Monday, December 31, 2012

For Auld Lang Syne

I must say I am ready to bid adieu to 2012. Last New Year’s Eve we were hosts for the old neighborhood gang’s annual dinner and the ringing in of the new year. The previous year, 2011, had been a roller coaster of up and down PET scan reports that alternated from mediocre to scary to promising response to chemo. At the end of the year, Brandon was still in chemo and feeling its effects, yet he ended the year by helping me plan and prepare what had become the traditional main dish for our group’s New Year’s Eve - beef tenderloin.

After the several days process needed to create his infamous veal demiglace, which formed the basis for many delicious sauces, he took one-month-old Morgan with him to one of his favorite shopping spots, Restaurant Depot, to purchase the beef tenderloin. Then he brought her to our house, so I could enjoy her while he worked on dinner. 
Brandon soothes Morgan last New Year's Even as they head for the Restaurant Depot 
The final steps in the making of the sauce, which was to accompany the tenderloin, had to be done at the last minute – not long before serving. Being anything but an accomplished cook, I panicked! Brandon assured me that I could (and would) do it.

He wrote down the steps I should follow and then walked me through them. When I questioned my ability to and the need for reducing an entire bottle of cabernet to blend into his demiglace, he shook his head and sighed at my ignorance of what he considered cooking basics. He again assured me that I could (and would) be able to reduce an entire bottle of cabernet and that it was essential to the sauce’s final flavor.
The main dish with demiglace sauce on the side 
Host Joe displays the beef tenderloin with demiglace drizzle
I will say one thing about that sauce – it was sublime! Everyone in attendance wanted a repetition in every future New Year’s Eve celebration. But there will be no encore – ever. Like so many other of Brandon’s unique gifts, memory must serve. 

Happy 2013. May good things await you and yours…

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And so this is Christmas...

We've made it through Christmas 2012 without Brandon's humor (and sometimes downright silliness), without his deft hand popping the cork on the champenoise for mimosas at brunch or his oven-baked Blue Grass (Quality Meats) thick-sliced bacon, without his insistence on preparing a fairly complicated (to my culinary-deficient mind) main dish for Christmas dinner if Mom/I was willing to cover the cost of said main dish and its trimmings, and I was always more than happy to do so! Without all of us being able to toast him as chef.

And so this was Christmas...
Brandon at Christmas 2011 with the loves of his life - wife Christina and daughter Morgan

Brandon's Christmas 2011 main dish - prime rib of beef
Christmas silliness 2011 - Uncle Brandon & Uncle Kris "ganging up" on Konrad
Christmas silliness 2009 - wearing his mother's peppermint candy earring

This year we went to Christmas Eve Mass with Christina and Morgan, and daughter Carolyn and her husband Kris. Christina, Morgan, my husband Joe and I then headed to daughter Elizabeth's for a wonderful dinner of beef tenderloin and presents with our oldest grandchildren Konrad and Karenna. Christmas morning my parents, Carolyn and Kris, and Christina and Morgan came to our house for brunch. (Elizabeth was off to northeastern Ohio.) We had our "traditional" mimosas, thick-sliced bacon and Carolyn's strata, and we were able to enjoy our time together. Both out-of-town and sorely missed sons Tony and Joe(y) checked in at some point during Christmas day. (Joe[y] is to come "home" for a few days tomorrow, and we can't blame Tony for choosing a week with his family at his mother's and father-in-law's condo in southwestern Florida!) We may have started a new tradition. We met up again with Carolyn and Kris for a late afternoon showing of the just-opened movie, Les Miserables. (I highly recommend making the time for this movie!)

Yet, and so this was also Christmas 2012...

I had to get a live tree for Brandon at "our" Christmas tree spot, the Lowe's on Ridge Road. When I smelled their balsam firs the other day, it was the smell of wonderful memories. I knew I couldn't handle or trim a 6-7 foot balsam, so I settled for a potted Norfolk pine. Strands of gold beads and twinkling white lights encircle the branches, and the lights are set on a timer to light up for six out of each 24 hours. A fuchsia silk rose I found lying on "my" labyrinth just before Brandon's death is clipped to the center top branch, and a small Santa wind chimes hangs on another top branch, gently playing carols as the breeze blows by. 

I set it up Sunday and sang "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" to him, which I'm sure he found "cheesy," just as I'm sure he laughed at my pathetic attempts to reach the high notes. Joe and I went back this Christmas Day between brunch and the movie. We cried and held onto each other for awhile. Then we listened to Hugh Jackman's superb rendition of "Bring Him Home" and we cried some more... 

Merry Christmas and God/Love bless you, everyone. May the magic of this holy season be yours. "And remember the truth that once was spoken, 'To love another person is to see the face of God.'"

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Please help me understand prayer

I believe in a Creator of the universe at least 95% of the time. (I admit to doubts some of the time – at different times of my life.) I believe this Creator, God, is unconditional Love and wants the best for each of us. What I’m less sure of is the Creator’s direct intercession in our measly day-to-day lives.

In the last week, I’ve received several prayer requests for persons I know but also a few of the ones that are the equivalent of email blackmail. (“If you send this on to 10 of your nearest and dear some lovely thing will happen 10 minutes after you hit ‘Send,’ but if you don’t do it, something horrible will happen.”) Plus, I’ve received a couple of reports that prayer has resulted in a healing or, at least, a temporary reprieve (remission). Believe me when I say I’m genuinely happy for any one and any family that does not have to face the loss of a deeply loved family member, and I’m happy to add my prayers to the legions who are praying for a particular person. But I do wonder.

I know many prayed for Brandon throughout his illness – for remission, for healing, for cure. His name was on the lips of many in prayer groups and on those of an extensive network of relatives and friends. There were literally legions around the globe remembering him daily in prayer. Did we/they do something wrong? Were there not enough of us? Does God only listen to the prayers of certain people? Does there have to be a certain number praying? Do they have to achieve a particular level of fervor?

What kind of God is that? That's not the God I can trust - not the God I can (or do) believe in. So I'm having difficulty contemplating the power/influence of intercessory prayer these days. Three of the four gospels have a variation of Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” These sentences seem to apply to intercessory prayer, but is this what they mean?

We asked (specifically). We sought (specifically). We not only knocked, we f’’n’g pounded on the f’n’g door. Last May when it was obvious that Brandon’s physical health was “declining” (what a genteel word), I f’n’g begged (again) to “let this cup pass” by Brandon and come to me instead. I begged to take Brandon’s place; I’d lived a fuller life, our children were adults, and Brandon had so much life yet to live with his wife and daughter.

Prayer is talking to God, the Creator, and that’s a step forward. Actually, I think life is a prayer/conversation with one’s Creator. Still, I must say the most prayerful moments for me have not been ones when I felt I was initiating a conversation with the Creator. Rather the most profoundly prayerful moments are ones in which I knew my Creator was reaching out to me, including an experience that happened within moments or minutes of Brandon’s birth. (I will definitely cover that experience in a future post.)

None of us gets out of this life alive – at least in the way we’re familiar with. And time in the overall universe means something quite different than the clock time we’re familiar with. So pardon my moi, but WTF is the meaning and possibly the point of intercessory prayer?

I do better when I think of prayer – and life on earth – differently. Reincarnation and a belief that each of us chooses a particular life based on issues we want to work on or a lesson we want to learn makes a lot of sense to me and did long before Brandon’s cancer was diagnosed. The idea that Brandon chose the challenge of a potentially lethal disease at a young age, that I perhaps wanted or needed to explore empathy through a child’s serious illness and/or death, and that others with close relationships to him chose related themes, is one of the more comforting concepts for me. Whether it is factual or not, I can’t say. Who am I to speak for God?  (I don’t claim to know whether reincarnation is factual any more than I can claim to know the mind of God. Just saying I put no limitations on a Creator and I’m open to reincarnation, as it makes as much sense as the beliefs I was brought up with.)

So it isn’t that I think prayer doesn’t matter – that it’s a bust. I’m trying hard, so very, very hard, to let go (not there yet), accept (not there yet) and truly mean (not there yet) "not my will but yours be done..." a phrase that I think I’m understanding more deeply and I believe is the crux of pretty much everything. But I’m having a very tough time contemplating the meaning of intercessory “Ask and it will be given you” prayer. (If you have an answer, a thought, a comment, etc. of what it means, I’m very open to whatever you write, but please post it as a comment here and NOT on my FB page.) 

Friday, December 14, 2012


This has been a week of numb. Last Monday afternoon I had oral surgery, and the oral surgeon did a lovely job of ensuring that the entire left side of my mouth was wonderfully numb for the following 15-18 hours. Although probably not related to the xylocaine injected at the end of the surgery, that left side of my mouth has gone in and out of numbness all week, the numbness  alternating with soreness. My brain seems to have been equally numbed. Perhaps it is natural immersion in the physical recovery, but I've been enjoying a sojourn in the land of Denial pretty much all week. Well, sort of...

Did you know research has found that the cells of one's child remain in the mother's body for decades? I love the thought that each of my children continues to physically live within me and my brain long after the umbilical cord is cut. Interestingly, there is conjecture whether these cells have a positive, a negative or no real effect on a mother's body and health. It doesn't matter to me. I love the idea that each of my five children continues to live in me. It is, perhaps, one of the most comforting concepts I've heard since Brandon's death. No matter the current status of each of my children's physical bodies, a bit of their physical essence remains with me always.

However, I don't believe it is only their physical cells/selves that continue to live within me. I firmly believe, especially after this last year, that a mother continues to hold some crucial bit of each of her children's souls within her. It may not be possible for research to demonstrate this. I don't care. I believe a bit of the the eternal essence of each of my children remains with me always.

So I have been numb this last week in body but also in soul. The physical and eternal presence of Brandon within me continues to affect my ability to focus. My brain and its ability to focus continues to come and to go. I keep thinking my brain is back, but then I find it gone on walkabout again. How much is related to the physical and how much to the eternal essences, I couldn't say. I am in new territory, but I am glad that science says each of my five babies, including Brandon, are here quite literally with me.

Friday morning, December 14, in an inexplicable and senseless horrific act, about 26 women in Newtown, CT were made sorrowfull mothers.  I cannot believe innocent children or the heroic teachers and administrators who died trying to protect them need our prayers, but I feel certain their mothers and families could benefit from our prayer for a long time to come. Another sorrowfull mother who deserves continued thoughts and prayers is Dorothy (Champion) Hanson, whose daughter Nancy Champion Lanza died at the hands of her son and Ms. Hanson's grandson, Adam Lanza. May these sorrowfull mothers find some comfort, even occasionally, in knowing that their innocent babies continue to live in them in more than mere memory.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday, Morgan - and parents!

During the evening of last December 3rd, I was blessed and honored to be invited to help welcome Brandon’s and his amazing wife Christina’s daughter Morgan to this physical life. Brandon went from supporting his wife during early labor, to a several-hour chemo infusion, and back to supporting his wife in labor for another day. It was a long, slow process. I’d stayed up with Christina through the night before Morgan’s birth, wanting Brandon to get some sleep after the chemo so he’d have more energy for whatever the following day would bring. I’m not sure how much rest he actually got that night, but he seemed ready to go by morning. He never left his wife’s side.

With the obstetrician’s blessing, Brandon had planned to catch their baby. But when the time came, an exhausted Christina needed him to remain “in her face,” helping her focus and breathe so she could continue to push their baby out. Brandon stayed “in her face,” where he knew his wife most needed him in that moment. (And in that moment I learned an important lesson about priorities.) Christina definitely worked the hardest that evening, but her mother, Brandon and I were pushing with her, and we felt triumph with her and with Brandon when 8 lb, 11 oz (3940 gm) Morgan Therese (finally) made her entry. The nurse and I helped place her skin-to-skin on her mommy’s abdomen, and Brandon cut her cord after it had stopped pulsating.

About an hour later and after her first breastfeeding, it was Brandon’s turn to hold their newly born daughter skin-to-skin on his chest. Brandon had wanted to be a daddy for a very long time. He was the one who’d helped his friends learn to feel comfortable handling their newborns. He was more than ready and he was very excited to begin this phase of his life with Christina. Yet cancer and new “spots” on the PET scans were constant companions.

His plucked chicken look this time last year had left him feeling physically sore and emotionally embarrassed, yet that evening his only thought was for Morgan. He asked if it was safe for her to be placed on his bare chest due to the chemo-induced skin breakout. It was difficult enough to watch him deal with the physical discomforts of the side effects of each new and old chemo cocktail, but it was even harder to know of the emotional toll the treatments were taking. The nurse and I checked his skin, reassured him and then placed his infant daughter where she belonged during her second hour.

The new family with their supportive L&D RN
Morgan celebrated her first birthday earlier this week, and her daddy could not be where he belonged as she entered her second year. Of all the pain I feel with his passing, the fact that his daughter will not know his hugs, his silliness, his love firsthand is, perhaps, the most profound. We’ll all do our best to try to help her “meet” her daddy, but knowing him through us simply isn’t – cannot be – the same…
Happy 1st Birthday, Morgan!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

New traditions? Oh, Christmas Tree...

Thanksgiving down. Christmas to go. Brandon died 26 weeks ago last Saturday – exactly six months – and tears stream from my eyes off and on as I write. I’ve not exactly been looking forward to the Christmas holydays this year. Celebrations are not high on my list of things to do. I seriously considered forgetting about a Christmas tree this year – or worse, I again considered the purchase of an artificial tree.

Roll back several years to the mid-2000s. I had everything and my adult children were always stymied as to what to get me for Christmas. I really didn’t need or want anything, except for some “dedicated” one-on-one time with each of my adult children. That was until our icky artificial tree, which I’d never liked, reached the stage that it was losing more needles than an authentic “real” Christmas tree.

At an early December family dinner, my husband said he planned to head to the store to buy the newest, best pre-lit tree, but I yelled, “Wait!”  I’d never liked having an artificial tree. I wanted a real tree again, but the physical logistics of lifting, stabilizing on a car roof, dragging it into the house, sawing the bottom before hauling it upright in a stand with water, and later doing it all in reverse when it was time to dismantle the tree were too much for me or for my husband’s joints!

What I wanted for Christmas was help from our in-town adult children to purchase, set up and later dismantle a real Christmas tree. The three in-towners seemed thrilled to have a gift that was fairly easy to implement. They quickly developed a plan for who would help execute each step. For the most part, each followed through.

As the only in-town son, Brandon volunteered for the job of going with me to select a tree, secure it to the roof of his car and then get it set it up in the tree stand. (He also seemed to get roped into tree dismantling and haul out, but no one is sure how or why this double-duty occurred!) Much to our initial surprise, we found our (mine and Brandon’s) favorite tree, the balsam fir, at Lowe’s. Every year thereafter, Lowe’s became our first, best spot for finding trees each of us wanted a reasonable price.  What fun he and I had. Christmas tree shopping became an annual event that we got down to a system with a Brandon-Mom dinner as the tree-finding finale.

Last year (2011) was a bit different. Brandon had just become a dad and he didn’t want to be away from his wife Christina and baby Morgan for too long. He also had evening baby “duty,” since he was more of a night owl (like his mother) and wanted Christina to get some uninterrupted sleep. (She’d nurse the baby and go to bed while he took over baby care until the baby needed to nurse again.) So he proposed a lunchtime date for our (and his) tree-finding expedition. I’m a mother. I’ll take any time my adult children are willing and able to spend with me, so I adapt. In this instance, I felt proud that his wife and baby came first for him, as they should.

Last year (2011) was also different because I could tell Brandon’s chemo treatments were taking a toll. I suggested we find some other Christmas tree-finding/setting-up option, including the possibility of a pre-lit artificial tree. Brandon was adamant. An artificial tree was not an option. (Just as only a fresh turkey would do for Thanksgiving, only a real tree would do for Christmas no matter what the circumstances.) Neither was any option that did not involve our mother-son tree-shopping tradition.

Brandon’s baby sister and newlywed, Carolyn, also joined us last year to pick out a tree for her and husband Kris’s home during her lunch break at work. Because we had it down to a science, we quickly found a perfect tree for each of our three homes before Carolyn had to leave us again to get back to work.

As I was overseeing the tree bundling and checking out at the cash register, Brandon left to move the car closer and get the blanket to pad the roof and the bungee cords to secure the trees to the roof rack out of the cargo area of his SUV. (As I said, we had this down to a system.) While waiting for me, he overheard an exchange between a senior citizen woman and a salesclerk. The woman had found a comfortable, upholstered rocking chair on (really good) sale. She had enough money to buy the chair at the sale price, but she had no car and not enough money to pay the delivery service to move the chair from Lowe’s to her apartment several blocks away.

What did Brandon do? He told the woman he would be happy to place her new chair in the cargo area of his car and then drive her and the new chair to her home. In spite of his physical struggles at this time last year, he lifted the fairly heavy chair, walked it to his car and maneuvered it into the cargo space before I’d even signed in the electronic credit card box. He then lifted each of the three Christmas trees to place them on the roof of the car and secured them, nudging me out of the way each time I offered to help. After he shifted the chair a bit to make room for its owner in the second seat of his car, he drove the several blocks to her house and insisted on carrying the chair up the outside stairs and to and through her front door, again refusing my offers to help and pooh-poohing any suggestion of concern about his health. “I’m fine,” he said, “Quit worrying about me, Mom.” I felt so humbled by his demonstration of caring that afternoon, and I wondered how often he gave of himself in similar ways that no one ever saw or knew about. And I thought again of what he was enduring physically and emotionally – and doing so without complaint.

Back to the present and the Christmas season is upon us. I couldn’t face Christmas tree shopping without Brandon – without the fun of making it a special mother-son event. But I heard his voice saying, “Mom, mom, you can’t go without a tree at Christmas. You have to have a tree – a real Christmas tree.” Oh, Brandon, I don’t think I can do this without you. “Mom, then try something different.” The next day I saw an ad for a Christmas tree farm less than an hour away that offered all trees – no matter the size – for one reasonable price.

I called Brandon’s wife Christina. I didn’t know if she had plans for a tree or whether she’d want to go with me, but after sharing the turkeys’ date with Thanksgiving destiny, I knew I needed to have their daughter Morgan with me when I went to the tree farm.  Fortunately, Christina’s thinking was along similar lines. Although not really in the Christmas spirit to decorate this year, Brandon was giving her similar messages that decorating the house and having a (real) Christmas tree were not options. He considered decorating for this joyous season as de rigueur. Brandon’s sisters Beth (Elizabeth to her friends) and Carolyn also jumped on this tree-finding bandwagon.

Saturday, December 1st was chosen as our “chop a tree” date due to the unseasonably warm and sunny weather forecast and the lack of other commitments for all of us. It also happened to be the 26-week, ½ year anniversary of Brandon’s death. Coincidental?

It definitely set up the possibility of a new tradition! Since my grandchildren/Beth’s children, Konrad and Karenna, were with us, we took two cars. One car got lost (not saying who was in which car) and arrived a bit later.  The three of us, plus two children, who were in the car having no problem finding our destination quickly found trees. Christina started to saw the first of the three trees. Sawing said tree was definitely not as easy as it sounded, but she and Carolyn worked out a new system whereby Christina sawed and Carolyn tugged a bit in the opposite to encourage trunk separation. I took on the difficult task of holding Morgan.

The other carload arrived, tried to text me (but I didn’t hear it) and found a tree on their own. By the time we all met at the bundling barn, Christina had sawed and Carolyn tugged down three trees to their one! Still, we had a good time. We may have started a new tradition, although a different saw is needed if we’re ever to repeat a trip to the tree farm! 
Christina getting ready to saw while Carolyn watches Morgan
Aunt Beth (Elizabeth) and Morgan looking for the perfect tree
Karenna believes she has found that perfect tree
Bundling the perfect tree!
Christina is ready to transport two of the four trees to home(s)
Konrad helping to load the other two trees for transport to home(s)
Thank you, Brandon, for reminding me that Christmas tree shopping is so much more than the tree. I still have so much to learn from you. I still have so much to celebrate, but I need you to continue to remind me.