Lessons learned in a humble gymnasium

Lessons learned in a humble gymnasium

Just as I was finishing up a blog post this week about why I was leaving FaceBook, I received a notice that someone had tagged me in a post on the social media site. My attention was drawn to the story my friend shared of a church that in the early morning hours was destroyed by fire. This was my church; our church.

The Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, is where I grew up. Quite literally. I attended school there from kindergarten through the 8th grade. My parents were original members of the parish. They were among the 455 in attendance at the first mass held in the cafeteria of Ramapo Regional High School on a hot Sunday in July of 1961 – before there was a church, or a school, or even me.

I attended mass there every Sunday from the minute I arrived from Ireland in 1967. But the early parishioners and administration made the school a priority. The church building wasn’t completed until 1981, when I was already in high school. Mass was in the school gymnasium, something with which we became quite accustomed. My First Holy Communion? In the gym. My Confirmation? In the gym! I was planning to draw the line on the wedding though. “Not getting married under the basketball hoop!” I demanded.

I didn’t of course.  The new Church was dedicated in fall of 1981, just as I had started my junior year of high school and visiting from Ireland at that time was the nun who took care of me when I was an infant. It was so special and fitting that she attended this ceremony with my family. The church was  beautifully modern. No stain glass. But I so appreciated the way the filtered sunlight, through the skylights that ran the length of the the long support beams, formed a cross. At the right time of day that cross of sunshine landed perfectly on the alter.

That church became a place where I reunited with friends when I was home from college. There were over a decade of Christmas Eve midnight masses with my parents. If I close my eyes I can hear my Dad’s booming voice, perfectly on key. Gloria in excelsis deo. My parents renewed their wedding vows there to mark their 40th Anniversary in 1989. And in 1993, I was married…under filtered sunlight through the skylights, not a basketball hoop.

I remember quite clearly three times I was present in that church in recent years. Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, the school celebrated its 50th Anniversary. It was an all class reunion that started with a mass where friends reunited once again. In 2014, my husband’s funeral mass was celebrated there by Bishop Flesey. I was there was for daily mass on Monday, April 27, 2015. That was the day the Navy had let me know they would be conducting his Burial at Sea. Family members don’t go to that, but I felt I needed to do something. M.B.S. was there for me.

M.B.S. was always there; something I took for granted. It was always a place I thought I could go back to when I wanted to conjure up memories of my parents, or my wedding, or my elementary school friends, or feel connected to the religious traditions – and comfort – I had long left behind. But like The Record building in Hackensack (When we were friend of the people we served), or my parents’ restaurant on the other side of Franklin Lakes (the building was torn down a few years ago), it’s another monument to my memories that no longer exists.

Community transcends buildings though – a lesson to take away from all those years in the gym. As kids we learned that the people are what’s important. We learned that you don’t spend money you don’t have on something you really don’t need. We learned to be patient. We learned that hard work and cooperation builds communities – and churches. It was announced that masses will be back in the gymnasium. My elementary school friends and I are making plans to meet for lunch and attend mass one Saturday evening in January when I’m back in New Jersey.  There is something so comforting about that.



5 Ways to Help Your Grinch Navigate the Holidays

5 Ways to Help Your Grinch Navigate the Holidays

The holiday season is supposed to be joyful, but we all know the stress that can come along with finding the right gifts, hosting gatherings, managing blended families that include significant others, spouses, ex-spouses, in-laws and maybe even former in-laws that are, after all, grandparents, and trying to please everyone which is virtually impossible.

Add to all that the emotionally charged memories this time of year brings when important people with whom we used to share holidays are no longer with us. Financial concerns can become more prominent too when we want the holiday gifts and celebrations to meet expectations. And finally the shorter days and less daylight have an adverse effect on many people. Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can experience some extreme symptoms. Even for people who don’t suffer from clinical depression, this time of year can be very difficult (read more about Holiday Depression: Statistics & How to Deal from Healthline).

I have been accused at times of not liking the holidays. That is not really accurate. I learned years ago how to navigate the last six weeks of the year in the least stressful way possible. Of course that was many years before losing my parents and aunt and uncle with whom I shared holidays all of my life. That was before my cancer diagnosis (read more about cancer & depression) which made me appreciate my own mortality, and my husband’s suicide that ended holiday celebrations as I had known them for over 20 years. And still, I found ways to make the most of the holidays. Although, admittedly I have my moments of despair.

I really try. I start listening to Christmas music when I’m in the car by myself as soon as SiriusXM Holly goes live. I put up the decorations Thanksgiving weekend and even gave in last year when my daughter wanted them up earlier. I attend parties and I’ve throw parties. What I’ve also done for many of the Christmases since my husband died is go away for the week that encompasses Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and his birthday. That’s what worked for us. Being in Chicago is now a permanent escape of sorts, although the holidays can still be difficult emotionally.

The one gift all of this has brought me is a new sense of empathy. While I can at times wallow in the holidays can be difficult self-pity, I can also appreciate that everyone is also dealing with a whole myriad of things that can make the holidays challenging. For people with clinical depression, this extremely difficult month can be even more arduous. If you know anyone who suffers from depression or anxiety or may be grieving the loss of a loved one this holiday season, reach out. Don’t let people be lonely. Look for ways to share the holidays in a way that is comfortable for them.

If you are dealing with grief and loss this holiday season, read my 7 Ways to Survive the Holidays after loss. If you are dealing with someone close to you that may seem like your own Grinch, pleased don’t judge. They may be fighting an internal battle of which you are not aware. Instead, I offer you this:

1. Recognize that for some, the holidays can be extremely difficult, and bring on enormous sadness.

2. Understand these feelings are real and like depression at any time of the year, can’t be willed away.

3. Help your friends and loved ones avoid social isolation. If big celebrations are overwhelming for them, find other smaller ways you can socialize and stay connected.

4. Don’t pressure them to do things they find uncomfortable, but do encourage self-care (meditation, massage, exercise) to cope with stress, and to seek professional assistance (therapist, doctor) if needed. And of course, if someone is suicidal (there’s no harm in asking them if they are!) contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or call 9-1-1. Do not leave them alone.

5. Be present for them, let them talk. Don’t feel you need to solve their problems (you can’t); just listen, and make sure they know you care.

Here’s to making the best of the holiday season for everyone including the Grinch!



8 Things I’m Thankful for this Holiday Season

8 Things I’m Thankful for this Holiday Season

As Thanksgiving weekend 2019 came to a close and I looked to embrace this holiday season, I’m reflecting on all that for which I am grateful…

  1. Being the mom of a college student (which I would add is exceedingly better than being the mom of a high school student). I appreciate our independence, but also that she still needs me and wants me to be part of her life. I like the way our relationship has evolved in the last couple years that I can now truly count her among my best friends.  And of course I was truly grateful to have her home with us for the long weekend and spending even more time together over the winter break.
  2. Having Chicago connections. I had dinner with a friend from New York last week who was in visiting family in the suburbs. We discussed how I was getting along since the move. He told me it took him a while to make friends when he made the move from Chicago to New York about 25 years ago. I am grateful for the groups that welcomed me like the Lakeview Rotary, The Transition Network, Professional Women’s Club of Chicago, and of course a number of running groups, all of which have helped me develop a sense of belonging here.
  3. A place to go and something to do. My first fall here was difficult. WIth my daughter living on campus, I was living alone. Kurt was an hour away in the northern suburbs and mostly we only saw one another on weekends. Working from home added to my loneliness, especially once the weather started getting cold and I wasn’t getting outside as much. I am grateful for my job at Fleet Feet (they’re hiring!) where I’ve now been employed part-time for close to eleven months. Yes, it provides added income, but more than that, it got me out of the apartment and doing something productive with other people.
  4. Holiday Party invitations! No further explanation needed (see #2 & 3)
  5. Running. It’s still keeping me sane (for the most part lol) and like my experiences in New Jersey, finding that sense of belonging here in my new city had a lot to do with making connections and friends in the running community. I also got a great self-esteem boost Thanksgiving weekend when I placed in my age-group (first time in Illinois) in not just one, but two, Turkey Trots (a 5k and a half marathon).
  6. New Jersey friends that keep in touch. I love life in Chicago, but I will never stop missing some of the very special people I left on the East Coast. I am grateful for those that keep in touch beyond social media. In 2020, a year I’m planning absent of FaceBook (more on that to come), I’m going to make sure I text more and call more, and remember to send personal birthday greetings and put more effort into cultivating those special friendships that shouldn’t be sacrificed by distance.
  7. My family. Although far away, for “being there” still. I got a lovely Thanksgiving greeting from my sister in Ireland to start the day on Thursday that meant all the world to me. Knowing that I can reach out – or jump on a plane – and be welcomed has made life without my (adoptive) parents much less sad.
  8. And of course, Kurt. For so many reasons, not the least of which is the security of a roof over my head and the joy of spending more time together and planning our future. It can also be very demotivating to run alone all the time. 🙂IMG_2372.JPG
Marriage…70 years ago today

Marriage…70 years ago today

On November 19, 1949 – 70 years ago today – my parents were married. While the marriage ended with my father’s death a month shy of their 57th Anniversary, it didn’t for my mother. Reunited six years later, they will always – at least in my mind – be married beyond a vow that only called for “till death do us part.” They set the bar for me on what the ideal marriage should be. They set it pretty high.

The first day of the rest of their lives. Elmhurst, Queens, New York. November 1949.

They were partners in every sense of the word. They spent every day together – at home and at work – as business owners, homeowners and parents. They did an amazing job holding it all together and looking pretty good doing it. I can’t say they always agreed on everything, but they were so diplomatic in their disagreements, that in all the years I knew them I cannot recall a single fight. Not one! Never voices raised between them.

I wish I could say the same. But my husband wasn’t my dad and I’m not my mom (as much as my daughter tries to tell me I’ve turned into her). I think I knew from the start that I wasn’t going to have a marriage like my parents did. Although I thought defining it on our terms would work too. Yes, my marriage made it to an acceptable finish line when my husband died, but it was difficult for years.

My mother told me at the time of their 40th Anniversary that she felt the secret to a happy marriage was always having a project. She felt that if you were jointly working on a common goal, it helped keep you focused on the benefits of staying together. I guess being business partners as well as life partners was a big part of that for them.

Appraising my own marriage of 21 plus years, she was probably on to something. When we were both working full-time and sharing household chores and projects on our free time things were pretty good in spite of some differences. The biggest issue in the end was that I spent half our marriage responsible for 100% of the household income. That can work for some couples and I know there is a lot that can be gained by having a parent home to preside over the children and the household, but not if it creates a financial burden. And not if it’s not a mutually agreed-upon strategy. 

My parents felt that marriage was a life-long commitment and that it had to be worked on everyday. I agree. But what happens when one partner isn’t working at it? What happens when the responsibility to hold the marriage together falls to one person? And that’s where I feel marriage – or at least the assumption of a life-long commitment no matter what – fails us.

My parents would think a domestic partnership was inappropriate. Something about not buying the cow when you can get the milk for free. Even though that’s exactly what I’m doing now, I’m still inclined to agree with my parents. To be honest, I liked being married. I liked the commitment and shared responsibility. But I do think how we go into marriage could benefit from some transformation. 

What if marriage were a renewable contract (the terms of which the couple negotiates up front while everything is still good), rather than a life-long commitment? My parents thought cohabitation lacked the commitment that kept couples together. Although from my experience, married people can become complacent; no longer making the effort with the assumption that their partner is committed to them “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

If my marriage was a 10-year renewable contract, my husband would have gotten a renewal at 10 years, but the renewed contract would have included some bench marks about expected financial contribution to the partnership and a mandate to get help for his depression and anxiety. The terms of the dissolution of the marriage could also be factored in putting responsibility on both partners for their own financial health and well-being. No complacency if you want a renewal!

I met with an attorney after my husband said I couldn’t leave him because it would cost me too much. One of the things I was told was that marriage is essentially a financial/business agreement. I was, in part, responsible for our situation because I didn’t do anything about his lack of financial contribution for 10 years. The lawyer asked me, “If you had a business, would you have allowed your business partner to not contribute to the business and take revenue from it for 10 years without doing something about it?” 

When young people get married they aren’t looking at it like that and society (and religion) guilts us in to continuing to try to work things out. If we don’t make it “till death do us part” we feel as though we have failed. There are a lot of reasons that marriage is declining among Millennials and those marrying are marrying later in life (Hermanson, M. “How Millennials are redefining marriage” The Gottman Institute). Making marriage less of a life-long commitment and divorce less of a burden could help, no?

Parents of the Bride. Little Ferry, New Jersey. June 1993.

25 Chicago Must-Do Races to fill your 2020 Race Calendar

25 Chicago Must-Do Races to fill your 2020 Race Calendar

Chicago is a great place to run and it has many unique and fun races. Whether you live in or near The Windy City or have a reason to travel here, do mark your calendar for some of these must-do races. I haven’t done all of them (yet), but the ones I haven’t done come highly recommended by numerous sources in the Chicago running community. Wishing you happy miles…enjoy! Read more