Reparations vs Resolutions, Round 3

For each of the past two years, I have written a list of reparations on New Year’s Eve rather than make a list of promises I don’t know that I can keep for the coming year.

2015 ends in just under two hours. I can’t say I’m sad to see it go. There have been a long list of challenges this year. I’ve talked about some of them in past blog posts. I have kept many of them to myself. Nonetheless, there are apologies to hand out.

To my boys – There are times when you drive me crazy. Times when I run out of patience very quickly. Times when I allow myself to get frustrated enough to yell at you. There are times when I don’t have the answers you seek, and times when I know you are tired of hearing the ones I have to give you time and again. There are things you will learn about yourselves and your backgrounds that won’t be easy to hear. I suppose part of me is glad that you’re not yet at the age where you’re learning it. I’m sorry that I cannot always provide you with the magic salve to heal your wound. I am never sorry for being your parent. I love you both so very, very much.

To my dad – Where do I begin? In 2015 I lost you. Unlike 20 years ago when I cut you out of my life, before we made our own reparations, this time it was permanent. There’s no going back. No more conversations shared, no more laughs, no more tears except mine when I find myself still missing you terribly. I’m sorry for ever doubting your love for me. I’m sorry for doubting mine for you. I’m sorry that it took me so long to appreciate the man you were, and for not having more time to enjoy that man. I’m sorry that I could not be there to hold your hand as you passed. Had I been able to, I would have done so gladly, if it would have made your passing easier on you. I’ve been told there is a chemical that our body releases just before we die that produces a euphoric state in us. I hope that’s true and that your death was peaceful for you. It’s terrible for me.

To my mom – The more you slip away from me as you dance with dementia, the closer I get to something like peace and reconciliation with the past. You asked me not long ago if you ever did anything that made me doubt your love for me. What a loaded question. I’m sorry that I lied, Mom, and told you that you never did. I didn’t do it to hurt you, and I know I should be honest and get it out of my system and let you have your feelings about it. But I just couldn’t. I’m sorry that I have had to be less than forthcoming with you in trying to get you to transition out of your home and into assisted living. I’m sorry that it came to that for you. I am glad that you put the faith in me that you did years ago to make decisions for you now and take care of you now as you cannot take care of yourself. I promised you then and promise you now, I will do everything in my power to make this stage of your life as easy as possible. That’s why I told you the ‘lie’ that I did. If amidst all the things you’ve lost in life I can leave you with the peace of mind that the lie I told you has brought you, then I can live with it. I’ll make my peace with it later on.

To my husband – Sorry seems to be the hardest word sometimes. It carries undertones of weakness for me. I struggle with that.

To my friends – I sometimes feel like I never do enough for or with you. I always regret it. I never stop caring about you.

To my loved ones everywhere, I leave you these parting sentiments in bidding adieu to the year 2015. In the words of my blog muse, Winnie The Pooh – Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.


As Time Goes By…….


10396970_827697840575433_2002502808352918938_oToday, had she lived, my Nana would have been 101 years old. The past two years, since I began this blog, I’ve written about Nana at the end of December when her birthday comes and goes.

Eleven years have now passed since I was able to look into her eyes, hold her hand, or talk to her. Exactly twelve years ago today, when I visited her on her birthday while up in Maine, she said to me ‘Give Nana another hug…each time I see you I don’t know if it will be the last time.’ Exactly twelve years ago today I bawled like an infant for two hours driving home to Massachusetts, composing myself only at toll booths to hand my exact fare over and continue on. It was really the first time I ever let myself believe that one day, let alone one day soon, Nana would die.

As I get older I sometimes imagine how we might use our last moments/last occasions with someone if we were to know they were the last. That day, twelve years ago, was not the last time I saw Nana, but it was the last birthday she saw come. It was the last Christmas she put out a small tree for. It’s so easy to say ‘make every moment count because it could be the last moment’.

Easy to say. Easy to agree with. So hard to ‘hear’.

In just over six months from the time Nana asked for another hug on her birthday, she was gone. Her husband, Ray, had passed a few months prior. They were both buried in Westbrook, ME. I spoke at Nana’s funeral. I helped carry her casket to her final resting place. I stared at walls for days when I wasn’t forced to have conversations with others while I tried to accept that she had died.

For the past eleven years I could not bring myself to go back to her grave. I drove past the cemetery numerous time, but not into it. I just couldn’t do it. When I did decide to do it, so much time passed that the landmark I recalled as being my indication of the location of her gravesite had changed (a large tree that had since been cut down), and it took me some time to find her. I drove through the area I knew her to be buried in slowly, crying again because I felt like a complete heel for having ‘lost track’ of where her grave was.

Eventually I did find her, and found that her’s and her husband’s dates of death had never been added to the headstone. Their names were there, their birth dates were there, but not the dates of their passing….as if both of them had never passed.

I contacted a company in Maine and hired them to correct this. I couldn’t just leave it, for my own peace of mind. Recently, once the work was done, I drove to the cemetery and checked out the work. The company did a wonderful job. Nana’s date of death, after eleven years, was finally on her headstone.

Evelyn R. Harmon
December 27, 1914 – July 2, 2004

Today on Facebook I noted it being Nana’s birthday. I said that not a day goes by that I don’t think of her with love and miss her with all my heart. My cousin Sarah replied to the post; saying’ ‘Nana loves you, too dear.’

It’s exactly what Nana would have said.

As time goes by, more and more days are added to the notion of ‘since she’s been gone’. As time goes by, I learn more about her from others who loved her, and even some who had challenging relationships with her. As time goes by I miss her no less than I did the day she died, and wonder if there will ever be such a thing as closure, or if that’s just a myth when it comes to the deaths of those we love. I’m inclined to think there is no closure. There’s just learning to live with it.

Thankfully, time hasn’t taken the sound of her voice in my head. Thankfully I can still hear her calling me ‘Bradford’ (one of the few to use my full first name). I can still hear her laughter, laced with traces of the Pall Malls she smoked for so many years, even long after she gave them up. I can still close my eyes and see her smile and the sparkling blue eyes the same shade as my own and remember staring into them as a small boy and feeling so safe and so secure and so loved that nothing in the world could ever hurt me as long as Nana was there.

As time goes by, she’s never far from my thoughts or my heart. Each year on this day, I take a break from counting my Christmas blessings, and mourn what I lost eleven years ago.

Evelyn Ruth Harmon. My very first girlfriend. My wonderful companion and protector. My tea-cup confidante. The only person I would give anything to share a McDonalds cheeseburger with one more time.


Years ago, when I was visiting Nana, and she knew I was having a difficult time with my parents’ separation, Nana bought me a comic book to cheer me up. I still have it. It was a Richie Rich.

The world’s richest boy.

The cover got it wrong, Nana. Richie Rich wasn’t the world’s richest boy.

That was me. I was the richest boy in the world.

Because I loved, and was loved by, you.

Happy Birthday Nana.




The Face Of Christmas

The face of Christmas is different things for different people.

For the Christian faith today is the day  to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, and the face of Christmas is an early 30’s man with shoulder length brown hair, soft eyes, and a crown of thorns upon his head.

For some it’s ‘Black Peter’ who accompanies Saint Nicholas on his journey  dressed in colorful Renaissance attire and a curly wig perched upon his head.

In Russia and the Ukraine, it’s Ded Moroz, or Grampa Frost, who while he has a long white beard like the iconic Santa Claus, also dons a very ornate folklore-themed costume and carries a long white staff with him.

Today my husband, myself, and our two boys once again awoke before the sun rose and climbed into our own variation of Santa’s sleigh, a black Ford F150 pickup truck. The cargo bed of the truck was loaded with drawstring backpacks bearing the logo of our Christmas tradition project, Socks From Sally.

In 2014 we handed out gift bags to homeless citizens of Boston that contained warm gloves, hats, socks, scarves, and fleece blankets. Wanting to give the boys a better understanding of compassion for others and appreciation for what they have already and would receive on Christmas Day. We handed out roughly 20 bags that day, filled with our meager offerings.

2015 saw an outpouring of generosity from friends, family, and even strangers who loaded our mailbox and front steps with packages day after day filled with the same items we handed out last year. Thanks to the donations from others we augmented our own offering this year and put together 60 bags, each with 3 pair of socks this year, as well as the other items intended to help the homeless stay a bit warmer this winter – and provided sixty people each with an additional bag containing a turkey sandwich, granola bars, oranges, apples, and a juice box. Over half the bags also had gift cards to a local chain restaurant to obtain another hot food item later on.

The boys each brought their stockings with them in the ‘sleigh’ this year instead of opening them before we left to begin our work of handing out the bags we stuffed on Christmas Eve. They eagerly dug down to the toes of their stockings to pull out treat after treat, but the rest of their gifts, as well as our own, would have to wait until our task was completed.

This year unfolded a bit differently than last year. We returned to the same area of Boston that we handed out 20 bags last year in roughly 30 minutes. This year we drove (having so much to give out) the streets searching for the tell-tale signs of people who had spent the night in doorways and over warm grates. Thankfully this year is much warmer than last year was, although none of us wore a heavy coat last year either.

This year it took us two hours to hand out our 60 bags of warm clothing items and 60 bags of food. We drove through the financial district, around Boston Common, and even checked out Chinatown and the area around the District Courthouse. Eventually we wound up back at Boston Common with 12 or so bags left, and handed them all out before making our way home to dig into our own gifts.

The boys spent two hours giving to others before opening their own items in under twenty minutes. Not a complaint was heard. The younger boy, once his pile of loot was opened, and I asked him if he liked everything he got, even said, ‘Whatever I put on my list that Santa didn’t bring doesn’t matter – as long as we’re together.’

I grew up seeing the iconic Santa Claus as the face of Christmas. For the past several years that I’ve been lucky enough to be a parent, the face of Christmas has been excited little boys tearing open gift wrap and squealing with delight. Last year as well as this year, the face of Christmas has changed for me once again.

The face of Christmas is Greg, the homeless man who introduced himself and shook our hands, told us he has an education, and a thirteen year old son, but he just hit a bad patch.

It’s the early 20’s man sitting on Tremont Street who, when I was explaining that the bags with tape on the drawstring were for smaller sized hands and such (women’s sizes) and told me the early 20’s young woman with him was pregnant so larger sizes were good.

It’s the three Asian women who trotted across Boston Common park to catch us before we pulled away with smiles on their faces presumably after another night spent outdoors and grinned at us when we handed them two bags each.

It’s the two older gentlemen on benches near Park Street T-station who smiled broadly and said ‘God bless you’.

It’s the three men sitting on a rock wall on Boylston who smelled of pot so strongly there was risk of a contact high.

It’s the group of people who stood on one side of the fence around Boston Common as one of the boys and I put bags in as many hands as we could from the other side of the fence until there were no more bags to give.

It’s the man who came just a moment too late to receive a bag with the above-mentioned group, who said, ‘It’s okay; you all have wonderful hearts for what you’re doing.’

It’s the gentleman outside the convenience store at Haymarket Station who burst into sobs when I handed him the two bags and said ‘Merry Christmas’ and just nodded his head while continuing to sob when I put my hand on his shoulder and said ‘I hope this helps’.

The face of Christmas for me is a combination of all of these people, and something I saw from each and every one of them this morning as we drove through the streets of Boston for two hours. It’s what I saw in the contentment on the faces of two little boys after all their presents were opened, even if there was much less this year than the explosion of gifts our living room held last year, and who have not voiced even a hint of a complaint at getting ‘less’ this year….if they even really noticed.

It’s the understanding that seems to be settling into the mind of an easy to distract and over-stimulate nine year old boy that while all that stuff in the pretty paper thats now in shreds around your feet is great – it’s the people in the room with you and in your lives that really matter.

The face of Christmas is, for me, no longer what brought about the inception of this project last year when I had grown more than weary of the commercialism bombardment that seems to become more and more of a monster each year – inciting us to ‘show the people we love how much we love them by buying them______’. It’s something very different. It’s what I saw from people today, and what I feel for everyone who helped us do so much more this year than last. It’s what I feel for the two very special boys who are learning what compassion and sharing truly mean, and for the sleigh-driver who piloted us on our way this morning.

The face of Christmas is, for now and hopefully for the rest of my days, the face of Gratitude.

Merry Christmas to all.


Are You Happy? – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 15

Upon returning tonight from a visit to my mother at her assisted living facility in Florida, I find myself with much to reflect upon.

Mom informed me this weekend that she likes where she is – that she is content. These words, while gratifying to hear; still sounded so odd coming from her. Mom loved her home in Maine, although she regularly expressed frustrations with taking care of it and getting people to help with things. She ‘liked’ her apartment near me when she resided in Massachusetts for several months, but she didn’t have a ‘view’ as she did in Maine, and didn’t really know the people in the other units. She was ‘glad’ she got the chance to stay with my brother for a few months at his home in Florida (before the transition to assisted living),  but no place before this has she expressed this level of contentment with.

I must admit I’m pleased with what I’ve seen there. The rooms and halls are clean. The caregivers are kind and attentive. They are friendly when I visit. I’ve not got a criticism of the place to offer at all. It’s not terribly large…it’s not what I’d call ‘elaborate’, such as some of the other facilities I’ve come across over time offering three times the amenities at thirty times the price. But it’s quiet, well-kept, and Mom feels content there. I feel safe having her there, despite the distance. My visit this weekend was the first since the end of August when my son and I went down to see her.

We had dinner Friday night and then went for a drive to a nearby ‘park’ along the ocean. I pulled into a parking space in the lot, as near the water as we could get without walking, and we watched the sun go down together. Mom asked me, as we sat looking at the last fiery burst of daylight reflecting on the water, if I am ‘happy’, and if I know how much she loves me.

Sometimes the simplest questions are the most complex to answer. It’s odd to have her ask me this right on the heels of a discussion I had with my therapist just the day before about growing up feeling unimportant or at least not as important as other things and other people, and how when I first started seeing a therapist some fourteen years ago and I related an incident from years past and was asked why I never ‘did anything about it’  – my response was ‘Because who the fuck am I? Why am I important? What do I matter?’ It was the way I felt. It was the way I’d felt for a very long time. It’s a long road to travel to stop feeling that way. Some never reach that place. I, fortunately, have. At least for the most part.

But all that was just too complex and too heavy to delve into while we sat there and talked. I don’t want my mother to carry my burdens at this point in her life. I know they are mine to work out. She has enough weighing her down. I do matter and I am important, but she’s not the audience to hear about it at this point.

I answered her question in a way that both answered it and avoided it at the same time. I didn’t want to deceive her, but at the same time I wanted to ask her the same question and not dwell upon myself. She’s been through a lot of change in the past year. She moved twice (three times, really, if you count the stay at my brother’s), she’s losing more and more of her short term memory and her long-term memory combined. Her siblings have all passed before her, as well as one of her children. She stopped driving. Her car and home were sold. Her belongings (what was worth preserving) were boxed up and moved to my house. She now occupies a 10 x 18 room with private bath rather than a four bedroom home with two car garage on a half-acre of land that she fought for and struggled to maintain.

Once I’d given her a brief response, I turned the question around and said, ‘How about you – are you happy?’

She looked out the windshield of the car, and thought a bit about it. It’s something that she hasn’t, I suspect, spent much time contemplating in terms of herself. Knowing my mother the way I do, she’s spent a lot of time trying to please others and worrying about their happiness rather than her own. I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked her the same question.

‘I’ve got a lot to be grateful for.’ She said. ‘I’ve had to give up a lot, but it’s okay where I am. They treat me good. I don’t have to do anything. They do it all. I wish you were closer, because I miss you terribly, but I know you think of me, and I know you call and visit when you can.’

‘But are you happy?’ I repeated.

‘Son, no matter where I am, or what I have, as long as you know how much I love you, as long as you truly know that in your heart, then I am happy. No matter what I’ve had to give up, no matter what happens to me, as long as you know how special you are, and how much I have always loved you, then I am happy.’

‘Then I guess the answer is yes, you are happy’ I said, ‘because I do know.’

‘Good. Then I guess I did something right.’