One last gift

My mother has been battling several chronic illnesses for a long time. But this last year has really taken its toll on her body and spirit. The last few months in particular have shown a drastic decline in her overall mobility and ability to do the most basic of tasks.

During her last hospitalization, Mom came to the decision that should her health decline to a point that death is imminent she did not want medical intervention to prolong her life. With that decision made, the focus of her treatment changed and she was transitioned to hospice. She left the hospital the next day and is currently at my sister’s house, where she is entertaining visitors from all over creation and is reaping all of the love and laughter she has sown all these years.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not all sunshine and daisies. Mom is dying and we all know it. We don’t know when – the doctors gave her anywhere from a few days to a few months. Some moments it seems like death is sitting in the corner and others as if it’s barely a whisper on the wind. But it is still there, swirling around the edges of our consciousness and adding urgency to our conversations and interactions. She feels it, too, probably more keenly than the rest of us. At times while you are sitting with her she will look up, her face calm with a hint of melancholy, and whisper your name. When you reply, she follows it with, “I love you.” Choking back tears, we all reply that we love her, too, and the conversation shifts back to other things or she will drift off to sleep, content that her message has been received.

It is both brutal and raw but there is a beauty to it as well. Our conversations have a heft, a weight to them that was lacking before. They are precious and painful and we are so very, very lucky that we get to have them.

Talking to the kids about this has really stretched the edges of my parenting skills. I have had several conversations with both of them about what is happening. During these talks it became apparent that my mother is giving me – all of us really – a final gift. She is giving me the ability to teach my children that courage and strength of character stay with you forever. I had several conversations with Dylan, who said he wasn’t sure he could see her without breaking down. This is what I told him.

We’re all going to breakdown. It’s grief, it’s supposed to hurt. Part of being a grown-up is learning to live through the hard parts of life without letting them destroy you. You are going to cry, a lot. But you will also laugh, a lot. We have been given a gift for which many people would chew off their arms – the ability to grant a dying woman her last wish and the opportunity to say goodbye. An awesome responsibility has been placed on us, and it is now up to us to show the emotional courage to pick it up and put her needs ahead of our own, regardless of how painful or difficult it is for us to witness.

Families are built on shared experiences and you don’t get to only attend the good parts. No one likes the bad parts but they’re important, too. If the good times are the bricks the family is built from, then the bad times are the mortar that holds the whole thing together. Without both, a family can’t exist.

When I heard that Mom made the decision to transition to hospice, I faced a slew of emotions. I’m not going to lie, most of them were negative and, in hindsight, a little selfish – a few too many “I’s” and not enough “Hers” in my thinking. After I saw her and talked to her about her decision, what struck me most was the peace she was wrapped in when she talked about it. She misses people: her mom and dad; her sister; her brothers; her sister-in-law and best friend; and all the other friends and family that have gone on before her.

Then there’s dad. Gone almost 24 years now, and very much on her mind lately, she’s eager to see him again. She misses him. I can’t imagine enduring that kind of loneliness and longing for so long.

What I worried was resignation to her failing body and health was, in fact, the opposite. Her decision was an affirmation of her ability for self-determination. Her decision was born from strength and, honestly, I have to support and admire that kind of courage. I hope if I am ever faced with a decision of this magnitude that I can find it within myself to make it with the same courage and dignity she has shown.

I saw her this past Sunday, and I asked her if she had any fight left. Her response? “Hell ya!” She added that she wasn’t giving up but she wasn’t going to fight the inevitable. When her time comes, she will greet it as a blessing rather than fight it as a curse.

Mom has always been a fighter and she instilled that fighting spirit into each one of her five daughters. Although we all embody it differently, we are branches on the same tree. I am the living embodiment of her stubbornness. I have been, and continue to be, the person who will cut her nose off to spite her face. I also have to learn every lesson the hard way.

Mom and I didn’t always understand the larger parts of each other’s personalities but none of those differences matter standing this close to the end. All that matters now is what we still have left to learn from each other. Thankfully, Mom was always “mom” enough to give me the room to figure out the important lessons myself, and most of the time had the grace not to say I told you so when I finally grasped them – however long that may have taken (or in some cases is still taking).

Saturday was a hectic day. We drove to Maine to watch Dylan play lacrosse and then we all drove to my sister’s house in Worcester, where mom is staying. It’s a pretty big family and a good deal of it was already there when we arrived in the early evening. It was loud and boisterous and filled with love and laughter. All 16 of her grandkids showed up that day and her happiness about that was evident from the smile on her face. She sat perched in the middle of the hospital bed, primped and ready to receive the latecomers. She was alert and full of Irish mischief. We looked at pictures and listened as she told us about all her visitors that day.

After we all caught up, the kids spent time with her individually. I don’t know what they talked about and, quite frankly, it’s none of my business.

It was hard watching them wrestle with the knowledge that this may be their last meaningful interaction with their grandmother. They knew it, I knew it and she knew it. I am grateful for her grace and encouragement to all of her grandchildren as she allowed them the gift of saying good-bye to her in their own way on their own terms. I was talking to Dylan via text (he’s back at school) and I told him what I was writing about this week. He told me that he also wrote about Grammy this week in class. When I asked what he chose to write about, he told me he wrote about how she always believes in him.

Her life has touched so many people. Her five daughters and their spouses, her 16 grandchildren and their spouses and significant others, her four great-grandchildren, dozens of nieces and nephews and their children, and scores of neighborhood kids all knew that help was theirs for the asking. She made a place for everyone and anyone and her influence will continue to be felt for generations.

What an amazing legacy she will leave behind.

Update: Mom passed away surround by three of her five daughters and several grandchildren on September 28, 2014. Just in time to see Dad on his birthday which is today, September 30th. I imagine they are having a wonderful time.

Originally published to The Old Colony Memorial on September 24, 2014


Have it your way

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” ~ The Bible, Matthew 7:1

If you’ve been anywhere near the Internet this past week, then you probably have a passing familiarity with the Burger King Pie guy.

For those who haven’t heard, a guy was in line at Burger King and behind him were a mother and son. The son was acting out and demanding a pie; the mom was yelling that he wasn’t getting pie. Cussing and bad manners were displayed. Pie Guy decides to buy all the pies so the kid can’t have any. The Internet declared the guy a hero.

I’m going to take out my soapbox and climb up on it because this episode has dredged up memories I thought were safely tucked away. So, indulge me why I play Devil’s advocate and maybe get some people to look at things just a little bit differently.

What I see is a perfect stranger who decided within the amount of time he stood in line that a child he doesn’t know was deserving of cruel and unusual punishment because he had to listen to him yelling and swearing that he wanted to have a pie. This guy also deduced in the epically long wait time that the cause of the child’s behavior was horrible parenting.

But things aren’t always what they seem.

I don’t doubt that standing in that line was aggravating and frustrating. We’ve all been there – a kid acting up, a parent either ignoring it or making it worse. We roll our eyes and grit our teeth. Some may even make a comment or two. If we’re being honest with ourselves, there are times when we are those people. None of us are at our best 100 percent of the time, and sometimes our bad parenting gets caught on tape. Shame on him for deciding that it was his responsibility to teach this mother and son a lesson.

About eight years ago, I stood in line at McDonald’s with my daughter, refusing to buy her any food unless she ordered it herself. We stood there for 10 minutes. I refused a picture menu. I refused to let the counterperson lead her with suggestions so she could nod at what she wanted.

I stood there, my 7-year-old crying and red-faced and told her she would go home hungry if she didn’t speak up and order her food herself. I counted down the minutes to the horror and glares of those around me.

And I would do it again.

What they witnessed that day in McDonald’s was public therapy.

At 5 years old my daughter was diagnosed with selective mutism (SM). SM is a serious anxiety disorder that manifests as an inability to speak in normal social interactions. That was 10 years ago.

As part of the exercise, I could not provide her any prompts or assistance, nor could I allow anyone to intercede on her behalf. That meant no picture menus to point at what she wanted. No nodding to proffered selections. No assistance. One aspect of this exercise was to make not talking more uncomfortable than talking. In order for that to happen she had to be made uncomfortable and unsettled.

One of the most difficult things I have ever done was stand in that McDonald’s and watch terror swallow my daughter whole. I stood in silence watching her confront her enormous fear and not knowing if she could do it.

I watched her cry and ignored her silent pleas for help.

I stood there and felt my soul shatter.

And while I stood there refusing to break and let her leave before she completed her task, I endured the stares, glares and muttered comments of the other people there. But I couldn’t let them influence my behavior because I knew what was at stake. Not a single other person in that McDonald’s knew our story or how much work she had done to get to this point.

And it was none of their business, because here’s what they didn’t see.

They didn’t see the preparation that went into those 10 minutes. They didn’t see the millions of victories both small and large that got her to that place. They didn’t see her failures or her determination. They didn’t see her small smile when she faced and conquered her fear. They didn’t see the victories that built slowly and painfully over the next few years.

And they don’t see the victories that continue to happen today.

I learned something about myself during that time, and it has served me well for the past decade.

Never ever assume you understand a person or a behavior based on a snippet of their life. No matter how horrifying it is to you personally, you have no idea of a person’s struggles or what led them to the point where your paths cross.

My experience with Emma and her therapy gave me more than sleepless nights; it gave me courage. More important than courage, it gave me compassion.

Every single person I encounter gets the benefit of the doubt. I’m more likely to give a smile and a nod – a silent “You’re not alone; you’re not the only one,” an acknowledgement that others have stood in their shoes and some of us still stand there.

I don’t know if the mother and son at Burger King were anything other than horrible people behaving badly. Honestly, I don’t really care, since if that is the case their behavior is a reflection of them.

My behavior is a reflection of me.

And I would like to say this to Burger King Pie guy.

Maybe you’re right and this kid is a product of poor parenting, but had you drawn on your compassion instead of your anger perhaps you could have shown this child there’s another way to be.

Instead, you decided to act like a spoiled brat proving yourself no better than the behavior you were condemning.

Originally published in the August 13, 2014 edition of The Old Colony Memorial. Published to the web at on August 14, 2014.


Wretched refuse

Oh, look, it’s another day and people are behaving badly again. Shocking.

This time it’s “patriots” spitting on and shouting at children who are seeking refuge in this country.

I have been paying pretty close attention and have tried to follow both sides, and I’m sorry but I can’t understand people with so much hate in their hearts that they think the sane and rational response is to surround busloads of children and scream at them. Pretty sure that is not the love thy neighbor vibe Jesus was talking about.

And, now, since it hasn’t devolved far enough into farce, here comes silly Sarah and her merry band that wants to impeach the president because of refugees. Although, in her defense, that makes as much sense as the usual “arrgle bargle” that falls out of her mouth. Coffers must be low, so she’s out peddling her particular brand of nonsense.

Her I can ignore; others not so much.

Let’s see if we can stop playing politics with these people’s lives. This crisis has been decades in the making. Aided and abetted by interference and intrusion by us for our own national interests and our failed war on drugs.

We created this problem and now it has come home to roost, literally.

I am glad to see states, including Massachusetts, step up and assist during this humanitarian crisis. The southern border states are bearing the brunt and the other states need to give as much aid as is necessary, not just according to our laws but also to our conscience.

While I am picking the bones clean here, I find it curious that the people complaining that we “don’t help our own” are the usually the same people who don’t want to take care of our own.

Honestly, talk about chutzpah!

I think the first time I heard it my head almost exploded from the hypocrisy. Really unbecoming. Of course, there is always a financial cost in a crisis such as this, and we should and must bear it, for if we do not then the cost to our collective conscience will be heavy and our nation’s standing in the world greatly diminished.

When this happens overseas, we demand that other counties act with compassion and treat refugees with respect and dignity. We should demand no less of ourselves.

Concurrent with this humanitarian crisis we need to address our immigration crisis as well. We need a national conversation free from posturing and empty, damaging rhetoric. The solution must be multi-faceted, since one-size-fits-all may be great for sloganeering but it is not so great for living in the real world. We will all have to give up the idea that what we want is all that matters. We have real issues that need solving, including what to do with the “Dreamers.” They are young adults now and this is the only home they have ever known. America is, and should remain, their home. They were raised as Americans and they identify as Americans; they are Americans in all but name. They must not be punished for the sins of their parents nor should they be sacrificed on the altar of politics. We also need to punish the companies that are fueling the demand for undocumented workers. There is a pipeline that needs to be cut off. Every other solution is just window dressing. We are, despite all of our petty infighting and posturing, still a beacon, a symbol of freedom and a better way of life. And we need to find a way to impart more balance into our immigration policies and live up to the words of Emma Lazarus: ”Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We are the guardians of the door and we are failing miserably.

Originally published July 30, 2014 in The Old Colony Memorial and online at wickedlocal/plymouth on 7/31/14


In support of truth, justice and the American way

I don’t know the circumstances behind Bowe Bergdahl’s capture and imprisonment, and I don’t know what transpired over the course of those five years.

You know who else doesn’t know the circumstances behind Bowe Bergdahl’s capture and imprisonment?

Just about every other person on the planet.

There are, however, a few things I do know.

I know that anyone who pretends they know the truth is a lying sack of dirty diapers.

I also know that I am beyond livid when I hear or read anything other than “Good, we got him back.” I resent the implication that our military and our – yes our – president don’t have the sense they were born with when it comes to dealing with getting back an American serviceman using a method that has been in existence for as long as there has been warfare.

Honestly, I would rather Congress have a major case of butt-hurt than another dead American serviceman. Oh, and John McCain, I have a heaping bunch of scorn directed at you normally, and it just hit critical mass. This is one of those times I hope there is a real, literal hell, and you burn in it for all of eternity, plus a day. I hope you at least have the grace to be thankful that no one wanted to play politics with your freedom.

To those members of Congress using him to score cheap political points against the president and polish up their bona fides: Shame on you.

To bloggers and columnists who claim to have talked to a guy who served with his second cousin – so they, of course, know the truth – to run up page hits and comments: Shame on you.

To the talking heads and media people who are propagating lies and innuendo against his family: Shame on you.

To the mouth-breathing-knuckle-draggers who have threatened his life and the life of his family: Shame (and a pox) on you.No one knows.


See, that’s because this is still America and we still have the rule of law and the presumption of innocence.

There will be an investigation by the appropriate military personnel. They will most likely interview Mr. Bergdahl and his family; they will also most likely interview his friends and his second-grade teacher. I’m quite certain they will interview those with whom he served.

See, that’s what we do. If someone is accused, we try to get to the facts. We have a system. We have rules and law and procedures. Moses on a moped, that’s the whole reason men and women like Berghdal are serving – to preserve our way of life and our way of doing things.

If you don’t believe in that, then you have no business wrapping yourself in the flag and declaring that you support the troops. Because one thing we don’t do: We don’t leave anyone behind, no matter what we may think of their character or their alleged behavior. We allow – no, we guarantee with American lives – that they get that right.

It may turn out that he is a deserter and sympathizer. If that is the case, he will be dealt with accordingly.

It may turn out that he was tormented and naive and disillusioned. If that is the case, he will be dealt with accordingly.

It may turn out that a satisfactory explanation is not forthcoming as people are nuanced and complex beings.

One thing will remain the same. Bowe Berghdal is an American and a soldier and should be dealt with accordingly, regardless of what has been alleged against him.

And shame on anyone who doesn’t understand that basic fact, because that is our way.

The American way.

I trust it.

Do you?

Originally published in the Old Colony Memorial on June 18, 2014 and on on June 19, 2014


Class of 2014

Congratulations on getting through the easiest part of your lives. ~ Random Internet meme

While parents like to tease kids about how easy they have it, what with no walking to school up hill both ways, in the snow, to a school lit only by the sheer will of the meanest teacher ever to grace planet Earth and kept warm by our burning fear, I know that being a teen these days is harder than I can even imagine.

Each generation believes that it bears the heaviest burden, has the meanest teachers and the most awful and clueless parents. Perhaps it needs to be that way in order for you, the youngsters, to move out and try to change the world. If that is the case, I guess being a villain is a small price to pay for you moving our world forward in your attempts to change it and mold it to your visions.

I applaud the graduating Class of 2014 and wish its members much success in the world – but not before adding my two cents and a couple of clichés, as well.

Go out and experiment.

Jump from the nest, no matter how comfortably feathered, and greet the world with the enthusiasm that only the young can muster.

Strive to change the world no matter how small a space you occupy in it.

Face difficult challenges and rise to the occasion.

Struggle with new ideas, and give some of the old ones a good honest assessment and see if they still ring true.

Do not be afraid to try and fail for there is courage and experience in the trying that isn’t always evident with success.

There is so much that can and will be experienced, and my sincerest wish for you all is that your experiences are only limited by time and not opportunity.

Some of you will go on to live large and extraordinary lives. The next great innovator is very likely among you as is a future president or a celebrated actor. The choices and challenges you face are limitless and I have no doubt that the Class of 2014 will leave its mark on the world in any number of ways both positive and not so positive.

But I don’t want to talk about the large lives lived in the spotlight.

I want to talk about the small lives, the ordinary lives.

For every great innovator and president and entertainer, for every life lived in the public spotlight, for every grand achievement, there will be countless more of you living quiet ordinary lives. Most of you will not make the evening news, heck, most will not even make the local news. But you – each of you – have the ability to live lives that make a difference.

You are the future youth league coaches and team moms. You are the future parents and stepparents. You are the future adults and you will make more of an immediate impact on the lives you touch.

I don’t envy you, though. Not really. You have been conditioned to accept an uncomfortable level of security in your lives. Cameras at school (Plymouth North High has 170), cameras in the roads, social media and 24/7 access have all contributed to an erosion of privacy.

Your pictures are plastered from one end of the Internet to the other by proud parents, grandparents and aunts/uncles. Your every achievement is feted, videotaped and played on a loop at significant events.

You hear yourselves disparaged as the scourge of the future. You hear yourself referred to as vapid and vain, called lazy and indolent, and indulged by us, the generation that is raising you.

I have said it before but it bears repeating, we created a connected world and blame you for living in it.

I know that high school is demanding and difficult, both academically and socially. I’m not sure my generation can fully comprehend the stresses of living in the connected 24/7 world we created or the duality we created for you by simultaneously demanding that you behave like adults while we treat you like children. We monitor your movements and snoop to an unprecedented degree.

In spite of all our admonishments and escalation of nonsense, I must say – I’m impressed.

I have been to several end-of-high-school functions and you know what I do not see? I do not see spoiled brats and kids that are soft from over-indulgence.

What do I see as I look into the faces of the Class of 2014? I see hope. I see achievement. I see your futures.

Every life has the potential to be extraordinary, but never discount the person living the ordinary life, as it is not the spotlight that makes a person special it is the shining light from within.

Tend your light, as it may well be a beacon for others.

Originally published in the Old Colony Memorial and on, June 4, 2014 


Rock stars

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I am not a sports fan, not by a long shot. I am not even a bandwagon fan.

I don’t like to watch sports, and I don’t want to listen to them (those announcers really bug me). There is nothing about sports that remotely interests me, although I do have to admit that I get a kick out of the folks who call in to sports radio – they are a hoot.

And I’ll admit to trying to learn more about sports early in our marriage, but Pat could sense my heart wasn’t in it and let me off the hook.

So, I surprised myself when I realized that one of the activities I will miss most when my son graduates from high school in June is attending his games.

For the past 15 years, a good deal of my life was organized around youth and then high school sports. I have worked as a volunteer, begged people for money, been a coach’s wife, and sat my butt on countless bleachers, beach chairs and blankets. My children have played soccer, football, baseball, softball, lacrosse (boys and girls). My son has played on elite teams, club teams, town teams and high school teams.

That’s a lot of games.

It has been one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of being a parent. It has also given me a front row seat to interact with other parents. And let me tell you I have seen just about every kind of parent, coach and official there is to be seen.

Are there dopes involved? Yup, you betcha.

The coach who is only there for their own kid or their own ego – check.

The officials who think people come to see them – check.

Parents who only cheer for their own or, worse, against another – check.

Once I saw a parent follow a high-school-age umpire to his car, yelling at how he missed this call and that call. It was a Little League game. Little League! Switch to decaf or Quaaludes, dude. Seriously, check yourself. I’m sure the only way your little Jimmy will make it to “The Show” is as a season ticket holder.

Parents like this are at fields and arenas all over the country, and they suck up all the attention and cast a pall. But they do not tell the whole story, the real story.

They certainly do not tell my story or define my experience.

My experience has been mostly positive, and I am in awe of how much some parents give to the effort of youth and high school sports.

I’ve been lucky to meet some incredible and generous people. They show up at games and cheer on all the players. They share blankets and chairs. They host team dinners. They organize dinners for away games. They bring homemade ice cream sandwiches to games and hand them out – even if the kids lose.

Those parents are not me – well, except the sharing part. I am pretty good at sharing.

In order to be more inclusive, let me expand this to the non-sports parents out there as well: band parents and drama parents and any other parent that invests not just their money but their time into watching, encouraging and cheering their children on.

Stand up folks (grandparents and aunts and uncles, too) and take a bow. You are – every one of you – rock stars!

I want to thank you for cheering for my child when my schedule didn’t allow me to be at a game.

I want to thank you for opening your homes to feed all those very hungry non-salad eating boys for team dinners.

I want to thank you for checking in after injuries.

Most of all, I want to thank you for making me love a sport.

I have to go now. I think I have something in my eye…

Originally published in the Old Colony Memorial, May 21, 2014 and on, May 22, 2014


Happily Ever After (Originally published to Plymouth Patch May 16, 2012)

A constitutional amendment to take away people’s rights – not the America I believe in. ~ Carol O’Brennan

What the hell is wrong with people?

Seriously? That’s not a rhetorical question. Okay, maybe it is a little.

Did a certain portion of this country sleep through the last forty years? Have they learned nothing from history? Back then we were fighting over color instead of gender. Guess what? Nothing they predicted has happened. Nothing. The world did not go spinning off its axis, hurtling toward the sun, to punish the sinners and miscegenators. God did not smite anyone. People of all colors and nationalities have been getting happily married and the world did not end.

Just as nothing will happen when same-sex couples are allowed to marry.

Listen, hate anyone you want but do it quietly, in your own home. Do not bring it to the public square for if you do, you will be held up and reviled as the bigot you are. Do not hide your hate behind your religion; it’s cowardly. Do not wrap yourself up in righteousness and argue that intolerance is a family value. It’s not.

Love is a family value and it should be encouraged and nurtured whenever possible. Celebrated. If we loved more and judged less, the world would be a much better place. Seriously, maybe you should try it.

Marriage has evolved over time. If you did not, then too bad for you. You don’t get to hold the rest of us back. For most, marriage is no longer about rival clans settling a dispute or an attempt to negotiate a merger or prevent a war. It’s not about gaining an extra pair of hands to work the farm or to acquire land or wealth.

Modern marriage is about love and making a life with a partner you choose.

Every marriage is unique. It has its own goals, its own hopes and dreams. I have been married for close to two decades and my marriage has matured and changed over that time. It has experienced happiness and sadness, regret and remorse. It has been both suffocating and liberating. It has been hard work but it has been totally worth it.

When I think about my life and my marriage and the joy and the balance that it brings me, I can’t imagine denying it to anyone and certainly not because they love someone with the same parts. Preventing people from achieving personal happiness is a much greater transgression than any sin you can manufacture to repudiate it. I feel a little sorry for those who can’t see that.

By refusing to recognize marriage as a right for all, we are, in essence telling every bully, bigot and would-be thug that it’s ok to single people out if they’re different from you or if they deviate from your cultural norm. That there exists in America, in the 21st century, a lesser class of American; Americans that can be denied the basic human dignity of deciding whom they want to make a life with; who to love.

I’m going to say this once and I’m going to say it slowly: Every single consenting adult has the absolute right to love the person of their choosing. They have the right to live their lives without interference from bullies and bigots.

They have the right to get married. Not civil unioned. Not gay married. Not same-sex married. Just married.

As in Happily Ever After married.

Just like me.

Living history


Whatever opposition you have to someone having equal – that means the same – rights as you, you need to build a bridge and get over it. I don’t care if it’s against the teachings of your religion or you hate people who wear purple pants, as neither of those things has any bearing whatsoever on the rights of another person.

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Mr. Checkers


This past Sunday morning, I found him abandoned in the bottom of her travel bag. He had been there since Friday.

Mr. Checkers is an elephant, a stuffed yellow elephant with checkered ears – hence his name. He wears satin pajamas with multi-colored polka dots, and he was, once upon a time, Emma’s most cherished possession.
Read more: Mr. Checkers