Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sad Post

It's really easy to take people for granted. You see someone regularly and you figure that they'll always be there.

Even before we registered The Moose for kindergarten, we rushed to sign him up for the before and after care program at the elementary school. And I really do mean rushed. Registration was conducted by calling a phone number at a specific time. Both my wife and I called with cell phones and our home phone like we were attempting to win concert tickets from a radio station contest. While we were on a waitlist for months, The Moose received a spot just a few weeks before he started kindergarten.

Signing him up for the before and after care program at the school was one of the best decisions we made. Pedro Tulo and Luigi followed The Moose into the same program and are there before and after school nearly everyday. The staff is incredible, and they really care about the kids. That's why this is so sad. 

One of the staff members at the before and after care program who had been at the school since before The Moose started kindergarten passed away over the weekend. It was completely unexpected and shocking to the entire community. He knew everyone at the school and participated in nearly all of the school activities. He was such a positive and caring person and truly greeted everyone with a smile. For us personally, we valued his relationship with our kids. He was interested in how they did in their sporting events and listened to them tell him about what they were doing.

I feel like I've heard many news stories over the years of crisis counselors or teams being available at schools. This is the first time I've seen it in person. Although I didn't drop the kids off at school on Monday, the principal, vice principals, school counselors, and county staff were all present. One of the guidance counselors specifically met with Pedro Tulo (4th grade) knowing how well he knew the staff member. Later in the day, Luigi (1st grade) and several of his classmates met with another counselor and made a card for the teacher's family. I'm sure this was driven by the school staff since Luigi doesn't really understand what's happening.

I dropped off Pedro Tulo and Luigi at school on Tuesday, and that's when things set in for me. The other before and after care staff looked tired and sad, the county staff were talking to each other, and the kids were playing board games like nothing happened. It was surreal. 

We told The Moose (7th grade) that the staff member took his own life, and he didn't understand why. I agreed. This was an individual who was so caring and positive. I tried to explain that you never really know what's going on in someone's life and that it's important to talk with people who you trust and love. Meanwhile, I continue to read heartfelt tributes about him online, and we made a donation to the GoFundMe page for his wife and young son. I feel particularly awful for them. 

I'll conclude this post by simply writing that it is okay to share feelings with people you trust. While I realize that I'm not very good at doing this, I know that there are people around me who are available to listen. There are numerous resources available if you need to talk with someone. You're not alone. 

Thursday, May 09, 2024

My Mom

About a year ago, my mom noticed that she had less and less of an appetite. She would eat a few bites and be full. After several months of seeing various doctors and undergoing a variety of tests, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer in July. My mom met with several more doctors and learned about what treatment would entail. It was a lot. And even after months of chemo, rebuilding her entire stomach, and having a feeding tube, the likelihood of the cancer returning within two years was significantly higher than other types of cancer. After seeing my dad fight lung cancer and living on her own in Florida with my brother and I up north, she decided it wasn't worth it to receive treatment. She was ready to go out on her terms. 

However, things aren't that easy. It's not like you receive a cancer diagnosis and then pass away immediately. While I could write a separate blog post about healthcare coverage in the United States in terms of end of life care, I'll simply write that my mom was able to prepare for dying. Over a period of months, she would randomly email or text my brother and I with people we needed to contact or things we needed to do. She also donated clothes and other household items. She was able to live in her own home, went out occasionally, and had friends visit. Barely eating, she became weaker and weaker and any type of activity would tire her easily. She was able to watch The Moose's Bar Mitzvah online in early April, and I really think she was holding on to see it.

My mom passed away last week. She had been on hospice for months but that only meant that a nurse, social worker, or doctor would stop by the home every few weeks. Over the last month or so, the nurse visited more frequently until my mom was placed on crisis care where a hospice nurse was there 24 hours a day. My brother and I were able to make it to Florida in time to be with her when she passed away.

I realize that the first three paragraphs of this post are about my mom's sickness and death. She would definitely not want to be remembered like this. She was a vibrant person who loved doing things like going to concerts or musicals and especially loved doing these things as a grandmother. She wanted her five grandkids to remember fun experiences with her. We went to the circus, Legoland in Philadelphia, various kids museums and parks in south Florida, and most importantly, a cruise to the Bahamas last April. At the funeral and at the shiva minyan, her grandkids all talked about how much fun they had on the cruise. That's truly how her grandkids will remember her.

As for me, I'll remember my mom as always being there to talk. When I lived in San Diego or had late night papers in college and grad school, I could call at any hour, and she would be awake and available. Yes, my dad coached me in baseball and soccer as a kid, but my mom was always at my games and musicals and Cub Scout events. She was loyal to her family and friends, to her hometown of East Liverpool, and to Pittsburgh. She also didn't join a group just to join. She got involved in activities becoming a board member or building director. She also loved to travel and went on cruises regularly after my parents moved to Florida.

Two fun stories that I"m not sure everyone knows. 

* My mom did not attend her prom but instead went to a Pittsburgh Pirates game with her uncle.

* My parents dated for two weeks before getting engaged and got married four months later. They shared the same birthday and also the same anniversary.

Even though she's only been gone for days, I've already found myself wanting to call my mom to tell her something about my kids or about conversations I've had with people who knew and loved her. She is and will definitely be missed.