Grief is Not Grief

 

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Grief in a word is Difficult!  It is Difficult to explain, Difficult to describe, Difficult to go through, and Difficult to watch someone you care about to go through it!  But grief is a very personal thing, some people think that it is love, others believe it is darkness!  Many people believe that they can fix you, and others like to equate their grief with yours.  If they lost a sibling or a parent, they feel they understand your loss of a child because the grief must match yours, it is the same!  Grief is Grief – right?  No, Grief is not Grief!

I am by nature strong woman; I am not the person who would go to counseling of any kind, because I work through it myself!  When our daughter Megan died, our grief was so overwhelming, so consuming.  We had to stop the life-sustaining machines that were keeping her alive, and it was so incredibly heartbreaking!  I will tell her whole story at another time!  The pain was immediate, it was gut-wrenching, it was all consuming, and it was profound!!  What I remember the most about it – was all I did was sob!  When we were making the arrangements, Keith and I were zombies, the funeral director was speaking, but we could hear no words.  He took us to pick out a casket, and there was nothing any more surreal than having to decide how to bury our child!! He said to us “Of course you want the best for your daughter?” Of course, we did, so he proceeded to show us, three models!  We have the economy model, some sort of heavy-duty cardboard that was $1,000, but you don’t want that – bugs get inside!  The next model was a sturdy white wooden casket that was $3,000, less chance of bugs getting inside or the golden model – a golden casket that was $6,000 with this model bugs will never get in!!!  Well, as disgusting as this was, this was his pitch to us – we could not afford the golden model, we really could only afford the $1,000 model, but the thought of our child not being protected horrified us, so we went with the $3,000 model!  (Just a side note – years later we found out that it didn’t matter one from the other – you cannot stop the bugs) I remember saying to Keith, why are we here??

During the wake, people actually came up to us and would say things like, “you know, 99% percent of all marriages break up after the loss of a child”, or “you now have an angel watching out for you” or my favorite, “you are young, you can have more children”, REALLY?!?!?

When everyone went home, and we were all alone, we discovered that we were both grieving so differently.  I was usually the strong, let’s get things done, kind of person, but when Meg died, I shut down – completely!  Keith, on the other hand, who was usually the more reflective one, and could sit quietly for long periods of time, he was almost manic, in everything he did.  He was so hyper it was virtually dizzying!  Everyone tended to gravitate toward me because I was the mother, and the “public” opinion was that he is strong, he can handle it!  Sadly the dads are in as much pain, in fact, we were both drowning!  No one within our immediate family or friends had lost a child, we were at a place no one could relate to, no one could fathom, no one ever wanted to be!  And worst of all No One could really understand, they tried, but we were alone in this!!

One day I was so depressed, I could barely put one foot in front of me, I was driving my car and came to an intersection where the light was red, with no car in front of me!  As I approached, I had more than a split second to decide that the truck that would be barrelling through the intersection, about the same time I get to it, would help me to end it all in one clean fashion!  However, at that moment, I only thought of Keith, and I knew that it would absolutely devastate him if he had lost me too!  So, I put my brakes on and stopped at the light!  I decided I would never tell him!

Since neither of us knew how to deal with this overwhelming grief, I thought we should go to a Parent Bereavement Support Group.  Keith did not want to go, but I asked him, and he came only for me!  When we got there, the room was full of people mostly women.  We sat around a table, and each of the parents told their heartbreaking stories.  When they got to us, I told our story about Megan’s life.  The woman next to me had also lost a daughter at 33 years old about two years prior.  She proceeded to tell us that she loved her daughter longer and that her grief was worse since I only had my daughter for only 19 months and 27 days!  I couldn’t believe that this is what she was saying.  How can your grief be more significant than mine!  I started to argue with her, and I was getting so mad, that was when Keith got up and said, let’s go – we never went back again!!!!

Even though it was utterly upsetting, it helped us to realize that everyone grieves differently, and so do we, we promised to pay attention to each other and give each other lots of hugs and space!  However, we did not tiptoe around each other either, if one of us were having a particularly rough day, we would be there for the other, we would listen to each other, and more importantly, we would embrace each other as if the world would fall apart if we let go!!!

We kept the world out because everyone was trying to fix us, with cliches like  “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” “God gives us lessons in life and sometimes we won’t know the why only God knows the why”!  These statements only made us angry; they were not comforting.  My reaction was “Fuck God, what kind of a God would give our beautiful daughter the new heart that she so desperately needed only to take her away six weeks later!!!”  Growing up Irish Catholic, I have struggled with God, since I was 14, but now it is magnified since Meg died!  My cousin Laurine, who is a soul healer (I only found out about this after Keith died, because she knew how I felt about things) is trying to help me – but that is a much bigger story!

I was so grateful to so many friends and family, each one, in their own way trying to comfort Keith and me as much as they could.  One day, my lifelong friend Diane called me, she happened to be pregnant at the time with her first child.  I answered the phone, she said, hi how are you? and for the next 45 minutes, I proceeded to cry in her ear.   No words could come out, I just sobbed!  Diane stayed on the phone, and I do not think she said a word, she just listened to me cry!  When I was done, I told her that I needed to go, and we hung up!  Many years later I told her how grateful I was for just being able to cry and her not telling me it will be alright!  She called me all the time and does not remember this call, but it stayed with me forever!

As we were trying to navigate the heaviness and sorrow that we were feeling, I had gotten pregnant 3 weeks after the funeral, I said Keith had a lot of energy!  I knew immediately that I was pregnant (I knew it with Megan as well) and I was freaked out, to say the least.  I was deep in this hell, and I had a hard time grappling with the loss of Meg, and now I was pregnant?!?!?!  I told my sister first because I knew if I told Keith, he would have been happy, and I didn’t know if I could handle that!  I think I cried on the phone for 20 minutes before I could get it out!  I really did not know if I wanted to keep this child, I was so distraught, how can I love another child like I loved Meg??  How horribly unfair to her memory, if I have this child!!!  How can I even go through this pregnancy with all the angst and sorrow I feel!  And the most important of all, since they could never really explain to us how Megan got sick, I was utterly stricken with fear, that this baby would be ill as well.  When I finally told Keith a few days later, he said to me, well, we have some time to make a decision, let’s just take it one day at a time, we still haven’t even taken the test yet, it is too early!

Two weeks later, we were sitting in the living room as the timer went off, and we both sat there not moving.  About a half an hour later, we got up and walked to the bathroom, and there it was, positive!!!!  We both started to cry, and I said I don’t know if I can do this!  Keith said to me can I tell you what I have observed in the last couple of weeks?  I noticed that you stopped taking the Ativan, (the Dr. gave it to me to help me sleep), I noticed that you cut back on your tea intake (I drink massive amounts of tea), and I also noticed that you are eating better!!!  I sat in silence for almost an hour letting it sink it what he was saying, and finally, I said, ok, so I guess we are having a baby!  It was hard to smile or feel joyous, but I did feel relief!  It was still terrifying, the birth was a long way away, but as we stood together we knew we would get through this – together!

On August 10th after an extremely stressful pregnancy, and going through every possible test at that time, I gave birth to our beautiful, healthy new daughter, Kellie, and even though our hearts were still with our Megan, we learned to live with her always in our hearts.  Kellie grew up always knowing about Megan.  Keith’s son and daughter were 13 and 10 at the time and lived in Florida, but we saw them twice a year.  They got to know Meg and understood that she was sick, but when Meg died, and even though Keith so desperately wanted them by his side – it was impossible to get them up for the funeral! But it deeply impacted their young lives as well, especially Justin!

As the years went by, one day I decided to tell Keith about my encounter with that 18 wheeler, and he looked at me and started to cry!  He told me the only reason “I stopped myself from ending it all, was because of YOU – I knew that I could never do that to YOU!” We both just stared at each other for a really long time, we could not believe that we both had these thoughts and never told each other until now!!  We talked into the night, and we knew how so very lucky we were to have each other!!

On February 8, 2018, exactly 26 years, three months and 16 days, or a total of 9605 days, after we lost our beautiful daughter, my favorite person in the entire world, the pure love of my life died.  But this time, I was grieving alone!  Of course, everyone around me was grieving, my children, my family, and our friends.  But, this has proven to be very lonely, very scary and very debilitating!

The first night after Keith died, I came home and sat on my couch, and I really did not move for nearly 10 hours.  I did not turn the television on, I just sat there, I couldn’t move, and I didn’t want to move.  Kellie was the opposite, just like her dad, she could not sit still.  She actually said she read something that said that people grief opposite their personalities.  I immediately knew that was right, having been through what I thought was my worst nightmare and now grieving again, I could feel some of the same emotions.  Almost every night, I did the same thing. I really did not want to speak with anyone, I didn’t want anyone to come to my house. I just wanted to be alone, and for the first time in 31 years, I was completely alone!  I didn’t want to speak with anyone, and if I did only through texts, and that was only if I felt like answering.  During the day, I had to work to keep the business going, but during the night, I locked the door and shut the world out!  My beautiful sister-in-law, Laura had lost her husband 18 months earlier, and she became a wonderful guide for me to at least help me to know what I might expect.

Sadly 17 days after Keith’s death, a friend of mine in town, lost her husband.  Mona’s husband Jim had cancer, but he was done with Chemo and doing so much better,  Mona, Jim, and their children began to feel safe to start thinking of the future again, but then tragedy suddenly struck, Jim after a complication following emergency surgery, died!!  Stunning!!!  Just as Mona came to Keith’s wake, I went to Jim’s.  It was at the same funeral home, but I knew that I needed to be there for her!!  My heart was breaking for her because I knew exactly where she was at this moment in time!

I was able to keep myself very busy during the day, taking care of matters and work, and just trying to keep things running.  This went on for 6 weeks until I decided to close the business because I did not, and more importantly I could not do it without Keith!  That first couple of months, I was in an automatic mode if you will, I was heartbroken, but I was moving. However, once I stopped, I was overwhelmed with the gut-wrenching pain I was feeling.  The heaviness began to set in, the sadness and pain were profound and insurmountable.  I was completely alone!!!  Of course, I have had so many loving people around me, the kids, my sister, cousin, family, and friends, but I did not want anyone around.  I didn’t want to speak with anyone, it took too much energy!  Everyone wanted to know if I was ok, I was not, but I said I was!

For the first month or so I tried to be active, getting up, taking a shower, looking for a job, cleaning my house, taking care of Bailey!  But as the days and months went by, those activities became quite a struggle!  I was not sleeping, how could I, my lover, my partner, my friend is no longer by my side!!  He laid next to me for the past 31 years, and now he is not there.  My bed is empty, I still lay on my side of the bed as if he is there. I would wash my sheets and find it so bizarre that I am cleaning a pillowcase for a pillow that was never laid on!  Sometimes I cry myself to sleep, and other times I just lay awake afraid to shut the light off because I have become acutely aware of how alone I am!  Even with Kellie in the next room!

Keith and I were truly one!  We loved our togetherness!  We worked, slept, ate and went to the grocery store together!  We would work all day together, get in the car, get home and walk Bailey!  We were not freaks, it just so easy for us to be together.  We were able to give to each other like no one else could!!  Life around us was hard, very hard, but our life together never was!!  That is what makes this so difficult for me to move forward, the hardest part is learning to live without him in my life!  The hollowness, the profound sadness, the future feels so dark and bleak.  It is so paralyzing and difficult to leave the house to even look for a job.

Many times, I would wake up and genuinely wish I didn’t wake up.  I would get up, take a shower and decide that I was going out to look for a job today!!!  But instead, I would take a shower, go sit on the couch, and only get up to take Bailey out!  Poor Bailey, I was walking him 5 to 6 miles a day.

So many times, people would say to us over the years, that they could not imagine losing their child, and it is true that there is nothing like it at all!  But I have lost a child and my husband!  I have lost half of my family!  When Meg died, we had each other to hang on to, we supported each other, we cried to sleep together, we cried during the day together, we held each other up!  We were the support for each other to get up, get dressed, get going!  Now there is nothing!  My sister cannot help me, my cousin cannot help me, my children cannot help me!  I am alone! I do not do alone well, Keith loved his alone time, me – not so much!  Now I am always alone, even when I am not!  I have had a lot of love from family, friends, and acquaintances that tell me that Keith is still with me, but that is not a comfort, it makes me angry!!!  He is not holding me, he is not talking to me, he is not comforting to me!!!  All I feel is the emptiness. I have become a hollow shell of myself, I have lost myself, my soul, my confidence and I really could care less to find it!  I even started thinking that I was unable to take care of Bailey, and began contemplating putting him up for adoption because it was just so hard!

I tried to go to the grocery store, late at night so I did not have to see people.  One of two things would happen, I would see someone and they would look down, because they did not want to speak with me, or they would come up and hug me and say things like, it is time to start cheering up!  Or yes, unbelievably, you are young Keith would never want you to be alone!!!!  REALLY People!?!?!?!

Speaking with Mona, I think has helped us both, because I know exactly where she is going, like no other.  We started texting, but then went to lunch and would just cry, and listen, and because NO ONE else knew how we were feeling, at this very moment.    Mona’s grief is the same, yet different than mine, she has three children, two adults and a 13-year-old daughter at home that needs her mother.  Mona needs to be strong especially for her.  Yes, she will mourn together along with her other children, but she cannot sit on the couch and cry all day, her daughter needs to go to school, and after-school activities and go to sleepovers.  Mona’s oldest daughter was getting married in May.  I said to her OMG!  How are you doing this???  I cannot!  I so admire Mona, she has strength well beyond me!

Sure, many people have lost their spouse or significant other, but their experience is not mine.  And if it happened several years ago, you can remember how you felt, and it brings back the pain, but you are in a different place.  Sadly soo many people I know have lost children since Meg, I would never say to them, I know how you feel because I do not!  I lost my child, I understand that, but I do not know how you feel.  I can reach out and say – I am here if you need a shoulder to cry on!  I can possibly guide you, but I do not know what you are going through!  My friend Patty had lost her son, 10 years ago, we had been out of touch for many years, and because of Facebook, reconnected.  I tried to guide her but did not want to in any way diminish her pain.  We were in two different places, but still shared the pain of losing a child.  My sister-in-law Laura has been my beacon for what I should expect, and for the most part, she had to relive her own heartache, yet Keith was her big brother, she is in her own sadness, and grieving differently than I am, but yet very similar!

Last night, my stepson Justin called, and after about a half an hour of me being emotional about not finding a job, he said to me,  “what has happened to my strong, confident stepmom? The woman who picked herself up every single time and became stronger and more confident!!”  I told him she died, he said no she is hiding!  It was kind of a kick in the ass, bringing me to reality!  I realized that he was right, although, I will not be flexing my biceps anytime soon.  It really made me begin to stop feeling sorry for myself.  I realized that Keith would be so disappointed in how I am acting!  Today, I slowly started to move in at least a forward motion.  Hopefully, as I put one foot in front of the other, and yes with Bailey by my side, the darkness will lighten up, and the hollowness will start to close!  I have been a Phoenix most of my life, the Phoenix will rise again, but I truly hope this is the last time I have to do this!

 

For the Love of Our Human

 

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When we lose the most important person in our lives, we as humans all grieve differently and need time to heal.  So do our animals, this is the story of how our puppy dealt with the loss of his favorite human, Keith!

Our daughter, Kellie, had been sending Keith and I pictures of this dog, a small black Labrador-Beagle mix.  She was telling us how adorable he was, but he was living in a terrible situation. “He needs a home, our home, we have to rescue him!!!” Keith and I owned a business. We were so busy, that the thought of having to care and be responsible for a dog was just too daunting, even though, mind you, we love animals, and have had both, dogs and cats in our lives.  We told Kellie that it was just impossible, a puppy is so much work.  As much as we were saddened for his situation, bringing him into a home where he would be alone all day, just didn’t seem any better!

Kellie had a different idea, however.  She decided to let us see for ourselves.  One evening, she brought him to our home.  I’m sure you know where this is going!!!  After about 30 seconds, Keith was on the floor playing with this adorable 4-month-old puppy and fell in love.  It took a little more convincing on my part “How are we going to manage this?” Keith replied, “As we do with everything else, we will figure it out!!”

On that day, December 14, 2016, George “Bailey” came into our lives. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of our family’s favorite movies, and we knew it was right.  Bailey did too!

Bailey and Keith became instant best buds.  Wherever Keith went, Bailey had to be there, too!  Since Keith was a chef, you could always find the two of them in the kitchen.  Bailey was happily awaiting anything that might happen to fall off the cutting board.

The two of them loved taking long walks together, and with Keith being 6’4″ and having very long strides, Bailey, only four months, happily kept up the pace.  When I would come home the three of us would take long strolls during the evenings, it was one of our favorite things to do.  Bailey loved the pack walks; as long as his favorite human came along.  At the end of the night, Bailey always jumped into our bed; snuggling between us.

One year later, Christmas 2017, Keith was not feeling well.  So much so that we took him to the hospital the next day, where we received devastating news.  Keith had a tumor on his liver and needed a liver transplant.

Bailey saw me leave with Keith that morning and when I didn’t come back home with him, he was confused and miserable!  That night, I could not find him, he was hiding from me under Kellie’s bed, and he ended up sleeping in her room all night long!

Keith came home about ten days later, but he was frail.  We did not want Bailey jumping on him and overwhelming either of them.  So while I was bringing Keith into the house, Kellie brought Bailey out through the back door.  Once I got Keith settled, I texted Kellie to bring him in.  It was like something out of the videos you see on YouTube.  Before Bailey saw him, he knew Keith was home and practically torn Kellie’s arm off, as he tried to run to him.  The reunion was beautiful, Keith stretched out his arms and Bailey flew into them.  All was right with the world.  That night Bailey slept in our bed, snuggling next to his favorite human.

About a week later, I had to bring Keith back to the hospital.  Not only was this devastating to our family, but to Bailey as well.  When I did not bring Keith home that night, Bailey was very very angry, thinking I had something to do with it.  If I walked into the room he was in, he walked out!  Of course, he did not sleep with me that night, he slept with Kellie!!

Bailey was missing his daily long walks with his favorite human.  He got the essential exercise, but it just wasn’t the same for him.  When Kellie and I were not at the hospital or running the business, Bailey got our attention!!  However, as the days became nights, and we spent most of our time at the hospital, he became very destructive.  Kellie would go back and forth to take care of him and give him hugs, but he bore holes in the walls and ripped up the carpet.  We knew that he was so upset, so we found it difficult to be angry with him.

Keith spent another 12 days in the hospital only to have them tell us that there was nothing more anyone could do for him.  When he came home for the final time, we had to have Hospice set up in our living room so we could make him as comfortable as possible!

Over the next nine days, I slept in the living room with Keith, because I was afraid I would not hear him when he needed me.  Bailey spent every night in our bed, but during the day, he would nervously go between the couch, to the chair, to the floor, or lay under Keith’s bed as if he was protecting him!

On February 8th, just six weeks and two days, after the initial visit to the hospital, Keith was in and out of consciousness.  At one point, Bailey jumped up on the bed and landed on Keith’s stomach.  Bailey was only 18 months old, and of course, he didn’t realize that he was causing some pain.  He didn’t understand why we quickly shooed him away, and he was so upset that he hid under our bed.  Kellie and I spent the whole day just being by Keith side.  We were playing his favorite music and telling him how much we loved him.

Very late in the afternoon, Bailey came to Keith one more time.  He gently got on the bed, kissed Keith on the face and then he left his bedside.  That night, just before midnight, Keith had passed away.  We had to call the nurse from hospice to come and officially pronounce him.  While we were waiting, Bailey laid under the hospital bed, and the three of us sat there in silence.  He never came from under the bed until the nurse arrived.

The nurse was a kind, 6’6″ gentleman from Jamaica named Godfrey, with a baritone voice, and fedora.  Bailey would typically greet him with his tail wagging, and try giving kisses.  Usually, he would jump up because he was so happy to see him.  Not this time!!  Bailey proceeded to sit in front of Keith at his bed as if guarding him.  As Godfrey gently took care of Keith, Bailey did not move.  Bailey watched intently.  I believe that if Godfrey moved a hair wrong out of Keith’s head, he might have lost a leg.

Once Godfrey left, we then had to wait for the funeral home attendants.  It was so heartbreaking for Kellie and I, but it became so profound as we watched Bailey sit next to Keith when the two gentlemen, dressed in suits, arrived at two in the morning.  As the gentlemen worked, Bailey followed them intently.  He was visibly upset as these guys placed Keith on a gurney.  Bailey was running back and forth; from both sides of the bed to the couch to the chair.  He was whining, crying and trying to catch his breath as they were making there way to the front door!  What were they doing to his favorite human?  Where were they taking him?

As the funeral attendants took Keith away, Bailey followed us down the stairs and watched as the gentlemen placed Keith in the back of the hearse.  Kellie, Bailey and I watched as the vehicle drove away, and then we went upstairs.  Kellie and I went to our bedrooms, Bailey slept in the living room under Keith’s hospital bed, and he did not leave it all night long.

The next morning I had to go to NYC, and Kellie stayed home.  Hospice needed to pick up all of their equipment.  What neither Kellie nor I realized was how devastating this would be for Bailey.  For over ten days, the hospital bed and oxygen machine were part of our lives and an extension of Keith.  When Hospice came, Bailey went crazy and started jumping up at the gentleman taking the equipment.  He was crying and whining as each piece was taken outside to the truck.  Kellie called me to tell me that he was crying so hard that she thought he was choking.  She was so upset as he would run to the window, watching them load the truck, crying.  After they left, Bailey did not know what to do with himself.  He ran from room to room whimpering; he was devastated!!

Over the last few months, it was a real struggle not only for Kellie and me but also for Bailey.  In the beginning, he was so stressed out and super hyper.  Going for a simple walk was agony.  We were so frustrated that we could not control him.  It was beginning to look impossible for us to keep him.

While dealing with our own grief, and because we loved Keith so much, we had to realize how important it was to remember our little non-human.  Bailey is grieving with us.  Each day, we all get up and put one foot or paw, in front of the other, and try to adjust to our new norm.

The three of us are slowly navigating our way out of this deep dark cloud together!  Bailey goes back and forth to Kellie’s room and mine to sleep every night!  We may not be his favorite humans, yet, but as we all get out of bed every day, we are all learning to live life without our favorite human, Keith!

 

 

No Big Deal

 

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It was a beautiful morning, much like today, seven years ago, on Wednesday, June 22, 2011, Keith and Kellie were by my side, as I was putting on my hospital gown and getting into a hospital bed.  We were all making nervous small-talk, and Keith was making his usual sarcastic puns and quips. As the anesthesiologist comes into the room, all I said to him was I better wake up…

When Keith and I opened The Petite Cafe in 2001, we were new to the town of Nutley, NJ.  As the years went by, we got to know so many wonderful people that eventually became friends. One such family was the Paserchia’s.  I met one of the daughters first, Leanne, then her sister Kim and then eventually their parents, Dennis and Denise, and brother Christopher.

Around 2006, Leanne came with her family into our cafe for Sunday brunch, and her mother, Denise was visibly shaken.  When I asked what was going on, they told me that Dennis needed a kidney transplant, that he was a difficult match, and had no prospects for anyone willing to be a living donor.  I said to them “I’ll get tested, what do I have to do?” They all looked a little shocked, but they told me that I needed to get a blood test. I told them “great I’ll do it!” During that little conversation, brunch is booming, so I went back to work, and I casually walked up to Keith, who was in front of a sizzling stove, with pancakes on one side and eggs on the other, and said “Um, Babe, I am donating my kidney, to that guy over there!”  Without skipping a beat, he said “oookkkaaayyy,” while flipping the pancakes!!!

A few days later, I went to St Barnabus, in Livingston with Keith, and we met with two great people Marie Morgievich and Dr. Shamkant Mulgaonkar.  They loved Dennis; his wife donated her kidney six years earlier, and he rejected it. They were very anxious to get him a new Kidney. When we met with Dr. Mulgaonkar, he took out his pad and pen and proceeded to show us how this was going down.  He was so amusing in his explanation but, I was not sure if he was trying to scare us or just wanted us to be very well informed.   But after he proceeded to explain, EXACTLY how they were going to cut into me and take my kidney, he said, so are you still interested??  I said of course! You don’t scare me; this is EXACTLY what I want to do.  Keith told the Dr., “she made up her mind Doc, there is no turning back, now” Dr. Mulgaonkar, said great, let’s get you tested!!

Unfortunately, I was not a match.  Now, understand that being a match for someone is very difficult, even within a family.  But if you don’t even get tested, you will never know. There was another option, it was called a “chain donation.”  So this is how it works, Dennis needs a kidney, he needs someone to donate for him, whether it is a family member, friend or stranger.  Once they have that, next is finding another person (let’s call her Laurine) in need of a kidney whose family member wants to donate, but does not match her either (let’s call her Kathleen)  I match Laurine, and Kathleen matches Dennis. So, my kidney goes to Laurine and Kathleen’s goes to Dennis. Thus the chain, I hope that makes sense!  The big problem is still getting that person who will match Dennis!!!  When family members, friends or even strangers, do not step up, it makes it difficult for the person in need, to even get the opportunity at life!!

For the first few years, nothing happened, there was no match out there for Dennis! Meanwhile, poor Dennis was on Dialysis this entire time, up to 4 times a week. Then one day I get a call from Marie, and she tells me that we have a match.  I had to go to the hospital for tests, which includes a cat scan, pap smear, and mammogram. Everything came back perfect! I am ready to go!!

But then, the call that brought everything to a screeching halt, just a few days before the operation!  One of the people in the chain – I believe it was a chain of 8, decided to back out, because his wife’s friend wanted to donate to her, and she was a match!  He was delighted he did not have to do it, backed out and the whole chain fell apart! I was so angry at the guy – HOW DO YOU DO THAT???, all these people are counting on you?? So now we wait again!!!

We waited nearly a year, and around June 10, 2011, the phone rang.  It was Marie, who said, ok we have a chain again, we think that this is solid!! Everyone has to come back again and get all the tests done, again, to make sure that nothing had changed.  If everything is good, surgery is June 22!

On Wednesday, June 15, 2011, I went to St Barnabus, for my tests, I had the mammogram, pap smear and then the cat scan.  Now the cat scan is where you have the iodine injected for contrast. Once the Dr. started and injected the iodine, I laid down on the table.  It was so weird, but I let out a very fast, short sneeze!  I had no idea where it came from because it actually startled me. After a few moments, my eyes started to itch, but I could not move yet, the Dr. asked me if my eyes were itchy (my thought was – how does she know that) and I said yes, she said, Ok, I need about 16 more seconds, can you hang on until then, I said sure!

When the test was finished, the Dr was right there to help me up.  As I swung my legs to the floor, now my eyes were very itchy.  She said to me “I think you are having an allergic reaction.”  (Apparently, the sneeze was a warning sign for her) I said, how is that I had this test before, this did not happen. (When your body has an allergic reaction, the first time you are exposed to whatever it is that you are allergic to, your body says “oh we don’t like that,” and it is the NEXT time you have been exposed, that is when the reaction happens, interesting right?!!?!!)

The next thing I know, as she was helping me walk from the imaging room, I started having difficulty breathing.  I happened to bring my daughter Kellie with me that day, without Keith, and she had to watch as my face blew up, and got swollen.  She said, “what is wrong with you, mom?” I was bewildered, I could hear the Dr say to me, “Maureen you are in “anaphylactic shock” a reaction to the iodine, I am giving you Benydryl, it will stop the swelling.”  However, what happened, was that it got a lot worse before it got better. She called for a gurney and laid me on it. I was beginning to panic because I could not breathe, I told the Dr. to get Kellie out of here, and then next thing I knew I took in a breath and could not exhale, I hear in the background Code Blue, Code Blue!!

Next thing, 14-15 doctors, and nurses are surrounding the bed looking at me, and one said, I am going to put a breathing tube down your throat to help you breathe.  I shook my head NO, and I knew if they did that I would have to stay in the hospital, besides I was starting to feel a little better.

By the time Keith got to the hospital, I was down in the emergency room, but feeling better and still swollen.  Keith told me that he “was so freaked” out that he was not here for me, and he was so happy to see my face – even though it didn’t even look like me!  Before we left, I asked the Drs., am I ok to have the surgery next week?!?! They said yes you are, my reaction was “GOOD”! After a few of hours, I was okay to leave and I even drove home.

That Sunday, June 19th, was Father’s Day.  Our store was open, but a Street Fair was going on, and Keith and I decided to take a walk. As the surgery was looking like it was really happening and I was feeling excited and anxious about it.  I knew it was the right thing to do, especially since Organ Donation has been in my life, ALL my life – but again that is another story, for another time! As we were enjoying the day, I said to Keith, “I know that Wednesday was scary, but I need you to promise me one thing, that if the surgery goes south, you won’t be angry with me.”  We stopped walking, and he said to me “How can I ever be mad at you for doing something so beautiful,” I gave him a big hug and said to him, “Ok bring on Wednesday!”

Which brings us back to the beginning of my story…

I kissed Keith and Kellie, then I was wheeled to the OR, they helped me on the bed, hooked me up to IVs, and the surgeon came in and said, “Ok, Maureen, are you ready?”  I said I am, and he said, excellent! That was the last thing I remember until I woke up!!!!

The surgery was done Laparscopic, there were three tiny incisons, they cut the Kidney out, stitched up the vein that connected the kidney and closed me up.  It was about an hour and a half.  Done!!  Now I am not a wimp, but whew, I was definitely in pain, I will not sugar coat it!  Even with the painkillers, it was not easy.  But, I woke up jubilant, the first thing I asked for was “how is Dennis,” they told me he was doing great!  I was beyond thrilled! The surgery was an eight-person chain, my kidney went to a woman in NYC, and Dennis got his kidney from a person, who was from California!  It was such a great day! The lives of eight people changed forever, and I am so proud to have been a part of it!

Dennis did have some issues post surgery, but once he was feeling better, he began living his life without Dialysis!!!  Life was great, and so was his life with his new grandson.

Sadly, after living with this kidney for nearly 7 years, in March, Dennis rejected the kidney, and he is now back on Dialysis!  This does happen with organ donation, he will now be a more difficult match, but if no one steps up to be a living donor, then he will not get another opportunity! We cannot let this happen!  Consider being a Living Donor today!  If I could, I would do it again, I am very passionate about Organ Donation, and to me this was really No Big Deal!

The First Father’s Day

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**I posted this on my social media on Father’s Day

When Keith and I started talking about getting married, I was really not interested in having children, and since he already had two children from his first marriage, I asked him “are you ok if your two children are all the children you have?” He told me “yes, but I think you will change your mind someday!” I told him, “I don’t think so,” and we go on with our lives.

But then, my beloved grandfather dies, I realized what it meant to have a family of my own, and having watched Keith with his own children, I knew that he would be a great father to our child. I told Keith, “ok I hate to admit it, but you were right.” “I think I want to have a child, just one, and also I want to go back to work after six weeks, are you ok with that?” of course he was thrilled!!

On February 26, 1990, our beautiful daughter Megan was born. As Megan got sick, it became apparent that I would not be able to go back to work. Keith was working at the Marriott Corp. at Paine-Webber, and he took on two more jobs to make up for our lost income! When he would come home, the first thing he would do – if it wasn’t too late – is tell me to get some rest, I will take care of our little girl! He was the calming force in our small family, and Meg loved when her daddy held her in his massive arms against his chest. On the day she died, he whispered in her ear; you can let go, my little little (his favorite thing he called her), we love you, you do not need to hold on for us!

One year later we gave birth to our daughter Kellie; it was challenging being pregnant and mourning at the same time! Keith, was my strength, my rock, and my navigator through our new norm. He took on all the stress of everything so that my pregnancy would be as “stressless” as possible. When are beautiful daughter Kellie was born, completely healthy, we started to build a life again.

In January 1994, Keith’s son Justin had an opportunity to live with us, and just like that, we became a family of four! It was so amazing watching Keith with his children. Cultivating their strengths, teasing them with pranks, reading stories to Kellie and telling Justin stories of his adventures! Both kids were able to go to him and tell him anything. He was not judgy, but he was not a pushover either. If the kids were in trouble, my first reaction was to freak out and ground them, but he would have his calm Keith way, and the kids would usually feel far worse because they disappointed their dad!

As the kids had become adults, Keith, became their best friend! He loved the man that Justin had become! He was proud of the husband and father that he was, and I was so happy that Justin had the most amazing example of what it means to be a husband and father. My heart goes out to Kellie, who has yet to start her life, Keith will never see her career choice, who she decides to spend the rest of her life with, or ever meet her children. I am confident though that with the special relationship she had with her dad, he will be with her throughout every decision she makes through her life, and he will help her to make the right choices.

This Father’s Day will be the most difficult for all of us, but as we think of the kind of father he was, all we can do is smile throughout the day! HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! #keithandmegan💜💜 #fathersday

Missing My Love

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My name is Maureen Jaret, and I am Keith “The Existential Baker’s” wife.  With a heavy heart and in case you did not realize it, my beautiful husband, poet, chef, father, and grandfather passed away on February 8, 2018.  Please see his last post of February 1, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.”

I have been trying to decide what I would do with his blog, which he loved and nurtured for the last six years.  I did not want his blog with all his amazing writings, to die with him. So after much thought and reflection, I decided that I will continue what he started, discussing my life with him, my life without him, and everything that is in between.

I grew up in the dawning of Equal Rights for Women; however, I grew up in a very conservative household where being a feminist was vulgar.  When I met Keith, he not only embraced the fact that I had strong opinions and sense of self, he encouraged it. We always had a funny thing between us, that I am not “The Wife,” I was not Mrs. Keith Jaret or even Mrs. Jaret, I am Maureen Jaret.  It never meant that I was not proud to be Mrs. Jaret, but I was my own person, and he respected that.

So in honor of him, and the fact that I am and always will be extremely PROUD to be his wife, I will be renaming his blog, “The Existential’s Wife”!  I am not the writer he was, but I think this new journey, will be fascinating…to say the least! I do have a passion for Organ Donation, and I want to spread the word about how this has affected my life.  Since we no longer have the New Jersey Stores, I am going to change all my social media to The Existential’s Wife. I spoke to my children about this, and they were happy that their father’s words will go on.  I hope you will continue to follow me as I go on with the rest of my life, without the love of my life, trying to figure it all out! I know he gives me a peace sign over this.

 

Interview On Top Of The World

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It was June of 1980 and I had just graduated The Culinary Institute of America. Oh, hell yea I was ready to take on the world with a knife and a saute pan and was scheduled for an interview on the 107th floor of One World Trade Center, the glorious Windows On The World Restaurant. I was so nervous about going there I had butterflies fluttering in my stomach. I arrived at One WTC. Standing by the elevators the thought struck me that I was about to enter into a room the size of a broom closet and be transported up to the clouds. The butterflies became anxious and aggressive when the elevator opened and I got on. The second the broom closet began its lift off the butterflies began to migrate, some up into my throat and others downward. I thought it was either their migration or my excitement that kept popping the Hell out of my ears until it hit me I was flying upwards in a box higher than the Manhattan skyline and it was the rapidly changing air pressure that caused my audio dilemma. When I stepped out into the foyer it took me about thirty seconds to get over the body rush I’d just had and with a weak voice, I asked the concierge where Chef Henri Boubee’s office was.

The dude rushed me towards the kitchen and at first, I believed he was simply enthusiastic to help me. How awesome is this? Consequently, I would find out he was getting me away ASAP from the strict jacket and tie code at the entrance to the restaurant. Whatever, he walked so fast I was sure I would never find my way back in this corn maze of a complex 107th floor. A work of pure brilliance, the kitchen was in the center of this maze and the complete perimeter of the floor was used for some form of dining service. I reached a familiar feeling as I passed through a double door and spotted the familiar red tile flooring so many kitchens I had worked in had. Past three giant steam kettles on my right and a massive waiters station on my left I continued on to the Chef’s office.

In the scheme of things, his office was rather small and unassuming. The chef himself was a tall thin European looking man. As small as the office was, and as friendly looking as the chef was I was intimidated beyond words. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I was in the WTC, talking with the chef of Windows On The World!!

The Chef asked me some summary culinary questions to test my basic knowledge and then some questions about me I assumed to get a psychological profile which frankly worried the shit out of me. Then he stood up, looked at me which I mistook for a thank you – we’ll let you know, but to my surprise, he said, “Come, I vill take zhoo on a tour”. With that, the chef began power walking through the kitchen with me in tow trying to keep up while at the same time looking around the kitchen trying to absorb the culture. Over twenty dudes and dudettes in checked pants, white coats, and tall toque blanch chef hats checked me out like I was a new meat prisoner in a movie like Brubaker. The chef continued his power walk and I followed finding myself in a huge dining room. Holy shit! All windows with a view of the city that was mind-blowing. We were above all the tall New York City buildings looking down. The Chef continued his pace and mumbled something about dining rooms A B and C, led me through the Brooklyn view mentioning something about a Cellar In The Sky, and we ended up in an Hors d’oeuvres restaurant peeking down at The Statue Of Liberty. I was totally blown away, had gotten numerous head rushes and it was all I could do to keep my balance from the dizzying walk while looking outside of the top of the world. I would eventually develop “sea legs” like the chef had and learn that the buildings were designed to sway so they don’t snap. On a windy day, all the sauces would make waves in unison.

At this point though, when we got back to the Chef’s office I had absolutely no idea how we got there. The Chef looked at me and asked, “So… Do you vant to work here?” I thought back to all the advice the school had given me, all the questions to ask about salary, hours, compensations, and how I should never commit but ask the interviewer to allow me time to think it over. Then I thought about who might be coming in to interview after me and my intuition, as naïve as it was, told me if I didn’t say yes the next person just may get my job. I said, “Yes Chef, I do. When can I start?” He dismissed me saying “Come in Monday at 3oclock and Ask for Ovidio, he’ll get you set up.”

So that was it. I had no idea what days or hours I would be working, no idea how much money I would be making, and for the first and only time in my life, I accepted a major decision job on the spot. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

I met Ovidio, a Latin dude with a kind of lisp who showed me around. He and I became very close, and within days I became one of the group. To them, I was a funny hippie dude who played his harmonica into the expediters mike on downtime, and to me, I had a new family. Donald, a good ole southern man who I swore would work barefoot if he could. He used to sell his grill mistakes to the wait staff. “C’mon now, take that steak and leave me 8 bucks. Hurry now, this ain’t no damn buffet now, let’s go”. Benji, a chef from Jamaica who shared my love of Bob Marley and taught me so much about cooking, the most important thing was his constant yelling at me “Let it cook Mon!” I guess I was over-anxious and flipped my food too much. Victor, a sixty-something old buffet chef who did spoons of coke in the walk-in fridge and drank half the brandy that was supposed to go in the sauces. Steve “Stevo”, a pill-popping saute cook who was so high by end of the shift the fell asleep changing in the locker room. But Stevo would give you the shirt off his back. He stole my Adidas sneakers once because he needed some shoes. They were like three sizes too big but I never called him on it, just bought myself a new pair because he never had any money but would do anything so he could to help any one of us. Speaking of shoes, one of the best sauciers in the city who taught me how to make a thirty-pound butter hollandaise wore sandals every day. We chipped in and got him some very expensive Nikes. He was almost brought to tears but the next day he came to work in those Nikes cut out to look like his sandals. Can’t argue with something that’s worked your whole life. There was Willie the vegetable cook, James who taught me the fastest way to cut up 60 portions of roasted duck in a half hour, John B who drank half a gallon of cheap cooking wine every night, Ralph, who grew up next door to the famous pastry chef Albert Cumin and learned so much he was the youngest pastry chef in the city, his assistant Carmen who was every bit as talented but overlooked because of her sex, and Herman, my Sous Chef, who busted my ass every single night. Herman was relentless and it took me nearly six months to realize the more he busted ass the more he liked you. Herman taught me more than anyone about the entire industry, beyond cooking to managing and admin. His stories of how he learned his craft in Austria were terrifying and fascinating. There were so many more, other cooks, wait staff, utility people, ES friends, Miss Ann was in charge and we became friends instantly. She gave me extra chef coats on Fridays and Saturdays so I could change out of the sweat-laden coats on those busy evenings. (Her assistant ran the illegal numbers for NY and Brooklyn for us). There were no barriers at Windows. Race, color, religion, orientation, we were all family and exchanged many cultural and ethnic practices with interest. I learned a lot about the world at Windows, giving a double meaning to the On The World part.

The family that worked at Windows were extremely tight because we had to be. Service was so fast and furious, on busy nights over one thousand dinners served, and the pressure was so intense that we had to have fun together just as intensely. It was by far the richest work experience I have ever had, I worked there for two years and had more real friends in those two years than I did through youth. I learned to appreciate other forms of lifestyles and customs. Even today I have friends who worked at Windows at different times than I did which made us instant friends who could exchange endless similar stories. It was more than a job it was a deep relationship.

Some 20 years later Maureen and I had our first little café not twenty minutes from the city. It was a breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurant we called it The Petite Cafe and catered to the working crowds. A strong breakfast and coffee accent with two TV sets that ran news channels through the day for our customers. We were attempting to upgrade it with a more modern ”Pan Global” cuisine and had been opened only a week. We kept the TV’s and morning crowd as they were so the two televisions were on the morning of 9/11.When the first tower was it was an arrow through the heart, when the second tower got hit it ripped it out. I was working stunned, a crowd had gathered knowing we had the TV’s and the café was packed yet silent and somber. I was in denial until the first tower crumbled. When that happened I broke down and cried. I didn’t see a tower crumbling, I saw a huge building full of people, full of stories, full of memories that will never get told. Full of life. A profound relationship had ended in death. For the next week every time I looked over towards Manhattan Island there was a huge plume of black smoke that just hung over the city. The normally airplane busy sky was crying in eerie silence. My heart broke.

Sometimes it seems like an impossible task to pick up the pieces of such a devastating tragedy in our lives and every year we commemorate our pain and anguish with an anniversary. This is the fifteenth anniversary and for me personally I have not yet been able to sort it out completely because it will never make sense, never offer any closure, but I try very hard to be comforted by my many memories of not just working at Windows On The World, but the years of commuting through the Trade Center in the years I worked at various financial district kitchens. Thank you for indulging me in this bittersweet memory.
Live and Love in peace….