The Devil In The Details

Devil in the DetailsIt’s three weeks until 12.5 turns 13 and has her Bat Mitzvah.  I know it’s a time for her to be excited, nervous and probably a little worried.  For me, it’s a time to be excited, nervous and a little worried.  I know she’ll do a great job and I know everyone will have a lot of fun at the party-but getting it planned is a huge task, and the devil is in the details.

We have the big stuff done.  Dresses are in.  Shoes are purchased.  Place picked out.  Speech (hers) done.  Invites out and responses back.  Now comes the nitty-gritty.


We have to do the table seatings.  Come up with the center pieces. We need to get gifts for the tutor, rabbi and cantor.  A bunch of things like that just need to get done.

Oh yeah, I have girls.  We have hair and nails to worry about as well.

Not to mention working with the DJ on the flow of the event, the photographer on the pictures I want to make sure get captured, picking out the menu and the linens (somehow it matters what color the napkin is that is on a table-cloth that is also color coordinated).

The first step though is knowing the list.  Got that covered.  Next up-picking off the devilish details one at a time.

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The Fragile Pyramid

Today was one of those days.  I needed everything to line up just right, and for the most part it did, but there were some very tense moments where it looked like the daily pyramid was going to crumble.

I probably missed the early sign.  I had to catch a train this morning no later than 732.  The girls did their part-no dawdling this morning and we got to school on time.  Of course the person running the program was 7 minutes late.  While that does not sound like much-its my entire buffer to make it from Sound Beach to Ronkonkoma.

But I made it.

Anyone who has visited a media company in the city knows security is generally tight.  For some reason this morning when I got to my first stop (on time) the security folks made two calls and got two different sets of instructions-which rippled into a 915 meeting starting at 935, although I was there at 910.

Bounced through a series of meetings mostly uneventful, and got to my last meeting of the day-where I was giving a presentation.  That’s when my mobile started ringing-and it was the parents of friends of my kids calling.  No way that can be good.

On the second call, I excused myself and found out my afternoon sitter was as of 5 minutes after the school bus rolled by-a no show.

So, I had to walk into a “C” level meeting and ask for a 10 minute recess.  It works on Law and Order, I can only hope it works in a conference room too.

Five phones calls (and no losing my temper) later-kids are squared up and the sitter has arrived, and I can re-start my presentation.  Now the problem is my flow is gone–so I am standing in front of key executives, PowerPoint fired up and I am stumbling through slides, knocked off my game.

I wanted to just lace into someone, anyone-but that’s not the way this pyramid was built today.  The sands shifted.  Instead, when I spoke with 10.5 and 8.0 I was relieved, and actually choked back a tear or two.  They were never in danger, they did a longer ride and are none the worse for it all.  But still, its just not the way its supposed to go.

I have a plan and I have the parts in place-but the fallback is still a work in progress.  Another alternative to think through, another what if to consider.

So instead, I am looking ahead, tomorrow is a new day, and I get to start it all over again.

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Of God, Belief and Spirituality

Is this what it will look like?

I hope a sign from God is this easy to read

In a very accidental way last night I had a very interesting conversation with an acquaintance and it left me thinking.  And the place of this conversation you may wonder? The waiting room of the office where I take my kids for therapy.

Quick background:  As regular readers of this blog know, I am not very spiritual or religious.  My therapist however is, and she believes that everything happens for a reason–and there is a grand plan.  So, I met her through an attorney who went through a similar circumstance and I met the attorney through a hospice nurse–its all interconnected.

I am not sure I believe in that.  I’ve worked really hard as a person, a dad and a professional to throw my hands up and say a higher power is in charge.

There is woman who has a therapy session before my kids, who we see just about every week. We’ve chatted a little here and there and she brings home-baked stuff for the girls from time to time.  She’s really a very nice person, and very devout in her love of Jesus and firmly believes we are all here to serve a higher power.

Last night, her usual good mood was replaced, and she looked like she wanted to talk some–she has issues at home and whatever other issues she talks about in therapy–I tend not to delve too deeply.  So I engaged her and we got pretty deep into a religious discussion–where I mentioned how my therapist (for the record a completely different practice) believes in grand design and higher power (I did not have the heart to mention its not Jesus) and I am more than skeptical.

Clearly in life there is tons of room to debate this–I’ve suffered a lot of heart break in my life–I don’t lament it, I don’t wish God would pick on someone else, I deal with it.  I look inside myself and find a way to keep moving ahead-to make tomorrow a better day than today.  I believe that comes from within.

The acquaintance believes God has a grand plan and moving from day to day is a work of God.  And she quoted scripture to me.

In college (it was a long time ago) I did a two semester comparative literature sequence that studied the old and new testaments side by side–so while I can’t quote scripture I can get pretty close to books and quotes and she was generally correct in her reference….

But still, I can’t see subjugating my day-to-day to a higher power and saying its the will of God.  It has to come from within right?  The energy used from within to look to God for all these events and happenings can be spent making a difference here and now–and not looking for signs.

She asked me to try to ask God for a sign of his presence–according to her (and she quoted Jobe which I think is wrong quote but can’t prove it one way or another), although God knows all, he wants to be asked before he will act.  OK, so I will ask a few times this week for a sign….

Because as it pertains to me, she was right about something, I am at a crossroads in life, and I am deciding which path I will follow.  I don’t see myself becoming the Jewish equivalent of born again but I do have choices to make-and spirituality is one of them.  Right now, I am doing my best to sustain it to get my girls through Bat Mitzvah-its a promise I made to Risa and something I want for them.

But they take their cue from me on religon, and its just not me-is that the right message? I don’t know.  Perhaps that’s the sign I’ll get…or maybe it will be a no U-Turn sign and its full speed forward.

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Cause and Effect: Sometimes it Just Is

One of the toughest challenges I face right now as a single parent is trying to figure out which behavior exhibited by either of my girls is “normal”and which is a result of what they have seen and lived through over the last 2-3 years.  And within that is a gamut of feelings and decisions that often have to be made quickly and with a best guess.

A reason for everything

When one falls, so go the rest

Case 1: 8.0 has been disorganized and unfocused lately both at home and at school.  Her room is an embarrassing mess (almost to the point where I won’t send the bi-weekly cleaning lady in any longer).  At school I get notes and emails from the teacher asking if anything is wrong.

In therapy both at home and at school, the indication is its not related to anything emotional.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder.

Case 2: 10.5 has developed a near-hair trigger temper.  She goes from calm to hitting and yelling (usually her sister) in no time.  There is very little middle ground.  This is not behavior she exhibits at school, and at home the therapist again says there is no cause and effect.  Yet I can’t help but wonder.

And as we go through all of the changes and all of these behaviors, I tend to mix and match the way I react.  Sometimes I just ignore it.  Sometimes I come down hard and sometimes I coddle.

Of course that gets me wondering if the message is getting too mixed.  It probably isn’t, but still I wonder.

For 8.0 we’ll come up with a goals chart and create a risk/reward environment to help improve organization.

For 10.5 we’ll try to eliminate the touch points that can get her upset.

And for the three of us, we’ll soldier on able to live another day.

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The Reluctant Spiritualist: Gifts

OK, I’ll admit right now in this post, what will follow will be very oblique and may not make a lot of sense, because frankly it touches on a topic I am not really ready to share.  That said, the context is interesting, so I’ll give it my best shot and thanks ahead for trying to stay with it.

Today’s is Friday, and as has become usual for me just about every Friday, after dropping the girls at school I make my weekly trip to my therapist.  I’ve referenced the “nontraditional” type of therapy I go to a couple of times.  The most recent is here, and there are links to others within that post.

Over the course of the year or so I have been seeing my current therapist (it took me four tries with therapists before I could find one I could talk to) I have reached a point where I accept that the path my life has taken is not normal, and simply saying everyone carries something sells myself short.

(This is where this will get tricky)

Over the last few weeks-after getting things back to a sense of normal in the house I have begun what will no doubt be the very long process of redefining myself and by extension helping the girls establish their identities.

As things twist and turn along there have been some good and some surprising occurrences already…

Today my therapist called them, “Gifts from Risa.”  And that struck me.  I am not one to believe in a lot of the spiritual stuff, but I do believe in karma–and maybe I’ve been getting a done of karma payback over the last few weeks.  I’m not sure honestly.

I do know that while not everything is perfect, there is a lot on the right path and there certainly is plenty to feel good about, and even be thankful for.

So whether it’s a “gift from the great beyond,” or karma, or just time to catch a few breaks, I am OK with it…and onward we go.

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Of Plans, Real, Imagined and Missed

So this is going to be tricky.  Even more than I thought it would be.

With every good intention I made tentative plans for tonight (and they did not include updating my blog).  The way it was supposed to work was I would have the girls sleep at friends house’s (they like that) and I would score a free night to go out.

8.0 partially out of spite (her sister had dinner at a friend’s house last night) worked out her plans Friday night.  10.5 not so much.  In fact not only did I end up not being able to go out, I ended up with three 10.5’s in the house most of the night (complete with a pizza/pasta dinner).

So there was no down time or quiet time.  There was no sipping a bottle of wine or some honey bourbon (quickly becoming a favorite vice).  Instead there was cleaning up gum wrappers, trying not to lament where I was not and trying to “ignore” the ruckus of 3 pre-teen girls having fun.

A few weeks ago one of the only other widowed people my age that I know told me something interesting about the difference of being widowed and divorced/separated.  The people in the latter class get a weekend off (most of the time) at least once in a while.  Widowers have a full-time job, and as I learned tonight-planning for down time is a full-time job as well.

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Figuring Out Just Who Is We, They and Me

In what has become an interesting topic of introspection lately, I am trying to figure out the best way to define in our newly re-defined family the “we,” “they” and “me.”  As I do this exercise, I am pretty confident my girls are also doing a similar exercise.  It will be interesting to see where we all end up.

For clarity’s sake, in this context, “we” refers to our core family unit.  This is myself and the two girls (10.5 and 8.0).  When there are family events or family meetings or family decisions to be made, this is the we who will get it done.  “They” refers to the two girls as a single group.  This is not to say there is no singular identity for 10.5 and 8.0, I handle those direct.  In this context like going to summer camp, its something “they” will do.  And then there is “me.”  In this context these are the times I have to deal with something, get out and be not dad, widower or anyone other than myself.

The “we” stuff while filled with its own set of issues is pretty straight forward.  The most important aspect of this is to make sure we remain a cohesive family unit and are able to actually want to be with one another.

The “they’s” get a little trickier as the maturity gap between 10.5 and 8.0 grows.  As noted throughout this blog, 10.5 is well on her way into pre-teen/puberty and has a lot of the pre-pubescent trimmings going for her.  8.0 just is not there yet, so it’s a struggle.  Still, there are times when they are a single unit.

Then there is “me.”  And it’s not an easy one.  Over the weekend for the first time since my wife passed away I made plans and went out without the girls.  There have been a couple of times I’ve been able to sneak in some social stuff after work–but this was the first time on a Saturday night I just went out.  I could tell it was something different because 10.5 asked me, “where are we going?”

I know how important it is for me to find “me” time in this mix–and if I need to create it (and my 4AM gym run does not really count).  For better or worse, for the last 14 years, even when my wife was relatively healthy there was never a time when I was not a caregiver-it was always there.  I think it’s a difference between what I went through and what for instance my mother went through–with the sudden death of a spouse.  Add to that the 9+ months she was in hospice–where it was kind of like living a suspended life, waiting for the call.

While that time helped create the foundation for a three person house, it’s not the same–there was not a permanence to it.  While I went through stages of grieving during the ordeal, the kids I think remained hopeful at some level.  Our realities changed.

So while we’ll go skiing (again) this weekend and they’ll likely have a snow day from school this week, me? I’ll let you know once I figure it out.

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The Time Has Come


Mostly success in the first time out on shaving.  We’ll have to have another session with help next week, but off to a good start.  Thanks all fo the advice and tips that went beyond what I was able to pull together from other sources.

Although it’s a cold, wintry, snowy day here in NYC today-I am putting this post out there now for anyone who will see me in a pair of shorts over the next couple of weeks-I can’t delay it any longer, its time for me to work with 10.0 on shaving her legs.

I went back in this blog to the underarm shaving conquest and that was 8 months ago.  At the time her legs were borderline.  I saw them last night and its time.

So somewhere over the weekend much like we did when it was time to work on the underarms we’ll both put on a pair of shorts and I’ll demo and she’ll do it.  The net result will be smooth legs for her and some bald spots on mine.

As noted in May, and it stands up to the test of time today-these are the things I have to do and will not palm off out of vanity.

So, all you gym buds enjoy the view.  Who knows, maybe I’ll keep them shaved?

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The Reluctant Spiritualist Revisited

After a more than hectic six-week period-where frankly my therapist earned her keep things started to get back to normal, whatever that is.  So, with that break in the rapid fire comings and goings it was a chance to revisit the pendulum and see just how centered I’ve become.

As anyone who has been with me since the beginning of this journey knows, first I had a really hard time finding a therapist.  When I did, it was someone who was not a traditional talker–and one of the focuses was for me to become centered and find my inner balance.  Thus, the rreluctant spiritualist was born.

After making small circles with the pendulum, a month later and a little more centered, the Centered Me was unleashed.  Able to control the pendulum much better–tangible progress in finding balance.

A few months later, we went back to the pendulum as breathing became part of the balance.

The goal for all of this is to be able to keep the highs and lows from being all-consuming–and being able to be consistent in my approach for myself, my girls and my work.

So, last week, with a slight lull in demands it was a good chance to check the pendulum–and successfully holding it between thumb and forefinger–with my elbow on my lap around it went clockwise, full stop, counter-clockwise, full stop and then laterally and full stop.

Powered by suggestion–mind over matter.  Not just making the pendulum move, but controlling its movements.  Applying a centered mind and thought to a process.

Up next–is bending spoons–and being centered in my approach, I think I can.

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A Promise Kept

Before I get into this blog, I want to let anyone know who reads it that it will not be the usual trial and tribulations of trying to raise two girls.  While it is about them, this specific post is really a place for me to put some of my own thoughts about the passing of my wife last week into one place.


A odyssey that began in the ER at a tiny hospital in Irving, Texas in October of 1997 essentially ended in a hospital room in Port Jefferson, NY in December of 2010.  What’s funny as I sat with my wife as she was “actively dying” I could not help but think back to that day 13 years and half a country ago.  The moments in time were so similar.

In 1997, I was there fighting tears as my wife of 11 months was told she had brain tumor.  I even remember the ER doctor showing us the CT scan that had the evidence.  Somewhere in the middle of that, one of my wife’s co-workers came in to check on her (my wife had collapsed at work and they were just checking on her).  I could barely speak, but my wife came up with a joke, “I’m fine,” she told her co-worker.  “Except for a brain tumor.”

And so my crash course on tumors, treatments, brain tumors and reading scans began.  One piece of great advice I got from my cousin, one of the top cardiologists in Florida, was simple and I used it as a guide throughout the next 13 years.  I can’t become a doctor by reading the internet.

As my wife went through an initial biopsy of the tumor and we found out the initial diagnosis based on the scan was correct–she had an oligodendroglioma Based on that diagnosis we made decisions in 1997 that would set the course for the next 13 years (although at the time we did not know what life expectancy was).

While anyone diagnosed today with the same type of tumor now receives a course of surgery to debulk the tumor and then regular scans to monitor its practice–in 1997 the recommendations was surgery followed by radiation followed by chemo.  The problem was we wanted to have a family.

In mid-November 1997 my wife went for surgery.  The conversation we had the week before that surgery would stay with me.  It was a time of stress and worry.  We had just had our first anniversary and we were talking about her expectations for a funeral, signing living wills and making sure I was able to speak for her and follow her wishes if she did not survive.

One of the isolated moments that really stands out is the morning of the surgery.  My mother in-law arrived in Dallas the day before (in a wheel chair for reasons that continue to escape me).  Despite our instruction to meet in the surgical waiting room, she decided to join us.  There she got to hear our discussion about organ donation (organs yes, skin no).

But my instructions, if something did happen were clear.  No heroic life saving techniques.  Make sure dignity is maintained.  And if she were to pass, the funeral would follow Jewish tradition as closely as possible.  This was my first set of promises to my wife.  Promises I would keep 13 years later.

A year or so after that surgery came the OK from her team of doctors to “resume” life.   And by resume life, I should point out meant going to MRI scans four times a year and blood tests twice a month.  If the scans would stay stable during that first year, a family would be possible.

So in 1999 after  series of four or five stable scans–we started planning our family.  For us the reality of the situation was always omnipresent.  There was no telling what would happen–this would not be normal.  But the one thing we agreed to was when the time came–whenever that would be, my place was with our child (and soon children).  She was going to go through a lot of personal risk to have children, and it was my job to make sure there was never a doubt about what was important or where the focus would be.

At first, despite the ongoing scans and tests things were mostly normal.  After she gave birth to our second child, things started to change though-symptoms returned and after a scare in a Tampa hotel room, and the second birth, it was also time for a second surgery.

Although we did not have the in-depth discussion this time, she made it clear to me what I was to worry about.  Our children.  Yes, I would be at the hospital for the surgery.  And yes, I developed as good a relationship as I could with the surgeon and the staff–but my focus was on the kids.  There would be no sleeping at the hospital this time.  Instead I had to be there for breakfast each morning with the girls.

It was a lot of long nights driving the LIE from NYC to our home-but I was keeping my promise.

Six years later, as her condition worsened, it was those conversations from 1997 and 1998 that I used to honor her, and make sure her wishes were realized.

In May, a month after her 41st birthday, I was planning her funeral.  Traditional Jewish.  I had a lot of help from the Rabbi at my temple-and at the time it looked like the downward slide would continue and things were imminent.   But things stabilized—and the end that looked so near became a much longer and drawn out process.

But that didn’t change the focus.  For as long as I could, I brought the girls to see their mom-even eat dinner with her sometimes.  When she lost the ability to feed herself, I had the girls feeding her.  If you want a heartbreaking moment, watch a 10-year-old try to feed her mother, and know its being done out of pure love.

But even that connection ended as symptoms worsened even more.  With her wishes for her funeral set, my focus was on the kids, and making sure they were prepared for what was happening and have the support they needed.

Then came the call–on a Thursday morning.  Things took a turn for the worse and I learned the hospice diagnosis of “actively dying.”

For the uninitiated, and I hope that is everyone and no one ever has to hear a term like that, it means the body is shutting down and the living process is actively ending.  “Is it hours, days, weeks?” was the question I asked.  Days was the most likely scenario I was told so I planned accordingly.

At that moment, what I really needed was time to figure out the best way to activate the plans I had made six months ago and manage the message to my kids.  No one was going to tell them anything until I did and no one was going to answer their first questions until I could.

As ironic as it sounds, the Long Island Rail Road gave me my best option to simply have a chance to take a breath and work it through.  I needed to get with the rabbi from my temple–a different one from May, but one I had been talking to for months and who knew what was going on.  My wife’s sister needed to be told, my mother needed to be alerted, my brother told and somehow I needed all of this to not get back to the girls until I was there.

Oh yeah, I also needed to get the hospital and say good-bye to my wife.

So there I am sitting in her room, fighting back tears and telling her how brave she is and there is nothing to worry about–I have things squared up.  13 years prior it was the same thing–and that’s a thought I can’t get beyond.

The next five days would be easily the worst in my life–and I hope the worst ever.  Each day I had to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do–starting with that Thursday night–and telling my kids their mom was dying and the end was near.  Friday was spent telling key people who would help me spread the word to friends and family and managing how my mother was handling the news.

Saturday morning I had to take my kids to see their mother and tell them how to say good-bye.  “I love you,” they said.  “Be peaceful and rest now.”

By Saturday afternoon-while preparing to host a Hanukkah party I had to tell them their mom had died.

In a perfect world, I would have been there–with her at the end of the odyssey as I was at the beginning.  But my world right now is not perfect.  Instead though I was where I promised I would be-with our children.

Finally came the funeral, which I have written about here.

It sounds a little folksy, but the gauge I use to measure if I am doing the best I can is if I can look into the mirror when I am shaving.  If I can look the guy in the mirror in the eye, then I am doing OK.

As I look back not only on the last week, but on the last 13 years, I have no regrets.  My wife lived the life she wanted.  We have two really great kids.  I kept my promises, and that guy in the mirror–I’m OK with him too.

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