Dealing With Death In High School

For the second time this school year, our high school suffered a death in the student body.  Dealing with death in high school is unfortunate, but not new.  What is different I suppose is the way generations handle the loss both in person and on social media.

During the last week of the summer a boy in 16.5’s junior class killed himself.  We live in a small school district and the kids were clearly upset.  (I tend to think some of the energy spent on grieving was reflective of others in the grade.)  Instagram accounts were full of tributes to the boy.  On the community pages on Facebook there was sometimes (in my opinion) over wrought hand wringing asking how could this happen here? How could the signs be missed?

A couple of weeks ago, as winter break was ending tragedy struck 14.5’s freshman class when a boy was rundown (accidentally) crossing a major roadway near our house.   There’s probably more to the story – but you can see the reaction of the kids in all of the grades at the high school the loss was felt.

When I took 14.5 and some of her friends to the corner 24 hours after the accident to leave flowers and remember their friend – each took out their phone and commemorated the moment on Snapchat.  Back on the community pages of Facebook was the same hand wringing asking how could this happen here?  In this case, there was also a link to an accident a couple of years ago that claimed another life.

Perhaps – one day – the intersection will be made safer.  Perhaps one day the lessons of the immediate past will be learned and used.

For now though dealing with death in high school is a generational process – and it plays out across social media.  I can think back to my high school days, I can remember four of my classmates passing during my years at Carey High School on Long Island.  One was murdered, one (maybe two) died from cancer and one was in a car accident.

Dealing with death in high school in the 80’s though was (in my opinion) a much more solemn moment – not commemorated with pictures and posts – but with shared memories and a few hugs.

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8765 Times 6

RisaThere are 8765 hours in a year, 52,590 of them have ticked off since Risa passed away.  Probably because of the timing, it becomes a strange time of year for me (and I think for my girls as well).  While the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of year,” there are probably more than just me who would stop and question that.  8765 times 6 – there’s a lot to think about.

Who’d have thunk there would come a time I have two teen-aged girls in high school – much less thriving in that environment.  16.5 is in honor roll and 15.0 is pulling a low 90 GPA.  Far better than I ever did, clearly taking after their mom.

Along with a second transition to high school, we’ve (and I say we because it’s been the three of us)  conquered an introduction to driving, a change of sport from softball to tennis, a job change for me and just getting through another 8765 hours with the rest of life’s challenges.

Reflecting this time of year is probably normal – give or take this is when people (who make them) will begin to think about New Year’s resolutions.

I was chatting with a friend who is also widowed – and we were talking about how tough this time of year can be as an only parent where you’re dealing with the family and everyone is happy.  And it’s not to say we’re not happy – but there is a part missing.

What would Risa think about her girls excelling in school? I know how proud I am of it and I know she would be proud too – but what would she think?

And would 16.5 be a different (maybe better, maybe worse) driver if there was another voice offering guidance?  I don’t know.  We don’t have that second voice, and I don’t pretend there is a second voice.

In the last 8765 hours 15.0 made a change from softball to varsity tennis.  She walked onto the tennis court just before Labor Day this year and became a tennis player and has taken to the sport with determination.  I know Risa was a very determined person as well, happy to see she’s taken on the best of the traits.

16.5 entered the working world over the summer and excelled as a lifeguard at a water park near our house.  She embraced the challenge of working and becoming responsible – maturing into a woman.  Now we begin thinking about test prep and college search.  I know those are the parts of life Risa would have cherished, and despite the challenges I know it’s a time I will cherish with her and her sister.

15.0 has also become expressive in art – a skill I only wish I had, but again its a skill her mother possessed.  I can’t help but smile when I walk into her room and see her work on display on the walls.

And because managing life with me and two teen-aged girls isn’t quite challenging enough I decided to change jobs this year too.  It was one of those situations where it was time to make a change and the right opportunity came along – but its in those moments where I try to think through important changes, don’t really have that life partner to talk to and know I’m about to make a life changing decision – the clock slows down, and a few of those 8765 hours feel like days at a time.

I wonder, what would Risa think about all of this?  Am I doing the right thing?  Would my father be proud of life I’ve created for my family?

I’d like to think the answer is yes – because that will help get me through the next 8765 hours and changes our lives will face again.


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Judgment and Discernment – Synonyms?

Question-264245_8285So, lately I’ve been struggling with the gap between judgment and discernment – if you were to go on judgement and discernment are synonyms.  The origin of judgment dating back to the 13th century:

judgment early 13c., “a pronunciation of an opinion, criticism,” from O.Fr. jugement (11c.), from jugier (see judge). Meaning “any authoritative decision” is from early 14c. (the Doomsday sense, “trial of moral beings by God,” is mid-14c.); meaning “the forming of an opinion” is from late 14c. Sense of “discernment” is first recorded 1530s.

The origin of discernment is a little more circumspect:

discernment 1580s, from discern + -ment.

So perhaps the answer lies in the definition?  I figured I’d check  For judgment (in context of my current thoughts) the fourth definition is right:

the forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind:

Our judgment as to the cause of his failure must rest on the evidence.
As opposed to discernment:
the faculty of discerning; discrimination; acuteness of judgment and understanding.
So, with all apologies to my third grade teacher where they are using the root of the word in the definition, the reference goes back to judgement  – not quire helping my current conundrum.
So, here’s the issue.  As life rolls along – I am trying to figure out if we pass judgment or simply discern facts and then take action?
I’d like to think we practice discernment over judgement in most things – and once we reach a level of discernment we’re able to apply a judgement.  But is it wrong to pass a judgement before the facts are discerned?  Is it even possible?
I supposed based on the world-wide web (and that’s never wrong, right?) they are synonymous terms – so there is no difference.  Yet I can’t help but think there are.
So before passing judgement on this conundrum – see if you can discern a meaning – and then let me know, because I remain as confused as when I started.

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Savor and Appreciate

death of a friendFor a couple of weeks now a story that many of my friends know about has haunted me – but I really haven’t talked about its impact on me.  (For anyone who knows me, they know that is not a surprise at all).  One of the reasons I have not spoken much about the sudden death of a friend from my childhood is because I could not figure out what was so upsetting to me about it – then I realized that doesn’t matter.  The take away is to savor and appreciate what we have because it all goes by quickly.

Gabe Selig and I were never super close.  We were friends through grade school and into high school.  He grew up for the most part across the street from my grandmother’s house.  We shared many classes together, had mutual friends and later in life at a few chance meetings in the city shared some beers.

Gabe collapsed and died playing ultimate frisbee with a team he belonged to about two weeks ago.

When I first saw the postings on Facebook I thought it was a joke of sorts – Gabe announcing his retirement from frisbee.  Then as the tributes to Gabe rolled in, I realized it was not a joke – someone my age in relatively good (at least appearance wise) health suddenly dropped dead.

There are lots of images from my past of those exact moments – maybe this conjured some of those up.  Maybe the fact that I’m closer to 50 than anything else has me wondering about what my life will be like in five or 10 years.  Or maybe its a sign to savor and appreciate what you have now – and focus on the good things in life because there’s no telling what tomorrow holds.

I wasn’t there that Sunday when Gabe collapsed on a field – and it took more than a week before I was able to find details to what occurred that day.  I was watching the pictures Gabe shared from the frisbee event that weekend as they flipped by on my Facebook timeline.

I know all too well – from my father, to my grandfather, to my brother, to my wife that life moves at its own pace and its own path – maybe the lesson though is to savor and appreciate the moment….

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One Hour A Day

one hour a dayEvery now and then I get a question from a friend,  a comment on this blog or just in passing – and generally it goes something like this, ” Wow, you have two teen-aged girls, a full-time job and you manage to get to the gym almost every day, how do you do it?”  Usually I just shrug and say I just get it done.  I realized this week though, the truer answer is – its my hour.  One hour a day I get to be fully in charge of what I do.

Sometimes its a little longer, sometimes its a little shorter – but that is my time.  I think I deserve to carve one hour out of the day for me.

Break it down – figure 6-7 hours sleeping.  8-10 hours working.  An hour getting the girls up and going in the morning.  3-4 hours juggling events and driving from place to place.  That’s 18-22 hours of 24 accounted for.  So one hour at the gym where I don’t have to check in on anyone, I can do what I want and reach my goals seems pretty fair.

And that’s the reason why I don’t use my phone at the gym – I am “off the grid,” or at least close to it.  Through the magic of iOS in an emergency I can still be reached – but whatever the call or text is, it will wait until I’m done doing my thing for that one hour.

The reality is, that hour can vary.  Some days it’s at five in the morning.  Other days it’s at 11:30 in the morning – usually its somewhere in between.  But it’s my one hour a day to not have to be accountable to anyone but myself.

That’s not bad thing.  In anyone’s life in 2015 there is accountability to so many people and institutions.  My girls have expectations of their father.  My bosses (and I have several) have expectations.  Although lesser – there are expectations from extended family and friends.  But for one hour a day I can hold myself accountable.

Some days I push really hard.  Other days it’s a lighter workout – but it’s my decision, for one hour a day.  There are great people at my gym to answer questions and offer encouragement.  There are great resources on-line to get motivation and new ideas.

The best advice I can offer – even if the gym isn’t your thing, take the hour.  You deserve it, its yours.  Go off the grid and be in the moment for yourself one hour a day.

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Walking Down Memory Lane

memory laneThis weekend 12.5 not only becomes 13.0 but she’ll celebrate her bat mitzvah on her birthday (Saturday).  One of the tasks I own for the event (as I did two year’s ago for her sister’s) is making the montage.  This is a romp through picture and some video of the first 13 years of their life.  Once again I dragged my feet to get this done – because walking down memory lane is not the easiest of things for me to do.

So this week, while juggling the softball schedule for 12.5, the soccer schedule for 15.0, the work schedule for the single dad and keeping the house up and running – I dove through boxes of pictures and flipped through the digital files of the last 13 years to pull together the images and moments that will help sum up 12.5’s life in about nine and a half minutes.

Along the way were reminders of the life l had 20 or more years ago.  I can remember (most) of the moments captured on film (yes film) and the happy times that seem so long ago.

Tucked away in a box is an album of pictures from the trip Risa and I took where we got engaged.  In the back of a closet were pictures from the road trip Risa and I took when we moved to Dallas.  In the basement (in a box from our move to our house) were pictures of 15.0’s day of birth and the time I took her sledding when she was maybe two years old.

Thinking back, when it was 15.0 getting her bat mitzvah I am sure I waited to the last-minute to do the montage.  I know like this time I waited to the last-minute to write my speech.

Getting the girls’ through their bat mitzvah was important to Risa – and something I want them to experience.  So even with the uncomfort of walking down memory lane, there is the reality that I am keeping the girls connected to their mother.

Standing up and trying to share this with 12.5 on Saturday (and a temple full of friends and family) is a whole other challenge.  But for today – that’s not the one I am facing.  There are people who relish walking down memory lane – I’m probably not one of them.

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Once Again Bat Mitzvah Time

Torah-ScrollOnce again, bat mitzvah time is upon us. It was around this point before 15.0’s bat mitzvah two years ago I wrote about having to knock the details off the list. I know because I looked back, and because once again, it’s all about the details.

But this time – and maybe it happened two years ago as well, I find myself less in my head on the details and more thinking about what life has been and could have been. Unlike the last time – this time I know what I want to say to my daughter as she marks a milestone (and on her 13th birthday). Two years ago, I was working on my speech the night before the bat mitzvah.

With one less detail to worry about there is no shortage of other things to focus on.

Sure there is the stuff to do – gifts for the tutor, the rabbi, the cantor etc. But this milestone that 12.5 will soon cross is one for me as well.

At some point in 1998 or 99 – after Risa’s surgery and before we had our first daughter we talked about what the lives of our children would be like. At the time 13 or 15 years out seemed like an eternity, and given all that transpired perhaps it has been.

Yet here we are, achieving one of the biggest goals Risa had for her children – celebrating their bat mitzvahs. No one should feel sorry that this celebration will go on without their mother. Instead we are going to celebrate the fulfillment of a wish a mother had for her children – both unborn at the time with a future that was on its best days cloudy.

So, on the second Saturday of October we’ll celebrate a milestone reached, a goal achieved (and a bunch of tasks and details tackled).

As for my part, we’ll see how it all plays out. The details aren’t the stressor this time, it’s a feeling of completing a promise as once again we reach bat mitzvah time.

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My Moment of Zen

My moment of zenWith apologies to John Stewart, I will steal his line and talk about a realization I made Friday, and the more I think about it the more accurate it is about my life and the way I approach it.  My moment of zen came at my bi-weekly therapy session before this weekend, but the reality that I am a closet buddhist probably should not be a shock.

I would not pretend to say I am well read on the ways of the Buddhist’s life, but I know enough to be dangerous.

There are four noble truths, the last of which leads eight fold path.


  1. Suffering exists:  To me this is understanding that life is not all about fun and enjoyment.  We all suffer – from loss to pain to worry, we suffer.  What we do with that suffering and how we learn from it are the keys.
  2. Suffering arises from the attachment to desires:  when we expect others to simply conform to our expectation we’ll suffer.  Simply, I try to enjoy what I have now and the moment I am in.  I don’t want to look around or backwards and try to recapture or gain what I don’t have.  Getting what you want is not a guarantee of happiness.
  3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases:  This is not to say we should never have desires, and we’ll never be happy.  Instead, by living each day in that moment and not dwelling in the past, in the future or on what we don’t have we can become happy.
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path:  The eight fold path is being moral through what we say and do in our lives – and focusing the mind on being aware of actions.  If we can learn from our lives and suffering, we can develop compassion for others.

I admit now, I looked up the four noble truths and the eight fold path, and have been doing some reading off and on about Buddhism.

What my moment of zen didn’t teach me though is that solutions to our problems come from within ourselves and not from outside forces or reliance on other people.  We all have to decide for ourselves how to accept responsibilities for our actions and understandings.

Maybe I am a closet Buddhist.  Maybe I’m a realist.  I’m not really sure, but I know enough to understand that we own our lives and have to be willing to take responsibility for them.  I hope if my kids learn nothing else from me, they learn that they will need to be able to look within to conquer life.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even share my moment of zen with them.


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Remembering a Friend

Judy Martin (1965-2014)Today my friend Judy Martin would have turned 50.  Certainly a milestone moment for anyone – instead of preparing for a celebration of her birth, many who knew Judy are remembering a friend who lost their life a year ago.

Many remember Judy in the way she went about life – finding the best in people.  For me, Judy helped me realize there was time to breath and enjoy life.  So Judy, as we mark what would have been your 50th birthday, and a year since you passed, I’ll take a moment today to look about and just breathe.

As time goes by, we remember people who are no longer in our lives in different ways, but I hope I’ve learned how to remember the pieces of people that made them special-and pay tribute them everyday.

Stop today, remember a friend – and breathe.

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Cemetery Moments

Wellwood CemeteryOn the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend we did the unveiling for Risa’s mother’s grave.  Which became the first stop in a place I truly struggle.  Perhaps I’ve had too many cemetery moments in my life – it’s just not a place I find comforting or peaceful.  But I also don’t want my inhibitions to influence my kids, so after the unveiling we went to Risa’s grave – which is also where my father and brother are buried.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my hangup with going to the cemetery – and a lot of time in therapy talking about it.  What it comes down to is not about the memories.  I encourage my kids to talk about their mother, I answer questions about my father and brother, we talk about Risa’s parents and times we all spent together.

But there is something about going to the grave – those cemetery moments that is just unsettling for me.  And since I don’t want my hangups to influence the girls – it’s a stoic moment as I place the rocks on the markers and keep it together.

I think 14.0 realized it this time – she came by and gave me a much-needed hug.  Choking back the swell of emotions – into the rest of the day we went.  I needed that time with the girls to realize how much I have – and not focus on what I’ve lost or have missed out on in life.

There will be more cemetery moments ahead, and as a family we’ll share the memories and keep those who are not with us alive in our hearts.

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