The First Man in My Life

Hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend. Wimbledon closes tomorrow. Love the Slams but it’s always nice to get my life back in between.

That’s only one of the reasons I’m always behind, lol. Part of it is perceptual impairment to time. Part of it is avoidance behavior, I’m sure.

This post should have gone live on Father’s Day. (Having had it written might have helped; please forgive me for running long.) Here’s to a very belated Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful gentlemen out there honoring their call in life. Hubby is working and striving every day to be the best husband and father he can be. Kudos too, to my brother who I often feel is a better dad than I am a mom. Each of you is awesome. Never underestimate the worth of a dad.

On Father’s Day I made a trip to the cemetery. I visit several times per season, but never enough, I suppose (at least by my off-the-boat-mom’s Italian standards). Today my dad is gone eighteen years. He was a few months shy of a measly near-sixty-four when God called him, but he’d been hospitalized at least sixty percent of the last year he lived. I remember accompanying him to a dance on October 3 and taking him to the emergency room as soon as we got home. He wasn’t discharged until January 22nd and was more in than out after that until the day he passed away.

My dad with two of his (four) sisters–those closer to him on his right. The little girl next to him is one of his favorite nieces: my cousin Rosina (?) who now resides in Australia. Dad was about (?) 18 years old in this one, so this was taken circa 1948. Love vintage photos! 

I won’t get into his health issues. (He certainly had enough of them and was a lousy patient anyway.) I’d rather focus on the little things that made our relationship special.

He immigrated from Italy around 1961. I’ve always been in awe of folks who pick and take off to a country where they don’t know the language. Sure, there was some support from those who came before him, but in many ways, he and my mom were on their own. (They’d married end of 1959 but for details I don’t remember–or know(?)–she came ahead of him.) We traveled as a family to Italy ten years later. He took off to Australia from there. Italy held no fascination for him after that. My dad LOVED The Land Down Under and would have moved there if he could.)

When my mom was pregnant with me, he wound up convinced—via family and friends—that I was a boy. Back then dads didn’t enter the delivery room. He is said to have gone home and to sleep. The story goes he was awakened by my uncle calling home, and telling my dad his wife had given birth to a girl. Not only did my dad not believe my uncle, rumor had it my dad was upset.

Mom tells me once I came home though, all that changed. The man glued himself cradle-side. Guess I’ve been Daddy’s Little Girl since.

Was it always perfect? Oh no. I was lucky enough that, being an off-the-boat-man, he wasn’t the stereotypically strict type. Not that I had free rein but he gave me way more freedom than my mom would have (sorry Mom!). He also had this way of letting me know he wasn’t thrilled when I thought of doing anything of which he didn’t approve. I’d get a story about him when he was younger. From what I remember, it didn’t seem relevant to the situation at hand. (Or maybe I didn’t want to hear it?) He tended to wrap up the same way each time. “I’m not like my father. I give you liberty to do whatever you want. But I don’t like it!” That closer did its job until I hit my twenties, and guilt at not ‘listening to Daddy’ was less of a factor. Then at twenty-eight, I did the unthinkable: I moved out. First-generation American-Italian girls don’t do that, you know.

Think my move out was rough on him, but I visited often. (I lived one town over). Given his health issues we spent a lot of time together anyway. You see, that (only) daughter usually takes care of her parents—it’s a cultural thing. We’ll toss in that my parents had this weird type of commitment and I got thrown into the mix of their stuff. (I wasn’t old or wise enough to know this either, so grumping and griping, I often went off to do the expected. I wasn’t always gracious about it.)

We played cards together. He taught me the Italian games, Brisk and Sweep (a.k.a. Briscola and Scopa, respectively) before the age of eight. What always got me, was how he kept track of every major card played and always knew what was in my hand. When he could no longer drive and got weaker, I took him places. The mall. LibertyScienceCenter. Parks in our area, where we dragged along my brother’s Great Danes. (Those guys are topics for another post.)

He was a tailor by trade and taught me a few good tips to altering clothing. Guess I inherited my love of sewing and my ability to read and reread (and now revise) a beloved book too many times to count from him. I can still see my dad sitting at his spot at our kitchen table, legs resting on my seat and crossed at the ankles, that same book in his hand. He was also big on the news, and followed politics via the Italian newspaper he bought daily. Because his command of English wasn’t great and he had a hearing impairment, TV was only so entertaining for him. (He did like staged wrestling. Never did a Monday night pass without the predecessors to the WWE and RAW gracing our set. I even took him to see Hulk Hogan’s first movie, and translated as much as I could without disturbing the other patrons.)

I still remember snippets of his last hospitalization. After a nine-hour marathon surgery to save his leg, the vascular specialist had to amputate below the knee. Have a feeling my dad kind of gave up after that. He just seemed to get more and more tired during our visits at the hospital. (He was also on renal dialysis, which I’m sure didn’t help with the fatigue factor.) The night before he died, we left and he seemed to be talking to himself. I got word the next morning that he’d passed away.

Interestingly enough, Hubby is a lot like my dad. The crazy thing is he’s a lousy patient too and has similar health issues—go figure.  We started dating about a week after my dad was hospitalized that October 3rd. The two of them chatted twice. According to my husband, my dad told my hunny I was ‘special.’ I truly believe God took my dad when he did because He knew I couldn’t take care of both of them.

My dad never got to see his little girl get married (or engaged). He never got to meet his grandchildren, who I know he would have adored. It’s all okay though. I believe a spirit never dies; it lives on in all of us who came from and after him. Case in point: One of my dad’s first cousins shared his first name. They were fairly close in age and even looked a bit alike. The detail that I always noted was how his cousin walked like my dad, holding his left hand down at his side with his pinky up a bit. Guess what I’m trying to say is, if I look hard enough, I’ll still see his spirit here among us. (He shows up in my younger son too, who, as a baby, looked a bit like my dad. He’s stubborn in the same way, asking me my opinion on something then doing it his way anyway.)

I will close on that note, and thanks to all of you for indulging me. See you next week!

Joanna

 

More Thoughts on Angels: Tribute to One in Particular

I’ve written about angels before. (Faith and Angels: Parts One and Two.) I truly believe they exist, taking on all kinds of forms. They touch our lives and sometimes alter a given person’s life trajectory. At times we’re aware of their presence or the forces/events they evoke. Sometimes, we’re angels to others and may or may not know about it until ages later—possibly never.  (BTW, knowing is a humbling experience, but a blessing too. Just another reason I have to believe.)

Doesn’t matter whether we’re aware or not; kind of like that tree in the forest falling and making a sound. Sound waves happened. Just because ears weren’t around to perceive the noise doesn’t mean there was none.

Quick disclaimer: I speak only for myself, from MHO and my experiences. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Sigh. Almost three years ago, I was assigned to a child who received home instruction and related services (i.e., occupational therapy) due to a combination of significant medical conditions incurred when he was a little under two years old. Until I entered the home the first time, I didn’t realize he was my neighbor too. He was pretty-much wheelchair-bound, and I had already seen him being wheeled around by his nurse on many occasions in my neighborhood. One more thing: this guy was roughly my younger son’s age.

That day I showed to meet him, his dad told me to expect the boy to cry. He did not. We shared our first session, engaged in a couple of activities and set our schedule.

I saw him once weekly for a full school year and during our extended school year summer program. I’ll never be sure how much he looked forward to me in particular coming (I really believe he preferred my colleague who also saw him once/week), but we hung in there just the same.

During many of our sessions he did cry. But during others, he tolerated me doing things hand-over-hand. He put up with me getting him up to dance to my favorite on his I-pod, The Jackson Five’s Rockin’ Robin. (On one occasion, I hit REPEAT so many times, the boy’s dad came in, wondering if something was wrong with the device, lol.) We practiced dressing, getting out of bed with as little help as possible, then wheeling into his adapted bathroom to do grooming and hygiene tasks (i.e., washing face, brushing teeth, combing hair—you know, getting handsome.)

He didn’t speak but signed for me here and there: mostly yes/no via clapping (or not) to indicate whether he wanted to do a given activity. He never verbalized directly to me but loved one nurse in particular and engaged in “conversation” with her. She’d say words and he’d repeat them—always immediately after my session, while I prepared to leave. He also talked to his dad. (I didn’t get to see too many interactions with his mom, but he always cried when she left for the day. She works a day job while his dad stayed home as primary caregiver.)

I didn’t know then that his condition was already deteriorating. By last January, his oxygen levels had already started declining and he often looked very blue. I spoke to his dad about this; he stated the doctors were very aware of the condition and that only so much could be done to stabilize and/or improve it. (For confidentiality purposes, I’m not at liberty to disclose more details.)

My student hung in there and we switched more to activities and tasks I hoped he found fun. Although I believe he enjoyed at least some our sessions, he still cried often, so this past September I asked my colleague if she’d be willing to take on the second session. He rarely cried when she was there. (The running joke was I did the show tunes; my colleague went by Mary Poppins.) Since she’d become his all-time favorite kid, she went twice weekly and always stayed longer than the scheduled time. He wasn’t work.

This boy didn’t have functional speech. He had physical challenges and was cortically blind. His ability to use his hands and walk was very limited and he was dependent in nearly all aspects of self-care. Yet, he was very aware of those around him, knew what he wanted and how to communicate that in his unique way.

He loved music and signed for it. He preferred kiddy tunes but his dad slowly transitioned him to more age appropriate, contemporary hits. As per my colleague, he’d tug at his hair to be told how handsome he looked. He did a Stevie Wonder impression and indicated his desire to engage in his favorites of the activities my colleague brought to their sessions. I’d tease him about ‘defecting’ to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ camp (from my newly beloved NY Giants) after one of his nurses’ sons joined the former NFL organization. (I’m thinking he was big on Elmo too. The floral arrangement pictured here is the only image I could find to give an idea of the full-body one made of red-dyed spider mums (?)—it was amazing!

 www.babiesgottahaveit.com

Here are some of my colleagues thoughts on their interactions: “He loved his routine and would start signing or pull on his hair if I went out of order, or forgot his favorite activity.  He knew. He had the most beautiful smile I ever saw. As you mentioned he had a great sense of humor.  If I laughed with favorite nurse or his father he would join in.  I believe he sometimes understood what we were laughing about. Wanted his music on immediately and his water ready. Could be stubborn as well, when I was ready to leave and asked if he would miss me he always refused to sign.  I could go on and on.”

His parents obviously adored him and dedicated their lives to making his the best they believed they could. I’m thinking he was their angel and vice versa. Recently he took on the abstract form we associate with those spiritual beings. He took a very bad turn after a recent medical procedure and passed away. (He turned my younger son’s age a little over a month ago.)

At his wake, I met the physical therapist who’d worked with him longer than any of us. She gave me more background on how many things this boy had been able to do before his health started its downward decline. I marveled at how much I’d missed coming into this boy’s story late as I did. From what I understand, he had a pretty cool sense of humor. (Think he showed it to my colleague more.)

Why am I writing this? I attended his funeral the day before and found myself tremendously listless the rest of the day. I’m still can’t stop thinking about him today. He crossed my mind every time I passed his street and will do so even more in future days. I think of his parents and how they handled their trip to Holland when they believed themselves Italy-bound. I’m looking to write a tribute to give to his parents and hope the best words come as I explore my thoughts and feelings. I won’t tell you he didn’t touch me before. These past two days I realize just how much and very deeply affected I am with his passing.

I’ve worked in my current school district (where I reside, too) for a very long time. I’m sure other children have passed away during my stretch-in-progress, but any who may have weren’t my students, so I wasn’t aware. In the past fifteen months, five have gone on to become angels. Four of those five were mine in some shape or form.

Makes me sad.

Makes me think.

Teaches me to see this particular population of earthly angels in a completely new way.

Thank you for taking time to read this.

Joanna

Tribute to DJ Hip Hop

Hi everyone,

Just caught my ‘blunder’: in the previous post I’d also ‘named’ my little buddy Triple H but changed it  b/c there is a wrestler in the WWE (or one of those organizations) by the same name. Guess I forgot to make the changes in the post my subscribers received. I apologize for that oversight and will be making the correction now, hence the second delivery to your inbox. I appreciate your patience.

I do not lay claim to what you are about to read. (I’ll family members authoured this lovely piece; it came directly from the program for this child’s Celebration of Life Memorial Service. Any potentially identifying information has been changed to insure privacy.)

Hip Hop Harry a.k.a. DJ Hip Hop—Portrait of a Life

Today we celebrate the life of the incredible, amazing, talented superstar, a brave warrior, a mighty fighter, our hero and miracle child who brought so much joy, laughter and happy moments to his dear mother, family and friends. His name is DJ Hip Hop. Our brave resilient DJ Hip Hop; and we rejoice because DJ Hip Hop is at peace, in paradise with the Lord.

DJ Hip Hop was born four years and a half years ago. Right from the day he was born to the day he gallantly, heroically left for home almost one month ago, DJ Hip Hop made it clear, through his actions that he was going to go through his journey of life according to his own rules. Defying all odds against him, he survived open heart surgery at 2 months, multiple catheterizations to open up his pulmonary veins, a heart and lung transplant and second lung transplant all in the four and a half years that he spent here with us. Did his medical predicament impact negatively on his life? DJ Hip Hop wouldn’t let it.

DJ Hip Hop was good looking and had a head of hair that endeared him to so many people and became his ‘trademark’. His charming smile and vivacious personality made him a strong and attractive life force. He was always full of life; had a good sense of humor and was very witty. He always made you smile with his anecdotes and jokes. He had a strong and charming personality and was very confident about himself and what he wanted (or didn’t want) at any precise moment in his life. He would argue his way out of situations like a seasoned lawyer and so his granddad called him ‘lawyer’ (attorney). DJ Hip Hop would never let up until he won an argument. DJ Hip Hop was clearly too intelligent for his age and certainly too intelligent for his own good!!!

DJ Hip Hop was a very sensitive and caring child. He would put up a brave front to comfort his mother and other family members. He saw the positives in situations, whether if he was in hospital or recovering from surgery. His sense of humor never waned, and his love for music always took him through those trying times at multiple renowned children’s hospitals. DJ Hip Hop was the only child who could sit up in his hospital bed with a breathing tube and ‘rap’ and ‘scratch’ and DJ £way. lie certainly did things his own way.

He loved life, loved music and knew how to have a good time. At home he would get all his family together to sing songs and have musical performances during which times he would play his drums, guitar, harmonica, maracas and all the other musical instruments that he grew to love. He would also dance and sing and he made sure that everybody around him played a part in his show which we rightly named “The DJ Hip Hop Show”.

Hip Hop Harry, “DJ Hip Hop’s” inspiration (image from HipHopHarry.com)

DJ Hip Hop had a charm about him that made him a love bug, everyone who met and knew him, loved him. He was a love magnet; he attracted people to himself not because they felt sorry for his condition, but because of his strength, courage, resilience and positive outlook on life. He touched the lives of so many people in so many ways. He was an amazing kid! He was intelligent and his medical challenges never dulled his intellect. He loved all animals and had a special interest in dinosaurs which inspired him to name his grammy, “grammysaurus”. He would go around the house, spreading his white powder on the hardwood floor to track for dinosaur prints.

Needless to say, DJ Hip Hop drew his strength from the Lord. His relationship with God was…awesome. It was a “real-time online” connection – truly spiritual, and mysterious in a way that we had never seen a child connect with his God. DJ Hip Hop would call on God and God would answer him directly and we bear testimony to that. Within a day of personally asking God for his heart and lungs he got them. When he needed a second set of lungs he called out to God and told Him he was in trouble, within 24 hrs of being re-listed he got it. His favorite song was “How Great Is Our God”.

DJ Hip Hop was given to us on this earth for a short period of time. During this time, he brightened our lives and touched us in ways that we find hard to express. He had this attitude for life because he was surrounded by love, by the selfless dedication of his family especially his mother and her “twin sist.” (his aunty), as well as friends who enjoyed him and gave him their love in appreciation and admiration of his courage.

DJ Hip Hop will remain in our hearts forever. This is not a “goodbye” it’s a “see you later”. As he and his mother used to say, “I’ll see you in 2 minutes”.

DJ Hip Hop leaves behind his strong, caring and loving mother, his courageous daddy, his grieving and heartbroken great aunt; his “Grammysaurus” and grandpa; all his grand aunties and grand uncles, aunties, uncles, cousins and friends.

(Along with the rest of us who’ll miss him something fierce and smile as we remember him with love all our days.)

Joanna