Tag Archives: grief

My 9/11 …

World Trade Center, view from New Jersey

Twenty years has passed in the blink of an eye since the events of September 11, 2001, and yet we also have all of the extraordinary moments that we have lived through year in and year out since then.

I have raised a child, completed my BA and MA, published a book, started and retired from a 15 year successful career with the City of New York, nine plus years of which were spent with the special people of the NYC Fire Department in the post-9/11 culture of camaraderie and pain that is unique to the FDNY.

In that latter realm, I have had the honor of christening the fireboat Three Forty Three, a 120 foot vessel that graces New York Harbor having been named to honor the men and women of the Department who lost their lives in the horrific events of 9/11.

Each of us who survived the events of that day has our own stories of what has happened to us over these past twenty years.

We also never forget where we were and what we were doing on that beautiful Tuesday morning.

Yet we move forward, feeling the holes in the sky as deep scars on our collective psyche, and for many of us when looking at the reconfigured landscape of towering buildings, no longer seeing it as a symbol of home.

For New Yorkers, in my case a multi-generational denizen of the City, 9/11 carries special resonance and pain. Most of us knew someone who perished or in playing the six degrees of separation game someone who knew someone and so one. For some of us the loss remains unbearable and still we persevere.

I remember Peter “Pete” Mardikian.

He was 29.

He had been married for just six weeks–a wedding I’d been invited to but couldn’t attend in his wife, Corine’s hometown in Ohio.

Pete worked for me for a while at Imagine Software before a promotion that saw him working for one of the partners, Scott Sherman. We’d spent a great time in London together, all of us ensuring our software product didn’t crash and burn at the turn of the New Year on January 1, 1999.

Le Meridien Hotel Bar, Piccadilly, London

Along with others of our colleagues, Stephen Klein, Karen Rose, and Mark Lipsits among them, we’d meet up at the end of our long work days and sit up talking about the meaning of life until well past midnight at the bar of the Le Meridien Hotel off Piccadilly Square. As this was long before the days of smart phones and Instagram feeds, there are no photos to smile at documenting our moments together nor memes captured from Scott’s brilliant stories that had us reeling with laughter nor our wonderment at Stephen’s instance that we enter “drift time.”

So those remembrances have to live inside. In our collective hearts. In how we laugh about that time at the bar on the infrequent moments we meet up or pound out notes on Facebook.

But it’s without Pete.

Without his special brand of magic and sweetness. Without him as a 49 year old, perhaps a father a couple of times over, regaling us with the firsts of those kinds of experiences: first birthday, first day of kindergarten, first white belt ceremony … and so on.

At the 9:05 am moment in the 9/11 Timeline records, it is noted that Peter Mardikian called his wife on one of the few working phones. He was on the 106th Floor of the North Tower attending the Risk Waters Group Conference at Windows on the World. One other of our colleagues, Andrew Fisher, 42, also perished, and a third colleague in attendance left mere moments before the first plane hit the towers to go back to the office to pick up something.

Pete’s funeral at the St. Vartan Cathedral an Armenian Church on 34th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan created levels of pain I did not think were possible.

All of us, his family, his colleagues, his friends were crushed beyond measure. We saw in Cori a figure of strength and fortitude we did not think possible and in our own grief looked to her to model how to endure his loss.

I spent most of my time with Scott. Both of us were 47 years of age. We were bereft at the notion that someone with so much left of his life could be lost. We felt like helpless parents with inconsolable grief at the notion that our bright, brilliant boy with a limitless future had perished so horribly.

He was our Petey. Our pal. And in those moments of pain we had to reconcile what life meant. How we could go forward. How we could separate our anger and the sense that life was not worth living in the presence of such horror. How to navigate those moments to get to the pivotal point where we were choosing to live. To experience grief as it is and then go on to live life as best we could.

Any loss is grievous. The loss of 2,977 in one day was incalculable for New Yorkers and incalculable still as we viscerally reconsider how it unfolded and the many permutations that have affected our world in the aftermath of 9/11. Those memories form indelible pictures that hit the senses in waves that strip us bare again. Causing that gulping feeling of a gut punch one never fully recovers from.

All we can do is continue to live our best lives if not for ourselves then for the those we lost.

May the memory of those who perished be for a blessing.

I want to live

I want to live

A dear young friend of Girlboxing has been diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer.  Barely 30 she is facing the kinds of challenges and life or death decisions that no one should ever have to face, never mind a person as vital and full of life as she.

It reminds me that all of us face deeply troubling and difficult problems that can be as debilitating emotionally as they are physically or quite frankly, the other way around, wherein feeling crippled by loss or depression can lead to a physical manifestation of suffering.

Cure alls for these sorts of troubles are near-on impossible, but there are ways of coping that can help find a place for laughter and smiles along side the hugely daunting task of getting through a difficult time.

So of course you know where I’m going with this in the sense of “working it out on the bag,” but more so, finding the “daily something,” the space that’s yours and yours alone can be a source of inspiration and hope to keep you going.

My Aunt was just such a person.  She had every serious and debilitating disease one can have including four different cancers (one breast each and two lung cancers), two heart attacks, three strokes and kidneys that managed to function despite no registry on her blood tests, oh and the diabetes she managed to “cure” through changes to her diet.

Her philosophy for coping was simple.  She’d wake up everyday and tell herself “I want to live.”   This became her mantra:  “I want to live.”  She said this often and always, and most particularly to her doctors who got to thinking that she must have inherited the spirit of several cat colonies because she kept using up lives and coming back.

With each new diagnosis, she’d yell it louder:  “I want to live.”   And the same with each day after radiation treatments, chemo treatments, blood transfusions, midnight schleps to the hospital, or day-long waits in the ER.  “I want to live,” she’d call me and say as we worked through the choices she had to face – all the while never missing a hair appointment or her weekly manicure.  And taking care of those details, walking into her doctor’s as decked out as she could muster gave her something to twinkle about – and that made it infectious.  Her doctors took on her mantra saying, “She wants to live,” thus rallying around her and giving it their best to ensure that she’d have that chance.

When she did finally pass I felt a deep and abiding sadness, but knowing that she had pushed herself to the limit of what her body could take and then some gave me a peaceful sense that she was ready to be where she needed to be.  I also understood that her “daily something” was her effort to stay alive; to give herself the energy and pluck to fight each and every round to its fullest.

As well, I know that we all have that in us.  It’s just a matter of finding that one space that helps us work things through no matter if it’s a potter’s wheel a double-ended bag or a simple one line statement.  So whatever it is: writing a journal entry, walking a mile, learning something new or throwing nothing but lefts at a punching bag getting ready for the Golden Gloves; while your daily something won’t cure you, it sure will help to see you through.

 

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday

Today would have been my mother’s 75th birthday.  As one of those landmark birthdays we figured on having some sort of party to mark the event.  That was not meant to be, but in reflecting on the woulda, shoulda, coulda’s of life, the mother of my imagination would surely have been a spry warrior with an undiminished twinkle leading everyone in song at her birthday bash.  She’d also have been happier, healthier and more certain of herself at the pivotal decision points in her life when making choices that made sense counted for something.

All of us have those moments where the fork in the road leads left or right.  Sometimes we don’t choose per se, but rather stay stationary in the hopes that the wind (“fate”)  will nudge us along in one direction or another.  Generally we make the choice that feels best at the moment and it turns out to be the “right” choice.  Sometimes we don’t.   Whether those decisions impact us positively or negatively they ultimately lead us on to more choices, more decisions and so on.

Our lives are thus a series of these points on the line.  And the decisions are ones we live with for good or for ill.   Strength of character, faith and moxy carry us through the tough ones plus a lot of humor — something my mother had an abundance of.  It did not, however, stop her from smoking, a decision point that lead to lung cancer and from our point of view her death, way too soon.

Having smoked myself, I feel as if I’ve played roulette with a wheel of awful outcomes.  My hope of course is that I quit soon enough, and having had a family later in life, that the decision to quit (albeit late in “pack years”) will not mean that I’ve robbed my daughter of her mother too soon.  In my case — I had my mother for a long time; in my daughter’s case she’d still be awfully young.

As decisions go, quitting smoking was a great one; as is exercising, keeping your weight trim enough not to cause health problems and as my favorite internist espouses, playing the numbers game meaning getting annual physicals, taking the big tests at the scheduled times and doing *everything* in moderation, including in his mind exercise.

My own health scare 14 years ago is what brought me to boxing in the first place — a decision I cherish even as I struggle to keep it as a part of my daily life.  The point is to be mindful of how things go and not to be afraid of the decisions that will ultimately have deep and perhaps painful effects.

As a women in her fifties I’m mindful of mortality and time in ways I never, ever imagined.  Coupled with losing my mother this year, I’m cognizant of how one can go along and forget that life really is short.  In that vein, I shall toast my mother with my daily something, a good cry and the biggest smile I can muster to greet the day.

Happy birthday Mom, you were one in a million.

 

The daily something

The daily something.

In the last years before my mother’s death this past June, she read from the “Daf Yomi” – a nearly seven and a half-year cycle of readings and commentaries from the Babylonian Talmud. (For the uninitiated, the Talmud consists of the Torah or first five books of the old Testament plus commentaries by learned Rabbis from around the year 400 onward.)

She described it at first as an inquiry into something that had been denied to her as a young girl. Rather like forbidden candy, the mysteries of the Torah were intriguing to her, akin to wearing your older sister’s jewelry or sneaking out after dark (with a please pardon for the religious out there who might feel offended by the comparison).

Over time, the process of her daily readings went from breaking a taboo, to duty and on into a realm of grace.  The daily reading of two pages of text and commentary became a punctuation mark of her twenty-four hour cycle.  Both a beginning and an end, the cycle of readings brought her closer to assuaging the spiritual hungering that had walked along side her most of her life, as well as an opportunity to order the disordered world of illness and increasingly diminished physical health.

In thinking through the idea of a daily something, it struck me that so much of our lives is lost to the constant interplay between the “have to’s” and the “need to’s,” as in I have to wake-up, have to get to work, need to pick-up the dry cleaning, have to make dinner, and so on.  What’s left then for a quiet space of being?  Of dwelling in the mind or the body.  And if not a daily reading of a spiritual work — a Daf Yomi, what then?

It’s a question many of us lose sight of.   And resolvable in a myriad of ways; as a daily dose of shadow boxing in the mirror, a morning run, a meditation or even a daily write.  The point is to find a space — an “n” length of time that can mark a beginning and end of a twenty-four cycle.  A punctuation mark that belongs to oneself and oneself alone.  And maybe it’s nothing more than singing one song every morning, but in the end that span of experience represents a moment unlike all the other moments in the day.  Multiply that times a number of days, weeks, months and years, and one can really be on to something.  A sacred space that is bounded by all the junk out there, but from which one can find great solace and even joy.