On Being The Last One Left…

BobI’ve had the strangest feeling since I found out yesterday that my brother died. I wouldn’t categorize it as grief as we’ve been estranged for several years. I found out he had cancer of the esophagus, not a pleasant thought, and that he died a week ago today. My 95 year old aunt from Florida called me because she saw his obituary in the paper. That’s how I found out. No one knew – it was a surprise to all of his extended family on his side. It seems like he disassociated himself from all of us in the end. And to add insult to injury I was just in Florida two weeks ago. I could have visited him if I knew. I’m not sure it would have made any difference but at least I could have told him that I hold him no ill will. But who knows what one goes through as they are in the last stages of life. At that point it’s not about me, it’s about him and his wishes. And I guess he did not wish to make any final connections. That was his choice and I honor that.

I wish him no ill, I never did. We were polar opposites in so many ways and we could never come to terms with that. I think I disassociated myself with him because of his tumultuous relationship with my parents more than anything he ever did or said to me. They were hurt by him in so many ways so many times, but to some degree I’m sure he was hurt by them as well. He had anger issues and drinking issues and that compounded the problem. I remember him once saying “I can write any of you off for good at any time” with a stone cold conviction. He obviously meant it. I was in a position where I did not have to take his abuse, but my parents on the other hand tried and tried to keep that connection going. After all he was their son. But it was not to be. So now, at this point, all I can wish for him is to rest in peace and hope that both he and my parents reunite peaceably in heaven. Somehow I feel they will as none of that messy human stuff will matter there.

But after spending quite a bit of time yesterday trying to quantify what I was feeling I finally figured it out. I am the last one left in my immediate family. That’s it, no more Drabik’s, just me. I never in my life imagined it would get to this point. I never thought it would happen. But it did and I feel a strange emptiness inside. My head hurt yesterday and my eyes ached but I could not cry. My heart was heavy but I could not understand why. For so many years I never felt like I had a brother, but I certainly never wished this for him. And now, here I am, feeling more and more like the next one in line.

Any immediate ties I had to my life as a Drabik are gone forever. Life is moving on and with it I get older and older. The grim realization that one day it will be my turn hit me in the face like a ton of bricks yesterday. In the back of our minds we all know it will happen but we fool ourselves into thinking that it will always be the other guy or happen to the other families. Don’t be fooled, it will happen to you. And it’s probably the strangest feeling for the last one standing.

Gone forever are the holiday dinners, the excitement of a family Christmas morning, the trips to see the White Sox play, the annual downtown holiday shopping sprees, the family birthday celebrations and on and on. Gone is any vestige of unconditional love (and I don’t care what you might think, a husband’s love is different). I thought I felt like an orphan when my mother died, but now I really feel like an orphan. Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide – as it relates to the Drabik clan, I am the last one.

So what next, give up? That would be the coward’s way out. Although I am still struggling a bit I have a family name and family values to uphold. I was raised to believe in myself, to be strong and independent. My mother always wanted me to be an “A” student in school, I just never realized that she expected me to be an “A” student in life as well. Hitting the books was easy, living the life is much harder. But I am not a quitter just, at this point, slightly down for the count.

So with a heavy heart I pick myself up, dust myself off and move forward as the last Drabik standing. RIP brother Bob – I hope you, mom and dad are sharing a big hug right now!

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You Never Forget…

There is something uniquely inexplicable about a mother-daughter relationship. It can take on many forms and evolve over time into something completely different, but it’s a sacred connection that can only be understood by women. For me, that relationship was one of student to mentor, authority to rebel, war to peace, respect to admiration.

Me and My Mom circa 1958

Me and My Mom circa 1958

My mother was a strong personality with very clear ideas of how things should be done. Her beliefs were strong and unwavering. And because she was so set in her ways I rebelled and we often clashed. To say our relationship was tumultuous would be an understatement. I was the ying to her yang, only there was no seamless joining of the two. In a way you could say I was just like her and in a way her polar opposite.

I laugh when I think about it now, all those times I felt my way of doing things was so much better and the lengths to which I would go to try to change her to my way of thinking. It wasn’t going to happen – for either of us. We recognized it, we fought it but in the end it never affected the unconditional love we had for one another. She was my nemesis and my rock and she taught me all I know about being a strong, secure woman.

Today is the seventh anniversary of her death and I still remember holding her hand as she took her last breaths and the tear streaming out of her left eye as she exhaled for the final time. I felt blessed knowing that for the length of our relationship on earth, it was she and me when I came into this world and she and me when she left it. I knew she wouldn’t want it any other way. It was the best gift my mother ever gave me.

Mom and me in Las Vegas circa 1999

Mom and me in Las Vegas circa 1999

Today the pain is much less intense. There are even days when I don’t think of her, but those are few. I know she is with me, I feel her. I talk to her and she answers me in very visible ways: Please mom, help Mia be more comfortable so that she’s not continually shaking her ears until we can take her to the vet tomorrow – Mia lies down and has a peaceful night. Please mom, make the operation on my back a success so that I no longer have pain in my legs – the operation is a success, the pain is gone. Please mom, intercede for us so that the rain holds off until our special event is over – the rain holds off and starts immediately after the event has concluded. Please mom, let the predicted bad weather hold off so that I can have a safe plane ride – the predicted bad weather never occurs. Please mom, help me deal with the pain of your death and let me know that you’re ok – the Celine Dion song “I’m Your Angel” immediately begins to play on the car radio (that one reduced me to a crying fit that necessitated me pulling off to the side of the road). She is with me in spirit and of that I absolutely have no doubt.

So today I honor her. The first lady on our block to go back to work. The first lady night manager at the bank where she worked. The mother who made sure both her children went to private schools and saw to it their college educations were paid for so they did not have to work and could focus on their studying. The woman who stood by her husband when he battled alcoholism. The mother that I could rely on no matter what, time after time after time.

I love her, I miss her, a part of me died with her, a part of me carries on for her. She occupies a special place in my heart and will for as long as I live. She is my angel.

My Beautiful Mother

My Beautiful Mother

Old Friends, The Ultimate Comfort Food…

We are a very mobile society. People change careers like they change their clothes and move all over the world as if it were only next door. Years ago, if anyone told me that I would be living in Colorado during the latter stages of my career I would have laughed. But today’s world is far different from that of my parent’s who chose a company and a career and stuck with it all during their working lives. Today families and friends are spread out throughout the world and although in many ways it is exciting in some ways it can contribute to not being able to capture the comfort of feeling at home.

But really, what exactly does the word “home” mean? Some would say home is where you grew up, some would say home is where you live now and others might say home is where the heart is. I say it is a combination of all three. And never was that more apparent than this past week when a bunch of old friends got together for a vacation trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

It all started out innocently enough with a bunch of us talking about getting together. Some friends from Chicago visited the Boulder area last year and we discussed the possibility of getting a larger group together to go “somewhere”. And you know how those things often go, lots of conversation and often very little action. But this time it was different. This time the email conversations became more specific – when could we do this, where would we like to go and for how long. The suggestions started, then the schedule conflicts, the counter offers, the semi-decisions, changes of dates, where to stay, and on and on and on until all of a sudden – bingo – we had a plan! But a plan is only as good at the commitment to it and once the first airline reservation was made the chain reaction occurred and everyone was on board.

And although it took time and energy to get it off the ground, we finally did it last week. Nine old friends from Chicago got together, people who had known each other for decades, lived within walking distance of one another, worked together, partied together, stood up to each other’s weddings, helped each other remodel their homes, watched the Bears win the Super Bowl together, celebrated holidays together, went out to dinner together, had disagreements and fights – all those things that are normal human experiences at the time but wind up being so much more than you even realize. All these people got back together for a reunion.

Now reunions can be tricky. As one of our friends said, “I’m not a big fan of reunions. They are created to celebrate the past and I’ve always lived my life moving forward.” And I think for that reason reunions can be disappointing and often bittersweet. But our reunion was far from that. What I discovered during our four days together was even though we had all been apart for a very long time, it was not simply about “reliving” our past relationships but also very much celebrating who we are now and enjoying each other all over again for the gifts we currently bring. And that is true, long lasting friendship – knowing you can move far away, grow progress and change and still say – ” I really like you for who you are now and I still want to be your friend”!

And so we recalled the many things we did together, laughed until our stomachs hurt, drank too much wine, ate great food, reminisced about the old days but also enjoyed each other as the people we are today. We were aware that a lot of time had passed and yet it was as if no time had passed. What a great group of people, old friends and yet new friends. No stronger bond can you create with other human beings and I have no doubt that wherever life takes us in the upcoming years, these bonds will never be broken. I am so proud to have such a great group of friends.

The Chicago friends - photo courtesy of Dan Miller

The Chicago friends – photo courtesy of Dan Miller

The Gang - photo courtesy of Dan Miller
The Gang – photo courtesy of Dan Miller

The Dreaded “C” Word…

Cancer, the dreaded “c” word. I just don’t get it. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to who gets it or when. Old, young, infant, teenager, young adult, senior citizen, it just seems to strike randomly and more often than not in the most unfair ways. My mom died of lung cancer. She was a smoker most of her adult life. In a way she was lucky. Although she continued to smoke the big “C” waited until her early eighties to take its due. One could argue that she had a full life and that we all have to go sometime and that’s true. But cancer seems to take a great deal of joy in testing the fortitude of those stricken by it and those who have to care for them.

I remember so vividly the “drug dance” that needed to be done just to control the pain. Every day the meds are adjusted, every day a little more pain comes into play, every day your quality of life is slowly and painstakingly stripped from you until you lie there, comatose, waiting for death to be merciful. With cancer the cure is worse than the disease. Chemotherapy, radiation, morphine and oxycodone become your everyday life. Zap that cancer, kill its onslaught and in the process destroy good cells, your immune system, your hair, your will to live. I can’t understand why we can invent Viagra but not find a cure for cancer. Maybe cancer is such big business in the medical profession that to cure it would bring modern medicine as we know it to its knees. I just don’t know. All I do know is that I am sick of it. Day after day, year after year, I have watched friends and family deal with, overcome or succumb to the dreaded “C”. It’s time to stop. I wish I had the power to make it go away.

So as my former dance teacher Carol, a gifted woman of beauty and grace begins her final journey toward a place that does not recognize cancer, I can’t decide how I feel. I hate going through this charade again. She has no hair, her left lung virtually useless, she’s bloated, weak and now requiring ’round the clock care. I remember when she was young, vibrant, a gifted and talented dancer who taught me most of what I know about the art of dance. A pure soul that graced everyone she met, beautiful both inside and out and now setting an example of bravery for all of us to emulate. I am angry that she has to go through this. It is not fair.

All I can hope for is that her final days are without pain. The beauty of what she is experiencing is that she knows how people feel about her. They’ve had the time to express their love, to tell her how her life mattered, to let her know that she will live on in their hearts. That is probably the only blessing of being given a terminal diagnosis. We all know we are going to die but we kid ourselves into believing it won’t happen. And if it happens suddenly, we don’t get the time to say those final goodbyes and those final I love you’s. Carol has been given that gift and I know she draws strength from it.

And so, my dear dancing mentor Carol, all I can do is honor you in this blog. Thank you for all the gifts you shared, thank you for pushing me to the limits of my abilities, thank you for your bravery, and thank God for sharing you with all of us. May your final days on earth be painless and peaceful. You are one very special lady who will always live on in my heart!

Fingers + Olives = …

Quite often you hear that it’s the simple things in life that mean the most, flowers for no special reason, a random act of kindness, a call from a long lost friend, Mr. Pinch, hanging from doorknobs, olive fingers… yes, that’s right I said Mr. Pinch, hanging from doorknobs and olive fingers.

There is a rite of passage in the Geden clan that all Geden-related children must go through, and that is the teachings of weird Uncle Nick. Uncle Nick never had children of his own and therefore felt it was his lot in life to insure they grew up with certain unalienable rights, that being a proper introduction to Mr. Pinch, getting dressed in coveralls and being hung on a doorknob, and the joy of olive fingers.

First is the introduction to Mr. Pinch. Now Mr. Pinch has two sides: Good Mr. Pinch and Bad Mr. Pinch. Good Mr. Pinch plays nice and gives you a sweet little pinch that tickles more than hurts. Good Mr. Pinch is fun and always brings about massive giggles. But never far away is Bad Mr. Pinch. Bad Mr. Pinch has a pinch that stings and always gets the slightest ouch or jump. The thing about bad Mr. Pinch is that he always pops up out of the blue often after one is lulled into the security of Good Mr. Pinch. Bad Mr. Pinch also gets his share of giggles because Bad Mr. Pinch has to catch you before he can pinch you. Oh the fun of the chase! Every child must grow up knowing both Good and Bad Mr. Pinch.

Next up is the doorknob hang. Every child needs to have a special pair of dungarees that have a bib in the front and cross straps in the back and when they start getting out of control or overly energetic they simply get hung on a doorknob. Cruel and unusual punishment you say? Every child has begged to be hung on a doorknob and some actually get upset when they are taken down. Some still want it as adults, but that is often after a few too many beers. Just another Geden rite of passage.

The third rite comes later when one can appreciate (or even if they can’t) an olive. Whether green or black, although black is the color of choice, they learn the joys of putting the olives on each of their fingers, waving their hands around with their new found friends and systematically either eating them themselves or having them stolen from their fingers most often by Bad Mr. Pinch. The simple pleasure of having olive fingernails is one that is taken seriously in the Geden family. All children must know that joy, and all must pass them down to their children. It is an unwritten, unspoken hard and fast rule.

And now that we are in the “grand” children, niece, nephew phase I am happy to report that these rites of passage are still going strong. Mr. Pinch, doorknob hanging and olive fingers live on, and oh the unadulterated joy of them all!

Augie and olive fingers…

When You Don’t Have A Mom On Mother’s Day…

Mother’s Day, another Hallmark holiday but one most people regard as a valid reason to celebrate. In this world who is better to honor than mom? Mom, the woman who gave birth to you, Mom, the woman who cleaned up your bodily messes, Mom, the woman who comforted you when you hurt yourself, Mom, the woman who gave you unconditional love. No one and I mean no one can ever take the place of your mom.

So how do you ever explain to someone what it’s like when she’s gone. You kid yourself into believing that your mom is invincible, that she will always be there for you, that although other moms may die she will be the one to avoid the clutches of the grim reaper. And then it happens. You no longer have a mother. The loss is indescribable.

Mom's last pictureIt’s been over five years since my mother passed away and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. She died seven years after my father and now I am an orphan and will never again know in my lifetime the unconditional love of a parent. Over time it gets easier to deal with but it never gets easier to accept. And then you are faced with a choice.  You can either crawl into that coffin with her or live your life the way she would have wanted. I choose the latter.

And yet, there is a part of me that unequivocally knows she is still with me. To this day, whenever I ask her for help or guidance she answers me. I remember when I was flying back from Florida after her funeral feeling lost and scared. I closed my eyes and felt her hand on my shoulder. I jumped in my seat, no one was physically there, but I knew it was her.  Not long after she died I remember asking her for a sign that she was ok, that there was something more than this mere existence. I turned on the radio and the song that immediately started playing was Celine Dion’s “I’m Your Angel”. If you listen to the words they actually intimate that there is a higher power watching over you, but I knew in that instance that it was my mom speaking directly to me. The words of that song still haunt me: “I’ll be your cloud up in the sky, I’ll be your shoulder when you cry, I’ll hear your voices when you call me, I am your angel.” I had to pull off to the side of the road I was crying so hard, tears of sorrow and comfort.

There have been countless other times that I have asked for help, and I try not to impose on my mother’s auspices too often, but when I do she has never ever failed me. “Mom, we’ve worked so hard on this Fourth of July event and now right before the fireworks are about to start some rain drops are falling. Please mom, intercede for us and stop the rain”.  The rain stops.  “Mom, the pharmacist is not sure they have this medicine in stock and I really need it to help combat this rash, it’s driving me nuts.” Mrs. Geden I am happy to inform you that we have the medicine is in stock. “Mom, my husband has to have cancer surgery, please let them get it all out.” Mrs. Geden, your husband is in recovery and we’re happy to let you know we got it all, the surrounding tissue is completely clean. Over and over she has answered my prayers.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that her unconditional love lives on. And although I know that she can only do so much, up to this point it has been 100%.  I think at the onset she hit it hard because she knew how skeptical I would be about all this kind of stuff and she wanted to drive home the point that yes, there is something above and beyond this life and yes, I may not be there physically but my spirit will always be with you. I hear you mom, loud and clear!

So as you celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, cherish that wonderful woman that you still have. She has made the ultimate sacrifices for you, she loves you beyond measure and she needs to know how much you love her while she’s here and not when she’s gone. I am forever grateful that the very last words my mother and I said to each other were “I love you”, and today especially that love continues on. Happy Mothers Day, Mom!