Friday, June 14, 2019

For All the Dads

I can't help but smile today. I smile because my daddy is close in my heart. As Father's Day approaches, I remember this man, this very good man who brought laughter and goodness to the world and made it a better place.

Dad was a model son. If his parents had need of him, he dropped everything and ran next door to where they lived. No matter if it was something minor, my father always let them know that they were important. He cared for them into their golden years and respected them with a son's adoration.

Dad would do this with my mom as a good husband through the years. For her needs were always first to him. He loved her until death parted them, and even then, I felt his love surrounding her up to the time she joined him a short while later. Their marriage lasted over sixty years and was a shining tribute to all who knew them.

Other fathers who are in my heart today are some of the men who I appreciated through the years. There was my father-in-law, E.G., a man who broke into tears when we were reunited years after his son left our marriage. There was Matt's father, Mark, who was protective of his little boys and showered them with kisses and affection. There is my brother who adores his own little girls and would do anything for them. And my husband who especially appreciates his good relationships with his children in their adult years.

Some of us may not have known the love of a good father, or husband to our children. We may have found that an uncle, grandfather, cousin, neighbor, or dear friend made an impression in our lives with their goodness. As Father's Day approaches, let's hold a special thought for these gentle men who garnered respect in our lives through their actions and kindnesses.

To you, Dad, I close my eyes right now and envision your handsome face. I see you blinking with two eyes because you never could wink. I see your paint-stained pants with every color under the rainbow splashed over them. I smell the scent of marigolds in your hands. I hear the sound of your laughter and the timbre of your words--your magical, nonsensical words.

I hear the Emperor Waltz in the background. I can picture you now, Dad, conducting your invisible orchestra. I see you and Mom dancing and twirling in my mind's eye as the crescendo peaks. I feel your warmth radiating through everything you touched--your beautiful hand-created crafts.

I miss you, Dad. I hope you visit my dreams again soon. I thank God for allowing any special moments of closeness with you even now. Happy Father's Day with every ounce of love I have.

Your little Tenya.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Nostalgic, Creepy, and Wonderful (A Mother's Day Tale)

As always, the last turn on the winding country road as the top of the old, wooden roller coaster peeks out from the trees, gives my stomach a jolt of excitement. I'll never forget when I was a little girl, how the sight of that coaster, the sound of it whooshing and whomping along the track, and the laughter and thrill screams from countless people who rode it, alerted me to the fact that our family had just arrived at Conneaut Lake Park. And just as it had many times before, the coaster didn't fail to disappoint.

 My son and I put our heads together this year for a Mother's Day jaunt. Not the usual type of mother/son duo, we enjoy things of a more eclectic nature. Last year Matt took me to haunted Hillview Manor for a daytime ghost tour. It was a wonderful old building with incredible architecture and the feel of ghostly happenings in many of its crumbling corners. How could we top a trip of that nature?

We arrived at Conneaut Park yesterday as the rain began clearing. Though the park hasn't opened for the season just yet, we were permitted to walk along its paths, reliving the feel of a bygone era and our own youth. We parked at Hotel Conneaut since we had reservations a little later for the Mother's Day brunch.

With both of our camera's in hand, we headed off into the heart of the park. I had been watching several of the Facebook pages that had to do with this incredible place. The Devil's Den, a favorite dark ride of ours, seemed to have a wonderful guy as its operator/caregiver. For you see, if you have a true love of all things historical to do with an amusement park, you become its caregiver of a sort.

"Devil's Den Tom" is appropriately named. A fun, approachable fellow, whose knowledge of his ride and history of many of the others is above what we expected.

Matt and I settled in for many tales that Tom told us of his years of upkeep on the Den. He also is a certified ride inspector, so he is aware of safety issues and history of many of the rides throughout the park. We received one of the most awesome gifts from Tom, as he toured us through the Devil's Den in walk-through fashion. Never before had either Matt or I had the chance to go through a ride with a true first eye view of what goes on behind the scenes. It was a dream come true for both of us--and a way to feel more connected to a beloved place that has been a part of our family for many years.

Just standing outside the old dark ride, the scent of motor grease and old wood rises on the slight breeze. If you close your eyes, it takes you back to childhood, to school picnics, to simpler times. You remember your parents and their love; you remember the sense of belonging. You remember small vacation trips that were some of the best of your life. You picture the clack, clack, clack of the cars as they begin the journey through the doors of the old spook house, awaiting whatever ghouls and ghosties are ready to dole out at any moment. If you rode with a parent when you were young, chances are that they held onto you tightly showing you that there was nothing to fear. It was all good clean fun.

A little later, after a sumptuous meal, Matt and I strolled through the remainder of the park at our leisure. The silence in Kiddie Land seems alive with what awaits in the new season. Upon searching in nearby woods, I found the beginning and ending of an old jungle cruise ride--one I hadn't seen in years. A rickety bridge stretched over mossy water; the now defunct station where we once stood to board the pontoon boat that would take you around scores of natives and wild animals was abandoned and off-limits.

The carousel stood boarded up nearby. No way to see the lovely stallions, stately lions, tigers and bears! (Oh my!) But when we walked around the back of the building, a small loose board stood slightly ajar. I peered into the darkness and called Matt over. Like something out of "Mr. Dark's carnival," we could see the ghostly outlines of the carousel beasts. No music, not the stir of a breeze or dried leaf. But the feeling of observing this was something magical. For it felt as if we stumbled upon a secret--one only we were privy to at this moment.

Other parts of the park lie in wait for the amazing volunteers that will sweep through as they finish getting it ready for another season. Though I know we will return once it's opened, I found that this day of reliving precious memories and moments with nobody else present, helped me to truly treasure a unique place that my parents loved, my brother loved, I loved, and my son loved.

Here's to you Conneaut Lake Park to many more years for new families and old to walk through your midway, to enjoy the treasure of family time and make memories of their own.

 Park sign near the hotel. All painted and ready for a new season.

 Wonderful old kiddie land auto ride. I'm sure they are the same ones I rode as a child!

 The awesome dark ride! So many other parks have gotten rid of theirs.

 Matt might be standing around a little longer waiting for the ride to open.

 The exit platform to the Jungle Cruise ride from many, many years ago. So cool.

 I've never seen this little treasure. The original bridge to the Jungle Cruise ride. Oh how our family loved this one back in the day!

 How cool is this? Though I'd never walk across, it just screams of another era. Oh the stories a bridge could tell.

Part of the park near miniature golf.

Hotel Conneaut in its grand splendor! Hoping for many more years at this glorious historical place.

Thank you, son, for one of the most memorable Mother's Days ever!

Devil's Den Facebook page: /

The park's Facebook page:


Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Visit From Heaven

I riffled through old drawers in my parent's bedroom. With every little knick knack or memento, I began crying harder. How would I get through this? I had begun the process of clearing out their house after their passing to help get it ready for the "new people." But every item seemed to hold some sort of purpose or special thought, and I cried and cried finding it difficult as I tossed things into a plastic garbage bag.

When I walked from their room into the living area, Mom and Dad sat upon their couch. I could hardly breathe! My parents! Alive again! I ran over to them, observing the way they looked: younger, dark-haired, straight bodied and smiling. I embraced Dad first, kissing him all over his face, not feeling at all uncomfortable that I hadn't done that throughout his life. It felt perfectly natural and my happiness soared. I then reached over to Mom and embraced her, doing the same thing--loving up her dear face.

I realized they had been "sent" and knew they should not really be there. But Dad had a reason for the visit. You see, he needed to help me weed through their "stuff." Some of it was very valuable in his eyes, and he needed to show me which items to hold onto. Though he tossed many things away, he found what was most precious and told me not to let go of those special things.

Then he said to Mom, "We have to go."

I didn't feel sad or sorry to see them leave. I was still too elated at spending a little time with them, to feel anything but sheer happiness. I couldn't wait to share with others that I'd seen them and talked with them.

I watched my parents walk out the front door into a dark, rainy night together toward some beautiful woods on the other side of the road. I knew where they were headed.

Back inside the house I told anyone that would listen: "I just saw my parents! They came from Heaven! They looked wonderful!

When I awoke from the dream this morning, I felt surrounded by peace, joy, and brightness so strong that nothing could interfere with it! I knew that God had given me a glimpse of my mother and father, and let me show affection that had been bursting inside of me! He shared with me also, that though there are some things I do need to "get rid of" from the past, and not hold so tightly to any longer, that there still are things of value that each of my parents gave to me and my brother. Those things are what we need to hold fast to. Those things are the lessons and the love.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Memory Blanket

The small afghan lay folded across my lap while I tied off the last threads of yarn. Old friend, I thought, rubbing my hand across the delicate surface, it’s been quite a journey you and I have taken together. What started as a small project meant to keep idle hands busy and a mind filled with worry at peace, was finally at an end. When I stretched it out before me, my heart sank. The rectangle was distorted, imperfect. And the colors I’d used looked hideous to me. Where was the soft, warm blanket I’d worked lovingly on for so long?

When my father passed away a little over a year ago, and caregiving for Mom’s Alzheimer’s became the new normal, I had to have something to occupy my downtime in the evenings. I found several skeins of different colored yarn in my crocheting tote bag, ones that were bought for older projects that were already completed. A lap blanket would be a good project. I could make it for my mother.

The blanket became a quest of love. Mom was always chilly. It would be perfect to tuck around her as she sat on her favorite spot on the sofa. Or perhaps she would snuggle with it in bed. I hoped she would like the fact that it was made just for her and began to work on it every chance I could. During television time with my husband at night, during the many doctor appointments my mother had each week, the tote bag filled with colorful yarns, a small pair of scissors, and my favorite crocheting hook was always by my side. Somehow it was comforting that no matter where my mind wandered, no matter how confused Mom was becoming, or worse yet, the fact that her health began failing, at least my hands felt useful when I did not. 

Then the worst of it had happened last March. My heart felt as if it splintered into tiny shards. I’d taken my mother to a high school play of Beauty and the Beast. She’d sung along and laughed. She wanted a picture with the princess after the show. How could it have been that I found myself sitting in a rehab facility one week later wondering if she would ever recover? She seemed lost as if the dark recesses of her brain had begun to close some of its doors tightly. I wondered where her speech and smile had gone. I wondered why she slept so much. I wondered about the odd little phrases she uttered; things that made no sense at all.

We’d found out that Mom had several small strokes. They had affected her ability to communicate properly. Though she had no paralysis, it appeared Mom started to give up. She couldn’t dress herself any longer or even walk. Secretly I’d wondered if she was willing herself away somehow in an attempt to be reunited with Dad. She slept most of the time as I sat by her side. Then, more than ever, I’d needed my crocheting project. While my hands worked at the yarn, my mind worked at prayer. I could look up; watch my mother sleep without missing a stitch. Unable to do anything for Mom, it seemed that as long as my hands were busy, I felt useful somehow.

My mother would awaken and watch me crocheting. I talked of everything and anything in those moments to engage her, to find a spark of the life she once had. Several times I spoke of the little blanket.

I lost my mother in July of last year. I had so wanted to have that blanket done for her. Though I hadn’t been able to give it to her while she was living, I thought about laying her to rest with my final gift. It still wasn’t finished. 

Thinking back now, I’m glad the project wasn’t completed because I was the one who needed it. It gave me a chance to reflect on my visits with Mom. With every crocheted row, a new memory would pop up. The tears would flow, but they weren’t entirely tears of sadness. I knew my mother was reunited with Dad and at peace.

 The blanket, which had been such a big part of the close, quiet times I’d spent with my mother on her final journey, would always be a reminder to me of her very good life and all the moments with her during those last precious months.

As I looked again at the distorted shape and the un-matched colors of the finished lap afghan, I realized some important lessons. Life had been like that for my family in the last several years; not perfect, but certainly workable. Sometimes our journey had been ugly and the outcome, unclear much like the pattern I’d haphazardly seemed to crochet. The mismatched yarn in each row reminded me that there had been differences in our little family, and though colorful at times, it certainly was messy at others. But much like the soft fabric, I realized that my Heavenly Father had given me a softened heart toward my aging parents. And the warmth that even an imperfect blanket provided showed me that my own imperfections could be used for something good. No longer unattractive, the blanket has become a masterpiece, one that I will treasure forever.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Eulogy For Mom

I have never shared this with anyone except those who were at the grave site on my mother's funeral day. But today I would like for everyone to know just how much she meant to me, my family, and many many others.

She was once a little girl. A daughter, a child. She knew laughter and fun. She had hopes and dreams to play piano, sing…soar. She also knew hard times, worry and fears. She was born in an old fashioned era. She’s my mother Eileen and I’d like to tell you a little about her.

She married young, at nineteen, to my father Richard, a good man, a loving man, someone who stood by her during a difficult period of health issues. She came out on the other side stronger and better for it, with a heart so filled with compassion for others, that many lives would be touched by her.

A pregnancy would come in later years after Mom lost two other babies. A doctor warned her to terminate the baby due to health concerns. But this strong woman, my mother would say words that have stuck with me all my life: “I’ll have this baby or die trying.” And nine months later, my brother was born; a true blessing in our lives.

Mom ran several antique businesses through the years, enjoying the challenges they brought. But one of her biggest accomplishments to many of us was the small mom and pop grocery store she and my dad owned in our little town of Ambridge. The Eighth Street Dairy was a quick stop for kids after their long school days.  A place to play video games in the early 80’s and purchase bags full of penny candy. Nothing was more important to her, however, than her daily talks with the people and kids that walked through her door.

Some folks came daily for a newspaper and cup of coffee. They’d share stories with Mom of their lives and problems. Like a therapist, Mom would listen and occasionally give advice. And as for the children who came through the door after school hours, Mom would have a listening ear and show by example, kindness and patience to all; qualities they may not have seen in their own homes.

Years later, many of the young people, now grown would approach Mom if they’d see her somewhere. They told her just how much she meant to them in those early years, the time she spent talking with them.  A few have told how their lives changed from knowing her.

As for me, I think back to a lady who stood by me in one of the darkest times of my life; my spinal surgery for scoliosis as a teen. I don’t know how Mom was able to keep strong watching me go through such a difficult time in Children’s Hospital. How she kept my spirits up and told me it would pass.

My brother and I have gotten our hearts from our mother; our sense of humor. We’ve gotten the love of movies, books and imagination from her; a spirit of creativity. We’ve gotten a love of animals and underdogs of the world. We learned about faith and God from Mom.

I think our mother didn’t realize just how many lives she impacted. But the world became a better place because of her.

The other day, with legs that felt like iron weights and hands that shook so bad I had to hold them against myself, I walked into the emergency room not knowing what to expect. Once again Mom had taken a turn for the worst and I heard words from the doctor that I wasn’t quite prepared for. We recommend hospice care for your mother. She’s so frail now and perhaps it would be best for her to be just kept comfortable.
Every child of an aging parent asks themselves if they are doing the right thing. Are our decisions what our parents would want? Some of us are fortunate that our families have spoken freely about such things. Therefore when the time comes, we know immediately what must be done. 

Others of us have spoken in deeper terms though. We’ve had the distinct honor to talk of things on a more spiritual level. We know our loved ones are believers and even look forward to their next journey.

There is so much more than our eyes can see, so much more than we hear or feel. I learned that as Mom slipped further from us.

When my father was in the hospital last year, there were several odd, yet comforting things we heard from him. And a few days ago, I noticed that very thing with my mother. She appeared to be talking to people that we couldn’t see. She reached up once as if grasping someone by the hand and petted animals that weren’t there.

Our mother has gone to a better place. We are confident of this, for she visited there once before. She had felt a love surrounding her like no other during a cardiac arrest in her earlier years. 

Though our hearts are heavy, we now picture our mother free from her suffering, dancing with Dad, feeling God’s warmth and love, and reuniting with so many loved ones who have been gone for such a long time.

God, help us to see with the eyes of faith, not our limited vision. Help us to know just how wide and deep your love really is. Help us to be able to let go and give our all to you.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

His Final Lesson

Recently, my brother shared a piece that he wrote about our dad. It is one of the most heartfelt, poignant things I've ever read. Beautiful, succinct, and touching, may you be blessed by this lovely writing:

His Final Lesson
“Rick, come here.” Typically, words and even commands spoken by him did not elicit a heightened reaction from me, but there was a specific tone that made this sound different, possibly more imperative. 

Please don’t believe that I am someone who is not reactive. My main priority in life shifted from one of being cared for to being the caregiver. I still wonder how I took that responsibility without being more overwhelmed or more mystified. Because it was me – the boy who could not go to school without fear of being away from his parents; the boy who crumbled at any potential illness – my own or theirs; the boy who could not stick to any activities such as Boy Scouts or band. Yet, when the time came, I gracefully accepted the role as the caregiver, the boy now who could be called man. Although I did not see it, I embraced it. His lesson was that of a teacher – quietly teaching valuable lessons of being a man without me even knowing that it was occurring.  

The response to my expected question “What’s wrong?” was one of unknown pain that was to eventually take him away from me. We started what would be our last phone call to 911 and subsequent collecting of the home items for another hospital stay. 

Despite my fears, years of concern based on the reality of mortality being a few steps away, possibly a few minutes away due to him not being in touch with his body or his needs associated with the plethora of health issues related to heart trouble, I always reacted with a calm nature and, in my heart, believed that it was not the end. Regardless of the severity of some of the hospital stays or diagnoses, I must admit that I never believed it would end. Naivety is not usually my forte. But with him, I always felt like there was another day, another month, another year. This was a testament to another lesson – the lesson was grace regardless of the surroundings and circumstances. 

The ensuing diagnosis, required surgery, and many ups and downs in his physical and mental health took a toll on all of us. It only lasted three weeks, but felt like many months had gone by. He was tired, frail, and, no doubt disappointed that his body was failing, but he never complained and never once did he say he was in pain. 

I was young and full of anxiety. My concerns ranged from my own physical health through the rest of the family being ill or diseased. He did not understand mental health issues such as this. He had dealt with others’ issues, but he never quite understood the “why” behind them. Yet, when I needed him to be there to tuck me back in at night or to pick me up from school when the worry was beyond normal, he was there. He never made me feel bad for the worry, or for being bullied, or for the irrational concerns about death, monsters, and such.  This lesson was to understand and accept, sometimes even if you don’t truly understand. 

I watched him in bed daily – some days intubated, some days awake and able to talk and listen. Reality of this being our final hospital stay became more and more tangible as the weakness grew and no interventions had a lasting effect. A doctor had called me and sternly said, “We have to be open and prepared if God is calling him” since some of their interventions were not having that magical effect we had come to expect. Still, the grace of handling this without falling apart had overtaken me. I cried, I begged to have it be different, I used up my bag of tricks that had always kept his quality of life high, but this time was to end in an unfamiliar way and I was letting that reality make me stronger. 

I had not been formally acquainted with death. I had heard stories of all of the loss that my family had handled, but most of this occurred before I was born. Distant relatives, friends of the family, and others that we had known were gone and the sting had been there, but it was a fleeting pain, yet all their memories would remain fond to me. His mother had died many years ago and I watched him handle it with quiet compassion and reverence for who she was to him and to others. His lesson was unending love and the value of legacy.

I received a call from the hospital that he denied intubation. He was still present, but the intubation would be necessary to continue life. I had no choice but to go and find out if this was truly the end. I cannot recall my thoughts on my way to this visit, probably an amalgam of potential outcomes at that point. I laid eyes upon him in his bed, the way that I had for these few weeks, and even hours prior, but I knew this held more weight than those other visits. Upon seeing me, I should have known that he could not lay eyes on me and say “okay, I give up”.
Each time that we had a “scare”, I suppose it was evident that I was giving every fiber of my being to positive outcomes, never once admitting that there were any options beyond continued life. And I lived that way from day to day, for many years. Regardless of how high he had gotten in age, there never was a day that I let on that he was aging. Regardless of how he was unable to do certain jobs or activities, I never let on that he was more limited. I was his biggest cheerleader. I had gone from being the frightened little boy to his champion in all ways that I could. There were ways that he adapted to still be functional and express his love, despite any limitations.  This could also be attributed to him – the lesson of adapting to your environment and accepting change. 

This visit lasted only about twenty-five minutes. He would allow them to place the ventilator back on. We had moments of communication, despite this final intubation. So many words were spoken before this point, yet it was down to a few final lessons. Though it was only a few short years ago, the memory of all words has faded a bit. However, significant words were spoken at that time. I told him that we would not torture him anymore after this attempt. I wanted him to know that he had fought hard, but I also wanted him to know that I, the one who had fought so hard to keep him alive for so many years, was giving him permission to no longer suffer or fight, when it was so clear that he was ready to let go.  Our last exchange was one in which I initiated my expression of love. In all of my years of life, the words had never left my mouth toward him and neither him for me. It was clear as day, though, that was how we felt. But, on this night, I felt that it was time. I knew it was the right time. And, he reciprocated. 

His last lesson was finding out if I could be not just a man, but the man; the man who could let him go despite giving so much to ensure that he lived; the man who could be strong enough to use words of love because the actions were no longer possible. This lesson was his most valuable, because we both needed it to move on; for him to move on past this life and for me to move on past him to a life which would have to garner new meaning and understanding and use the tools provided since childbirth to continue the cycle of love and kindness.  

Author: Matthew R. Mattia (Rick)