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Reflections on Thanksgivukkah

Reflections on Thanksgivikkah

This was actually written on Wednesday but for some reason it never posted…so here goes with updates.

On this eve of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah or Thanksgivikkah, I am thinking of all the things that make this year different from all the rest. This year is unique in that the alignment of the two holidays is a once in more than 70,000-year event. So I guess you can say we are all experiencing a once in a lifetime (unless you plan to be around for another 70,000 years) occurrence.

My reflections are many and my thoughts are scattered. But they are my scattered thoughts of the past week and then some and at this point they are ramblings of someone who is very tired…LOL.

In the past few weeks, we at the Pantry have had the blessing of meeting some very unique people. From being serenated with a beautiful hymn as a thank you… to witnessing people holding back tears for the food they receive. More so now than ever, I think our mission is clear and our impact is far reaching. To know that we have provided to someone in need is so gratifying. They are not asking for the world, they are asking for food… and in some cases, their next few meals. A tattered gentleman with his head hanging low came and knocked on the door Monday looking for just a loaf of bread when the pantry was not open. We had run out of bread but when he left, it was with a smile and pure gratitude. I believed at that moment that we had lived up to our mission of helping those who are having a crisis – our door may have been locked and we may have been done for the day but there was more work to do – hunger is an everyday issue for many and we rose to the occasion.

Tuesday on my way to work, I witnessed a very touching moment. On most days there is always someone soliciting drivers getting off the Parkway/Route 15. I am not sure what their signs might say as I am at the intersection and not coming off the parkway. Anyway, most drivers ignore the men. But yesterday, a man reached out his window and gave the gentlemen a bill. I was at the light a few cars back so I have no idea what denomination or how many bills he gave the man. But as the light changed for the exit ramp, and the cars started moving, the man who received the bill put his sign down and knelt on the ground. He did the sign of the cross and prayed with head bowed and hands clasped. Several other cars had their windows open to give him something, but the man did not stir. He continued to pray – giving up a chance for additional money. My light then changed and I was forced to drive or otherwise I would have to put up with the honking and impatience of Litchfield Turnpike drivers. I felt so humble to see such a sight and went into work relaying what I saw…and it is still top of mind for me.

As I have mentioned in previous face book posts, thinking back on the past few weeks, (and every week for that matter) I am so grateful for the JFS Pantry volunteers, the parents and kids who helped pack the bags, and ALL those who dedicate their free time to help others and also help me in so many ways. Whether is was a listening ear, a second set of eyes, counting and schlepping or making appointments, everyone did their part and so much more. This year, we went into our Annual Thanksgiving distribution with only one volunteer who had experienced it from previous years and lines that previous stretched a block away. We have a whole new crew since moving into the new location. Preparing for our Annual Thanksgiving distribution took a lot of time, effort (especially since this year we gave each client a specific time to show up over a two day period), muscle power and goodwill to pull off and we did it … NEW CREW AND ALL!!!!! I cannot thank my volunteers enough for their hard work, humor, and everything that goes with putting together our distribution and this year we served a record number of clients and emergency families. There were minimal lines if any and if any of you can believe this … I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO COMPLAINTS (which is a first if you know me, LOL). The distribution days were nearly perfect. The precision was excellent, the execution was outstanding, the company was great and actually… the clients seemed happy, grateful and full of hugs, smiles and kisses (yes, I had several lipstick marks on my cheek – which were immediately rubbed off by embarrassed clients…LOL) .

I also want to say that along with my Pantry volunteers, I have the best friends and some of the best co-workers in the world. They gave up their time to help me in the most stressful of times over the past few weeks and on weekends. They were ready to listen and jumped at a call to action and because of them, I was able to breath easy going into Sunday and Monday of this week. On top of that, they were relentless with checking in on me with early morning texts, emails checking in and phone calls after work. As for my co-workers, many had to put up with my ranting and raving but through it all, they came through – whether consistently or at the last minute. Monday and Tuesday many JFS staff came in to the Pantry to check if we needed help or anything and when we did, we took them up on their offer.

Looking back on Wednesday, I am grateful that the Pantry did NOT sustain any major issues or damage after it was flooded due to the heavy rains and the irresponsibility of another business (tenant) in the strip mall that has blocked the drainage of water in the back of the strip mall with their play area and mulch. The water receded but in some areas of the pantry it was at least an inch deep and for those who know the pantry layout, the water made it up to the sign in desk and the computer was sitting in water. The refrigerators and freezers were also sitting in water and the residue of mulch and dirt that came in with the water. I am thankful that the landlord of the building cleaned up the mess and sanitized the floors as this could be detrimental to the Food Pantry if left untouched as mold and parasites could destroy the food, etc.

Wednesday I also had a rude awakening and shook my head in disbelief and felt sorry for others at Stop and Shop. I went in for cat food and a few necessities after work and you would think it was the end of the world. People driving carriages into each other, people grabbing at the turkeys before the man was able to unpack them from the cases, Long lines with people complaining, someone cutting off another who had been waiting for a parking space. Come on now!!???? WTF!!! As I got in my car to drive the two minutes home, it took me nearly 15 minutes. Cars blocking the intersection, continuous beeping, someone yelling with an open window using vulgarities for no reason, pounding on the steering wheel. It makes me wonder if it is just today or are they like that all the time. Yet, tomorrow, regardless … these people who were at Stop and Shop and driving will probably be all smiles giving thanks. It is so sad in a sense. It brings me back to what I have always said about life for that matter. A person should show love, caring, giving, thankfulness, gratitude and common courtesy every day…not just on some designated national or calendar holiday, anniversary or birthday. Makes me wonder where this world is headed and how others have forgotten the basics of kindness, thoughtfulness, and human compassion. Now back in the safety and warmth of my home…I think back to Monday and Tuesday and distributing food, and the man at the exit ramp and how grateful and thankful those who have so little or close to nothing were. This grounds me in this world of impatience, with people lacking the core elements of respect, common courtesy, understanding and human compassion. I believe there is hope and inspiration. It is all around us. We just have be present, realize that the world does not revolve around us and really take notice of random acts of kindness and what is around us every fleeting moment.

Getting back to friends and especially family now. Yesterday I spent my waking hours thinking of those that were taken from us too early and who watch us from above every single day. From my dad (who would wake up early to work with my mom to get the turkey in the oven); to my very younger years of my grandmother standing at our table saying the prayer with many aunts and uncles in attendance. I think about aunts, uncles, friends and their families. I thought about a friend who lost both her dad and her older brother (many years apart from each other) the week of Thanksgiving so many years ago. I thought about so many others in heaven who shared this holiday previously with either my family or within the families of friends and loved ones. I am thankful for each and every encounter with them and how they touched my life or left a lasting memory regardless of how brief. And I also thought about those who I would love to spend the holiday with.

This year unlike other years, I had an abundance of invitations to share and celebrate this holiday. But unlike other years, I was a bit overwhelmed. After working for ten straight days in some capacity, I was emotionally, mentally and physically shot and tired. In so many ways I feel so blessed and thankful and loved to have so many invitations to celebrate the holiday. From my own family – my mom, my brother Kevin and my nephew Patrick and T and her family along with Richard, Derek and Amanda; to Keith; the Lyons Clan; The Falzarano/Wrights; the Foran/Law game, and Dale and Ray Gillespie; to JFS staff who asked me to join in their celebration and even a gentleman I speak with every day from the convenience store. I am not a nomad and I had so many places to be. I wish I could put every single one of them in the same place at the same time. I was torn with choosing one over and after speaking to my Mom and a few others, I decided to not choose any of the options. I feel that instead of being partially present or in a mental or physical fog in the presence of a room full of others it was best for me to take care of myself. I am eternally thankful for each day I receive and I am grateful to be able to have had so many options to choose from but I did what was best for me and took care of myself to re-energize and recharge at a pace that is comfortable to me. I have been so under the weather the past few days, (if not the past week or so) that it was probably the wisest and most practical and responsible thing to do. And today I can say with all honesty it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I did cook yesterday, drew a bath, had tea with ginger, took a bunch of cat naps, worked on my holiday cards and just relaxed. Today when I woke up I did feel a void in not seeing my family and friends but I also realized the effects of a much needed day or so off.

I hope everyone had a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Hanukkah as it winds through its eight days. May the spirit of the holiday season surround your very being and soul!

With much love

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dresserI have learned a lot about Attachment. According to the dictionary, it is a feeling that binds one to a person, thing, cause, ideal, or the like; devotion; regard. In my case it was a fond attachment to furniture and clothing.

Blame it on my new dresser but I had to purge which sent me into a nesting mood. Seven new stately and majestic dovetail drawers stood in front of me. Once put into the place in my bedroom, this dresser or bureau was calling my name. First it was the begging for nurturing which came very quickly with a soft cloth and Murphy’s oil soap. And as if it was thankful for the care and concern, it suddenly took on a new life. As quick as the sparkle and shine came back to the weathered wood, it started begging me for attention. I heard the call loud and clear and wanted to answer that call. I wanted to offer my new family member the best I could give whether it be the tattered and torn or the new and stylish clothing stuffed in the back of shelves. Funny how a piece of furniture could be a call to action and in the process teach me a lesson in attachment.

As I have frequently mentioned in posts on face book, I have no closets and not a lot of space so this was a much needed addition. But with every addition there comes a change and learning curve. Could this fit into my life and be functional and not replace other furniture which has always been tried and true? I have always had a major attachment to my armoire which was unfinished furniture from Bradlees which I stained and put it all together by myself in my early twenties, saving my paychecks from Friendly’s in the Post Mall.

The minute I moved my armoire to the other room, I felt a strange sadness come over me. I opened the drawers and removed the clothing. I held up each item, piece by piece, examining and frequently reminiscing about when, where and if it was by my own purchase or a gift from others. Shirts from my college days (Up the Hill and Off the Wall Gallaudet Hall 6); Subway country shirts (employees got a t-shirt each time we opened a store in a new country); Myrtle Beach vacations while visiting my mom and dad, vacations taken with friends, partners and others. I never really understood the word attachment until I was saying goodbye to a vital and important part of my past and the times in my life which shaped and defined who I am today. As the trash bags got filled, I took each one to my car with a bit of melancholy. I felt that a piece of my past was leaving and it was a choice that was made without their knowledge or opinion. Not that clothes or material things have opinions but I believe they do hold the spirit of those who they belonged to in a sense.

I never considered that I had an attachment to clothes that were sizes too small or big; an attachment to things I have not worn in many years or an attachment to a color, style or brand. But I learned that it is better to face up to something as simple as going through old clothing and possibly giving it a new life in someone else’s closet and home.

I have to admit that some clothing did not make it out of my house. Years ago, I printed instructions on how to make a quilt out of meaningful t-shirts. I now have a full bag of the fronts of at least 30 t-shirts. This will be one of my next projects.

Just like the stately and majestic aura and history of my new dresser/bureau, each piece of clothing had its own majestic story. In no sense am leaving their stories behind or forgotten. As many will tell you I have a memory that is golden. But I am releasing their “material” physical form to hopefully find their afterlife in a Salvation Army or Goodwill store or a third world country – a small blessing to those who have less and may strengthen their being and soul.

As for my Bradlees furniture, it will someday be passed on to a second hand store or friend and I sincerely hope it will carry the spirit and aura of a twenty something girl, trying to grow up and find her individuality by replacing her white childhood furniture (which she thought burned when Furniture Transport caught fire in Milford). A young girl who felt that by buying several unfinished bedroom furniture pieces it would define her new grown up identity. I can only hope that someday, someone will feel that free spirit who not only stained each and every piece but had the perseverance of following instructions that made no sense but still tried and put pieces together, A, by B, and C, with a D thrown in to confuse things – and who felt proud and accomplished – even though she had screws and nails left over and the main doors were never really level.

With many drawers now set and organized and the spare room taking shape (but still in shambles), I glance over at my new bureau and adopted family member. It fits in perfect and doesn’t replace the tried and true but is an addition and enhancement. It has a long, rooted history in this area and an admirable one at that. It belonged to a gentleman in every sense of the word. – One that often gave to others without asking for anything in return. I just know him by the name Buddy, but I feel his name is so fitting. As Buddy’s furniture taught me so many things about happiness and paying it forward, as only ones “Buddy” and friend should do. The bins at Salvation Army are happy – the clothing is happy to be given a second chance – I am happy with my new adopted furniture – and my spare room is happy to finally be given a thorough cleaning and makeover (still in progress).

I can only hope that I can live up to the history, the caring, and the presence this gentleman projected and continue on my own mission and make him proud of where his furniture was adopted and taken in. I also hope that he is looking down and smiling … knowing that his bureau has found a new place to call home and that it helped a person he has never met have a realization that brought on action in so many senses of the word. My action plan is also still in progress as it takes patience in knowing in which drawer I placed things (especially when I am half-awake in the morning). But my action plan also includes finding those instructions on making a t-shirt quilt before the colder weather settles in, and continuing to organize and maybe finally get the spare room in shape. Many thanks to Buddy, and my new adopted bureau (which will always be in my heart and mind…my new “Buddy”).

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joseph 3

Sunday I went to a birthday celebration for Joseph Vinnitsky, who turned 100 years young.  As I found myself surrounded by his family (four generations including himself) and his friends, I was taken aback by the love and caring in a room filled with not only 100 years of a precious life but probably just as many people there to thank him for the memories.

There is a saying that it is not the number of years that count but what a person has done with them that makes all the difference.  Looking around the room, I saw photos of the past century.  A large glass case contained and displayed many army metals from World War ll,  a time when the turbulence in Russia and Germany took its toll on families and destroyed future generations for those of Jewish faith for that matter. His son and daughter spoke volumes of a man (who believed whole heartedly, that one must take every opportunity in life and enjoy).  He was devoted to his wife beyond belief and never gave up on life after her passing.  He kept his yearning to live life to the fullest.   From plays and concerts to events that would broaden his learning, education and especially his mind. Always looking to learn and grow as a person.   It is this mentality that keeps the heart young. Although he is now in a nursing home environment, he is known as the social butterfly, always looking for a dance, and keeps his strict exercise schedule among other regimens.  He is a father, a grandfather and just in the past year a great grandfather to his precious great granddaughter Mia. 

Here in this room was a smiling and overjoyed gentleman.  When he spoke during his speech, (although I did not know what he was saying as he was speaking in Russian), his intonation, inflection and total enthusiasm was riveting and I listened to every word – Russian or not. 

When I say 100 years young, I am referring to a man who danced with his granddaughter weaving in and about the tables.  I am speaking of a gentleman who was surrounded by his loved ones and danced the Hora.  Even when he got a little winded, he sat in a chair in the middle of the dance floor and moved his arms and feet to the music as the women (from young to old) encircled him.  He wore his huge birthday hat as he listened to others talk about his life and that broad smile never left his face. 

Previously, whenever I saw Joseph, I was greeted with a smile and always a kiss on both cheeks, and he would put a hand on both of my cheeks and hold my face and smile – it was always followed by a quick dance.  And dancing we did at Jewish Family Service.  When he came in to work, I always smiled the rest of the day as his twinkling eyes and smile could melt away any cares.  I referred to myself as his girlfriend and always told him he was my favorite boyfriend.  I was devastated when I found out I was just one of probably 40 others who considered themselves his girlfriend.  He was a lucky catch and everyone (as apparent from those in the room) was all blessed to have him in their lives regardless of the reason. 

When I spoke to his daughter in law she told me how after the invitations were sent, people were calling and asking to please be a part of this event.  She also expressed how Joseph, now living away from New Haven, wanted to see his friends, relatives and acquaintances now, as he reached his milestone and enjoy their company once again in a happy and celebratory atmosphere, as no one knows what life will bring. 

I have never met anyone who was 100 years old, but after seeing Joseph today, I now consider 100 a new young.  I can only hope that my next 50 years can encompass one quarter of what Joseph accomplished and experienced in his first century.  Mazel Tov Joseph Vinnitsky You are a true gentleman, a true inspiration and still my favorite boyfriend. 

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img022photo (2)With Mother’s Day approaching, I am counting my blessings as I feel like I am one of the lucky ones.  Among the majority of the women I consider my closest friends, I am one of just a few who still have their moms just a phone call away, she is of this world and she is alive and kicking…  Well, maybe not kicking up her heels in the tales of years ago, the Milford dinner dances at St. Gabs or St. Agnes, but nevertheless, she is here, alive, breathing and a vibrant member of society.

When I think back to my earliest memories, I think of a stay at home mom in the 1960’s doing the best, along with my dad Joe, for their four children.  My parents were not the caliper of Ward and June Cleaver, but they were the best they could be raising four children in a baby boom generation of the wild 60’s.  At that time and tender age, however, I know I did not realize how her words, actions or core beliefs would shape me into the person I am today.  Please note that this is a Mother’s Day tribute but my dad had a lot to do with these beliefs too.

Haven’t we all rolled our eyes hearing the familiar phrase, “when I was your age.”  Well, now I find myself saying this to others,  my friends, their kids, grandkids, etc.  They look at me as if I have 18 heads but … the way I was raised, and for that matter, many of us were raised – was a different time, a different climate and a different world.  Regardless of this, many of these childhood truths and what my mom and dad instilled in all their children still holds true in my everyday life.

Dinner was a time for all family members to join around the table and eat a home cooked meal.  I know in these busy times, that this might seem impossible but my mom taught me the importance of sitting down together.  We could not get up until we ate our well-balanced meal of vegetables, protein, starches and whatever the meal included. But as tedious as it might have seemed back in the day, I would do anything in the world to experience just one more family dinner with all of us around the table talking about our day, or even being cranky and/or acting up and out as most children do.

The importance of  Extended Family – Every Sunday in our younger years after church we visited our relatives in Bridgeport and Stratford.  It was Soup and Stuffed cabbage at the Kelemencky’s and we were greeted with hugs and kisses and shenanigans from our cousins, which could number at times 10 children or more plus aunts and uncles and grandparents.  Next stop was the Hagan’s where we usually had dessert and another round of cousins, aunts and uncles.  In this day and age, I have found that the contact I have with my aunts and other relatives is priceless and still expands my mind every time I speak with them.  They always say that “blood is thicker that water,” and the older I get, the more I realize just how important family and extended family is to the person I am and the person I am still developing into.  It is a shame for those who only see relatives and family when there’s a birth, marriage or death.  You have to cherish others in life.  “I would rather have one small rose From the garden of a friend (or family for that matter) Than to have the choicest flowers When my stay on Earth must end.”

Education – Yeah, remember that dreaded word.  Well, in our house, we had homework time and it was checked every night.  We did not have emails where my parents could check what was missing or check on our progress.  And if the dog ate our paper or we missed an assignment, you could bet that we would hear about it within a day or so directly from the teacher.  My mom taught me the importance of an education and college.  I still remember sitting on the couch going over the spelling words for the week and vocabulary.  I also remember sitting on the stairs when she was quizzing my brother(s) and taking any chance I could get to make fun of their mistakes.  That was promptly followed by, “Sandra, go to you room and leave your brother(s) alone.” But through it all, I still have the yearning to learn more.  I know that once you reach a certain age in Connecticut you can go back to any state-run University for free to earn a degree.  I think I have 10 years before I go back to add to my Education.  I am still thinking Speech Pathology (my minor in college) or some sort of human services.  A person can never know too much.  A mind expands and stays vibrant and healthy based on the knowledge it learns and I am not done yet.

Extra Curricular Activities – Whether, dance classes, cub scouts, girl scouts, softball, baseball, football, track, learning to play an instrument,  or whatever was the activity of the quarter, my mom and dad encouraged us to expand our horizons.  I believe, though it is not always apparent, that a person should learn something new everyday no matter how small and I think this was breed out of my mom and dad encouraging us to each take an  interest in activities to learn, grow and expand our self-worth, knowledge and experiences.

The Great Outdoors – The outdoors was our canvas to paint, enjoy, create, pretend and make friends. We spent our time when not in school outside in the open air – discovering, playing army, building matchbox car cities in the dirt, baseball in the street, running through Farmer Treat’s field, the nearby woods behind Franklin Road,  jump rope, dress up and wearing wigs, hop scotch, Mother May I, flashlight tag, swinging on swings, going to the park down the street and whatever we could fit in before being called home for dinner.   We were not allowed to sit up in our rooms as there was a WHOLE WORLD and OUTDOORS to EXPLORE.  Television was a thing to watch after dinner and after our homework was done (or on Sunday nights with Wild Kingdom and The Wonderful World of Disney) and then it was to bed to get a full nights sleep to be fresh in the morning.  Through this, I have a great appreciation of the outdoors, the garden, nature, the vibrant colors of the sunrise and sunset and looking at each day as a new experience of exploration and wonderment in this thing called life.  I am an early to bed, usually very early to rise person….

Family Vacations were basically a yearly thing.  Thanks to my parents, we were able to travel the whole East Coast and Canada.  We went on Connecticut “stay” cations, experiencing everything in this state from the Dinosaur State Park to farms, museums, fairs, and festivals.  We also visited every state on the East Coast –  from watching Maple Syrup being processed, to caverns (don’t remember where those were), Virginia Beach (still remember my purple shirt Virginia Beach is for Lovers), to Sea Isle City, to Disney World, Sea World, Hershey Park, Gettysburg, the Amish Country, Lake George, Cape Cod, Expo 1969, Danbury Fair, Camping in our pop-up trailer, a Circus museum, Frontier Town, Story Land. Our “pop-up” camper and tents (for my brothers ) where a whole “nuther” story or the port – 0 – potty in the middle of the pop up when we didn’t want to walk to the campground bathrooms in the middle of the night….   These memories are priceless and the photos back up those precious moments ten fold.  One thing that has always struck me is that my mom and dad never went away without us.  They wanted us to see the “world” and if that was not possible, then they wanted us to experience what was in our own backyard if not at least the East Coast.  They did not go away by themselves until we were grown and they ventured to England on their own.  A great leap from US vacations with their kids…and all by themselves once they knew they had given us what they could and we were now grown.

My mom taught me that people should not be judged or held in contempt unless we walk a mile in their shoes.  Too many times others judge on what is heard, assumed or what they have no knowledge of.  I never remember my parents talking about neighbors or relatives or anything that resembles the “drama” that exists in today’s world.  Above all, if it does not affect you personally, then basically, it is none of anyone’s business.  Many times, our opinions about others are not based in reality, they are just based on hearsay and that is not fair to any of the parties involved. If you are not sure ask.  I have learned more from direct questions and actually listening to others speak (I do not mean hearing, I mean actually listening to what the other person is saying).  It’s sort of like the old joke where someone says, “hey how are you,” and the person says, “I am in a really bad way or upset or I lost my car, my house or my spouse” and the other person replies, “that’s great,” never having heard what the other person has really said.  Let the mind be quiet, be totally present in the moment and listen to what is being said.

Take Pride in what you do and put your all in to what you believe in.  My mom supported my dad with his long hours and tried to make sure he was coming home to a loving family proud of his accomplishments and how hard we was working to provide the best for his family. She would usually calm us all down before “Daddy got home” so things would be peaceful.   I believe I inherited my dad’s work ethics but my mom’s patience and understanding that after a full day of work with either physical or information overload, that everyone needs down time.  She would pick up the slack when he was beat and he would pick up the slack when she needed a break.

Above all, my Mom taught me unconditional LOVE. My mom has been there for me every step of the way.  From step shuffle ball change ball change, to crossing the bridge in girl scouts,  strike outs and home runs, cooking mishaps, dating woes, best friend fights, beating up the neighborhood boys, weight loses and gains, bad hair cuts and perms to the Dorothy Hamill hairstyle, purple bedroom, pet turtles, cats, bunnies, more cats and even more cats,  teaching me to drive,  and friends sleeping over for a night and staying for a year, my first car, quitting college yet going back to graduate CCSU, my condo, my quirks, my anxiety and my hurts.  I could never ask for a better mom, a mother, a friend and a confidant.  Mom, this blog is for you.  Times have changed and the world is so different but through it all, my love for you has never faltered.   My life is better because of your strength in times of adversity, pain and hurt.  You have shaped everything I am and desire to be.  In the words of the great Helen Reddy, “I am strong, I am invincible, I am Women” THANKS TO YOU MOM!!!

And on that note, one of my favorite songs, which I can vividly remember my mom playing (the LP  for that matter) numerous times on the stereo (yes, I have my mom’s original album),  …this one is for you… I am proud to be your one and only daughter  and proud to call you my MOM!  Happy Mother’s Day!!!!

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Today marks 10 years since my dad went to the pearly gates of heaven.   A gentleman who gave me life and shaped who I am today.  Below is the original eulogy I wrote and read during his memorial service in July 2002 with my newest comments at the end.  This is dedicated to you dad…Joseph Edward Hagan March 1, 1935 – July 11, 2002  I love and miss you so much.

Joseph Edward Hagan –  son, brother, husband, dad, grandfather, uncle, friend, artist, and poet.  These are just some of the roles or words which could describe our father but not all that he was.

As a husband, he was dedicated unconditionally to our mother for 44 years of their marriage.  Since retiring to South Carolina 7 years ago, my parents were finally able to relax and enjoy the benefits of our father’s hard work as a lithographer, where before retiring he would leave for work daily before 5 a.m.  In South Carolina, he enjoyed the sunshine (and no more unpredictable New England weather – thought they did get snow and sleet within a year of moving down there…).  He joined the local Moose lodge, played Bingo every Wednesday night, swam, shopped, and even painted flowers on ALL the street sign posts throughout Island Green (the community he and my mom lived in), a job that consumed many hours but allowed him to show off his artistic talents.  He became an avid gardener.  He took pride in the grapefruit seed he saved from his Connecticut breakfast and nurtured into a large tree on his lawn in South Carolina.  He had a pineapple plant he also started from a CT breakfast and would you believe, that plant, after years of nurturing, gave him pineapples.  As my mom has said, the past seven years have been some of the best of his life and they together had just started living, laughing and loving.

As our father, I’m sure we weren’t the easiest bunch (Keith, Kevin, Sandra and Richard) but our father took not only our accomplishments but our failures in stride.  He made sure his children experienced what life had to offer – fishing, camping, vacations up and down the East Coast and Canada, musical instruments, baseball, softball, football, track, basketball and scouts.  Regardless of where life led, our father was always in the stands cheering us on.  Even when he moved, he was still on the sidelines, cheering and rooting for us and was always, at a moment’s notice, ready to catch us if we should fall.  He was proud of us regardless of where we had been, who our friends were or what we had become.  He accepted our friends into his home, and made them feel special.  Even his screen name on the computer showed his pride as it was the first initials of each of our names in birth order…KKSRdad.  He looked forward to calling us and telling us his latest escapades or what new project he started and was always interested in what we were doing.

As a grandfather, Joe wanted to be a part of his grandchildren’s lives since we basically grew up without our grandfathers.  Right after he moved, his first grandchild, Patrick Joseph Hagan was born and he and my mom came back to CT to welcome the next generation to carry on the Hagan name.  Derek Joseph Hagan followed and through marriage of my youngest brother Richard and his wife Tina and her child,  Fatima Streeter Joe was the proud grandfather of three, talking on the phone to them when they could not yet utter a word and drawing pictures for them and anticipating each visit and phone call.

You could say our father was persistent and stubborn but that’s not a bad thing.  From his Rubik’s cube that took months to complete and which he proudly displayed on his headboard for years to his various other projects.  He was our “Joe of all trades.”  He knew a little about a lot of things.  He argued with TV commentators, had solutions to international unrest, the running of the nation and just about any other topic you could mention.  He did not know the meaning of the words, “it can’t be done or it’s impossible.”  Whether it took a piece of tape, a screw here or a twist there, he would spend countless hours to fix something or make something work.  It was his unique way of “Joe rigging something.”  That is one thing I believe all my brothers and I have inherited from my dad…the Joe of all trades.

Our dad was also a talker and he was renown for going to the store for milk and not returning for two hours… of course, with the milk he originally set out to get, in addition to bags of other things and tales of who he ran into.  He was famous for impromptu conversations over backyard fences, driveways, in the middle of department and grocery stores with strangers and friends.  He was a friend to animals, from countless cats, to any strays that landed in our yard.  Although NOT a cat person, he developed a bond with my cat TJ, my large coon cat and they would go for walks together in the field, the cat right by his side without any prompting.  He just had a manner which attracted others to him, with his waves, friendly “good mornings” and his unique laugh.

Words cannot even being to sum up our father’s life, But then again, it is not necessary.  He was and will always be a remarkable man.  I believe if his life touched another’s life or made an impression in any way, then his time here was meaningful and a great success.  It’s a comfort knowing that although he is not physically here with us today, he is watching every aspect of our lives, and he is still our biggest fan, still cheering his wife and children on from afar and he will be patiently waiting until the day we meet again.  Dad, you will always be a part of us, and our love and we miss you very much.  Your loving wife Julie, Keith, Kevin, Sandra, Richard, Alice, Tina, Patrick, Derek and Fatima.

OK so that is the eulogy I wrote 8 years ago but I have so much more to add.

Shortly after his passing, our family was blessed with another grandchild/niece who we welcomed into the family, Amanda…a beautiful, blonde little girl he was denied of ever meeting and she too was denied …  denied of meeting a remarkable grandfather.

The passing of my dad was an event that totally made me question life, and in the past 8 years, has totally changed so much I believed in.  That same year, 8 years ago, right before my dad passed, I also lost a grandmother who I adored – Sarah Olah Hagan.  I believed that as the years went on, it would get easier, but you know what, it doesn’t in many ways.  I cannot even tell you the number of times I just wanted to pick up the phone and call my dad and say the familiar, “hi ya daddy,” and hear his familiar … “hi ya Sandra.”  I cannot even begin to tell you the void his passing has left in my life.  I can still hear his voice in my head and I am thankful of that. I also have a VCR tape (how old fashioned) of when he and my mom came to CT just a few months after moving to South Carolina to meet their First Grandchild Patrick.  In a sense, that helps to keep the memory alive..so many in that tape have now passed and it is ever so important to me internally to keep their memory and spirit alive.

But I can tell you that, regardless of whether it was one year or now going on eight, my dad always with me, everyday of my life.  Within a day or so of his passing, I awoke to find my condo with lady bugs all over the inside ceiling in just about every room.  You see, me and my dad always had a thing with lady bugs and I believe it was his way of telling me he was OK and he was watching over me.  And we cannot forget the four leaf clovers…my dad could walk anywhere and look down and find a four leaf clover.  Those of you that know me, KNOW that….that is one of my talents, looking down and finding a four leaf clover.  They say that finding one is a 1 in 10,000 chance but ask those who I have given one to.  I find them all the time and each time I pick one, I say…”thanks dad,” as I know there is a reason he is saying hi and checking in.

In memory of my dad, I actually got a tattoo about 2 ½ years ago of a lady bug on my leg.  It has on one side, three dots and on the other side one dot…signifying his birthday, March 1st.

So today as I am sitting here, July 11, 2012,  I cannot believe in so many ways that it has been 10 years…but in other ways it just seems like yesterday that he left this precious world and our lives.  One of these days (against your wishes) I will get another tattoo with a four leaf clover to signify your life and what we shared, but until then ….just remember that time may ease the pain but it cannot diminish how much I miss you each and every day (all of us do and especiolly Mom).

-Your one and only daughter…Sandra…

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While initially, the Plymouth colony did not have enough food to feed half of the 102 colonists, the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. The practice of holding an annual harvest festival like this did not become a regular affair in New England until the late 1660s.

It is basically one week until Thanksgiving.  Today, I stared at a client list of 259 families who are entitled to holiday food.  When I say entitled…what I mean is that these are monthly Jewish Family Service Food Pantry clients who depend on JFS for supplemental food to make ends meet.  They might be our elderly and senior population, or single moms raising their children….they might be those who have come upon hard times and unfortunately lost their jobs during this unpredictable economy.  But the most IMPORTANT factor here is that THEY ARE MY NEIGHBORS, YOUR NEIGHBORS…families that attend the same school as your children, people you may see at church/religious services, at football games, sporting events, school recitals or just around town.  Sometimes they are the quiet ones, and you will never know just how much they are trying with their last breath to make ends meet. 

November is typically known as the end of the harvest, the end of the season, a time to celebrate the “fruits” of the harvest.  But my mind keeps going back to those who do not or cannot make ends meet.  Families who want to be thankful but cannot see their way out of their situation and wondering how they could possibly provide a holiday meal when they have a problem providing for their family on a daily basis…one day might seem ok scrapping by with what is in the house, but it may be followed by another bad day, week  or month.

Channel 8 News/WTNH has been broadcasting the need to feed our neighbors.  Their annual sponsored event “Fill the Bowl” with Yale playing Harvard is this weekend and they are begging for turkeys, monetary donations and non-perishable foods. There are various food drives statewide right now.

In case you have ever wondered if your donation is worth it…let’s put this in perspective.  The JFS pantry will distribute more than 3,300 lbs. of fresh produce, approximately another 5,000 lbs. of non-perishable food and Stop & Shop gift cards (to offset the cost of a turkey to its clients).  We are still securing food for the JFS distribution and Tuesday will be the culmination of many tireless hours by volunteers and JFS to provide for our clients.

The most amazing thing or shall I say shocking fact is that the JFS pantry is just one little pebble of the numerous pebbles of non-profits agencies and organizations right here in New Haven county doing the same thing …  Providing for those who are food insecure, NOT just for this holiday but everyday of the year.  This includes just about every agency and organization and the CT FOOD BANK all working together to feed the hungry and the “silent hungry.”   I cannot tell you how many times I have heard…”I never thought I would need a food pantry or I would need help feeding my family.” 

Today as you read this, think of those who will be visiting the local food pantries (whether JFS ) or your local pantry or soup kitchen.  Think about those who have no choice but to visit a soup kitchen with their family for the upcoming holiday.    Think about how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish, regardless of ethnicity, religion, heritage or if the Indians were there first. 

We are all in this together and it is the human nature, and for my agency… JFS… to help those in need, regardless of their circumstances, ethnicity, religion or background.  

While you are shopping for your holiday, think of those less fortunate.  One extra can of gravy, a box of stuffing or a monetary donation to JFS, the CT Food Bank or your local social service agency can mean the world to a family right here in your neighborhood (maybe one of your child’s classmates) your town, or New Haven county.  There are numerous food drives taking place during this next week. 

Lastly, please remember, this need is constant … and not just for the holidays.  If you have the means, think of those who do not.  No one should be food insecure and together we can make a difference even if it is “one can or box at a time.”  I wish you a blessed Holiday. 

Please note…this is only my opinion and does NOT reflect the general views of JFS.

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Wednesday, I was faced with a decision that I wished I never had to make.  It was coming to the realization that I had to weigh the quality of life of a very dear, very loved feline family member.  Wednesday I said goodbye to my little, precious and beautiful girl Indigo.  I want to first say that she was peaceful and in no pain in her final moments.  I would hope that in those moments she also realized just how much she was loved and cherished.   These past two days have brought up so many emotions, but I keep taking into account that she is no longer in pain, she is no longer losing weight, or having issues.  The past year and a half really took a toll on her and I still cannot fathom that  her brother Trooper is 16 and Buffy is also 16.  I never thought I would be saying goodbye to my little girl first.

As far back as I can remember, I have always had pets…As a child, my family had Rusty 1 a big orange and white tom cat which was from what I remember Kevin’s cat.  After Rusty passed, of course we had to adopt Rusty 2.  Another big orange and white tom cat.  After that there was Nosey and her sister Suzy Q.  Suzy Q was my cat and I was devastated when she was killed by a car.  Shortly after that, when Nosey had kittens – one looked just like  Suzy Q and I begged my parents to keep her.  I guess my begging worked and  I named her Precious as it was such a coincidence that Nosey would have a clone and the same facial markings of Suzy Q (a calico).  Then there was Cleo (short for Cleopatra – another calico).  At some point my brother Keith brought home Skeeter from Long Island and then there was TJ (formerly Thomas Joseph named after a friend’s boyfriend and my dad).  TJ was adopted from the barn at my Uncle Monroe’s house in Woodbury.  He was the runt of the litter but he was a Maine Coon cat.  He grew to 22 lbs. and had a wonderful life tromping through Robert Treat’s Farmers Field in Milford.  Of course there was also Charlie brown our rabbit, followed by Buttercup another rabbit.  Not to mention the little turtles, my brothers fish tanks, gerbils (thanks Lorelei) and all the rescue birds the cats caught.   I guess you can say I grew up in an animal loving family…I was also surrounded by animal loving friends and over the years have adopted in my mind their pets (better known as their children). 

When I purchased my condo I wasn’t expecting to get a pet as it would have to be a strictly indoor pet since I was on the second floor.  Well, that changed when Trooper was brought home from a New London parking lot weighing in at 3/4 lb.  we adopted Trooper.  Fearing that he was lonely, we adopted Buffy 6 months later who had a family blood line of Maine coon cat.  When these two did not get along, we figured if we added another cat, then something magical would happen.  So under Carol Forleo’s porch we went to choose the pick of the litter.  And something magical did happen…  She was a tortoise shell/calico little fidget and she became my little girl (in all senses of the word).  From day one, there was something special and comforting about her. Of course i love and adore Trooper and Buffy beyond belief also, but with Indigo, something just clicked…We connected with our eyes and she was forever engrained in my life, and especially my heart.  She was named after my favorite band … the Indigo Girls. 

Well, immediately, Trooper the male decided to take her under his wings and became quite the motherly figure with Indigo.  They walked around the house together, they slept together, he groomed her.  They were inseparable.  Indigo was tiny and even in her healthy times, never made it more than 7 lbs. Still she was my little girl.  Jake our Golden Retriever joined the crew and as much as he wanted to hang with the cats…Trooper would not allow it.  Funny thing is…Indigo picked up Jake’s puppy tail wagging trait, thus getting the nickname Waggy..Whenever I walked into the house or called her,  she would come up wagging her tail…not something a cat normally does. I smile when I envision how she used to get the play ball stuck in her claw and she would wave her paw up and down looking at the stuck ball until I would go over and get the ball off.  Or how she would mix the water in the water dish with her paw before she drank it.  She also had a habit of not liking to eat food out of any dish so she would bat a bunch of food onto the floor and then eat it.  She loved to chase flash light beams or the laser pointer.  And did her circles around my legs when it was time for soft food. She was also fond of bug watching and would sit at the slider door waiting for any type of flying insect to come within her reach.  That was our summertime ritual, bug watching and if I even said the word “bug” , Trooper, with Indigo in tow would take their positions in front of the slider screen door.    I used to call her my Chakra helper as she used to stabilize me in so many ways.  She was my friend in good times and bad, and knew my moods and habits probably better than anyone other than Trooper and Buffy.   Cats love unconditionally, without judgement.  They nurture their owners and show love in each headbutt, meow, lick, rub and snuggle. 

Wednesday when I realized something had to be done, my mind was numb, all over the place, racing.   It doesn’t matter how the morning unfolded.  I tried to call my mom but she was at bingo, I spoke with one friend who was en route home to MA and she turned around without me asking and just came over and surprised me and helped pass the time until I had to go to the vet.  Another I tried calling and didn’t want to leave a message.  

 Before Indigo and I  left the house, she was sitting so calm on my lap – Indigo and I had a good few hours that morning and afternoon together.  Letting me pet her nose and up her tail…something she always loved.  talking and just being in the moment together.  Trooper came over to her and basically licked her from head to every toe.  Kissing her, nudging her.  Even once I put her in her carrier, she stuck her nose out, as Trooper once again kissed her.  With one paw outstretched from the carrier, Trooper gently walked up and licked her paw and gave her a final lick on the nose.

In the end, it came down to bringing my precious little girl to the vet with the original parents she was adopted by 14 years ago.  I was right by her side along with her other mom who she knew for the first five or so years of her life and also on occasional visits.  Indigo cried a bit during the two minute ride to JFS and then the nest two minutes to the vet but she was calm, at ease, and a certain peace came over her as she sat on the vets table.  She was purring, and even gave me several head butts, and licks.  We were there by her side, talking to her, petting her and ushering her into the next phase of her life.  Allowing her to let go and for her soul to rise to see Jake and all those who passed before her. 

I can say that in the past few weeks, or actually the past year and a half when she started to have more serious  issues, she was more of a lap cat than she had ever been. I would not trade those times for anything.  My cats have been my life and one of the only sure thing for the past, basically, 9 years of my life living alone.  They shared my life 24/7… more so than some couples, or parents see their kids, husbands, relatives, etc. for that matter.  It is so sad that pets cannot say when they are hurting, when they want to just go to their maker, when they have had enough.  Maybe this is because they do not want to burden their owners, hurt the very person who has cared, loved and taken care of them.

I want to believe that Jake and my dad were there to greet her and introduce her to her earlier four legged relatives and family members. 

I would like to believe that she holds no contempt as I would never purposely let any type of animal suffer and I hope she understood that it was out of love and care that I made that decision on Wednesday.  I also would like to believe that when I said goodbye she believed that we would meet again and that I would never forget just how much she enhanced my life everyday.  And most of all, I sincerely hope she realizes just how much she was loved by me, Trooper and Buffy and all those who had the chance to meet her.  Rest in Peace my beautiful, precious little girl.  I am totally heartbroken  – and  Trooper and Buffy miss you so much.  As for me…that goes without saying.   Sweet dreams my little girl.  Always in my heart and mind.

PS … many thanks for all the phone calls, comments on facebook, cards, and the love and support of my extended family and friends.

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