Lost love is still love. It takes a different form

On April 16th, I lost one of the most important people in my life- my grandpop. I had the opportunity to spend the last days with him, am so grateful I was able to tell him everything I wanted to before he went to join my grandmom in heaven. On April 27th, I had the privilege of giving his eulogy. Words can’t do justice to the impact he had on my life.

“Lost love is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.” ― Mitch Albom

My name is Patrice, and I am Al’s granddaughter. Just 16 days’ shy to the exact date two years ago, I was at this same podium sharing the impact my grandmother had on my life. Like deja vu, I’m here again, this time celebrating the life of my Grandpop. So, who was Al Bendig?

30741477_10160152224815063_2065413347028762624_nHe was a bartender who shared with us his appreciation of cosmos, vodka and cranberries, fuzzy navels and apple martinis. Later in life, I was able to share with him craft beer, especially Not Your Father’s Root Beer & Cherry Cola. He was always rocking his trademark plaid flannel button up shirts, striped polos in the summer, and one of his array of baseball caps. He was proud resident of Pebble Beach drive, living in a community that truly cared about him. The highlight of his week was the golf outing played at the Mays Landing Country Club, literally in his backyard. His neighbors became his second family, providing him care and comfort. Thank you for helping to care for my grandparents during the last few years of their lives. He was also proud ride operator at Storybook Land, a place where he was able to form new friendships later in life.

He was man of faith, a parishioner of St. Anselm’s Church in Philadelphia for over 40 years, and then St. Katharine Drexel for the past 15 years.  He & my grandmother had a permanent seat at Saturday night mass, which they never missed. He also took his commitment as an usher very seriously, going faithfully until illness prevented him to do so. He had even lamented how upset he was that he wasn’t able to attend Easter mass for the first time in his life, just two weeks before his passing. After moving down to Mays Landing, he became a member of the Knights of Columbus, something he took much pride in and had always said that they would be standing guard at his funeral one day. Thank you for being here today.

He was a dedicated husband and father. For 61 years, he lived this crazy adventure with the love his life Pat. Meeting in their early teens, they literally grew up and grew old together. They raised four upstanding children, in which he passed on appreciation for a strong mixed drink, the importance of knowing how to grill anything, and how to analyze any sport. Of course like anyone who lived together for over 22,080 days, him and Grandmom had their squabbles. When he was being extra grumpy, Grandmom had no problem turning down her hearing aid. He was notorious for making silly faces behind Grandmom’s back when she would remind him to behave. When his back was turned, she would wave her fist at him. As much as my heart is breaking, there is a comfort knowing that after 23 months apart, my grandparents are back together again.

There were many roles Al Bendig played in his life, but the one that he excelled in the most was being my grandfather. As a little girl, my favorite thing was when my parents would have them over. Kneeling on the couch, I’d prop myself up to look out the window. When the red two door Oldsmobile would appear in view, I’d jump up and yell ‘grandmom and grandpop are here’.  

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Every time we left their house, Grandpop would stand outside of the car, making funny faces at us while our parents got situated. He’d stand there waving until we were completely out of sight. He introduced us to Entiemens, sherbet, the joys of coffee creamers, ketchup chips, hot sausage and crab dip. We introduced him to texting, snapchat, Taylor Swift and Beanie Babies.  He was always in the center of the action, making continuous efforts to be on our level. Like when he would pretend to be a monster and lift up each of us in the swimming pool while making funny faces and sound effects, then plunging us into the deep end. When I was a little girl while they still lived on their house on Medford road, I remember sitting in his chair on his lap as he sang me songs like ‘Camp Granada’ and ‘A You’re Adorable’, while making over the top facial expressions and bouncing me on his knee. Growing up, our conversations were the highlight of my week. They took part after dinner, whatever Grandmom has made that night at our weekly Tuesday night dinners in Yardley. Usually we would sit at the kitchen table, him at the head of table and me next to him. We would linger once everyone cleared the table after desert, which was usually some sort of cake from Mccaffrey’s.

Grandpop was always ‘one of the kids’, never spared any expense to make us laugh. He’d go through the revolving door with us at Wanamakers at Christmas team until we were dizzy. I can still hear Grandmom yelling ‘Al, Al’ as he would swing us up in the air by our ankles and arms while we shrieked with delight. He taught me important life lessons: Never cut a loaf bread, always break, how to blow bubble gum despite my mom being against me having any sort of gym until I was 15, how to whistle and how to snap.  Growing up, he would sneak five dollar bills in the palm of hands so we would have money for the ice cream truck. During our Disney World vacation when I was nine years old, I had my heart set on this huge figment puppet. It was about 3 feet tall, would not easily fit in a suitcase and was way more expensive than any stuffed animal should be. Even when my parents said no way, Grandpop had snuck back to the area to buy me the puppet.

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My favorite memories of my childhood are the summers spent in Margate. We would spend all day at the beach, right in front of Lucy the Elephant. He would always go into the ocean with us kids, where we would be clinging on to him when the waves got to be too much. Even after my cousins went back to the pool at the condo, he would stay out in the ocean with me as we bobbed the waves. We would go to Lucy’s food stand, where we would get ice cream and walk along the beach. One of his favorite stories to share was the summer vacation when my new shoes made my feet get blisters. At six-years-old, this of course felt like the end of the world and there was no way I’d be able to walk the highly anticipated boardwalk. So what did he do? Grandpop carried me the entire length of the Ocean City, NJ Boardwalk, just so my feet wouldn’t hurt and I could enjoy the evening.

Almost 2 decades later, I can still see Grandpop walking up the grass field in his business suit after a long day of work to watch my softball games. He would sit on the bleachers during my CYO Saturday morning basketball games, cheering me on despite not being very good at all. Years later, he told me one afternoon while out back eating lunch “You know sweetheart, you’re weren’t very good at basketball” he admitted.  Recently while going through his office, I stumbled across a box with my name on it, I found he kept all of my writings. The melodramatic Christmas story I wrote for him when I was thirteen based off of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, My high school and college newspapers, all of my published essays from my career, which we talked about each one in detail. He even had a few of our emails printed out- the ones that had updates from college.

When my mother first got sick when I was 12 years old, every day after work he would drive up to our house and sit with me. While other adults were busy making arrangements, getting health updates or visiting my mom, he would come directly to me. It was time where I didn’t have much to say because I was in shock. He sat there on the sofa and asked how I was doing; his concern was my feelings. He was always on my side, and the face in the crowd that was guaranteed to be there. Even as an adult, he continued to connect through text message when I couldn’t get down to visit as much. Before starting my current job a few years ago, he would text me everyday giving me encouragement to calm my nerves. My two of my favorite texts from him were when he told me I’d love the new Taylor Swift Diet Coke commercial that featured her cat, and when he reminded me when the Grumpy Cat Christmas television special was airing. The Saturday before Easter, two weeks before his passing, his ‘girls’ visited him. “We are your Charlie’s Angels” Kelly joked, pointing out there was a blonde, a brunette and a redhead. “How lucky am I to have my girls”, he’d always say. As you’ve probably noticed, one of the classic photos we took was with him and his girls. We have so many from throughout the years, and I’m so glad for some reason we took one last shot that Saturday.

30741408_10160152225050063_9006463054396784640_nDuring the last few weeks of my grandfather’s life, I learned that the memories that remind you what family is about aren’t the scrapbook snapshots or the Christmas-card scenes- though they make for great photo collages. Family is about dropping everything to sit in throughout the night in the hospital room, bringing a purse full of Burger King because you know your cousin hasn’t eaten anything and is too tired to make any decisions. Family is walking outside of a nursing home making stupid jokes because if you would have stayed in that room for another minute, your heart would have exploded from grief. Family is sitting in a shoebox sized, 90-degree room watching Law and Order SVU together while your grandfather and father is on the brink of death. Family is spending every Sunday morning meeting at Ihop for two years straight making plans over pancakes. Family is filling the plastic cup with cold water and moistening your grandfather’s lips when he can no longer eat. Family is leaning your head against their shoulder despite squabbling moments earlier, without having to say a word, and receiving solace without speaking a single word.

My father, John, and my aunt, Suzanne, have been pillars of strength during the loss of both of our grandparents. For the past 4 years, they’ve put much of their own lives on hold to care for my grandparents while they were struggling at the end of their lives. Always bringing a chai vanilla latte or a milkshake, they took on the role of caretakers, advocates, and even barbers. Clearly it wasn’t easy, but the dedication to their parents up until their final breath gave me a newfound respect for them. Thank you both for once again setting an example of doing the right thing, no matter what the circumstance may be. I know Grandmom would be so incredibly proud of the way you cared for grandpop the final two years of his life.

I had the privilege of having my grandfather for 28 years- which is more than many have, and nearly double of the time I had with my other grandfather. Grandpop has been one of the few consistent things in my life- and for all of us. It’s been less than two weeks since he passed, and I miss my Grandpop more than words can say. Personally, this is the hardest loss of my life up and will always be one of the hardest.  Both my grandparents are gone. For many of here, two of the important and influential people in our lives are gone. The gravity of the situation has been weighing on my shoulders throughout the past few weeks as Grandpop began to slip away. I will never hear him say another blessing before grace on a holiday meal, nor will I ever look up to see him making a goofy face from across the table. I will never hear his personalized text tone signaling he sent me a message.

There will be no one waving to me as the car pulls away from the house, there will be no more house. There will be no more Sunday morning drives down to Grandmom and Grandpops. There will be no more summer bbqs in their backyard where we had to be vigilant of being hit with golf balls. A new chapter now begins as we continue their legacy by now being the ones to make the time and effort to create the memories over baked goods and coffee, sharing barbecue dinners while watching the Phillies, and just being present when one of us needs each other. Based on the last few weeks, I am sure we will rise to the occasion. We already have.

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on – in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here. -Morrie” ― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

Each of us, we will have a special way of knowing Grandpop is with us. For me, whenever I sip on a vodka and cranberry, see a bottle of Propel, listen to Frank Sinatra, and bob in the ocean- he will be there. I love you Grandpop, and I am and will always be your girl. And as your favorite guy Frankie says “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” until we meet again Pop.

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The Reason Behind Millennial Summer Nostalgica

Originally published on Huffpost on 7/27/2016

IMG_7900_2 (1)Being an adult with unavoidable responsibilities, the majority of summertime is spent at work with occasional PTO sprinkled throughout the season. Whenever I pass a group of children riding their bicycles home from the local pool while driving home from work, pangs of nostalgia hit me harder than a Buzzfeed article recapping the best pop songs of summer 1999.

My childhood summers look drastically different compared to what today’s children will one day fondly reflect on when they reach the age to be plagued by nostalgia. While I am one of those widely frowned upon millennial who could operate a computer before being able to double knot her shoelaces, being born in May of 1989 allowed me to enjoy an entire decade of life without being tethered to mobile and social technology.  
My twin-home backyard, only 10 feet by 10 feet, was an incubator of my creativity. My
Fisher-Price red and yellow ‘Super Sandbox’ served as a sanctuary where I sat for hours with plastic buckets and old pasta strainers making up stories. After brushing off the grains of sand that could always be felt for hours afterwards, I would close the foldable sides of the sandbox to convert the lid into a personal stage where I belted out The Little Mermaid and Annie songs until my parents told me to give our neighbors a reprieve from live entertainment.

691313796_tpWhen the heat became too much, my Little Tykes Paddling Pool (identical to the one in my Fisher Price Doll House), was set up ready to provide sweet relief with ice cold hose water. Throughout the summer, my mother repurposed empty ketchup bottles and over worn plastic cups as pool toys, along with the specially designated pool Barbie dolls.

Other days, after a sufficient amount of soapy, bubble mix had drenched my clothes and coated my fingers while trying to fish out the thin, not-quite-tall-enough wand inside of the bottle, it was time to rinse off in the sprinkler, creating a whole new level of fun. Laying my belly on the wet grass, I would get eye level to the sprinkler then scream with delight as the water pressure tickled my freckle-kissed skin. I alternated between awkwardly jumping through the shooting water feeling like a ballerina and catching the shooting water in my mouth. After sunset, I spent that hour before bedtime collecting lighting bugs in a mayonnaise jar with holes poked through the lid. Catching the flickering lights was often a challenge, often inducing laughter brought from the tickling sensation of the fluttering bugs wiggling inside my cupped hands.

When I was old enough to cross the street without adult supervision, a good portion of summer days and nights were spent in taking part in constant activity with other kids on my block. It was during that time I learned about hand games and card games. I learned the pain that is inflicted when flinching prematurely during a game of slapises, and how much it hurt to be the table during the arm wrestling portion of a fierce game of Down By the Banks.

11223951_10155925962625063_5036220573801237829_n The soles of our flip flops were worn out from running during intense games of Freedom, and the only worry during a game of Red Rover was if our arm chain was strong enough as the biggest kid from the other team came charging forward. Head on collisions with each other to the point of needing ice packs were common while scrambling to catch a ball during a fierce game of Suey (or depending on your neighborhood, Wall Ball).


Every one of us has childhood summer memories that will be cherished long after growth spurts and puberty. And each generation can argue why their era was different and more preferred. Will the children of today one day reminisce about how summer of 2016 was spent searching for super imposed cartoons around their neighborhood while playing
Pokemon Go?

Perhaps my fellow millennials, especially those born around 1987-1992, and I experienced the gift of a unique hybrid summertime consisting of old-fashion fun along with technology available at the end of the 21st century. 10400480_43596165062_3566_nOur childhood summers felt endless with days blurring together because days were filled with every kind of activity imaginable. Outdoor freedom of hopping on bicycles without worrying about texting our parents to check in once arriving at our destination.

The ability to occasionally over-indulge on video games and cartoons, eventually boring ourselves to find another activity rather than having to be policed by screen time concerns. For a brief period in time in a pre-9/11 and texting world but post-dial up households and Gameboy systems, my generation was made of the children that straddle this brief time, truly providing the best of both worlds.




Favorite Snapshots and Selfies of 2015

A collection of photos taken during the moments that have stuck out this year. The rare times that I’ve stepped away from behind the camera- or at least balanced with a selfie stick!

 

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Life After Mandating Holiday Cheer on My Family

As seen on Elite Daily on 12/3/2015
Walking into the drugstore to pick up a roll of toilet paper and cat food the week of Halloween, I found myself being stared down by an oversized Rudolph doll. His doe-2015-11-22-1448208557-5856158-ruldopharticle1.jpgeyed expression triggered a swell of anxiety rise up within me. Not because I have an irrational fear of stuffed reindeers. The blinking red nose is a taunting reminder that for those of us who are members of dysfunctional families, the most wonderful challenging time of the year is upon us.

Nothing personal against Santa and his squad. The issue isn’t that the holiday season evokes a new, once a year unpleasant feeling. Rather, this time of year magnifies the most complicated, sensitive area of my life: family.

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Truth be told, dealing with family is a year round struggle full of constantly changing variables. And over the past several months, certain situations have left me emotionally raw when dealing with the subject of family, particularly with my mom. The holiday season has never agreed well with her, physically and emotionally. Her first heart attack took place two weeks before Christmas when I was in 7th grade, with the song Jingle Bell Rock instantly taking me back to driving to the hospital to visit her after after her emergency quadruple bypass. Sophomore year of high school, we found ourselves awkwardly shoving turkey into our mouths trying to scrape together some normalcy after mom had come from a week-long stay in the hospital to recover from a heart attack and a stroke.

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The Lovers, The Dreamers and Me

LockersIt’s not an unknown fact that the Muppets hold a special place in my heart. Probably more than the average twenty-five year old. My entire life, I’ve always been a huge fan of Jim Henson’s creatures- starting with my obsession with Fraggle Rock as a baby. There is photo of me sitting in my mini-rocking chair as a two-year old, starting at the Fraggle VHS playing on on our living room television. The tape that my mother would rewind multiple times day, playing that songs that most likely slowly drove her insane. Maybe that’s where my love of music, corniness and affinity to weirdos stemmed from- the subconscious messaging I was absorbing when my brain was the most pliable.

Not many people know this fact, but my love affair with New York City was started at age four when we rented Muppets Take Manhattan. It painted the illusion that anything can happen in that city- and made me want to live in lockers with Kermit’s friends. It was then I made the declaration I would live in NYC one day- to my amused parents. Little did the know 14 years later I actually would be (sans lockers).  Continue reading

Back to Basics

 

For the first time since early in my college career, I’m making a commitment to growing in my own voice. Somehow between earning a college degree, writing for publications, and entering the full-time workforce, my ability and craving to pen personal narratives fizzled.

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