Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Confronting family tragedy and coping.

As a child growing up I often wondered what happened to our loved ones after they have passed and I truly believe in my heart they are at peace and are in a better place where there is solitude and joy. I also believe that they are still with us in spirit and look over us and guide us. I remember the first time I experienced death in the family was my grandmother on my mother's side in 1970. It was very sad as my mom was very close to her and she was visibly upset and had tears in her eyes and I tried to comfort her by giving her a hug. My dad was visibly upset too but he was concerned for mom and he was her shoulder to cry on as he always was. I remember she learned of it by a phone call and it was a sad time in our house for the following weeks as my mom and her brother and sister made the plans with their father. I was 9 years old and my sisters were 7 and 3 years old and we all felt sad too because grandma was very nice to us and I remember the visits to their home in Park Slope, Brooklyn and having Christmas celebrations there and family gatherings with our aunts and uncles, cousins and beloved grandparents. It was a difficult reality facing death and when you face it for the first time it just seems so unreal and takes time because you now realize you will never see your loved one again and that is when it hits you. They say with the passage of time that the healing process will evolve but to me it always stays with me and all the people we have lost in our lifetime I try to keep a memory of them in my mind and like to go back to it when I start to miss them.

As time passed we grieved for other special family members as mom lost her dad within several years of her mom and dad lost both his parents within the span of a few years. By the time I turned 17 we lost all our grandparents. By this time I felt death was inevitible and that our lives are precious and we all touch each other and when we lose someone close we feel an emptyness and sadness and we grieve for a time and then must move on as our loved ones would want us to.

I remember when I was in junior high school I was deeply affected by the loss of a fellow classmate in my art class as she died within a week of having an epileptic seizure in our classroom. I was so sad and just felt so terrible as I really liked her and had talked with her in art class. She was such a gentle person and I considered her a good friend. This was hard to take because she was our age and just a kid and now she was gone. I remember crying and missing her and praying for her and her family and we wrote out sympathy cards to her family and sent a favorite art work we did to try to help a grieving family. It was so very sad.

In highschool I had some very close friends and I had a few that attended different highschools but we managed to stay in touch through playing pickup games of baseball. One of my dear friends, Scott Leventhal was one such friend. He was just a very nice guy who was always there to talk to and he was a good ball player. It was time when we were all deciding on colleges as we took the SATs and started the interviewing process. Scott and I used to meet at the public library to take a class in auto maintenance as we were both approaching the age when we would soon be driving and wanted to be prepared. Scott was telling me how excited he was going up to visit at the college campus of SUNY Albany. He was gifted and enjoyed drama and english literature and planned to major in dramatic arts. I was happy for him as he seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do which was to act on the broadway stage and he was very good in the HS stage productions as he was in Junior HS. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was working at my job on a Sunday afternoon and the hostess at the restaurant told me I had an important phone call. It was my friend Martin Schindelheim who called me and initially braced me by saying I have really sad news to share with you of our friend Scott and as soon as I heard it I just knew something terrible happened. As he spoke further I remember hearing tractor trailer, car flipped over, rainy night, and our friend Scott was dead. I could not believe it as I cried and asked my employer if I could be excused for the day and they said yes. I remember walking home which was a good 2 mile walk just thinking and asking why. I was so upset and felt very sad. It was very difficult going to his funeral and attending shiva. He was our age and had so much ahead of him and now he was gone. To this very day I still think about my friend Scott and recently at my 30 year HS reunion among our friends we thought fondly of our friend Scott.

I grew up in a loving home with wonderful parents who were so kind and caring to my 2 sisters and I and made us feel loved and protected. We also had dealt with illness as my mom had suffered for many years with a chemical imbalance that deeply affected her moods and her feelings and she had several bouts with paranoia and depression. She was treated by a psychiatrist and had many stays at hospitals. We tried to help our mom and Dad always stayed by her side. She was a very strong woman and a very devoted wife and mother despite her difficulties but as time passed and her condition worsened it was evident she needed time away and she spent months at a time at South Oaks under the care of her psychiatrist. He had prescribed her on so many medications to try to help her but it seemed she just became so passive and lost that vitality and self confidence she once had. She became very feeble and my youngest sister had to grow up fast as she assumed a lot of the family responsibilities as did all of us. Dad had to be strong as he had to work and he would always be there to visit mom. I was very close to mom and felt very sad that I was losing her as she was a shell of what she used to be. It was very difficult to see her suffer so much and for me I had to deal with it in my own way and I would tend to be alone a lot and derive joy in running to escape and shopping for clothes and music cds.

I was obsessive-compulsive and this was how I dealt with the pain and sadness. I pretty much kept to myself and spent some time with my friends and ran cross country practices. After graduating highschool and attending college I remember both my parents being a strong influence in my life and mom getting back to herself and working again in the city as a secretary for MetLife. I attended Nassau Community College as a pre engineering student with intentions of attending Virgina Tech. After completing my studies at Nassau I fulfilled both my and my mom's dream of being accepted and enrolling at Virginia Tech studying to be a mechanical engineer. My mother's brother, Timothy Donovan had graduated there in the early 1960s with an electrical engineering degree. I really enjoyed the school and campus and my course of study but this was my first time away from home and I got homesick and felt alone and wanted to be near home with my family. I had a wonderful experience being away and was glad to attend Virginia Tech but I was not quite ready for it. After taking a year off working I decided on attending Hofstra University with my parent's encouragement and studied Accounting with the intentions of becoming a CPA. I enjoyed my days at Hofstra and made some great friends. My best friend Jeffrey Saper was one such friend I made and we are the best of friends today.

After graduating Hofstra I landed my first job working for a small CPA firm during the 1985 tax season. I was a young man and starting my career and my parents were so proud and I was so appreciative of having such loving and caring parents and sisters.

I was working in the city and I would take the train in with both my mom and dad and we would stop at St Francis of Assisi for early morning mass and then we would say bye to dad as he took the subway to his job and I would walk mom to her office at MetLife after breakfast at McDonalds. They were great memories.

As time passed and mom had battled with depression and bipolar disorder she was unable to continue working and required many visits in and out of hospitals including South Oaks. It was a difficult time for all of us and we were trying our best to help mom but we relied on the doctors and trusted they were doing right by her. We will always have our reservations about this as we think about it now and what we could have done differently that might of helped her.

It was thanksgiving of 1989 and mom was having a very bad day and started to panic and we knew we had to get her to the hospital. Dad and I tried to calm her and get her to lie on the couch but she was flailing her arms and kicking her legs. It was difficult to bear and my sisters called 911 for medical assistance. By the time the paramedics arrived at the scene Mom was becoming more and more agitated and shouting and we had all we could do to restrain her as the paramedics finally got her secured and strapped trying their best to calm her. I was very emotional over seeing her deterioration and just could not hold back my tears. We followed the ambulance to Brunswick hospital in Amityville where mom was admitted and spoke with the medical staff about her medical condition and all the medicines she was taking.

She was not doing well at all and was very violent and we needed to get in touch with her psychiatrist and arrange for her to be transferred again to South Oaks Psychiatric. Upon her tansfer she was still fighting and seemed violent and not herself. The doctor met with us and asked if she had gone off any of her medications and we did not believe so but we saw changes in her personality that we had not seen before. He was concerned and felt she had to be restrained and put into isolation until she could be gradually eased into the population. We were worried for her and wanted answers as to her deteriorating condition. As the days and weeks went on she was not eating and she was losing weight and the staff at South Oaks were not able to medically treat her and her psychiatrist said that her life was in jeapody so they had to transfer her back to Brunswick Hospital and it was a few days before Christmas. When she was transferred the doctors hooked her up to intravenous to force feed her as she lost so much weight. It was then I realized that it was only a matter of time and I was preparing to lose her. It was very difficult for me because we were in the joyous season of Christmas 1989 but I did not feel much for celebrating as I felt very sad and depressed. After the holidays were over I would make my visits to see mom and some days were good and some days not so good. I tried to be strong and I told her how much I love her and encouraged her to be strong and brave and that we would stay by her side. She would sometimes manage a smile and that made my day. I would always kiss my mom good bye and tell her how much I love her and that I would be back tomorrow. She understood and we held hands and I held back my tears and was just glad to spend this time with her though I wished it was under better circumstances.

I remember it was March 21, 1990 and I was heading home on the train from the city to Bellmore. As I arrived at the station I headed for my car at my sister's house and as I went to open my car door I saw my brother-in-law at the door waving me to come towards the door. As I approched he opened the door and I saw my 2 sisters and Kenny gathered together and my sister Kathy asked me to sit down and as I did I immediately asked Is Mom Ok? and she replied with tears in her eyes saying that Dad was with her and that she had passed and I was so devastated hearing this but knowing that it was to be expected sooner or later. No matter if it is expected or not it is very difficult and painful and it stays with you for so long. I was very deeply affected by my mom's passing and was terribly sad and depressed for a long time after that and I had to do a lot of soul searching. After the wake and funeral I spent some time alone and tried to deal with the pain I felt and the sense of guilt I had and just wanted to have my childhood back when mom was happy, healthy and so beautiful. I just cried like a little baby knowing my mom was no longer there for me and now I realized I had to be strong for my dad as he was alone and was deeply sad and grieving the loss of his beautiful wife.

I had my dad still and he was my inspiration and we both relied on each other and I planned to do things more with him and try to help him through this sad and difficult time. So my 2 sisters and I planned to be dad's support system to help him through this heart wrenching sadness we felt in losing mom as she was only 50 years old.

I remember at Mom's funeral my dad's brother, a paraplegic from an accident on a construction site was by our side and he was visably upset as he loved mom and loved my dad, his older brother. Within a month of mom's passing Uncle Donald was rushed to the hospital where he was suffering a lot of pain and was in critical condition. My dad, sisters and I would make our visits for the time he was in the hospital and console his family. Things looked grim for Uncle Donald and in May we learned of his passing and we all attended his funeral all with tears in our eyes as we loved Donald Iannielli, the younger brother of my dad. We were just so devastated by the recent losses and had to stick by each other and hold our dad up and help him through this very difficult time.

Dad was our main concern now and I made sure I would stick by his side as he meant so much to me as did mom and uncle Donald.

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Please feel free to read my writings and leave a kind message or suggestion. Thank you. Emily