I’ll Love You Forever, I’ll Like You for Always

On May 8th, my beautiful grandmother left this world surrounded by her family at the age of 81 years old. I had the honor of giving her eulogy at her celebration of life on May, 13. Below are the words I shared that barely scratch the surface of her amazing impact on myself and my family.


13162349_10156797985100063_631360207_nThank you all for coming today to celebrate the life of Pat Bendig. My name is Patrice, and I am Pat’s granddaughter who she affectionately called Tricey.  Your attendance speaks volumes of how many lives she impacted.

Some of you know Pat as an an active member of the Church of St. Katherine Drexel, which she has been since moving to Mays Landing in 2003. Or perhaps from St. Anselm’s Church in Philadelphia, PA for over 40 years prior to relocating. Perhaps some of you know her by her unwavering loyalty to the Phillies & The Eagles (even during losing streaks), or as a Red Hat Lady, or maybe you have been touched by her contagious optimistic outlook on life.

For me, Pat Bendig will forever be remembered by me as grandmom. My grandmom whose laughter filled the room whenever she was surrounded by her family while talking over coffee and cake. Memories of Jersey shore summer vacations, holidays decked out with decorations, warm hugs that smelled like Estee Lauder perfume and selfless love for her family will continue to be cherished.  

I credit my wild imagination to her- she got hooked me hooked soap operas like Young & The Restless and The Guiding Light at an early age while she would watch me. I remember her helping me learn how to read by sounding out the words in Soap Digest that was always in the house, and laying on her couch under a blanket while she read to me ‘I’ll you Forever, I’ll Like you for Always, As Long as I’m Living My Baby You’ll Be” by Robert Munsch.

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Redefining a Mother’s Love

Originally published on Huffington Post

Happy-Mothers-Day-716527Mother’s Day is a punch in the gut for anyone not celebrating with their mother. The ache doesn’t discriminate against the reason of absence. The social media feeds that will be saturated with Mother’s Day tributes will be downright painful for all of us coping with a void.

The feeling of motherlessness is overwhelming countless times throughout the year, but near Mother’s Day its intensity can be downright suffocating. As the days creep closer to that Sunday, my anxiety level continues to steadily increase to an agitated state. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, since making the decision to cut off contact with her for my own sanity earlier this year. Conflicting feelings are battling inside my heart- dread of the actual day and anticipation of its passing until the next year. While traditional holidays celebrated on my own have been developed over the past several years, the awkwardness of establishing a new way to get through the day is fresh.

Not surprisingly, my past several weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R have centered on making sense of the emotional tornado brewing. While working through this, Dr. R has repeatedly encouraged me to really figure out what I needed in order to comfort myself. Pulling the covers over my head with the companionship of pinot noir and Grey’s Anatomy reruns was my first instinct. Or to abandon my smartphone for the weekend and seclude myself at a hotel. To not be reminded of what I am missing on Mother’s Day was the answer I continuously kept arriving at.

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Severing The Ties That Bind

Originally published on Huffington Post

Without a doubt, I am currently fumbling through the complicated, messy and overwhelming grieving process over the loss of my mother. The past three months have been filled with unexpected waves of emotions that continue to catapult both my heart and head in a million directions. Moments of denial, fueled by longing, sometimes try to creep into defuse logical with false hope that things will go back to normal, or at least as normal as my family could muster. That her voice would be able to be heard over the phone, rambling on about the characters encountered at the food store trip with my father and the latest antics of the family dog that only will eat dinner if someone sits on the floor beside her.

 

detail-of-left-mirror-car-while-driving-on-a-rainy-day-highway_e126zjuh__S0011Driving through the streets of Philadelphia, I sobbed alone in the car navigating rush hour on my way home from work last week, smearing mascara all over my sweater while navigating rush hour traffic as ‘Knock Three Times’ blared through the car. The song was one of her 70s favorites like Joy to the World and Bad Boy Leroy Brown that served as the soundtrack to summers of my childhood. To happier times spent floating in our above ground pool, playing gin rummy with Mickey Mouse playing cards and drinking our matching margaritas, mine sans tequila. Those summers took place so long ago, before either of us had the terms bypass surgery, stents, blood thinners, disability, cognitive impairments and brain damage in our vernacular.

 

At times, thoughts tangled in unfairness and pain tend to raise my blood pressure. I try to be mindful not to venture too far down the path where there are unturned stones of unproductive feelings that will only cause me to mentally stumble. Why didn’t she fight harder to mend herself physically and mentally? How can someone who has a daughter and a husband not care enough to be there for them- in all capacities. If these questions had logical resolutions that brought any comfort, then myself and others dealing with complex emotional wounds would be all over it faster than flies on a garbage heap. But questions that tend to haunt us in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions for the grief, are more elusive than Bigfoot.

 

51Zu5zbzWDLWithout a doubt there are ebbs and flows of peacefulness that accompanies not having to anticipate the illogical but certain chaos associated with my mother. No longer does my stomach churn while driving up the street I grew up on, because I longer go there. I removed myself from participating in the emotional version of Russian Roulette-not knowing what version of my mother would be waiting for me when walking into the door or picking up the phone. And the role that guilt has played through this experiences tends to flair up when coming across stories or posts on social media. Stories focused around the heartache losing someone who was actively participating in life until fate decided to be an asshole and cut their time short, impacting their loved ones. Because their grief is accompanied by literally burying a body into the ground. Exactly where my current journey with loss and grieving differs.

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Honoring a Little Boy’s Legacy

2015-12-06-1449371408-4855880-12309778_10207021908739042_4033955049441326037_o-thumbI want to punch March 23rd in the face. That is the initial reaction I have towards March 23rd- since 2014. The date sticks out like an eyesore on the calendar, an anniversary of a day full of memories that replay in my mind more like a disjointed nightmare.

  • It’s the day where I received the text message that my buddy Weston gained his wings.
  • It’s the day where I witnessed two of the strongest people in the world, Weston’s parents, Julie & Adam, spend hours consoling a hospital reeling from the lose of their little boy simultaneously grieving themselves. Rather than being isolated with their own grief, they welcomed a steady stream of mourners from the hospital who had also fallen in love with the Keeton family. They gave hugs, dried tears and thanked staff for their care. The true meaning of family and community was demonstrated as they mourned alongside others grieving their son.
  • It’s a day where I walked inside a Jimmy Johns and demanded the man at the counter make us a sandwich tray even though the store was about to close.
  • It’s a day where I carried a little boy’s teddy bear outside of his hospital room, because the arms that once held it tight was no longer here.
  • 11894578_10155916357870063_7526162772039543462_oIt was the day where walking out of the hospital after saying my final goodbyes to Weston brought me to me knees. I put my hands over my mouth to try to make the sobs stop but they were too strong. It hit me that not only would I never see Weston again but I would lose the sense of family that I had found in the unlikeliest place
  • It is the day 7 year-old Weston Keeton gained his wings after putting up one hell of a fight with pulmonary hypertension & a heart & double lung transplant.

Instead, it will be a day where I deliver cookies & chocolate covered strawberries to the superheroes that care for the children on the 6th floor of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at CHOP- where Weston was cared for throughout his transplant journey.

image1 (1)While there are many others who would also like to punch March 23rd in the face, they will be delivering baked goods, meals, supplies and love to firehouse & service workers across the country. All as part of the 2nd annual ‘Feed the Fire’ day of service in honor Weston Keeton’s 2nd year angel-versary.

Feed the Fire is a call to action for people from across the country to adopt their local fire house or a group that provides service. Weston adored firefighters & dreamed of being one when he grew up. During his lifetime, firefighters from across the country took time to send him letters, photos, gifts & even to make special visits. Julie & Adam Keeton made the decision to honor Weston’s heroes, and asked that all of those who had been touched by their son’s story to do the same.

In 2015, 102 firehouses were adopted nationwide with local heros being treated to potluck dinners, donated supplies, and care packages full of treats (including Weston’s favorite, Hot Cheetos). Even more firehouses & heros will be honored tomorrow, which is an incredible achievement for the 2nd year of Feed the Fire.

You can learn more about Feed the Fire by visiting www.westonswarriors.com or by v1185909_10153899978620063_58327903_nisiting the Weston Warrior’s Facebook page.

 

While March 23rd will still be a difficult day for so many that miss that sweet little boy, there is comfort knowing that his legacy continues to bring the best out in people. Without a doubt Weston changed the course of my life for the better. I often say the little boy with the broken heart taught me how to love again.  Forever, I will be grateful for the Miracle on 34th Street.

In 2012 when I first met Weston as part of my coverage for Gift of Life, little did I know that it would turn into a privilege of chronicling his legacy. Below are links of feature pieces that I have written about Weston & the Keeton family.

Quarter Life Evolution

12837576_10156558722655063_725832271_oEverything has changed but nothing has changed.

That’s how my best friend, now roommate, has chosen to sum up all of the shifting variables in both of our lives over the past month.

Initially those string of words felt on target, but the more I adopted the phrase during my explanation to others, a particular word kept tripping me up: change.


12422356_10156558722690063_919887838_oLooking around at each aspect of my life, change is bluntly apparent. The new apartment that I now call home, although only .6 miles from my former place, is a change that comes with a new roommate, although rather instead of three Craigslist strangers, it is my best friend since preschool.  

Annie the cat now has more room to roam, despite of her main priorities still being a prime seat on a windowsill for bird watching and the foot of my bed.

My roommate and I still send each other politically incorrect memes via Facebook Messenger throughout the day, but rather than coming home to watch Jeopardy solo after work there is now someone else there to yell criticism at the contestants through the screen.

12596592_10156558718450063_1844387073_o (1)Monday through Friday still consists of me spending most of my days managing digital marketing for a healthcare system, but will soon be doing so in an office space around the corner from the space that had been my dwelling since starting nearly a year and a half ago.

With it, a new title now sits under my email signature which has brought a bit a welcomed padding to the bi-weekly paycheck that has thankfully be consistently deposited into my bank account since late 2011.

12422356_10156558722690063_919887838_oDad still calls daily each morning during his commute to work, but when we talk about health ailments his newly developed symptoms  are the ones that take center stage rather than the chronic decline of my mother.

Still sitting on the same couch of my childhood home, my mother’s routine has not varied from fighting with dog over the blanket, becoming preoccupied with morning talk shows and smoking True Blue cigarettes like they are going out of style. Of course this is all speculation- because for the last several weeks I have removed her from my own routine.

The actual definition of change, according to Google ,is ‘to make or become different’. Despite all of moving the parts that have been settling into my life this month- I believe all of them (minus my father’s debacle) have stemmed from the foundation of finding myself that began almost 2 years ago.


12837301_10156558718410063_116564018_oEvolution.
The definition, according to Google, reads ‘
the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form’.

Am I more complex form of myself? Perhaps if that includes finally implementing consistent practices of self-care, respecting self-imposed boundaries and strengthening an overall sense of self-awareness in everyday life. 

Maybe evolution is why after almost 27 years on this Earth, I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, no longer searching for some sense of relief.

Evolution may just be the relief of no longer being a stranger to myself.

A Snapshot of Hunger

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 9.06.02 AMAs I say quite often, my career in non-profit communications has been an unplanned perfect match to my love of story telling. Although most of my personal writing on here is first person narratives, my career revolves around seeking out people who have been impacted a certain situation, then working to bring out their story to amplify their own voice.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 9.05.12 AMDuring my time at Philabundance, one of my last projects was work on the organization’s 2014 annual report. In the summer of 2014, I traveled around the region and immersed myself into the heart of Philabundance- their food access programs.

Time was spent roaming the land of Buzby Farms where surplus produces were gleaned then donated to Philabundance. Mornings were spent watching the line of eager community members wrap around a city block waiting for the opportunity to receive free produces.

One particular afternoon was spent as a fly on the wall at a food pantry, where a mob of people of all ages and races clamored for an opportunity to bring home a loaf of bread.  Continue reading

Untangling Myself from an Emotional Rock Bottom

Originally published on Elephant Journal on 1/28/2016.

 

RG-Mermaid-2Not being able to see instant gratification from a newly-incorporated healthier lifestyle can snuff out any enthusiasm for sticking with it.

But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where there is no other choice but to stick it out for the long haul, clinging to the promise of an elusive “one day.” The alternative is to continue down a path of self destruction, whether it be emotional, physical or often times both.

A person does not suddenly wake up one morning and find themselves unexpectedly at rock bottom. The trail is paved by half-hearted attempts to integrate new routines that always seem to be sidelined by discouragement, before being forgotten for tried and true habits. The cycle repeats itself indefinitely until the build up of poor choices leads to a derailment of everyday life, serving as a gut-punching S.O.S.

Hitting rock-bottom is similar to sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool and looking straight up to the surface. At the bottom of the swimming pool, there is an awareness of sound and movement whirling above, but nothing is clear enough to be understood. Although a person may be able to avoid the wave-making commotion and chaos transpiring above, it comes at the price of never being able to experience the direct warmth of the sun.

Two years ago, I had realized that years of unresolved feelings and continuous unhealthy choices had navigated me to an emotional rock-bottom. Continue reading

33 Articles Published in 365 Days

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For me, 2015 can be described as wordy – literally! Over the past 365 days, I have had 33 essays published across multiple outlets- 20 syndicated and 13 original. Having the opportunity to allow my work to be introduced to new readers has been the best thing to happen this year.

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365 in 365- Kinda, Sorta, Let Me Explain

il_570xN.483656551_25qxAlmost exactly a year ago, I had decided to embark in an ambitious endeavor of completing 365 things 365 days. At the time, it was a creative way for me to continue to try new things while regaining a new life balance, something that was lacking in 2014. The original list was full of mini road trips, photography projects, wish list items and many, many, many random to-dos

Forgive me if this sounds cliche, but there is no other phrase that can describe why all of the items on the list did not get completed. The unexpected happened in my life early in the year, placing me on a winding path for the rest of the year. Instead of focusing on this list that was sure to bring me enlightenment, circumstances caused me to rise to the occasion at work, where I had barely been for four months. An unintended Master’s class was upon me, expanding my industry knowledge and skills sets in a baptism by fire way. Somehow I blinked, and 2015 is in the final stages. In total, 95 items have been completed on the original 365 list. Yet there is no doubt that over the past year, the amount of new experiences, purchases, projects and skills developed total that target number of 365.

doallthethingsWhile all of the items are not included on here, each one has impacted who I am. From discovering my uncanny ability to multitask high priority tasks, to exploring my strengths as a professional, the direction of my future is clearer now than I had anticipated it would be this time last year. In respects to my writing, in 2015 I have had 33 essays published including 20 syndicated pieces and 13 original. My mind is still reeling about that reality. The gratitude I have in my heart for the opportunity to share my stories to help others feel less alone cannot even begin to be explained. Personally, the items that were completed (both planned and spontaneous) served as additional crumbs of insight leading me the path of learning more about myself. Self acceptance and inner peace is still a daily struggle, but maintaining an undistorted viewpoint has become more manageable.

To check out my favorite moments of 2015, including a photo gallery, click here!

To check out a photo gallery of my favorite photographs that I’ve snapped in 2015, click here! 

To check out all of the 33 articles I’ve had published in 2015, click here! 

Below are the list of the 90 items checked off the list, as well as a few of the additions: Continue reading

Why I Choose To Celebrate Christmas Without My Family

Originally posted on Bustle on 12/24/2015

bcd95f70-8be4-0133-9fe4-0e7c926a42afListening to all the Christmas songs that were impossible to escape on the radio this past month, I realized something for the first time in my 26 years: about 95 percent of holiday songs focus on home. “Baby please come home,” “I’ll be home for Christmas,” “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” yada, yada yada. But what happens when there’s no longer a home to return to? How do you deal with that, during a holiday that is supposed to serve as a magnet for families to reunite?

The rented roof over my head is a sanctuary for me and my ginger tabby cat, Annie (who was a Christmas present from a friend two years ago). And about 30 minutes away from my rental, the brick twin-home where I spent my entire childhood still stands. My parents still live in it. But over the past two years, the walls and people inside them have continually become more foreign to me.

Physical and mental illness have turned the mother I grew up with into someone more unpredictable than a roulette wheel. When I return for a visit, acid reflux, rather than a sense of familiarity and peace, tends to be the main feeling I experience. However, it’s more painful to see the ways that the unhappiness and unhealthiness have taken a toll on my father, who never gets an opportunity to jump off my mother’s roller coaster.

For years, I felt that as their only child, it was my responsibility to drag my parents, kicking and screaming, towards happiness. But two years ago, after hitting my own breaking point, I made the conscious decision to stop trying. Doing this required setting new, healthier boundaries that pushed me to figure out new ways to approach many different situations and relationships — including the holiday season.

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 6.31.36 PMLast year marked the first holiday season in 25 years that I spent without my parents. Though the logical part of me knew that I was better off spending Christmas away from two people who were completely miserable, the emotional side felt my heart strings tighten with every mention of family during the month of December. Truthfully, the entire ordeal felt as if I was wearing a new sweater that wasn’t yet worn in.

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