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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Recalibrating the Reality of a Mother-Daughter Relationship

Although I have been known as a chronic daydreamer and an outward over-optimistic person, my grasp on reality has always been firm. While this momentarily causes me to be figuratively and literally unsteady while recalibrating myself, it has been the reason that throughout everything that has erupted throughout my life, I have managed to stay upright. But at this point in time, more than ever, all I want to do is run as far as possible beyond the grasp of the reality surrounding my mother.

Right now it is a struggle to accept the person my mother has become, trying my best to learn to love her as she is now, but is beyond hard. It has been so fucking hard. Perhaps this appears harsh or selfish. Despite my best intentions to convince myself things will go back to the old, not-even-close- to-perfect normal, the reality playing before my eyes cannot be ignored.

This is not the first time I have had to reconfigure my senses regarding my mother. At barely twelve years old, I was forced to adapt with the changes our mother-daughter relationship endured under the strain of chronic illness, as her physical and mental health conditions became the fourth member of our household. For over sixteen years, more than half my existence, I’ve lived with this adjusted role as my mother’s only child. Now as an adult who is acutely aware of the gravity of what is happening, the realistic outlook for the future and the pain plastered across my father’s face, this shift to this new ‘normal’ has been absolutely gut wrenching.

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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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Favorite Snapshots of 2016

A few days past 2016, but some of my favorite shots from a year that kept me forcing to find the bright spots in the middle of struggle. 

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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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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

A Legacy of Life: The Miracle on 34th Street Remembered

Originally published on Huffpost Impact on 12/8/15

2015-12-06-1449371218-1875698-325717_2615726525313_1133717942_o-thumbThe staples that mark the essence of the holiday season occur like clockwork on an annual basis-and are not dependent on any particular person. Despite any aversion to the holiday season, it will take place all around you just like every single year of your life. However there never is a guarantee on how it will feel from year-to-year. This Christmas season, the thought of taking part in any merriment may be intolerable if you’re in the middle of grief. Or perhaps because of a recent life event such as a new baby or relationship, Christmas has taken a new feeling. The holiday season never changes, for it is truly tried and true. Our receptiveness and experience are the triggers that impact how the holidays are acknowledged throughout the years. Loss, change, acceptance, additions- all are moving parts in how we experience life, which includes the holiday season and all things associated with it.

Exactly two years ago this week, a pair of families underwent a life-changing event that forever alter their perception of the holiday season. On the same day in 2013, both families faced unexpected uncertainty, and desperately hoped for miracles that would put their lives back together. Two sets of parents kissed their babies outside of an operating room. Two children took their last breaths with the heart and lungs that brought them into the world. Two sets of surgical teams performed procedures that changed Christmas for everyone involved. Continue reading

Finding My Voice, Baring My Soul, and Pissing People Off

baby-writingOver the past year or so I’ve grown as a writer. I’m learning that part of that means that at times tears will be running down my face as my fingers bang out the words that are pouring out of me. Other times, it leaves me unpopular with others as I refrain from wrapping each essay with a cookie cutter ending.

For years I’ve searched for articles and essays that ring true to my heart. And there have been times where I stumble across pieces of writing that make me feel less alone. That is what drives me to be a writer. My latest piece on Bustle took months working on with the amazing editor Rachel Krantz, but she pushed me to turn in into one of the proudest pieces I have ever written. Feel free to check it out! 

Salt On Old Wounds

a84f27de348513453296f11820784a38Many things go over my head. Good jokes, facial expressions, body language. However I am never one to miss an opportunity of when a good, rich case of irony appears. This recent situation has been a slice of irony pie that made me laugh a little too much this evening.

It was confirmed that my mom had her fourth major stroke last week, which wasn’t confirmed until yesterday when I was able to coax her into the car for a CT scan. This wasn’t so much as surprise, because as I mentioned in my HuffPo essay her condition has gotten out of whack in recent weeks. Her speech is more slurred all the time, not just when she’s tired. Balance is non existent and there is a noticeable delay in her thought process. And she sleeps more than usual- which is a like hibernation.

But the timing is the kicker. Her episode happened during Stroke Awareness Month, and I was working on the article when my gut was giving me warning signs something was out of sync. At the the same time, for my full-time job as a communications specialist at a local rehabilitation hospital, I was profiling the incredible recovery of a gentleman who was fighting like hell to regain his life.

thread-stitches-broken-red-heart-threaded-47044972Like a perfect storm, my personal HuffPo piece was published Thursday, my work-related coverage was handed in Friday, and my mom’s stroke was confirmed Monday. Ironic that my mind has been more focused on stroke awareness month than my own birthday, which is this Friday.

It sounds silly, but seeing the bars installed in my childhood home takes my breath away. Seeing the guard rails on the bottom of the steps makes it even more evident that thing are changing. Of course things are changing- looking at my mother, watching her reluctantly use her cane and walker. But those rails and bars hit a nerve.

Thank you to everyone who has been supportive of my HuffPo article: What it’s Like being the 25 year old and Dealing with a Mother who is a Stroke Victim. Now more than usual, the wounds that have scabbed over sting right now. They will go back to only a dull ache when prodded, but for now I’m letting them be aired. Because to be on a role with the healthcare kick, it’s better to heal the right way than to give it half ass care. Dealing with the anger, confusion, and fear now will help me continue to cope- rather than letting the emotions fester up and explode down the line.