A Year in Review

So today is December 1st, 2012 – the official beginning of “Gina’s Birthday Celebration Month 2012”.  Yes, I get a whole month to celebrate, which kind of bled into November this year, but that’s okay!  This month long celebration is needed due to the fact that, as a December baby, I often was relegated to the ol’ “here’s your birthday and Christmas present!” bunch!  It was admittedly worse for my brother Gary, born on the 13th, and I am sure others closer to Christmas have their own stories.  As for me, Deana and the kids have always made it “my month”.

Last year was a bit different – Deana and I were blessed to be able to travel to Elmira, NY to visit my brother Joey, who had been moved from ICU into a rehabilitation center in hopes of recovering from his significant brain damage before the Stage 4 Renal Cancer took effect of his body.  It was AMAZING to see him sitting up, feeding himself, and we even played chess!  We had so many great conversations and I am very thankful that I was able to tell him how very much he meant to me and how hugely he impacted my life – how he was a huge part of who I am today.  On that trip, Deana and I also took advantage of being in New York, which allows same-sex marriage, and we actually legally married on my birthday as well!  My birthday was also the last day I saw my brother alive in person, so it was bittersweet but a fantastic way to spend my birthday.

Today, I have to say I woke up rather upset, remembering the highs and lows of this time last year.  And it honestly broke my heart that my brother is no longer on this earth.  Yet, I have spent today remembering that wonderful trip, the laughs and the tears, and also the many years and many memories we were able to share.

But it doesn’t stop there!  In honor of “Birthday Month”, as well as this time last year, Deana took me to birthday present #1 – my remembrance tattoo for my brother at Scarecrow Galleries!   I walked in expecting to only get a quote and perhaps make an appointment for another time, but Johnny (who incidentally is a chess enthusiast) was available and very interested in my idea of a tattoo.  So, about an hour later the freehand drawing was done and we were ready to go!  About two hours later, and not much pain on the way, this was the final result on my right outside calf:

I miss my brother very much, but this is a small way of remembering how awesome he was and how much he touched my life…..and to forever be a beacon to the fact that I owe him about a million chess games!  🙂

October – The Month of Reflection

So this month has been…….different.  It never really has been “a month” for me historically, though I have a few family members who celebrate their birthday during the month and what not.  But before 2011, October was not especially reflective.  That all changed last year, and for weeks I have been thinking about those events as well as the subsequent happenings during the months that followed.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Last year, on October 30th, I received a call from Aracelly – my oldest brother’s ex-wife.  While I held no animosity towards her, we had naturally fallen apart after my brother and she divorced years before.  So it was weird that I received this ominous voice mail to please call as soon as I could.  As a mother, and a Professional Worrier in Training, I was able to think of some pretty scary reasons that she was calling in the moments it took me to call.  I actually reached Aracelly’s sister first, who gave me another number to reach her.  Yet even though I thought of many horrors that she needed to tell me, I was unprepared to actually hear what she had to share.

My brother Joey, was in critical condition and would probably not survive the night.  In fact she explained that he was in New York, in the middle of surgery, and it seemed pretty bad.  During this call, there was not a ton of information other than he had collapsed and that his brain was bleeding and the doctors were unsure of if he was brain dead or not.  Their daughter, Natalie, had been in Finland for school and was trying to get to New York to be with her dad.  Oh, and there was one other concern – if he made it out of surgery and if he even had brain function……..he had Stage IV kidney cancer.

I am not sure I will ever forget that moment in time – when time itself seemed to halt, as my heart raced, as my mind spun yet lacked focus to comprehend all that I needed to, the pain that I initially pushed back as I was afraid it would overwhelm me to a point where I’d be useless in helping, and the memories of my childhood and my brother that flooded before my tear-filled eyes.  Soon my mind switched to my niece Natalie, whom I felt a connection to despite the years we had not interacted, and wondered how best I could help HER while trying to ignore the pain I imagined she must be feeling as well.  But, like most things in my life, I function the best in coordinating/planning/notifying family/action plan creating and moved there almost immediately. 

Today, if I am honest with you, I almost wish I could go back to that moment because, back then my brother was alive……..

In any case, just as last year proved, I remind myself and you that there were some pretty awesome moments after that shocking phone call that I feel very blessed to have occurred despite the sadness that existed or the dire straights that had been communicated.  And in honor of my brother’s life, I’d like to recount those here with you over the coming days as I recreate those moments that began last year.

In the mean time, please enjoy my brother’s Memorial Slide Show.

Remembering Joey, Part 1

It has been a few days since my oldest brother, Joe (whom I will always refer to as Joey), passed away.  Of course, many thoughts…..many memories…..many emotions have been forming and expressing themselves since then and made it somewhat difficult to put into words.  But this is my first try.

Joey’s life was brought to an end by cancer.  No amount of time hearing or even seeing the disease eat away at someone truly prepares you for the loss.  I thought I was prepared, I really did, but it was still hard.  And yet, like a double edged knife, it also brought about the means to interact with my brother I may not have had otherwise.  When he first was in the hospital for an unrelated issue, and which ultimately exposed the cancer he had, our family came together.  I was able to spend time with him I may not otherwise have received.  Each time we talked, we tacitly knew it could be the last time and therefore it was that much more precious.  And we were able to discuss how meaningful we were to each other.  I will always thank God for these moments, as we are not guaranteed them in life.

But enough about his death, I really want to talk about his life.  Joey was not perfect at all, I will be the first to share that.  In fact, he was downright quirky!  None of my friends had a brother with long hippie hair, resembled Einstein, was a devout pacifist, or refused to kill spiders in the house.  He was a vegetarian way before it was cool, didn’t mind putting electrical tape on his eyeglasses if broken, and despite having the intelligence to program complex computer code – preferred to live as though it were the 1940’s.  I was always a little scared to ride in the car with him growing up (before my love for roller coasters) and he would often frustrate the hell out of me when I needed help with math in school because he was so passionate he’d want to go back to its inception and explain all the nuances involved.  I, on the other hand, just wanted to finish my homework.  So I admit he was not perfect.

But I loved him, and he loved me back very well.  And here are some bullet points as to why.

  • When I was little I had very long hair.  He was the most gentle when brushing it.
  • While many remember that he was a “perpetual student”, he cared for me and my brother David while my parents worked until I was about 12.  That meant he was in his mid twenties.
  • I am not sure how he did it, but he helped me to LOVE reading.  He would take David and I to the library, used book stores, and other places and we would have so much fun.
  • He never, ever lost his temper with me.  Never.
  • When my mom had her first heart attack when I was 16, Joey went to the hospital with her and my dad.  He came home alone with tons of groceries; ice cream, ding dongs, cookies…..you get the drift.  And then he calmly shared that mom was staying in the hospital but would be okay.  He was always careful to care for our feelings.
  • He exposed me to vast amounts of music; classical, eastern, Led Zeppelin.
  • He made weird food.  Sometimes awful food.  Sometimes fun food like pizza from scratch, even with my own kids.
  • He took me shopping for clothes before my senior year in high school, even though he didn’t take care of me anymore.
  • He paid for my first semester of college books and told me he was there if I needed more, that he didn’t want me to worry about costs related to school.
  • He asked me to sing at his wedding, even though he knew how I sing.
  • He transformed my life………

More memories to come.  I miss Joey, but I know he will always be with me and that these memories are real and will not go away.  Thanks for reading.