Saturday, November 25, 2017

“Save You a Seat”

When someone says they will save you a seat it means that they appreciate your company and they desire to have you by their side. You are important to them and their time is more valuable with you in it. They request your presence at their special occasion and/or moment of joy because you make it complete. You make the function, regardless of what it is, more enjoyable and meaningful. That is why there will always be a seat saved for my mother, who recently passed due to lung cancer, at any and all events in my life.

I dreamt of her being there to engage in a dance with me on my wedding day, to spoil her grandkid(s) that the stork delivered to me and my future misses and to experience and celebrate all the other milestones that come along with being a son to a mother. Unfortunately she will not be able to join me physically, because these times, not unlike my heart; will be missing someone of beauty, splendor and warmth. She will, however, be there in spirit and that is why there will always be a seat reserved for her.

This holiday season is going to be extremely difficult to say the least, because what was once cheerful and exciting has now become cold and dreary. We all have painted on smiles like a clown, pretending that our spirits aren’t broken with the hopes of pulling off an Oscar worthy performance for “best happy family” for the sake of the kids and each other. We know we must be strong, for mom, but I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t fighting back the tears, that the pain from losing her wasn’t embedded on my being like a tattoo, crippling my soul and occupying my thoughts like a protester on Wall Street. My body was there and involved in the festivities, but my mind was locked away in a room with padded walls.

As a child, when the holiday season approached I anticipated the food she would make without measuring an ounce or reading from a recipe, just good old-fashioned know how. I wrote long lists about things I wanted for Christmas, the things I saw on TV, the hottest trends and of course all the things my friends had that I was envious of. Now the only thing I want is to have her back, to be able to tell her how much I love her and to see her happy and healthy again. The day you lose your mother is the day you lose your childhood, things aren’t the same, that amazement and bewilderment you once had toward life is now gone and replaced with a hard callous skin like that on the bottom of a foot that has taken many steps on hard ground.  

Appreciate who you have sitting around your table now, because in the blink of an eye things can go from a celebration to a memorial. You could be faced with an empty chair where once a loved one sat, now reserved in their memory and for their honor. That vacant seat is a symbol of your love for the departed, a token of appreciation for who they were and what they meant to you, but without a doubt never as good as the real thing.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Here's a story of a mild-mannered everyday individual who has a secret hidden so deep that not even Superman with his X-ray vision could find it. He, just like Clark Kent has an alter ego too, but not one of a brave and noble hero or even a maniacal and twisted villain, but rather one of a happy and mentally healthy person. The secret he keeps is one so powerful that it can hold the strongest of men down and it can make the most confident crumble to their knees. It hides in plain sight and keeps its hostage bound and gagged so not to be found out. This evil is none other than depression, and like Hannibal Lecter it will eat you live if not treated properly and taken seriously.

When it comes to mental health, there is a lot of confusion and a lot of fear surrounding the topic, so let’s try to rid our society of some of that and have an open discussion about it. These are some of the things that you should know to better take care of your loved ones and yourself in the long run.

Part 1: “Hide and Seek”

Depression is not something people proudly wear on their sleeve as a badge of honor that they display for all to see, if anything it’s kept hidden far back in the depths of their mind, securely locked away with the hopes of it never to seeing the light of day.

Depression hides out in like a ghost in a haunted house, from the outside everything looks copacetic, but once you cross the threshold, you can tell that something isn’t right.

People with depression want help, but they don’t know how to ask and/or are scared to do so because of what they foresee will be the result of said action. They are able to open their mouth as if to scream, but this intruder won’t allow them to put any volume behind it thus leaving their cries unheard.

Most will not come right out and tell you they are suffering, but they may drop subtle hints hoping their loved ones will follow them like the steps on a treasure map. However, in this case the riches aren’t monetary but more so peace of mind and good mental health.

Part 2: “They’re Crazy!”

Why is it difficult to talk openly about depression? People think there's something wrong with you, you're mentally unstable. Depression isn't real; you're having a bad day or wallowing in self-pity. These are just some of the issues we face as a society when it comes to bringing this problem to the forefront.

There is a stigma attached to anyone who endures its dreaded sting. We have made people who suffer from any form of a mental health condition feel like outcasts and monsters in this country, so needlessly to say there won’t be any grand announcement of the enemy’s presence.

Speaking up about our emotions is a sign of weakness, for women they are being dramatic and over-the-top, men are considered "less than" and fragile. We are taught at a young age it is not the cool thing to do, where those who complain are negative and a killjoy. Even kid’s shows like Sesame Street showed you that the people who do so are outcasts, they are “grouchy”, and belong in a trashcan. That is why most people choose to keep quiet instead of talking about it.

Don’t be alarmed and act like the people did in the movie Philadelphia when they found out that Tom Hanks had AIDS! This is not contagious and not something that should land the victim in a straitjacket, sitting in a room with padded walls.

Part 3: “Side Effects”

What are the side effects of depression? How does it feel having this unwelcomed houseguest renting space in your head?

The word depression is misleading to say the least, it doesn’t accurately express the severity of the situation and it makes people think the victim is just going through a rough patch in his/her life right at the moment. We should change it to something like mental warfare, to show people how serious it is and how dangerous of a battle it is. We all know there are varying degrees of depression, and not everyone who claims to have it does, but we must not discount the information we have and/or try to play doctor because the result could be a dire one.

Having depression is like being trapped in a glass bottle sealed with a vault door. You can see the world go by as you are fighting to free yourself from your prison, suffocating and constantly freaking out because most likely you cannot escape on your own. You could reach out and ask for help to break the bottle or you can continue to try to release yourself alone, which could end with your demise.

You feel unneeded, unnecessary and undesired. You feel helpless, out of place and uncomfortable in your own skin. You feel like nobody wants you around, and if you left one day, you would receive a postcard with the words "wish you weren't here" written on it. A spider's victim trapped in a cocoon struggling to break free before it eats you and consumes your soul. This is heartbreaking and unbelievable to say the least, but nevertheless this is a day in the life of someone who is struggling with severe depression. Basically they are the walking wounded and the living dead!

You feel like a rotting/decaying corpse wrapped in a tattered shroud like in a horror film, who is reaching out to people for help and mercy but they are too afraid and/or disgusted to reach back because of what they perceive us to be. That unfortunately is a side effect of our thought process as a whole. We imagine ourselves to be hideous, to be the targets of all the laughs and whispers, we see ourselves as a blemish, like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. 
When dealing with anxiety, relaxing is something that is difficult to do, regardless of what Frankie says. Sure we all face some form of anxiety or another during the course of our day, but not to the point where it is crippling who we are and hindering us from thinking rationally. Until you’ve been to the mountaintop, it’s impossible to explain the view.

Our mind can be our greatest ally, but it can also be our own worst enemy too…

Your mind is like a boat lost at sea, you don't know which way is safe and sometimes the seas are calm but other times the weather is rough and the waves dangerous. This all happens at a moment’s notice and with no warning.

Sometimes your brain feels as if it is being juiced, like an orange that is squeezed of all its nutrients, left with only an empty rind and void of any meat or value. You steadily wish for things to be better, but unfortunately life isn't a genie and wishing is best left to shooting stars and to coins that are dropped in wells. You can listen to all the finely crafted metaphors, all the songs that are meant to motivate, all the cats hanging on lines that are meant to inspire, but if your mind isn't where it needs to be and all that is nothing more than a pep talk that is blowing smoke and empty promises of grandeur.

Think of it like this. There’s a hostile double agent lurking in your brain who is sabotaging things from the inside out. He is someone who could be stopped with the right set of tools, but if let alone and allowed to proceed as planned he could end up toppling the administration in a very counterproductive way and possibly even with a deadly outcome. This is a demon that needs to be properly exorcised and not allowed to rent space in your head for any longer than necessary.

Depression is the monster of your faith. It is the creature who hides under your bed. It is a raging fire that burns everything in its path unless somehow extinguished. The bottom line is that it’s not a game and should not be treated as such.

Part 4: “Life or Death”

Sometimes “getting over it” isn’t an option. Sadly there are many who believe it’s just that easy to overcome this hurdle. The victim merely stumbled along the way and just needs to stand up and dust off. This is something that is hard-wired in their brains and a simple restart is going to fix the problem. They may need professional help or even medication to recover, so don’t take it lightly and toss it aside or instead of having a face-to-face conversation with your loved one you could be sitting across from a tombstone asking why. Life is precious; don’t let it fizzle out like a campfire in the wake of the morning sun because you thought you knew better.

This is definitely a battle worth undertaking, because failure could land them in the hands of an undertaker and none of us want that. The struggle is real; don't let your ignorance land you at a funeral.


Part 5: “Emergency Exit”

Battling depression is a team sport, but unfortunately some of the players, those who aren’t confined to the penalty box of course, are going to have to do most of the work if they hope to win the game for their loved ones. Now with that said, those who are playing landlord to this creature cannot sit idly by on the sidelines, twiddling their thumbs and hoping that everything works out for the best. We have to do our part too, no matter how difficult it is. The goal is to get out as quickly as possible and not to let things continue as they are with the hopes everything will work out for the best.

Part 6: “Close, yet Far”

Sometimes the door to good health is one that is covered in grease, no matter how hard you try to turn the handle it just won’t open. Sometimes your support system isn't all that supportive. Sometimes those closest to us are the hardest ones to confide in, so we must find a new set of ears willing to listen to our problems and a new shoulder to lean on when walking is difficult.

It’s not necessarily that these people don't love and/or care for us, but for some reason or another they just don't understand what we are going through, they can't comprehend it, which for their sake is actually a blessing. The culprit could also be fear. They don’t want to say the wrong thing so they walk around pretending to be oblivious to what’s going on. They know that this rollercoaster is one with many twists and turns, so rather than taking a seat and risk getting sick, they avoid the ride all together.

As if things weren’t already hard enough, there are going to be times where we have to step even further outside our comfort zones when seeking help. We must seek the company of a stranger if our resources at home are faulty. The ride is going to be a rough one, the terrain is going to be horrendous at times, but the trip is going to be totally worth it if you are able to come out on the end better off than when you went in.

Part 7: “The End Credits”

We need to forego the whole stereotypical idea of what a woman/man should be and be true to ourselves and our feelings; it would make this world a much better place for everyone involved? Forget about what society thinks and focus on saving your life, both while you’re living and while you’re on the edge.

Someone with depression is not looking for sympathy, they are looking for understanding. Be there for each other, and not just with meaningless pleasantries in passing or with a “thumbs up” on Facebook, but in person, for real, and with genuine concern for each other and their well-being. We need to keep an open mind and an open ear when it comes to those we hold dear. Don't think of love as a chore, but as a blessing and a privilege.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

“An Angel without Wings”

Where to start? There’s so much to say about my mother, but who would listen, or better yet, why would they listen? To some she was just a stranger, someone they blindly crossed paths with during their journey on this planet of ours, but to others who were lucky enough to know her, she was a pure blessing, a bright light in this otherwise dark world of ours. Was she perfect? Of course she wasn’t, just like none of us are. However, in my eyes she was pretty damn close. I am extremely proud to call myself her son.

She grew up in a simpler time, one where Elvis wasn’t able to shake his hips on television and where most people preached peace and love over hate and condemnation. The world around her may have been black and white and as carefree as an episode of I Love Lucy, but her personal life was anything but. Throughout her life she experienced abuse on many different levels, physically and emotionally, some of which would make toughest of us wince in pain and would fill the most joyous of hearts with tremendous sorrow. She kept much torment and regret locked away in her soul. She did her best to overcome it and make her life, and ours something better than what she was used to.

One would think that considering the circumstances she would be jaded, that her glass would forever be half empty. That wasn’t the case. She loved and showed compassion towards everyone, unfortunately sometimes even to a fault where she was taken advantage of and undeservingly hurt. She would try to find the good in everyone; she would constantly be digging through the weeds of one’s heart trying to find the single rose that she believed existed. She was the epitome of what I meant to be a human being; she did our species as a whole very proud. She wasn’t a kind and giving person because it was the hip thing to do; that’s who she was to her very core.

She also had an amazing sense of humor. She would laugh her ass off when someone fell, and yes, even before checking if they were alright. There was just something about people losing their footing and falling to the ground like a ton of bricks that struck her funny bone and left her laughing hysterically like a hyena on laughing gas. When you tripped and/or fell around her your best bet was to swallow your pride and laugh along with her, because no amount of bruising, body or ego, was going to keep her from enjoying your balance mishap. She didn’t do it to be hurtful, she just couldn’t control herself.

My mother was one of the most sarcastic and quick-witted people I have ever known, no matter what hand life may have dealt her she was always ready to up the ante with humor. If you weren’t laughing and having a good time when you were in her presence it was most likely because you were the one who busted their ass or dared to take her on in a battle of wits. Thankfully her wonderful sense of humor was passed on to us because it really helped us through this difficult time; many tears were overshadowed by laughter.

She had plenty of reasons to be hateful and spiteful, yet she still maintained hope and love. She was afraid of the dark but had a personality that would light up a room. My mother didn't just want to know you, she wanted to embrace you, and she wanted you to feel as if you mattered. She loved sharing stories about her past; it meant the world to her when others took an interest in who she was, in what made her tick. She never had a problem comforting your tears, if anything she welcomed it, and never judged you because of them.

2017 was not a pleasant year for her. Shortly after it began she was diagnosed small cell lung cancer, which of course is aggressive and unfortunately for most a death sentence, which come to think of it pretty much confirms her theory that if it wasn’t for bad luck she wouldn’t have any luck at all. As she put it, she suffered from a bad case of the maloikies.

The last few months of her life was spent running back and forth to various doctors, extended hospital stays and fighting just to live her life as normal as possible when she did get the chance to be at home. Needless to say it wasn’t a “happy” new year for her at all. The chemo, which did give her a little more time with us, was destroying her body and making things very unpleasant for her. She couldn’t eat because of sores in her mouth, standing up was a chore in itself for her and with each passing day she was looking less and less like herself. Needless to say it wasn’t easy, but she stayed with it and never lost her smile. I remember when she would leave the chemo room she would pass by others who were in the same situation as herself, but instead of complaining about how bad she had it, she wished them all good luck and cheered them on.

Right before she was intubated for the last time, of course with the hopes of helping her breathe better, we were all in the hospital room with her for moral support and encouragement. We all got a brief moment with her to say a quick something then we had to leave the room to let the doctors do what they needed to do. My turn just happened to be last, and as I leaned in to let her know that I loved her and that everything would be alright, she grabbed my shirt and pulled me close and said, “Don’t let them do anything to me”. I knew what she meant, she wanted to make sure that everything that could possibly be done to keep her alive was done, she didn’t want the “plug pulled” if you will. My mother believed in fighting up until the bitter end, if it was up to her Terri Schiavo would still be here. She always said, “Where’s there’s life there’s hope”. Unfortunately those were the last words she ever spoke to me, and I hope and pray that she was happy with how I handled things from that point on.

Living a nightmare! Sitting in her hospital room waiting for her to leave us, listening carefully to her breaths, anticipating the final one and at the same time praying it never comes. Having to wear gloves and a mask like we were robbing a bank, while the whole time I wanted nothing more than to grab her and hug her one last time. That day, and every day afterwards, if my tears were rain I would have filled an ocean with as much as I’ve cried.

Regrettably the disease finally ended her life on the 4th of June, and not because she gave up. She fought valiantly to the end with everything she had in her, but rather because when all was said and done it was just too much on her, both physically and mentally. June 7th was the day that my mother was laid to rest. The end of a chapter. Her soul was already flying high with the angels, and now her physical remains and her memory were honored. One of the greatest people I have ever known. Her light was extinguished before its time, leaving our world a little colder from this day forward. May she rest well in heaven and rejoice in the fact of just how loved she was.

As many of us know cancer is a horrible and devastating adversary, one without compassion and/or concern for whom it attacks/hurts, and if it doesn’t end your life itself, the treatment and/or complications from it will. Now of course it doesn’t always win, but it definitely does make its presence known and will make sure you respect it.

Cancer has a knack for attacking the good, the kind and the gentle, taking its time devouring their souls and leaving them battling beyond belief trying to conquer it. You get angry because you know there are individuals more deserving of this dreaded disease, of the pain and the suffering. You wonder how is it possible that they can keep going on living without seemingly a care in the world, when others are ravished and abused by this disease. That is at least how I felt during this horrific experience.

You cannot give into its evil, because then not only did it steal your loved one from you but it also beat you and changed you for the worse. As I said prior, I felt this way, the anger grew inside of me like a cancer (for lack of a better word), but I realized that my mother wouldn’t want me proceeding down that path, my thoughts wouldn’t make her proud, so I have been trying my best to change that. I would be lying to you if I told you it was easy, it’s not by any stretch of the imagination, but for my own well-being it is necessary so it must be done.

Our final journey with her was rough one, with a heartbreaking end, but I can honestly say that I am forever thankful that I was able to be her side during this whole ordeal. She is now buried under dirt for all eternity; her earthly remains like a seed that I pray by our actions bring fourth many beautiful flowers in her honor. We cannot let her passing be in vain, we must show the world what having her in our lives truly meant.

You were an amazing individual. A true testament of what it means to be a human being. You never saw the bad in people, only the good, even when you were hurt, taken advantage of or looked down upon as a result. You never swayed or faltered from who you were or let hate consume you, you’re a true inspiration. You still continued to move forward and spread love across this planet of ours. You made this normally dark and dreary world more beautiful, more precious and more of a reason to be part of it. Her presence made it feel like a summer’s day, but now without her it’s like a never-ending winter’s night. I know a lot of people are in pain because you’re gone, but at least you are not anymore. You can rest easy knowing that your time here was not fruitless and that you truly were loved in every sense of the word.

When you lose your mother you lose all the stories you two shared, all the heartache you two embraced and all the trials you two have overcome. You’re losing the love, the comforts and the good times that now seem so far removed. You're losing more than just a person; you're losing a part of you, a part of your soul, a part of your being. She can never be replaced. She can never be thanked enough for all she did. Her passing left lots of regrets, lots of “what ifs” and of things left unsaid. Sleep eludes you as if you were playing a game of tag with it. You feel as lost as the kid on the back of the milk carton. The horror of the loss binds you like heavy chains, grips you tightly and unmercifully constricts when you try to escape, it is torture on another level. The day I lost my childhood is when my mother lost her life.   

Unfortunately I have many regrets when it comes to the passing of my mother, lots of things that I would have done differently if only I would have known that our time was limited and coming to an abrupt end. Although, one thing I do not regret is that I was able to take care of her as she did me many times during my lifetime, and that I was able to protect her when times were tough and she thought she had no one else in her corner. As much as her death weighs heavy on my heart, her life was truly a blessing that I will forever be thankful that I had the good fortune to be a part of.

Losing her was one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure; it tore me in two knowing that what once was is now nothing more than a memory, and regrettably none new, just recollections of ones past. Sadly there will be many wonderful experiences that will be left unfulfilled by her absence.  I know that someday the pain will subside, slowly fade into the distance like an image in the rearview mirror as you drive away, but she will never leave my heart or be forgotten. 

My mother taught me that life, unlike her now still heart, never skips a beat, it continues on full steam ahead without any concern for casualties and mourners. Life is cruel and unfair, but we must do everything in our power to conquer it, to make it work for us instead of against us. She taught me how to survive and flourish and not just exist and concede. She taught me that every problem has a solution, might not always be the most convenient or the most enjoyable, but nevertheless it does. Her passing will haunt me for the rest of my days, but I will not let who she was and what she stood for go unrecognized. People will see her in me; they will appreciate who I am because of who she was. My goal is to honor her memory and to make her proud.    

Mom you can now sit back and rest while we, your children, take the reins and proudly steer your memory to greatness by our actions. The skies have cried every day since your departure, as if to show us that the heavens share our pain. I feel lost without her, but I am forever blessed for knowing her. Kathleen Sarah Canaley may you rest in peace. You will be forever loved and missed. The angel without wings that once walked the earth with the rest of us is now flying high with her own set of brand new wings.

Her story ended abruptly and in a manner completely undeserving of someone of her caliber, but I personally couldn’t have asked for a better supporting actor in this crazy show we call life. When the curtain came down for the final time on her performance there were many on their feet giving her a standing ovation, an ending fit for a summer Hollywood blockbuster and a woman who made the lives of anyone privileged enough to know her that much more special. Thank you mom!

I want to apologize for all the times I've said “she” (and her) in this piece, especially since my mother, Kathleen, would be driven completely nuts by it, because as she always said, “She has a name”.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of my incredible mother, without you this journey is going to be hard, but because of you it’s going to be possible. To all my siblings and their significant others, without you these past few months, and many years ahead, would be difficult, unforgiving and soul shattering to say the least.