Seven Years Strong…

Seven Years Strong…

Seven years ago, in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 15th, 2012- my father, Michael- died abruptly and unexpectedly.

My dad, who was also one of my best friends- was one of the funniest people you could ever hope to meet and also one of the most generous- with his time, his energy, or money if he had it on him. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it and make you laugh while he handed it over. He had a wild, rebellious streak- and he could tell the most fascinating stories about his upbringing, his travels and the people he’d met for hours without repeating any of them. He lived a life and a half in such a short span of time.

My dad was also one of the hardest working people around- up at the crack of dawn to go to work every day and make money to pay for dance lessons, school functions, family vacations/trips, nice clothes and good food. Despite long hours- he never missed a recital, a practice, science fair or picking any one of his kids up from school or a function.

As my brothers and I got older, and started getting into the typical teenage/early twenties trouble- my dad was the voice of reason and understanding because he’d been there and had made those mistakes long before us. “If you’ve been drinking and you need a ride- you call me. Anytime of the day or night. I will come and get you.” And he did with me. More than once. And not once did he ever lecture me or yell at me for it because I had done the responsible thing. Instead, he’d stop to get me something to eat so I wouldn’t feel sick. That was the type of father he was.

When I tell people I was there when he died, their initial reaction is one of sympathy but also relief. The assumption is always the same. People knew my father had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. They knew he had undergone a serious, intricate but successful surgery to remove the cancer- and they knew he was going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments post-op as a precaution. The assumption is always that he died peacefully- surrounded by loved ones in a warm and semi-comfortable hospital bed. Maybe with a sweeping score playing as we all said our tearful goodbyes.

The assumption used to make me angry. “How DARE they,” I would think to myself. “They have no idea!” But with time and age comes wisdom and perspective- and I don’t get angry anymore because I know it’s what they *wanted* for him. They *wanted* it to be peaceful and painless and for my family to have some semblance of closure.

The reality of the situation was much more grim.

My father died from complications from chemotherapy and radiation- which had weakened his body to the point where his heart gave out. When I say I was there, what I mean is that he died on my bedroom floor after collapsing. Moments before, we’d had a brief but wit-filled exchange (as we always did) after I’d come home obscenely late from a night out with friends.

After his diagnosis- I’d opted to both come back to my family’s home and stay there to help take care of him and my mom- running errands, taking him to/from Doctor’s appointments, sitting up and watching late night TV and movies with the two of them on the couch. Quality bonding despite the fact that one of us was very, very ill.

That night- he’d been awake, alert, and wanted to know everything and how everyone was doing. He was excited that I had been out with my friends for the first time in a long time. It was the most energetic I’d seen him in days.

And then, in an instant- he was gone.

The strange thing about trauma is that we never get over it- but we find ways to process it and live with it in a way where we can function like a semi-normal version of ourselves before whatever happened to us, well- happened. The human mind, spirit and body has such a fascinating way to self-preserve itself for survival.

There are some parts to the night I cannot remember and honestly- I probably don’t want to- while other parts are as clear to me now as they were that night. My mother screaming and crying on the phone with paramedics after I’d told her to talk to them in order to keep her out of the room. My dog cowering in the corner because of the commotion. For some reason I remember how awful the bedroom lighting was. It made everything look yellow and antiquated.

I performed CPR on my dad since he wasn’t breathing and I couldn’t feel a pulse- the way I’d learned years and years earlier during a babysitting course where they had taught us as a bunch of young teenagers how to stop a kid from choking, or what to do if they have a seizure, etc. etc. I’d only used what I was taught once before when a toddler I was responsible for tried to swallow a Lego block.

She was fine, by the way.

There was a moment where my dad, having been unresponsive to my attempts, suddenly coughed up a weird black-colored fluid and I thought for a second that I’d been successful in my efforts. It was not the case. That was, from my understanding- when he actually died. The guilt and the image haunted me for years.

I didn’t realize the fluid was all over my clothes until later on at the hospital when a nurse- coming out to sit beside me in the waiting room- quietly offered me some scrubs to put on while I stared at an unfortunate-looking painting on the wall. I don’t remember if I ever answered her.

I burned the still-stained clothes weeks later.

Those memories are vivid- but I do not remember the drive to the hospital. I don’t remember calling my best friend to tell him what had happened (he does, of course.) and I don’t remember calling my boss to tell him I wouldn’t be at work the next day- although apparently it was something I did in my foggy state of mind.

I write all this not to illicit sympathy or make anyone feel uncomfortable- but to talk about how seven years has past and I am, in many ways- still traumatized. Although I no longer have daily panic attacks, dizzy spells, uncontrollable sobbing fits or punch-the-wall-bouts of rage- there are still some things that trigger a good cry out of me: A song. A movie on TV. Finding old cards or letters. Writing this- which I’ve had to stop doing more than once to shed some tears and wipe my nose.

The last thing my father got to see me accomplish before he became too ill to really go out and about was my graduating college- the first of his children to do so. He beamed with pride and had me take no less than 300 photos holding my degree alongside him.

But, seven years later- and he’s missed so much change and growth in our family. I wonder what he’d think of my new apartment, of my new neighborhood- of the friends I’m making and the work I’m doing. I wonder what he’d think of my brothers and I and the way we sit around the dinner table with my mom and how we all have such different personality traits but some that are clearly and most certainly inherited from him. I wonder what he’d think of my niece- his granddaughter- and how she acts exactly. like. my. brother did when he was that age.

And I wonder if he’d want my mom to carry on his dream of moving somewhere in the Carolinas and never having to shovel snow ever again. I’d like to think he would.

Some days I feel cheated- deprived of all the things a daughter should have with her father. He’ll never walk me down the aisle or dance with me at my wedding (if I ever take that plunge.) He’ll never come along on spontaneous road trips or try hole-in-the-wall restaurants with me anymore. He missed my turning thirty and he won’t be there to rag on me for turning forty, either.

My father will never get to see me become the woman I was meant to become- and that is the most heartbreaking realization of all.

But, as life goes on- as I move forward with the help of therapy and good friends and my tight-knit family- and time begins to heal some of those wounds- I know that the only thing I can do is live the life he wanted me to have and make it as adventurous, fun, successful and filled with as much love as he envisioned. I cannot dwell on the past- on my sadness or my anger or the “what ifs” and “what could have beens.” That is time wasted and all I have is right now, these moments- and the moments that follow.

Additionally, it’s worth repeating a lesson most of us know but sometimes need reminding of: be good to the people in your life that you love and care about. Cherish your time with them. Love them openly and unapologetically and make sure they know it and feel that love every day. We never know how much time we or the people in our lives have left here- and losing each other is inevitable. Make the most of the time you have with one another while you can.

It has been seven years and I miss my dad every single day. I would give anything to have him here- but I’ve made great strides in my recovery and in my personal/professional life- and for that I think he’d be proud. Maybe even more proud than he was when I graduated college. Prouder than 300 photos could convey.

This past Monday was rough- but it also marks seven years since I’ve moved forward from a life-shattering trauma- and I’m still here. So that’s saying something.

Love you, dad.

xx

– Pumpkin Pie –

Reader’s Choice 2019!

Good Morning and Happy Thursday, everyone!

As we ready ourselves for Friday and the weekend- I wanted to take a moment to talk about some super fun developments with the family theater company I’m involved in- and ask for your help (and it’ll only take 2 minutes of your time- I promise!)

As some of you (most of you?) know- I signed on earlier this year to work with my friends at PaintBox Theatre based out of the Pioneer Valley. I’m their current marketing and publicity director, and even though the season doesn’t officially kick off until the end of June- it’s been a really fun journey so far!

A little background information on PaintBox: they are a family theater company, gearing up for their 16th (!!!) season. They take beloved children’s’ stories and give them an updated, modern twist on stage with enough subtle humor to keep the adults laughing, as well- all while encouraging literacy, self-expression, creativity, inclusiveness, kindness and play. The costumes and props are easy to replicate and made with simple materials- so children can utilize things they have at home while letting their imaginations take care of the rest.

And all of this is done with a talented cast, a dedicated crew- and the love and support of our community and sponsors who keep us going!

All that being said, we’ve been nominated for “Best Summer Theater” in the Daily Hampshire Gazette– an honor we won last year and a title we hope to hold onto this year, as well!

Voting takes- legitimately– a minute, and it would mean the world to me, the company and everyone PaintBox has made smile over the years if you could take the time to vote for us. Our category is under “Arts & Entertainment.”

CLICK HERE TO VOTE

If you did- thank you so, so, SO much!

And if not, the voting is open until 5/19/19 at 5 PM (EST.) Please consider helping out!

And of course, if you’d like to learn more about the company and our impending Summer season- please feel free to visit our website (linked above) or our social media accounts (you’ll see my designs on each!) It’s going to be a wonderful season of really great shows the whole family can enjoy!

I’m off to work for the day, and then keeping busy tomorrow through the weekend. I’m going to be back on Monday when the posting schedule returns to normal- and right before I leave for my trip to the West Coast!

Here’s wishing you all a wonderful rest of your week and a warm, safe, fun weekend!

xx

– Ashley –

Monday, Monday…

Good Morning and Happy (ugh…) Monday, everyone!

I suppose I can’t complain too much since I have the day off from work- and with Friday being my half day- it’s shaping up to be a quick, easy and painless week at the office for me. Although the sun seems to be indecisive this morning as to whether it wants to come out or not- it’s warm out and I’ve got a lovely drive ahead of me. Not to/from Montpelier, Vermont as originally planned- since there was a change in scheduling (I’ll get to in a minute)– but to meet with my soon-to-be-landlord at my soon-to-be-new-apartment to go over some final details.

I’ll also be taking the remainder of the afternoon to visit one of my favorite places in the Valley and, more specifically- Montague, Massachusetts. It’s been ages since I’ve been and today seems like just as good a time as any to go!

Don’t worry- I’ll have the photos/recap up shortly. It’s one of my favorite well-kept-secrets out in Western Mass!

Did everyone who celebrated Easter have a good one? I’m still a bit sluggish from the huge dinner I had at my mom’s house last night- but the company was great and the weather was perfect. The only downside I can think of is that we were missing a few people due to unexpected illnesses and last minute scheduling conflicts- including my uncle who I had been preparing to pick up in Vermont and bring down to stay with my family for the weekend. He couldn’t make it- although there’s talk of planning a Summer cookout/BBQ for his birthday to make up for it, instead.

Regardless, we all had a wonderful time and I have enough leftovers to last me a few days- which is always appreciated. I even managed to dress Oliver up in his Sunday best for the occasion!

He looks like he’s ready to lead the Debate Team to victory.

As April winds down over the next few days and we prepare for May- I’m also preparing for a week-long trip to the West Coast in a couple of weeks, my move to the Valley, the Boston Calling Festival and other late Spring/early Summer plans and travel I have lined up locally. There’s so much happening and I’m just trying to take it day by day and not burn myself out!

Later on this week I’ll have the photos from my adventure in Montague this afternoon up and running, and then on Friday I’ll be sharing some of my favorite things/items/products/odds and ends/etc. from this past month.

Here’s hoping you all have an easy and stress-free start to your week! I’ll be back on Wednesday!

xx

– Ashley –

“Hippity, Hoppity…”

Good Morning and Happy Hump Day, everyone!

It’s worth asking “is it Friday yet?” even though I already know the answer. This week feels like it’s dragging- and the on/off again snow and rain isn’t particularly helping things around here. That’s right- we’re still getting flurries here in Massachusetts- and it’s enough to make me want to just scream into the abyss at this point!

Sunday, however- was lovely- and not just in terms of the weather (which was sunny and warm most of the morning/afternoon.) My family- immediate and extended- gathered for a huge Easter dinner together and it was so much fun since the last time all of us were together was on Thanksgiving!

Being able to catch up with everyone all at once was refreshing. One of my cousins announced he was expecting a baby with his longtime girlfriend, while another cousin is heading down to New Orleans for a vacation through this coming weekend. The food was fantastic, the Sox won, and my mom surprised everyone with mini Easter baskets/presents loaded with candy- which was a huge hit with my niece and my cousin’s younger step-sons.

And while there was definitely tons of snacks/desserts- my mom planned ahead and stocked up on some cheap Tupperware so she could send each and every single person home with plenty of leftovers at the end of the night! Smart thinking- since none of the food will go to waste- and also because she had a lot less to clean up the following day!

But I’ve got to get to work. Today is filled with meetings and phone calls- so I’m really looking forward to getting home tonight and being able to decompress (and work on perfecting a recipe that I’m hoping to share this coming Friday!)

Hang in there, everyone! We’re almost to the weekend!

xx

– Ashley –