A Special Thank You to A Special Family
I Am So Grateful for the People in My Life
Family is a fascinating entity. It encompasses the people in your life with whom you are closest, by blood. Family is the backbone of American society, and its breakdown, circa the period when two working parents became a necessity, has been attributed to many of today's societal problems. I'm sure my family is as normal as yours, as I think back to the wonderful holidays and birthdays, the communions and weddings, AND the fights, bickering and periods with no communication. Whose family hasn't faced strife in one side feeling less important than the other, in one cousin feeling disrespected by others and one brother being offended by another for lack of a phone call or card or a visit? When it is all said and done, my family has always been there for each other. As we have grown up, many celebrations have taken place. In addition to those holidays, communions and weddings, we have held 50th and 65th birthday celebrations that were attended by all. And, like all other families, we have shared in the sorrows that come with the passing of a loved one or family member. It is at these times when families "come together". It is when people are at their lowest point in life, that they are at their best. Our country was unified after 9/11. There was solidarity and there was a feeling of brotherhood. I witnessed that brotherhood in Manhattan eleven years ago and again with my own family these past three weeks, with the death of my dad.
Dad succumbed to failing lungs and a bad heart during heart valve replacement surgery on September 12. When our nightmare came true, it was mom, my sister and me, there for each other. We spent a half hour saying our goodbyes to dad in the hospital room that, shortly before, was supposed to be his recovery room. It was 1:30 in the morning and we went back to the waiting area in which we had spent the previous 20 hours. The surreal feeling we had was incomprehensible. It just couldn't be true, couldn't be happening to our family. We had to call dad's sisters, our aunts, as well as cousins and also friends that dad had for over fifty years. The pain was excruciating. The idea of all our loved ones getting this call from us in the middle of the night was almost too much to bear. I called my cousins in Buffalo, and talked three-way with my aunt in Florida. Mom and Renee called the family in Ohio. I heard myself say those words so many times that night. "Dad didn't make it." "Aunt Alexis, dad died. He didn't make it." The words ring in my head daily. I even remember saying to either cousins or aunts or uncles or friends, "my dad died". Like a little kid looking for his mom or dad in a crowded store, I was as lost as if I were that helpless child. I wanted to escape from the present. I would have traded my life during those hours with anyone who'd take me up on it. I was simply scared as hell.
Once the calls were made and basically everyone we knew was crying on their families' shoulders, we had another big task on hand, to tell our own children, all five of them, that their grandpa was dead. The hour drive back home was one that we've never experienced before. It was quiet and it was sad. Mom would cry. Then I would. My sister was quiet in the back, so much so that I questioned if she were still awake. Little did I know that none of us would have a good night sleep again, at least for a while? As soon as we got home, my brother in law was there with hugs for all of us and tears of his own. He knew the importance of family, as he had already lost his dad and a step dad; now he lost another father. The wee hours of that morning were spent crying and talking among the four of us. The kids were all asleep of course. By the time they all awoke, I had gone through the words a dozen times. I needed to have an idea as to what I was going to say. Again, I was scared and frankly couldn't believe what was happening.
Within hours we told the kids about their grandfather, called some other friends who were spared of the 2 am call, and sat in front of a funeral director, planning the final arrangements for my dad, a young man of 67 years.
By the time we got back from the funeral home, the friends and family had started arriving. This is the part for which I AM thankful. I am thankful for Tony and Ellen, who after thirty years of friendship with my parents, stepped up to support us in any and every way we needed. They showed up at the house that Wednesday morning and seemingly did not leave until Saturday afternoon. These friends are more like family and their efforts and love for us will never be forgotten.
My mom's sister and her husband, my Aunt Lu and Uncle Tony came to the house, along with my cousins. We grew up with these people, some of our closest relatives and they showed their affection for us by preparing food, helping with the house and the plethora of guests who were in and out for almost a week. They would go home, an hour away, at night and would be back the next morning. They even stayed at the house with mom the night of the wake. Their mere presence was a major source of comfort not just for mom, but for all of us.
We were always a close family. My dad has two sisters and my mom has a brother and a sister. At one point of my childhood, we were all within fifteen miles of each other. We spent holidays together, birthdays and simple visits on weekends. During this, the very lowest point of our lives, my aunts, uncles and cousins were by our side through the whole ordeal. My dad was so loved by these people, that they were not only here for us, they were here to honor him as well.
Thursday was special, as my dad's sisters Alexis and Marcella arrived, from their homes in Florida and Ohio, respectively. Seeing them for the first time since the 2 am phone calls was heart-breaking, and a relief at the same time. It really did help having all these people around. I have always heard that, but the point was proven after this experience. My uncles, Steve and Bob were distraught at the thought of my dad's passing. They truly loved the man who would be their brother-in-law for almost 40 years. We reminisced all day and spoke of the September 11th surgery and decision-making process that led to that fateful day, our own 9/11. Also, with us the day after dad died, was my Uncle Bob from Brooklyn. My mom's brother drove 2 1/2 hours upstate to spend the day with us. He drove all the way back for my aunt and cousin that night and returned the next morning for dad's wake. With our whole family with us, our minds were temporary eased and a feeling of security and comfort overtook me. That scared feeling I have had since those overnight hours in the hospital where my dad lost his battle for the health and strength he sought so badly, went away for those precious few family-filled hours.
Dad's wake was Friday and there were two sessions. The first session was from 2-4 and the second from 6-8 that night. I can remember only one service that I have been to in which there were more people there than at my dad's. Both sessions were packed and I couldn't even begin to name the names in this piece. With so many friends and family stepping up and being by our side, I can think of only three individuals whose absence I questioned. They should have been there, saying goodbye to this larger than life man. Those names will definitely NOT be mentioned here, but I do wonder.
Between dad's wake on Friday and his funeral on Saturday, all of my cousins were there. All of my aunts and uncles were there. All of dad's closest friends were there and most of his cousins were. So many acquaintances and former co-workers of mine, Renee's and my parents' were there. The lady that cut dad's hair was there. My son's baseball coach was there. The entire staff of my little guy's old school was there, at the same time as his teacher at his new school. The golf team I coach was there. Friends of my older son's were there, one of which found out ten minutes earlier and was sobbing uncontrollably at the wake. He loved my dad, and dad had a special place in his heart for this kid. The kid had a rough life and dad had a heart of gold. That combination made them a good pair.
If they weren't there with us, these wonderful people of Kingston, New York, they were at the house, or they were sending food, or drinks or flowers or cards. I risk repetition at this point, but I cannot state enough what the gestures made by so many people means to my family, now three weeks later. We will simply never forget it.
A testament to the love and caring we were given, is the fact that there are so many names of so many people who I could not begin to mention here. I will say, however, that Joe Baganz is amazing and the trays of food he sent over sustained us and a lot of others for almost a week. Beyond that, thank you cards will go out very soon. We will acknowledge every card, every flower, every call, every visit, every loving gesture given to us during this time. Relationships changed for the better that week and dad would want it that way. I will ensure that those typical family squabbles are squashed before one day passes without a loving text or Facebook message or call. Life is way too short to ignore the people in your life whom God placed there on purpose. He gave us the people we call family and who are WE to argue with that? Thank you to Him and thank you to my family and the wonderful friends of the Manginell's. You will always have a special place in our hearts, and dad's as well.