I was in Tuscany in September for a craniosacral training. It was a pretty intense course, lots of old memories of my parents started randomly creeping in. It was deeply healing but also pretty confronting at the same time. During one of the breaks a classmate and I took the bus to Florence for the day. It was the perfect afternoon, the sun was shining brightly and it was warm. Florence is such a vibrant and bustling city. There were people everywhere. Many were walking around eating gelato, others were doing the tourist thing--taking photos in front of the incredible surroundings and the rest seemed to be passionately making out in the middle of the streets.

The last time I had been to Italy was 11 years earlier. I was an exchange student for a semester in college and although my Dad never made it to visit, he enjoyed hearing all about my trip whenever I called or wrote. My Mom had been dead for about four or five years at the time but I was still pretty much a wreck. I was a good student but I definitely enjoyed too much wine to buffer my emotions. Whenever one of my roommate's Mom came to visit I almost felt violated. It was like someone opened me up and ripped that old bandaid off of my heart. It was painful and it always left me feeling extremely alone. I used to enjoy wandering around and getting lost by myself. It made me feel more connected to my Mom and reminded me (somehow) that I was OK.

It was strange and nostalgic to be back in the city that helped restore my heart all those years ago. I was walking around in a daze really missing my Father. So many thoughts about my childhood and then many more about my future without my Dad raced by. My friend and I stopped for a moment near the Duomo. A small crowd was gathered around a cute old Italian man. He was sitting on a stone bench, animatedly playing the violin. I got a little closer and my jaw dropped. The man was playing my Dad’s song, My Way by Frank Sinatra. We played that song at the funeral as his final send off. I stood there with my mouth open in complete shock and awe. There was a feeling of magic in the air. I felt reassured for a moment that I was in exactly the right place, on exactly the right path. I felt a gentle and welcomed tug on that old bandaid. The charm of Florence was mending me once again. I cried tears of sadness and joy as I realized that my Dad finally made it to visit me in Italy.


A couple days before I went back to New York, most of my siblings and my Dad’s girlfriend accompanied Him to get the test results. We anxiously waited for what felt like hours before they called us in to see the doctor. The nurse joked about my Dad’s fan club as we paraded in behind him and squeezed into the tiny examination room. We were messing around and trying to laugh, totally unprepared for what was to come. The nurse did some routine checkups and the doctor came in shortly after. He tried his best to be as upbeat as possible. He was a kind man and it was clear that what he was about to deliver was going to be painful for everyone, himself included. The nurse tried to fight back tears as she looked around the room at our frightened yet hopeful faces. He told us that things were not looking good and it wasn’t possible for any traditional medical intervention. The cancer was extremely aggressive and had already spread to his lungs and chest. He wanted to scan my father’s head and was pretty sure it had also reached his brain. My Dad refused. He said he didn’t want to know, that it didn’t matter anyway. He was very calm until that point. He told the doctor that he was going to seek alternative treatment. Time stood still. I could feel the empathy pouring out of the doctor and nurse’s hearts. My Dad broke down. He burst into tears and cried for us. “But my kids have already been through this once.” I had honestly only seen my Father cry on a few occasions and each time it shook me to the core. It always stopped my tears because it scared the shit out of me. He was the rock, the one that reassured us everything was going to work out. He was society’s definition of a “strong man”. Seeing him cry shattered my heart and made me sick with fear at the same time. The room was silent as we watched him weep. I remember meekly trying to tell him that we were going to be ok. I still wonder if he heard me. I almost hope he didn’t. My shaky voice was evidence that I didn’t believe what I was saying.   

The doctor went on to say that he fully supported any alternative medicine that would make my Dad comfortable. We thanked the man as my Dad regained his composure and temporarily convinced everyone that things were going to be fine. We left the hospital and made our way home. He called his Mom and brothers over to the house. His mood was extremely light when he told them the news. He said he was convinced that alternative treatment had been the way to go all along. He lit a celebratory cigar in the house and even let his Mom puff a cigarette inside. Smoke filled the living room air. My sister and I hid in the basement, completely numb. Life as we knew it was slowly rising up in flames.


The doctors kept him in the hospital for a few more days after I arrived home. They needed to do some testing and wanted keep an eye on him. Our house felt eerie and strange. His presence was still strong but it was different. The overall mood was pretty solemn and tense. We went down to visit him in the mornings. My brother, an excellent chef, cooked healthy food to counteract everything that was given to him at the hospital. He seemed to be in good spirits. He joked and made friends with the nurses and had plenty of visitors to keep him company until he was set free.

They decided to let him go home on a Saturday. It happened to be the day of my cousin (his godson’s) wedding. He told us that we were all going to the reception, no exceptions. He wanted us to smile and have a good time and celebrate with my Mom’s family. I was in no mood to be around people and put up a small fight. I used the old excuse that I had nothing to wear. He handed me his credit card and told me to go buy something. There was no getting out of it so my sisters and I reluctantly went shopping.

Since he lost control of his bladder and bowels he was now confined to an adult diaper. They told him before he was released that this function would not be restored. Through it all, he maintained his dignity which will never cease to amaze me. I felt like I was moving through mud getting ready for the wedding. I came downstairs and saw my Dad for the first time since he had come home. He could barely keep his pants up and his jacket swallowed him. He looked like a child playing dress up in his Father’s suit. Looking at him stung, badly. I got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and wondered what the hell was going on.

True to style, we were late for the wedding. So much for sneaking in and not making a scene. Everyone was already seated for dinner and we had to parade across the dance floor to get to our table. My Dad wasn’t moving fast, so we dragged along beside him. I felt like we were in an 80s movie. For all I know the music did stop and the room went silent. Thankfully some of our cousins came to greet us which made things a little less awkward.

I was sitting with my Mom’s sister and some of her other siblings. It was reassuring to be with her family and somehow it made it easier to feel her presence. Plus my Grandma’s hugs are always comforting. Our table fell silent as my Mom’s favorite song, What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, filled the room. It was the song she requested we play to close her funeral. My cousin wanted her to be a part of the wedding so he chose that song to dance with his Mom. A small piece of my heart shattered as my Grandmother got up and asked my Dad to dance. A red flag was raised in my mind. I tried not to cry as I watched them struggle to maintain composure. They couldn’t look each other in the eye. I could feel the mutual love, sadness and fear dancing between them. When the song ended my Dad asked his girlfriend to dance. Halfway through she told him to take some time with his daughters which I’m eternally grateful for. We each got about thirty seconds with him and being the oldest, I was last. He was uncomfortable and I could tell he wanted it to be over quickly. Emotions aside it was awkward. I now have even more empathy for animals at the zoo. I felt like people had a view into a private moment between my Father and I; a moment I would have preferred not to share. I know he was protecting both of our hearts but it felt like I was dancing with a stranger. I wanted him to tell me that he was going to be ok, that our family was going to be ok. I wanted him to laugh and say that this was all a big fucking joke. I wished he would reassure me that my intuition was wrong, and that nothing was going to change. But deep down we both knew that it would be our last dance together.


Wednesday March 20th, 2002

Her presence surrounds me though many years have passed. The sun shines on me and she tells me: go on. At times I still feel regret. Can I be happy when she isn’t here to share? At times I wonder if she feels the sand under my feet, the breeze that cools me on a sunny afternoon, the words I speak when I’m pleading with her? Does she feel it when music touches my soul? Will our souls always be connected or is she just a figment of my imagination. Did she really exist or were those happy times a facade?

It would be easier to say that she never lived; easier to block her out and pretend that she wasn’t the center of my world. She still is the center of my world and will continue to have that place in my heart. I am sick of lying to myself when the sun beats down on my body and replenishes me. When the scent of the ocean is so strong, it burns. She is the sun, the ocean, the moon, the stars. God created this beauty as symbols for the world’s beloved ancestors. They remind us to move on, to be strong.

Look for signs, keep your eyes open and breathe. Day by day you will see things and know that you are loved and protected. The old saying, “out of sight, out of mind” does not apply here. Take the time to let your body feel. It takes a while but when the time comes, it will hit you. A weight will be lifted from your shoulders, you will exhale and be at peace with your thoughts. Acceptance doesn’t ever mean that you’re comfortable with your loss. It simply means you are in tune with the spiritual world. Although your life will never be the same, it is still your life to live and you finally made the choice to live it. It becomes easier to speak and share their name. You can finally laugh as you remember. You feel healthy again, ready to take on the world. The fear of change and resistance no longer pain you. You are ready to charge through life. You realize how short life really is. It’s much too short fear the unknown. Entirely too short to ignore the voice directing you toward your dreams. Your dreams are the only thing that will keep you sane. Do not ignore the voice. It lives deep inside your heart and fights to teach you every day. All the good who have gone before us sing in unison with the voice.


May 1999

How can it be that she is gone?
One year this September­­ – how can it be?
I’m learning to live with the emptiness, that’s all I can do.
That’s all I can do until we meet.
Until we meet, my heart is hollow.
When I embrace her in heaven, I will be whole.
I will be whole for eternity if I have her.
If I have her I will long for nothing.
Nothing shall I long for when my hand is in hers.
When my hand is in hers, I will be free.
I will be free from sadness, anger and loneliness.
Someday we’ll be together and that alone will keep me awake.
I will stay awake until it’s my turn to go.
When it’s my turn to go, I won’t be afraid.
I won’t be afraid, she will welcome me in her arms and together we will sleep.
Together we will sleep at the feet of God.