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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When Emotional Chaos isn’t Penciled into My Planner

At the end of December, I spent a laughable amount of time researching planners to make 2017 the year of doing. To help manage my goals in every area of my life, and trying to be more present by actually penciling in time to decompress.

The 2 untouched planners on my dresser remind me how completely unplanned the last 3 months of my life have been. Honestly, shit has been off the rails for the past year in the realm of being blindsided.

But back to the planners. 

So I spent an absurd amount of money because can there really be a price limit on peace of mind and organization? They were delivered in fancy packaging in a box to pretty to throw out, and for an entire night I spent placing glittery stickers and mapping out important things I knew were coming up. With all of the other white blocks left to be filled in, the possibility of unknown felt exciting because it was centered on ideas like trying the recipes I pinned on Pinterest, and a writing schedule to revisit the writings I had shelved away since late summer.

Maybe the planners jinxed me, or perhaps the Universe decided to send me a wake up call that nothing ever will go as planned.

No sooner did I buy the planners, the rails of routine went rouge.

The only items being added to an ever growing list were the unimaginable situations that seemed to be popping up faster than I could deal with properly. Imagine a whack-a-mole arcade game, but replace the plastic rodents with emotionally charged situations springing up without rhyme or reason. Because it wasn’t feasible to take out my aggression with a rubber hammer, my only choice  was springing towards each one at a rapid pace without any plan of attack other than dealing with as best as an unsuspecting person can.

Rather than share my list of big plan for the new year, I find myself only being able to share the list of the completely unplanned clusterfucks…I mean events…that were not penciled into my planners.

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New Publication: Skirt Collective

SC-icon-5I’m thrilled to have my first essay published on Skirt Collective!  Per their website ‘Skirt Collective aims to be the modern woman’s compass for navigating culture, fashion, and the real world. Nestled between street smarts and book smarts, SC connects readers with practical information and opinions from a diverse array of voices in an honest, virtual space.’

You can read my latest article on their website. 

Hopefully this will be the first of many pieces that will be shared on their website! Make sure to follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.

Fellow Writer Inspiration: Diana Castaldini

mentoringThere are some people in your life that you just click with instantly. By the tone of their voice, the vibe of their personality and the light in their eyes, people let us know how receptive they are of us. Sure, first impressions can be misleading at times, but over the last 25 years I’ve learned that initial gut feelings about people are usually on point.

One person who struck me like that was Diana Castaldini. As a self-conscience but ambitious 18-year-old freshmen at St. John’s University, I walked into the college newspaper the first week of school and began writing editorial pieces in 2007. By the spring semester, I had several published articles and was a regular at staff meetings. One afternoon, the editorial editor had no articles left but I overheard another editor lamenting that she had no one to take an assignment for the Features section. Unsure if I could handle it but curious enough to try, I volunteered to take a stab at it.

That ended up starting my stint as the Features Editorial Assistant under Diana, who was a junior at the time and the Features editor. From the first time I met her, she instantly put me at ease with her bubbly personality. Each week, we worked together to get the weekly paper out. In a cramped cubicle, I received a crash course on creating story lists, managing writings, editing, print layout, and operating on little sleep after production night.

150px-Newspapers1Most importantly, I listened to Diana talk about her internship at Good Housekeeping. It was the first time I had heard of interning, and my eyes were opened to the possibility that my dreams of working in the magazine industry could happened while I was a student. Being exposed to that part of education by an upper class man so early in my college career was a huge turning point in my career planning. Without that experience, I doubt I would have had the internship experience that I did.

At the time, I was still battling homesickness and being part of the Torch newspaper staff was the factor of me finding feeling at home at St. John’s University. By the end of my freshmen year, I became the features editor, which was a position I held until my senior year. Seven years later, I still look to Diana for advice and often consult her about writing ideas. She was my first mentor in my career and still is one!

Diana is a New York City native and a beautiful writer. Over the past few she years, she has experienced near-death health experiences that would make most of us crumble. But not Diana. Through her illness, she was reborn with a new purpose of life. From discovering different forms of exercises, alternative holistic healing and healthier eating- her recovery has transformed her into a passionate health care advocate.

Recently, she lost her beloved grandmother but had the bravery to share the breathtaking experience of coming face to face with a loved one facing mortality. Anyone who has lost a loved one, especially a grandmother will be moved by her honest essay. You can read her essay on her blog, Thinking Less After Brain Surgery. 

101 Things That Happened in the Last 365 Days

Facebook now has a new app that will create a short video clip about the highlights of 2014. To be frank, 2014 can kick rocks. Most of the year was spent dealing with stress, unhappiness and grief. But somewhere in the middle of the emotional roller coaster of the year, I managed to do a whole bunch of cool things. 2014 can only be summed in one cliche, corny phrase- Life Goes On. 

Here’s a 101 memorable things that I did this year. Thank you for reading my ramblings, commenting on my essays, and/or being in my life this year.  I’m still wrapping my mind over some of the shit that went down over the past 365 days, so I won’t even try to guess what 2015 will hold. 

101 Things That Happened in the Last 365 Days

 Participated in a vegan chicken wing eating contest- This was a disaster, no one warned me that seitan expands once it’s wet. But it benefited Philly Roller Girls, so it was for a good cause!

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Participated in a cupcake eating contest.It was my first large amount of sugar after clean eating for 40 days, let’s just say that night I wanted to die

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Went on an upside roller coaster- I actually tried frantically to get off the Batman Coaster but the attendant didn’t hear me so I was stuck going through with it

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Went to Six Flags- We meant to go to Belmont Beach, but the signs for the safari seemed more exciting

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Had an article go viral- I was annoyed about how much online dating sucked, and wrote an article about it one night after work. Apparently people like that kind of thing.

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Got published on Bustle

Got published on Literally Darling

Found out I was a social introvert

Took photos on Citizen Bank Park’s field before a Phillies Game 

Missed a plane transfer

Had my article and face appear on Yahoo.com

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Flew to California

Put my feet in the Pacific Ocean

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Went in a hot tub under the stars at night in California

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Had my face appear on a HuffPo email 

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The Christmas Cat That Worked Better Than Xanax

Originally Published on Huffington Post on 12/24/2014 and xoJane on 12/25/2014

2014 can be labeled as ‘the year of…’ many things. The year I turned 25.The year I spent recovering from a super-shitty depressive episode . The year I successfully ate a clean diet for 40 days, and ran my first 5K. The year I wrote about my online dating failures and had several articles go viral . The year my best friend’s son suddenly died. But most importantly 2014 will be the year I got a kitten. The year of the highly intelligent cat. Technically I was given to her for Christmas 2013, but didn’t bring her home on December 28, which is practically 2014.

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That day as I drove through the streets of North Philly with a plastic cat carrier with the tags still on it, anyone who passed by me would think that I was insane. “We’re almost to place Cat, just stop making noises” I screamed trying to match the volume of the ear-piecing wails my new pet was making. Within a span of 72 hours, I had agreed to accept the Christmas present from a friend, a 4-month old marmalade colored kitten that a friend of a friend had found wandering around his apartment building. “This is the thing you need. It will provide such comfort,” my well meaning friend when she introduced me to my very much alive and active gift. As the cat and I eyed each other up for the first time, we were both skeptical of each other.

When we finally got to my apartment, I let her out to get a lay of the new land. She scurried to the drawer underneath my bed, where Cat stayed for several days. (Yes, originally the cat’s name was Cat because she looked identical to the one in Breakfast at Tiffanys. Eventually I named her Annie because she was an orphan , and Cat became to annoying to explain to non Audrey Hepburn fans.)

Great. The cat that is supposed to make me feel less alone wants nothing to do with me. Initially I was certain becoming a cat owner was a mistake, and had begun looking for places to drop her off. I was such a hot mess myself, and this cat doesn’t even like me. Continue reading

The Miracle On 34th Street- 1 Year Later

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Originally Published on Huffington Post on 12/09/2014 

Oh what a difference 365 days can make. Apologies for the starting this story with such an overused cliché, but it’s the only phrase that captures the event that have happened since the publication of the original ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ story. This was not the follow up piece I had intended to be writing a year later, but realistically I hadnever thought I would befriend a little boy from Tennessee and his family.

This time last year, a gravely ill little boy named Weston Keeton occupied the corner room of the 6th floor in the CICU at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Despite being tethered to literal lifelines in a hospital room, an unparalleled energy radiated from his room which was perpetually occupied with the chatter of his seven siblings and visitors from all over the region as he battled pediatric pulmonary hypertension.

His parents, Julie and Adam, and world-renown medical staff were facing an uncertain future. The only thing certain was that a heart and double lung transplant was the sole way Weston would see another year. After three years of agonizing waiting, the phone call that was prayed for each night was received by Julie in the early morning of December 12, 2013. Thus began my experience in witnessing of the events that unfolded in the original Miracle on 34th Street article, just two weeks before Christmas.

During hours after transplant, my mind wandered about what 2014 would be like for Weston and his family. Everyone who WestonEditedBV-1rooted for this little boy during his long journey on the transplant waiting list was anticipating seeing the promise of new life. That was the miracle, wasn’t it? The opportunity to regain a normal life for a 7 year old boy and his family.

And in a blink of an eye, the expectations for the upcoming year were deflated. Instead of 2014 being the year of Weston’s recovery, it became the year of heartache. As the weeks passed in the new year, complications arose that no one was able to foresee during a time of promise.

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