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Posts tagged ‘loss’

Happy Birthday, Pops.

My dad, Fred Stagnaro, and I at my cousin Elizabeth's wedding in 2008.

Me and my first hero and lifelong best friend at my cousin Elizabeth’s wedding in 2008.

Today is my dad’s 82nd birthday and I wish more than anything that he was here to celebrate the occasion.

It wouldn’t matter if we spent the day on the golf course, or had dinner at his favorite restaurant, The Silo. Maybe just a few friends over for cocktails. There would be cake, of course. Because in my dad’s eyes, no meal was complete without dessert. (Yes, even breakfast.)

I try not to count the months or years since he left. Instead, I remind myself that he’s with me every moment of every day.

Time has passed, of course. Four years and change. And I miss him no less today than I did in those first few heart wrenching moments when I realized he was gone. When I wondered how the clock could continue to register the passing of time when my world stood absolutely still.

That feeling of soul-crushing sorrow has mellowed to an ever-present dull ache. The sadness still finds its way to the top at times. Usually at the most unexpected – and often inopportune – moments. It’s all part of the healing process, I know. And I barely apologize for it anymore, mostly because I am so very grateful that these emotions are bubbling up rather than festering inside.

That knowledge is one of the ways I know that true healing has and is taken place. Another is that my memories are no longer tinged with so much loss and longing. I can take them out, one at a time, like favorite toys from a childhood toy box. I can cherish them and feel the warmth and joy of love and gratitude for the amazing relationship I had with my dad. Because I am truly, truly blessed to have had him as one of my best friends.

Funny, I never thought to call him that before. But he was. He was also my hero, my coach, my mentor, my conscience, and my consigliere. Both my biggest critic and my biggest fan. And the one person in the world I ever worried about letting down. The person I always wanted to prove myself to. Am still trying to prove myself to, if I’m completely honest.

That sounds silly, I know. But my dad was larger than life in so many ways. And he left very big shoes to fill.

I realized not long ago that it isn’t only grief I’ve been carting. There’s a pocket of guilt deep inside me.

I moved home, you know. So I was there with my parents for the three years my father battled cancer. I’ve always said I had no regrets about that. But I do. Because while I was there physically, living day to day with my parents through all of it…Well, I just wasn’t always there mentally. Far too often I retreated, either upstairs or to another world entirely. One where sickness hadn’t found its way inside our family.

Could I have researched more? Fought more? Advocated for his care more? Yes, I probably could have. But what I really wish I’d done is spent more time holding his hand. Because it was only in his last month with us that I realized how he himself craved the touch of others after he had spent so long withdrawing from it. That withdrawal was his way of making it easier on us, so we didn’t know how much pain he was really in.

As I sit here, fresh tears spill down my cheeks. There are more to shed, I know. Because cancer leaves scars on everyone, not just those who battle it first hand. Someday, I’ll be ready to let that pain see the light of day. But not today.

Because today is your day, Dad. And I’d give anything to split a piece of chocolate cake with you. Nothing fancy. One of those frozen Pepperidge Farm cakes will do. Mom probably has one in the freezer waiting.

There’d be a side of Breyers ice cream, too. Natural vanilla, of course. Or Neapolitan in a pinch.

After all, that’s the standard Stagnaro birthday celebration.

See, look at me. Sitting here with a smile on my face, thinking of all the birthdays we’ve celebrated like that over the years.

How very grateful I am for all of those memories. And for you, Dad. With me every day, in my heart and thoughts. And in my near-constant cravings for chocolate cake.

Happy Birthday in heaven, Pops.

Love you & miss you more than I could ever say.

xo

M

 

A birthday wish for one of my favorite cousins: Coleen Farrell Coffey

The Farrell clan in action at our cousin Amanda's wedding. As usual, Coleen is at the center of all the fun!

The Farrell clan in action at our cousin Amanda’s wedding. As usual, Coleen is at the center of all the fun!

I’m blessed to be a part of an amazing family: The Farrell’s. My mother was one of twelve, so it’s an extensive clan. The first cousins alone number 35. Add in the spouses and various offspring and, well…I’ve never even tried for a grand total.

We cousins are a tight-knit group, despite the fact that we span 4 decades or so in age and are scattered across the country. (Well, mostly the East Coast, but a few in Texas.) It’s a pretty awesome bunch, and I feel privileged to be related to each and every one of them.

As in any family, it’s unwise to label anyone as your favorite. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a special shout-out to one of my all-time favorite Farrell’s today. Especially since it’s her birthday.

The one, the only…Coleen Farrell Coffey. (Photo cred to her incredibly talented son, Eric Coffey.)

The one, the only…Coleen Farrell Coffey. (Photo cred to her incredibly talented son, Eric Coffey.)

I speak of the one, the only…Coleen Farrell Coffey.

She’s wild, crazy and more fun than I could ever dream of being. She’s also one of the kindest, most caring people you could hope to meet in your life. She possesses the biggest heart of anyone I know and is so incredibly strong. Nothing can knock her down. (And let me tell you, plenty of things have tried.) She’s an amazing daughter, sister, aunt, niece, mom, cousin and friend. I’m constantly in awe of her and I thank my lucky stars that I have the honor of being related to her. (I also think her husband, Steve Coffey, is an absolute saint!)

We’ve always had a special bond and the trials and tribulations of the last few years have only brought Coleen and I even closer. Not only is she one of my favorite cousins, but she’s also one of my best friends.

This weekend, Coleen and I will get to spend a lot of quality time together. In fact, we’re planning to stay up all night on Saturday.

No, we won’t be out celebrating her birthday. Not in a traditional sense, anyway. No, we’ll be walking with Team Chenango in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Overnight – an 18 mile dusk ‘til dawn walk to break the silence and bring the issues of depression, mental illness and suicide into the light.

When Coleen first told me that she wanted to walk with me this year, I was excited that she would be joining us. But then she told me why she felt compelled to support the cause. You see, suicide had hit close to home for her.

She told me about the 25-year-old son of one of her other cousins who took his own life earlier this year. He left behind his parents, two sisters, a long-time girlfriend and so many friends and family members – all of whom mourn his loss and struggle to understand why he chose to take his own life.

This Saturday, Coleen will walk in his memory. I know it will be an emotional experience for her, as it is for all who participate. But we’ll channel those emotions into every step we take.

For with every step, we hope to help someone who is struggling with depression get the help they need before they choose to end their own life.

With every step, we hope to prevent other families and friends from having to endure the loss of a loved one by their own hand.

With every step, we will help bring the issues of suicide and depression out of the darkness and into the light.

Since Coleen joined our team only a few weeks ago, she’s still working to meet her fundraising minimum. Will you help her get one step closer to her goal by making a donation today?

I can’t think of a better way to wish her a Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, Col!

Daddy’s Little Girl: What I’ve learned since losing my dad

My dad, Fred Stagnaro, and I at my cousin Elizabeth's wedding in 2008.

My dad and I at my cousin Elizabeth’s wedding in 2008.

This weekend, a post reminded me that today was a somber anniversary for three siblings I call friends. You see, two years ago, they lost their dad.

Frederick L. Stagnaro (a.k.a. Fred, Roy, Uncle Fred, Gramps, the Pops, Freddy, Fred-o…)

My dad, Frederick L. Stagnaro (a.k.a. Fred, Roy, Uncle Fred, Gramps, Dad, the Pops, Freddy, Fred-o…)

Truth was, I didn’t need to be reminded. I’ll never forget the death of their dad, because he died just two weeks after my father. In my heart, their grief is inexorably linked with mine.

This may seem odd, particularly given the fact that we’ve been more acquaintances than friends for most of our lives. I didn’t really know their dad; they didn’t really know mine. But now we share this bond; a bond formed out of the pain of losing one of the most important people in our lives. For we had each stood by, helpless, as the men who had been our heroes our whole lives passed from our world into the next.

My dad fought a courageous three-year battle with cancer. They were three incredibly difficult years. In the end, I knew it was his time. He was in so much pain, and I didn’t want to see him suffer any longer.

Losing him tore my heart out. And I knew I would never, ever be the same. Don’t get me wrong, I put one foot in front of the other. Life hasn’t stopped, but it’s as if my personal history is now broken into two distinct parts: before my dad died and after.

If you’ve lost a parent, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now. If you haven’t, then cherish EVERY minute. Yes, even the ones where they drive you absolutely crazy. Especially those. Because in a strange twist of fate, those are the things you’ll miss the most.

I’m not sure that anyone who hasn’t lost a parent (or parent figure), can truly understand the emptiness that comes from knowing one of the people who shaped you into who you are as a human being – not simply on a genetic level, but on every level – is no longer there. No longer there…

…to talk to.

…to lean on.

…to love you unconditionally.

…to confide in.

…to teach you what it means to be a good person.

…to give you that advice you don’t want to hear.

…to roll their eyes when you wear something a little “fashion-forward”.

…to intimidate your boyfriends.

…to frustrate you more than any other living being.

…to be your hero.

…to hold your hand.

But you get through it. You have to. Because life goes on, even though you can’t understand why the world didn’t stop when they died. Because your world did.

In the days, weeks, months and now years since I lost my dad, I have been so incredibly lucky to have the love and support of so many amazing people. Collectively, these friends and family members have been my rock. They never let me forget that my dad is still with me and always will be. I carry him in my heart, just as I carry him in my DNA.

I have also been incredibly lucky to have one friend in particular: Tina.

A couple of days after my father’s death, Tina sent me a note. In it, she started out by saying that she didn’t want me to feel obligated to respond. But as soon as I read the rest, nothing in the world could have stopped me from telling her how her words had touched me.

You see, she shared with me her own experience with losing a parent. And in doing so, she validated everything I was going through. Everything I was feeling. She showed me that I wasn’t alone in my grief, because others had gone through the same thing. And, perhaps most importantly, that I would be ok. It would always be hard, but I would be ok.

Her words, which were both incredibly kind and impossibly wise, still give me goose bumps. Because yes, I have trundled them out a time or twenty over the last two years.

I can’t think of a better way to pay that forward, then to share some of what I’ve learned/discovered about myself these past two years – mostly through the kindness of amazing people like Tina.

(Disclaimer: Please remember my degree is in Economics, not Psychology. I’m sharing my personal experience, not giving unsolicited medical advice..)

Here goes…

1. First and foremost: it is OK to miss my dad like crazy. 

Getting ready for a father-daughter golf outing, circa 2010. (Note the coordinating golf shirts!)

Getting ready for a father-daughter golf outing, circa 2010.                                     (Note the coordinating golf shirts!)

I lucked out in the father department. My dad was an amazing guy (yes, that’s been independently verified) and I have always felt incredibly privileged to be his daughter. We had a very special relationship and I have a lifetime of cherished memories to show for it – birthday fishing trips, flying, golfing, hiking through the woods and far, far too many hours spent watching Clint Eastwood movies and so much more…

I know how lucky I am, because not everyone is so fortunate to have that kind of bond with their fatherAnd I fully believe it gives me license to miss him forever.

2. I’m going to miss him forever.

Silly me, I thought the first year would be the hardest. I was ready for every holiday to hit me like a ton of bricks. But I think the second year was worse because, damn it, I THOUGHT it was going to be so much easier and it wasn’t. So I guess I better wrap my head around the fact that I will always miss him.

But I do have something that will get me through even the roughest of days: the knowledge that he will always be with me. I can feel him with me in spirit, and he will always be in my heart. (Heck, some days, I can almost hear him whispering in my ear.)

3.  I’m stronger than I think.

stronger than you think

The plaque, as it now hangs in Ryan Frederick’s room.

Two days after my dad died, I missed my best friend’s baby shower. It was in Connecticut, and I couldn’t make it for obvious
reasons. After the party, Liz posted a picture of a plaque someone gave her for the baby’s room. It said something along the lines of: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you think and smarter than you know, but the most important thing is that even if when we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”

It felt like a message from my dad when I needed it most. Because it came as I was getting ready to write his obituary. Which I thought was the hardest thing imaginable. Until, that is, I decided I wanted to speak at his funeral.

I had notes with me, as I stood before those gathered for the funeral mass, but they didn’t do me much good. Frankly, I couldn’t see them through my tears. But somehow, I got through it. I’d like to think that I did him justice and, that in doing so, I proved myself to be my father’s daughter.

I closed with the words from that plaque.

4. In order to be there for anyone else, you need to be there for yourself first.

When everyone went home after the funeral, it was just my mom (whom I’ll henceforth refer to as Mumsy) and I. Not to say we didn’t have a huge support network, but at the end of the day it was the two of us. (Well, and Lulu the ninja kitty.) And I felt responsible for her. (No, not the cat.)

But while I was “taking care” of Mumsy, I wasn’t taking care of me. Add in a boatload of work stress, and it was a rather dark

Mumsy and me.

Mumsy and me.

time for me. I was angry, bitter and filled with guilt for all the time I was spending at work when I felt I should have been “taking care” of my mom. I wasn’t really grieving. Not in the healing sense of the word. I was keeping it all in and it was just getting worse.

The good news is, I don’t feel that way anymore. Know why? Because I opened up with my mom about everything I was feeling.

It wasn’t easy. In fact, it involved a couple of what I like to call “Come to Jesus” meetings. There’s usually a fair bit of screaming, crying…you name it. But at the end of the day, it’s helped us both move forward. Because we are in this together…in an admittedly co-dependent kind of way.

5. Pick the right people to talk to.

After my dad died, I felt like I couldn’t talk about it. Not because there weren’t people there to listen, I just felt that I’d already overburdened them with my tales of misery and despair. As time passed, I was even more reluctant, because I figured they’d give me the polite brush off. (You know, the “it will get easier” speech.)

Unfortunately, it was all bubbling up inside me. And it started leaking out at the most inopportune times. Like on a first date, when all I did from appetizer to dessert was talk about my dad. Or in the middle of a business meeting. (Ok, maybe it was more than “a” meeting…)

And I couldn’t talk about it with my mom, or my siblings for that matter. Because I couldn’t handle their grief on top of my own.

I was lucky enough to have friends that understood. Friends that had also experienced profound loss, whether of a parent or loved one. Like Tina, they validated what I was going through and helped me find peace with what I was going through.

That might not work for everyone, I know. But thankfully there are wonderful professionals out there who can help. The important thing is to find someone you can open up with and who can help you heal.

6. Let the tears fall.

I’ve always been a crier. So it will come as no shock to anyone who knows me that I cried for about 2 weeks straight after my dad died. And I’ve cried many times since. I get some of my best crying done in the car, but am no opposed to other locales as well.

Now, some people may interpret this as a sign of weakness. But not me. I firmly believe that tears are cleansing. A good cry helps you get it all out. And then you can move on.

7. Laughter is healing.

I still have a hard time talking about my dad sometimes. And I have an incredibly difficult time talking about the knock-out-drag-out battle he waged for three years against the cancer that ultimately took his life. Perhaps because he wouldn’t let us talk about it while it was happening.

But I have made in-roads. Because there are things we can laugh about, even from those darkest of days.

Humor makes it all a little bit easier to bear. I say that, while smiling through my tears.

I miss my dad so very much, and I know I always will. But as I sit here reflecting on the good times and bad, thinking of all the things he taught me, I can’t help but feel blessed to have had the honor and privilege of having Fred Stagnaro as my friend, my role-model, my hero and most of all, my dad.

I love you, pops.

In loving memory of Frederick L. Stagnaro. June 20, 1934 - January 26, 2012

In loving memory of Frederick L. Stagnaro.                                          June 20, 1934 – January 26, 2012