short distances. You start adding on a few miles each week, and, before you know it, you’re there.

And marathoning and distance…It’s not necessarily about being fast. If you run 100 yards you are a runner. 

Did playing hockey you get to a true marathon level any faster than the typical person?

Field hockey helped but I did not enjoy running when I played team sports. Running is what you do as your punishment. Did you miss a drill? You get five laps. That mentality sticks.

I went to the gym a few days a week with a roommate, and one day, she randomly asked me if I wanted to run a half. I loved the training process.

But the training takes discipline.
I know that you happen to be a disciplined person by nature.
What about the person who doesn’t even make his or her bed every day?

If you can develop discipline, it will trickle down into the rest of your life. Yes, Type-A people enjoy running. But anyone…you can become disciplined even if you are not currently. Training is habit-forming…the discipline comes naturally.

Number 2: You learn to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches.

What does that mean in this context?

With marathon or race training, you put your entire heart and soul for 14, 16, 20 weeks, and then you put it to the test in one day..you put it on the line. I’ve dealt with horrid rain. And with the Rock-n-Roll DC, that I was about to run, I was feeling like I was in tip-top shape, and now we have a global pandemic. You put everything you can into your training, and deal with the uncontrollable, and this applies to other parts of your life. I don’t get to run a marathon [March 28th] like I thought I was, but I will find that closure to this training.

I’m still going to run that day, but I don’t know that that I can run that distance on my own. Part of the cap of running a race is to celebrate with friends and to see your loved ones along the route

I’ll do something to honor the [Rock-n-Roll DC] and my training, but I don’t know what quite yet.

No photo description available.
Kelsey crosses the Boston Marathon Finish Line!

Number 3: Long runs are like church.

I think I understand this philosophy, but I do go to church.
Can you bring this one home for me?

This probably applies most to distance runs. It’s a common sentiment among distance runners: Church of the Saturday or Sunday Long Run. It’s a consistent part of my life and routine.

On Saturday, I wake up and have coffee and some small bits of food, and then I go out and run the same path. It’s muscle memory at this point. I look forward to it and anticipate it. I am by myself and I zone out. I can choose what I think about or not think about. I am in control, and I think about my forward motion.

I’m not particularly religious, but my “church runs” give me a feeling of connection and belonging to the world. When I realize that my run is ending, I snap back to reality and regain my consciousness. It’s a defining moment, and it feels like a true connection between my mind and my body. I have been on autopilot, but then I come back to reality.

Oh, yeah; there are runs every mile sucks. A slog. And, then, there are some times when there is a euphoria that overshadows those awful runs. Those are the runs when I realized what I accomplished.

It sounds like the proverbial sporting sweet spot thing…and there’s nothing like that.

It’s my most concentrated time alone. I’m an introvert. I like running with friends, but my long runs are mine…my protected time for myself. I get to experience my route during all seasons. I’m totally connected to it. It’s like my physical church building.

Number 4: Train for the downhills.

My not being a real runner, I look forward to downhills. I get to kick it into high gear and not think about it. You mean there is actually a strategy?

Downhills are mostly sweet release. Uphills suck: they do. But you can train to be good at them. If you’ve been running 20, and you have 6 to go, and you have downhills, they can really pound your legs. If you don’t do your downhills the right way, you get mashed potato quads.

It’s strategic. On a course like Boston, you have lots of hills late in the game. If you haven’t practiced those, they will wreck you. If you don’t run a lot, you think “downhill equals easy,” and aerobically they are, but you really do need to change up your form and your pace.

You have to know how to navigate your course successfully. You need to at least look at the race elevation map and find similar courses to run in your neighborhood.

Kelsey runs the Providence (RI) Marathon, May 2019

Number 5: There’s a lot more that goes into training than running.

Did you learn this after Boston? Did you decide to change up your routine?
Did you have a goal?

With my first race, I just wanted to finish: run the distance. I didn’t have any races to compare it to. No consistent or fast paces. I was only running. I wasn’t doing much strength training.

For the second race, I wanted to do it better. I thought, “What can I do differently?” I got about 50 miles a week. I was adding speed work.

What does your pre-race training schedule look like?

Preparing for this third race, My typical week was easy runs/recovery, one or two speed-specific workouts, like eight sets of 800 with jogs, strength work in the gym, and one long run. The one long run builds every week, from 10 miles up to 21 in my case, this last time.

In my second marathon buildup, I was inconsistent with speed work, but shaved 35 minutes off, and felt like the tank still had some gas. I was much more consistent with speed each week and now I strength train twice a week.

And then your race was canceled! I’m so sorry!

I won’t get a chance to know, but I fell like I would have been right around 4 hours. I don’t know if I will do a race in the fall. The idea of doing marathon training in the summer is not appealing, but I will probably train for a fall marathon.

Number 6: It’s really difficult to be “one and done” with marathons.

So marathons aren’t just for bucket lists?

They are kind of addicting. If you do it once and are successful, why would you say, “No, I never want to accomplish THAT again!” Some people cross it off of the bucket list. I get that, but I want to do it. I want to keep doing it. It’s a difficult and challenging experience. You want to push yourself a little more each time.

The weather in Boston can be demotivating in the winter. So, having the rigidity and goals has been helpful to make the winter more enjoyable. 

I cannot imagine training in weather so cold that the boogers in your nose freeze.

It is not appealing. But if I didn’t have [my training routine], I would lose my connection to the outdoors for six months, and I don’t like that idea.

And here is a bonus thing – Number 7: I’ve never regretted going for a run.

When you decide to do distance training it sucks for the first few weeks, for the first month, for sure. But then, you see yourself improving…you get over that hump, and running becomes enjoyable. Yes, sometimes you don’t look forward to running after a stressful day. But I know that’s exactly what I need after a stressful day. I come home, after my run, a completely different person. It’s a release…a total release for my mind and what happened that day. It’s totally helpful for decompressing. I have never come back in a bad or worse mood than when I started.

Running is very personal. This is my experience.

Six Things…a delay

I apologize to those with whom I have not yet engaged regarding my latest blog post. I spent a late night at the emergency vet with my dog. He is home with me now, but is quite ill. Please allow me some time to attempt to bring him back to health

He is my awesome rescue from a Mexico border town, and means a lot to me. I will be back ASAP.

Be kind to one another, and send Rocco some positive thoughts.

Love in the Time of Corona: Six Places

Author’s note: I apologize to the late Gabriel García Márquez for blatantly co-opting the title of his masterpiece novel. However, in these times, I felt it was necessary.

I want to devote this installment of Six Things to some of the people who are doing their part to keep us fed, caffeinated, spiritually enriched, physically fit, TP’d, and as warm and fuzzy as possible during this world event. These are not the obvious heroes – your first-responders and healthcare workers. These are the people on the home-front, rather than the front lines, who are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy during these times.

Please note that I wrote this blog installment on March 22, 2020. Arizona is not under a lock-down, but is under social-distancing orders. Schools are closed, and have been since the previous week. Churches are closed. Gatherings of more than 10 people
are discouraged.

I have worked at home, remotely, since the late 1990s. Yes, I AM a WFH pioneer. If you have any questions about it, feel free to ask. During my time working from home, I have witnessed many world events, but none were ever quite like this. Perhaps 9/11 might approach this level. I cannot honestly tell you what it was like to WFH during 9/11, because I was in Italy, on vacation, when that happened.

The first obvious thing to say about the events over the last few weeks is that fluidity does not begin to describe the situation. On Monday, I was at the gym. On Tuesday, my trainer said, “we’re hearing that they are going to close the big box gyms.” On Wednesday, the owner put out a video discussing hygiene and sanitation measures they were instituting. On Thursday, after my workout, they told us that the Arizona Governor had ordered all gyms closed, including our fitness studio. On Friday, a few hours after my workout, they turned off the lights at 5:00 P.M., indefinitely. Tim the owner of the gym, graciously allowed people to take home weights and bands to do the e-mail and streaming workouts that they will be putting together for all of the members.

I live in North Scottsdale, AZ; far North Scottsdale, to be precise, or “FNS.” FNS is different from downtown Scottsdale. It’s part of an unofficial FNS/Carefree/Cave Creek “tri-towns,” which has a more small-town, cowboy hangout vibe. I decided to venture out on Saturday to see how people are making the best of this situation in my little corner of the sixth largest city in the U.S.

Number 1: The little coffee shop at my church

There’s not much to say here: It’s closed. I wanted to buy a cup of coffee, and perhaps a treat to bring home to my husband. Our Lady of Joy, in Carefree, AZ, recently completed a remodel of the social hall, and decided to add a coffee shop that anyone could patronize: “Joyful Grounds.” I suppose that since it’s attached to the church building, and all churches are asked to not hold services, they have been shuttered. This made me kind of sad. I was beginning to think that my cheer-me-up outing would be an exercise in futility and sadness.

Number 2: The Queen of Peace adoration chapel

It’s gonna get religious here for a moment. You’ve been warned. You can move on to Number 3 if that bothers you.

I sing in the church choir. It’s coming up on Holy Week. We are probably not going to have Holy Week or Easter liturgies this year. Any music ministry member will tell you that it feels like you’ve finished a marathon once Holy Week is done, since you typically sing at 4 or more liturgies. But not singing the psalm at Easter…that is unsettling for me. It’s the particular timing of all of this that makes me think that the Devil is working overtime right now.

Although the Governor has ordered that large gatherings cannot take place, our Pastor, Father Jess, is keeping outdoor confessions going, is allowing no more than 10 people in the church for silent prayer, and is allowing perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist. Again, no more than 10 people are allowed in the adoration chapel at any time.

I walked in to a strong chlorine smell in the church. They are treating the holy water water with chlorine, much like you would a swimming pool. It’s safe to bless yourself! Hand sanitizer is on fancy stands all around the narthex, in the church, and at the entrance to the adoration chapel.

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Inside the adoration chapel

I spent some peaceful time asking Michael the Archangel to defend us in battle, protecting us from the wickedness and snares of the Devil. A woman sitting an appropriate distance away was silently crying. I wanted to hug her, but resisted. These times are trying for us committed huggers.

I enjoyed my quiet time in the adoration chapel. I think that I am going to make this a habit. Silver lining, I guess.

Number 3: The butcher shop

I haven’t had much luck finding meat at the big box grocery stores. We have a lovely little butcher shop in Carefree, run by a young couple. They have at least one employee that I know of. They’ve been so busy lately, they have enlisted her Mom to work the register, while Dad does coffee and iced tea runs for the employees.

When I saw the line of people, I almost bailed. I was about number 12 in line. They are only allowing 2-3 people in the shop at one time. I stayed on line. I’m glad I did.

We stood about six feet from one another. I talked to a fellow with a Trump hat. He has cancer, and uses a walker. He has nephropathy in his legs from his chemo treatments. He was making jokes and talking about his time as a firefighter. It was quite sunny and warm, and the two ladies behind him told him to sit down and that they would hold his place. He said that his wife is a vegan, and that she doesn’t like to visit the butcher shop, so he has to do that errand himself. He said that he swears by the fresh proteins to keep up his strength between treatments.

A young mom stood behind me with her toddler. The young woman was seven months pregnant, and was waiting to buy her daughter some fresh eggs and organic all-beef hot dogs. We stood in line for about 30 minutes, when her daughter began to get restless. Who could blame her? I asked her if she wanted to go in front of me. She gladly accepted the offer. I guess toddlers are very particular about how long they can go between episodes of PJ Mask.

They were already out of chicken, but they had lots of other things. Although pricey compared to a regular grocery store, I felt great about how busy they were. They work directly with several Arizona ranches and farms. So, that’s good too: those people are still working.

Mom wore rubber gloves and sanitized the touch-screen between each transaction. She also pointed out that each transaction would include totally optional tip. The shopkeepers are collecting tips for the Cave Creek restaurant workers who are not working during this business closure.

When I had my order and was exiting the shop, I said, “Thanks. You guys rock.” They responded, “No, YOU rock!”

Number 4: The burrito food truck

I did not patronize the food truck, as it would not be open for another half-hour. I learned from the butcher shop folks that the proprietors would be giving away one roll of toilet paper with every burrito purchased.

They guy in line behind me, seeing an opening, said, “Well you probably do need a roll of toilet paper for every burrito purchased.”

Number 5: Let’s try another coffee shop

I was really looking forward to an iced latte after my time in line at the butcher shop. I walked down the hill behind the shop to the small shopping center below. The [local] coffee shop was open (yay!). The inside tables had their chairs turned on top of them to discourage people from milling about inside the shop. There were two tables outside, a respectable distance apart, for sitting and sipping. Some of the patrons were standing in the parking lot, chatting and drinking their beverages. It was quite nice.

The owners were cheery and said that they’d been busy. They ware getting calls for take-away lunches. Apparently their tuna salad is famous…good to know.

They said that they hadn’t had to let anyone go, and that the community has been supportive of them. That was so heartening to hear. This shop uses coffee that is roasted in Cave Creek, so the roasters can keep working as long as there is demand for their product. The roasters do not have a retail shop, so they depend upon the small establishments in town, and some of the markets that sell their coffee by the pound, to keep them afloat.

Number 6: The pet adoption event

Just outside of the coffee shop was an adoption even sponsored by one of the local animal rescues. There are still puppies and kittens to adopt, and they make make social-distancing more bearable (and fun).

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There are still puppies!

With all of the social-distance and quarantining going on, local rescues suggest that fostering a dog, cat, or exotic animal during this time has many benefits. With the kids at home, a foster can give kids focus, teach a new kind of caring and responsibility, and possibly lead to an adoption of that foster pet. One of the larger rescues here, with multiple campuses, is opening only one of those campuses – by appointment only – during this time. This means that the pets are not being visited and viewed as much as they normally would be. Some of the pets really respond to visitors and to having people around in general. Fostering can be a mutually rewarding situation.

I, for one, feel so fortunate to have my little dog to help me get through all this weirdness. It’s something to think about.

It was a productive morning, on many levels. Although I was not able to get everything on my list. I was able to see my little community chugging along, trying to keep things mostly normal.

I think I got the most important items on my list.

The news these days is sad, mostly overwhelming, and borderline defeating. But my outing gives me little threads of hope to hang on to. We can do this, I think. Please, to the extent that you can, support your local shops. They need you and we need them…especially now.

Six Things – The Importance of Being Earnest [in Real Estate]

Earnest is a real estate investor who felt he was involved in too many one-sided engagements. He didn’t see that his interests were being represented, even by some of his own realtors. He looks back to one particularly bad deal, in which he, as the seller, was strong-armed into going through with a sale against his better judgement. One of those strong arms was that of his own realtor, who was contorting herself to accommodate the buyer, as was the buyer’s agent, who coincidentally worked for the same broker. It was his proverbial last straw.

Turning a bad situation into a positive outcome, Earnest decided to become a licensed realtor. Based on his experiences in real estate, he has become a guy who fancies himself the Realtor For the People — people who might be otherwise under-represented in normal circumstances. This might seem distrustful or jaded, but Earnest believes that it’s his bad experiences that have helped him learn to treat people right before, during, and after the transaction. Earnest chooses to be REAL about real estate with his clients. He prides himself on being transparent about all aspects of the deal, and he maintains a plain-dealer style.

In his own cynical words, along with my questions, here are the Six Things that Earnest wants you to know about what he has learned as a real estate agent who’s got your back.

Number 1: The seller pays. And pays.

I believe that if someone doesn’t know that they pay a commission in a real estate deal, they haven’t been paying attention. Doesn’t everyone know that there are fees in a real estate deal? Can you elaborate?

Ultimately, all of the following things are paid for entirely by the seller in a real estate deal:  

  • The broker’s salary and profit
  • The broker’s Bentley, Porsche, or Lamborghini
  • The broker’s office building, the leather chairs, and they artwork in his elegant corner office inside of his office building
  • The brokerage’s signs, the computers, the secretary, the administrative staff
  • The big box franchise brands’ luxurious Wall Street headquarters building, advertising and marketing for the brand, conventions, and trade shows
  • And, finally, the agent’s commissions  

All of this is paid by the person listing his or her house for sale. The seller signs a one-sided-listing contract and is obligated to pay $30,000 for letting an agent market the $500,000 house for sale (upon completion of the sales transaction).  On the back of the seller rests the entire agent/broker side of the real estate industry.

Number 2: It’s all about the commission. 

I am realistic, but perhaps not as jaded as you. I would think it is “client first, commission second.” What am I missing? I have seen instances where the realtor doesn’t try to push for a higher selling price during negotiations. Am I wrong?

The National Association of Realtors has a Code of Ethics, which states that realtors have a fiduciary obligation to their clients. Per the Code, they are to place their client’s interests first. Let’s be perfectly clear: in reality, the first loyalty is to the commission. The commission comes first. In my personal experience, I can assure you that agents, and their brokers, will do almost anything to make sure a deal does not fall through. 

Typically, the interests of the seller and the buyer will be in line with this goal…so no big deal.  But there are many times when the desire to collect a quick commission check will incentivise the listing agent to go low on the price. Yeah, yeah, I know a higher price will get the agent a little more money. Unfortunately, the greater incentive is to close the deal as quickly as possible, collect the commission, and move on to the next best thing.  We all know the saying about “a bird in the hand.”

Number 3: Flippers suck.

Umm…aren’t YOU a flipper?

I do high-end remodels with a general contractor. He is licensed and he knows what he is doing. Most of these guys (and gals) think that they are Chip and JoJo, and they jump into remodels without knowing what they are doing. They don’t anticipate termites, mechanical issues, slab leaks. They don’t have a contingency fund. It’s “get in/get out ASAP.” And, flippers are are cheap, so they cut corners to “fix” that stuff.

I guess I am naive to think that all flippers are The Property Brothers, and that they use competent subs and quality materials.

Look, to be brutally honest, most flippers are (1) really greedy, and (2) really incompetent. “Putting lipstick on a pig” is a cliché often heard in the flipping industry. Much of the remodel work is purely cosmetic, leaving serious flaws concealed. In my state, our sales contracts have language that requires the seller to disclose problems, existing or fixed, to the buyers. However, most flippers do non-disclosure disclosures and add language comparable to “Seller never lived in property, therefore can provide no disclosures” in their listings, meaning that, because they never lived in the property, they know nothing about the property.  

Some flippers are so clueless or lazy that they can’t or won’t even disclose to you who the utility companies are. And I think, “Really? You paid the bills for this property while you were ‘remodeling’ it, and you don’t even know the name of the electric company you were paying? And you know absolutely nothing about the house even though your listing claims you took it all the way down to the studs?” Come on.

In my state, the buyer is privy to a property’s listing and sales history. If your agent does not offer this to you ASK FOR IT. It will give you an idea as to whether you need to dig for disclosures and preexisting stuff. How long did the seller have the house you want to buy? Did they ever occupy the place? If the answers are “not very long” and “no,” it’s likely you’re dealing with a flip situation.

Number 4: Buyers are liars. 

Agents say that? This is really disappointing. Wow.

This is an unfortunate phrase that many realtors use when out of earshot of a potential buyer. Okay, on this one, I am somewhat sympathetic to my colleagues. Buyers, please refer to thing # 1. The seller is paying the commission, entering into a contract to do so. No negotiations on your part will alter that.

The buyer’s agent is working for you for FREE. He or she drives you around in their car, showing you house after house. You may never put a contract on a house you see. If you do, you may never go through with the sale: you might bail during inspection. You might dump your agent after she’s shown you 60 houses and go with someone else. Don’t buy one of those sixty houses, though, or he might sue you.  

Doesn’t the buyer pay some sort of a commission?

If and when the deal finally closes, the agent normally gets a commission, but the buyer is not a party to it. The commission was a deal between the seller and the listing broker. The buyer has nothing to do with it.  As a matter of fact, neither does the buyer’s agent. 

There are 3 contracts here that get the commission to the buyer’s agent. None of them have anything to do with the buyer or with the purchase contract the buyer put on the home.  Here they are: 

  1. Seller has listing contact with listing broker, seller pays listing broker at close of escrow (at this point seller is out of the loop). 
  2. Buyer broker agreements between brokers who are members of the same listing service: The selling broker sends the buyer’s broker whatever commission percentage he entered into the listing service database. 
  3. Independent contractor agreement between the buyer’s agent and his broker: The broker will pay the buyer’s agent whatever part of the commission was agreed to in his “employment” agreement. So buyer, you have nothing to do with any of this.

Number 5: Think about it: Is a 6% Commission really fair?

An agent has to make a living, right? Aren’t YOU an agent?

In a market where houses sell themselves, a 6% commission seems excessive. It also seems unfair that all of the realtor costs in a transaction are borne by the seller, especially when so much of the effort is spent on the buyer

I’ve discounted my commission to 5% when warranted, keeping 2% for the listing side and offering 3% to the brokers representing the buyer. I have purchased home warranties for my clients who are buyers. Regardless of the amount of commission, it is still a commission-based business. Sellers and buyers need to be aware that agents are feeding their families on the commissions they earn, and can never realistically live up to the lofty — yet naive — concept that the client comes first.

Number 6: Surprise! The real estate agent is not the only one getting a commission.

Really who else is commissioned? Who pays those commissions? 

Your mortgage broker most likely is earning commissions far greater than your realtor can even dream of. Your title and escrow agent is also receiving a commission-based compensation. Again, with these professionals, getting the deal closed and collecting the commission is priority #1. In this case, I am sure the lender has some sort of code of ethics that puts the buyer’s interest first, but let’s be real about this. 

My advice is to interview your agent and make sure that he or she knows the entire transaction process. Go into any real estate transaction with your eyes open, realizing that the professionals around you are there to make a living, and you cannot fault them for that. Know that in their eyes, buyers and sellers will come and go, but there will always be another commission check to score.

Six Things – The Cancer Slayer

My sister, Traci, is wife to Craig, the mother of two adult daughters, a voracious reader, a librarian at a private Catholic school, children’s literacy advocate, a British TV fan, and a Cancer Slayer. 

Traci was diagnosed with stage three inflammatory breast cancer in the middle of 2019. She’s undergone a course of chemotherapy treatments, surgery, and is currently undergoing antibody infusions and radiation therapy. She learned that she was cancer-free on Christmas Eve 2019. Traci continues her treatment regimen as requested by her oncology team, stomping out the embers of that stupid, non-discriminating disease, continuing as the Cancer Slayer. Traci attributes her ability to finish her fight to an excellent medical team, her own strength, the strength of her family, and to all of the prayers she’s received along the way. 

On a personal note, I am awed by my sister’s deep faith and strength in the face of her fight. She is an inspiration.

In her own words, along with my questions, here are the Six Things that Traci wants you to know about what she’s learned as a Cancer Slayer.

Number 1: It’s not my fault. And everyone seems to know that except me.

It is definitely not your fault. I’m sure that you are not the first cancer patient to say this, but let’s enlighten someone who may also have felt or thought this way. Now, why ever would you think that your having cancer would be your fault? How or why would you believe that radical, mutating cells, over which you have no control, would be your fault?

Although I am not stupid, I went seven years between mammograms. I thought that since we don’t have breast cancer in our family, and because I didn’t notice any problems, I was not pressed about it. Seven years later, I found a lump, and once you can feel a lump, it’s been growing for a couple of years. And once I noticed the lump, I started noticing other symptoms and physical changes so quickly.

If I’d have gone every year or every couple of years, maybe they would have caught it earlier. It wasn’t genetic so it had to be either environmental or something I did. If it’s something I did, it would be nice to know so that I don’t do those things again. Why did I not get regular mammograms? What did I do to cause this? Is it because I was drinking out of plastic water bottles? Because I ate out of microwaved plastic? How much of this could I have avoided? If I had regular mammograms, would it have been caught at stage one versus stage three? I met someone at radiation who also had breast cancer, and she has both breasts and has all of her hair. They caught hers early. Was it something I did?

Number 2: I’ll never be the person I was before. That’s mostly okay.

I get that a cancer diagnosis and subsequent fight would change one forever. What do you dwell on the most since your diagnosis? What big changes do you see in yourself? I don’t mean to make you navel-gaze, but I’m sincerely curious. What characteristics or traits do you leave behind after such a fight?

It’s not earth-shattering, but this is related to my Number 1. I dwell on the why. And I worry about a recurrence becauseI don’t know if I can do this again. 

A positive change is that it’s really reversed our — mine and Craig’s — cynicism. It’s almost overwhelming to think about all of the things — big and little — that have encouraged us. People get in touch with me out of the blue. Our daughters’ friends sent cards. I got a gift bag and flowers from the women at my salon. People, some I hadn’t been in touch with in a long time, volunteered to give me rides to treatments. My family traveled from all over to be with me during my chemo treatments and when I had surgery. People are always sending gifts, cards, and checking in. I have a friend who is sending me my favorite tea. All of the expressions of goodwill, prayers, and Catholic mass intentions… 

I see more goodness in people. I don’t mean to say I’ve turned into Mother Teresa, but I have become more patient and try to be more merciful with people. I don’t take someone’s bad day personally because you don’t know what is challenging them. Did they just receive a cancer diagnosis? I try to cut people a little more slack. And I really relied on my faith to pull me through.

I feel like I am going to always worry about it coming back. The physical effects are something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I have to worry about getting lymph-edema on my left side. I feel as if I can never go snorkeling again because I cannot cut my left arm on coral. I have to get heavy-duty gloves if I want to do any gardening. I had to buy a very expensive wig, and when my coworkers found out, they collected nearly enough money to cover the cost of the wig. 

Number 3: Cancer can (temporarily but frequently) take the joy out of life.

Does a cancer diagnosis seem insurmountable? Does it make you over-analyze or intensely study every move you make? I’ll bet it is a serious disruption of all you do and know. Can you give some insight as to the magnitude of the change in your day-to-day? 

The physical issues are a constant reminder. I still get creeped out by my [mastectomy] scar. 

I missed so many happy occasions over the last several months because of chemo. I missed the first day back at school, and I love those kids. I love my job. We couldn’t enjoy my husband’s birthday. I had a treatment on Halloween. I missed the wedding of my “third daughter.” It ruined Thanksgiving; I ate only broccoli and black olives for dinner. Its tentacles reach into everything. When you are going through it, you cannot get away from it. I couldn’t do things like make dinner. Everything fell on Craig. I never knew I could be so tired. 

On the flip side, it makes you appreciate when you do feel good and makes you want to do things when you do feel good. After the first few chemos, we did something in between the treatments. We went kayaking a couple of times…we used every good minute to make sure that we could enjoy it. 

I just got on my elliptical for the first time since my diagnosis. I was pissed at how tired I was, but I’m building up my time. I’m going to just be glad that I’m back on it.

Number 4: I never knew I could cry so much — happy or sad.

And I’ll bet you never knew how much every one of your #teamtraci members would cry for YOU – good and bad! I know you, and you are not a cryer. This seems like this Thing has a lot to do with your Number 3. Were there times when you never thought you’d been so sad…or so happy, for that matter?

I cry so effiing much now! And it’s stupid. Everything makes me cry, good or bad. I look in the mirror at how my hair looks and it can make me cry. It’s definitely coming back, though. When I got the wig money from my co-workers, I started crying. I don’t see a lot of my work friends socially, outside of work, but I learned that almost everyone — including my substitutes — contributed to my wig fund. I mean…wow.

You cry because you don’t know if you are going to die. I cried after my fifth round of chemo when it seemed like no end in sight. I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. I lost 22 pounds in one week.

I go back to when we had to tell our girls. Remembering things like that…it’s just hard. On my first day back to school, I got a gigantic card that every kid in the school signed, and that made me cry.

Number 5: Listen to the advice of others but verify everything with your oncologist before following it.

I’ll bet you have received tons of unsolicited advice from people who “practice medicine” in their spare time.

People mean well, and advice is always good, especially if they had a similar experience. Even with people who had the same type of cancer as I did, no two people have the same experience. 

I received so many suggestions, and someone even gave me some supplements. I thought, “I don’t know what’s in those!” So I sent my doctor pictures of everything [through the patient portal]. She mostly said, “just drink water and eat food.” I don’t make a move without talking to my oncologist. I even check with her to verify things that my GP said to do. And don’t feel like you are bothering your oncologist: that’s what they’re paid for. 

Number 6: Even when it doesn’t seem like it, there are worse things than having cancer.

This one is hard for someone who’s never had a cancer diagnosis, to understand. This could give anyone who has just received a new diagnosis some hope. What taught you this lesson most?

What’s worse? Having cancer with no access to good treatment. I am so blessed to have had such good treatment. I was diagnosed on the 25th of July and had the first chemo on August 8th. 

Do you know what’s worse? Losing a child. I know people who have lost children. That has to be so much more terrible.

My children have no major health concerns. I have a nice roof over my head. 

I cannot believe the support system I have. I have not been alone in this fight for one minute. My friends have been awesome: My friend, Bill, sent me cards almost every day. And going through this without my faith…I cannot imagine. There is always someone who has it worse, unfortunately. 

This is all temporary.

Six Things – I was sacked

When someone asks me to explain my vision for Six Things, I explain this blog as an interview in reverse. I start with the six things that the subject (contributor) really wants us to know about his or her situation, vocation, or avocation, and then I ask for more context. So, you tell me that “what,” and I will ask you the “how” and the “why.” It’s not too complicated, right?

But I am going to attempt to reverse-interview myself about my current situation. You see, I was just told, two weeks ago (to the day, in fact), that after almost 29 years with the same company – through acquisitions and promotions – my position was being eliminated. I have had a regular job since I was 12 years old. At one time, while in college, I had three jobs. I have never been unemployed, fired, made redundant, or s**t-canned. So, there are six things I want you to know about my predicament.

Number 1: I think I am going through something similar to the seven stages of grief.

I think I am in the anger stage at this time. I do have a bit of a temper, but I’m not in the traditional anger stage where things are sent flying toward walls at great speed. I am in a state of disbelief over how it happened to me. Uh-oh: It looks like I may have swung back to denial for a bit. I did spend very little time on the bargaining stage: that’s just a waste of time.

Number 2: As much as I’d love to dwell on negatives, I don’t need that in my life right now.

I briefly felt like a failure. Briefly.

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It’s times like these that you must summon-up every ounce of inner strength you have. I am relying on no one but me to get past any self-doubt that I may want to wallow in and get busy networking, working contacts, and learning new skills that will help me move on. Keeping busy and scoring big wins is the perfect antidote for feeling like a failure. Not gonna happen! If I feel myself slipping into self-pity, I have to redirect that energy into something productive.

Number 3: I am keeping my workday routine as normal as possible.

Before “this” happened, I went to the gym four to five days each week. I am still getting up at 5:15 A.M. and going to boot camp or I am training in the afternoon. I volunteered at a museum on the weekends, and I will continue to do so. Getting out means socializing, networking, and putting yourself out there. If you disrupt your routine at a time like this, it will send a cascade of negative effects throughout your life. It’s important to say focused and healthy and to maintain calm and focus.

I am keeping regular work hours during this time. I am rustling up contract work, networking, writing proposals, practicing my creative and technical writing, and working on my samples portfolio. Most importantly, I am taking courses that I started but never had time to finish while I had my corporate job.

I am thanking my lucky stars for all of the contacts I’ve maintained over the years, and for not practicing the fine art of bridge-burning. It’s serving me well at this stage of my life.

Number 4: I am quite busy.

Looking for work is a full-time job. Although my résumé was mostly up to date, I had to revise it for freelance work, which means “writing all kinds of stuff.” I went out on a limb with my rewrite (because what have I got to lose?) and took a lighter, less-serious tone. I added a second page, a big fat no-no in some circles, which contains special projects, skills, and tools I have learned and used throughout my professional life. I showed my reworked CV to an experienced contractor friend, and I received some great, positive feedback. It’s out there, and I’m getting calls, so I believe that I did the right thing.

Number 5: I had to rethink my “brand.”

…Not that I have ever had a “brand,” mind you. This is not easy for someone who is corporately comfortable. Except for sales types, possibly, when you are in the collective, there’s really no reason to stand out. Sure, there are quarterly feedback sessions and end-of-year reviews where atta-girls are exchanged, but personal branding is something way out of the corporate comfort zone.

When you break out on your own, you are one tiny being in a sea teeming with other job-seeking creatures. What do you do to stand out? I’ve been studying up on branding and how important it is for influencer/disruptor types. I’m not really either of those, but I do want to be remembered when someone looks at my online portfolio. I have dubbed myself “The Content Ninja.” It may be overkill, but people remember it, and I’m going to double-down on that moniker for now.

Number 6: I’m going to be fine.

I have a great support system, and I am bucking up to take on this challenge. The more I buck up, the better it will be for me in the long run. This is going to be a challenge, but the better I roll with this, I know the better it will be for me. I am going to slay this thing. If I was not a thing-slayer before, I’m learning how to be now.

It would also help if you could tell your friends and colleagues about this blog. I promise that you will get some interesting insights in the months (and, years, hopefully…) to come.