Tag Archives: Death

A Eulogy for My Dad

For his funeral, Dad had long talked about having a New Orleans jazz band. We don’t have that. Instead, you’re stuck with me.

I’m Christopher Mele. Eugene’s only son, or his “favorite son” as he would often tell me.

On behalf of Eugene’s wife, Winnie, and my sisters Cathy and Lorraine, I want to thank you all for being here this evening, particularly those who have traveled great distances.

Your presence here is deeply appreciated.

I want to point out that there are only three geographic places with “the” in front of their names:

The Vatican, The Hague and the Bronx.

“The” is an important signal of distinction there, especially for the Bronx.

It emphasizes the unique quality of the place.

After all, you don’t hear people referring to “the Brooklyn.”

No, the Bronx is special and special people come from the Bronx.

Such was the case with my Dad.

He was born in the Bronx at Fordham Hospital in 1937.

The road of his childhood was pitted with potholes and detours: His mother had a mental illness and was hospitalized. And my grandfather, who was 14 years older than my grandmother and who had to work, felt ill-equipped to care for an infant, so that meant stays for a time in foster care for Dad.

For more than eight years, he was raised by his sister and her husband, our beloved Aunt Lucille and Uncle Charlie, and for a year, he stayed with his Aunt Henrietta.

But Dad persevered through those childhood traumas and relished the great melting pot in the Bronx where he was raised.

His memories of the neighborhood sound like scripts from a rom-com but they also revealed a particular warmth and a humanity that were his trademarks.

A friend, upon hearing of Dad’s death, wrote to say: “He was as interesting as he was kind, and that’s saying a lot.”

From the old neighborhood, stories from Dad abound.

The father of a friend, a girl named Phyllis, did not approve of the guy she was dating so Dad would pick her up and then when they turned the corner, Dad would hand Phyllis off to her boyfriend. When her date was over, Dad would return her home.

His neighborhood buddies were Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts, as well as Carlo Mastrangelo, the doo-wop singer who was an original member of The Belmonts.

Dad tells the story of cleaning a butcher shop in the Bronx for $2 a week and a fish store owner recruited him to work there instead.

One day Carl Reiner walked in and Dad, excitedly pointed at Reiner, and said: “You’re Carl Reiner!”

And Reiner in return said: “And you’re the fish boy!”

Dad graduated from high school and a few months later, in 1955, enlisted in the Navy, serving aboard the destroyer, the USS William R. Rush.

A few years ago, I requested his military records and I saw in his application under “leisure activities” that he had listed “fishing.”

As a boy, I had gone fishing with Dad, and I assure you, he was no fisherman.

So, I asked him one day: “Dad, you grew up on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx. Did you fish from a puddle?! Che cazzo è?” (Like WTF in Italian slang.)

He explained that he listed fishing because he thought it would look good and help him get accepted into the Navy.

Dad said that when he was in the Navy that his father went to the Russian embassy to buy Russian war bonds so he would be on the winning side.

He tells the story of his ship being in heavy, heavy seas — the worst of his tour — and he was fearful.

“I got on my knees and prayed to God to keep me safe,” he said. “I swore to Him: ‘I’ll give up smoking. I’ll give up drinking. I won’t see those girls in the bars in Barcelona.’”

“Well, human frailty being what it is, we got through the rough seas and what did I do? I smoked, I drank and I saw those girls in Barcelona!”

When Dad got out of the Navy, he worked at a factory making plastic covers for dry-cleaned clothes and as an electrician for Otis elevators.

But it was working as a maintenance man for Parkchester in the Bronx that changed the trajectory of his life.

It was in that job that he met his future wife of nearly 60 years, Alwine, a German immigrant who worked in a German deli.

The Parkchester maintenance men would come in the morning to get coffees and buttered rolls.

Mom recalls that the first time she was introduced to Dad he touched her face saying, “What a beautiful natural complexion. No makeup.”

I found that strange, she said, but thought: Well, this is America and men behave differently. I really liked his Italian looks, his dark hair and big brown eyes.

Mom, whose English was so-so, was asked by Dad if she liked Viennese music.

She had no idea what he was talking about until he hummed a few bars of the “Blue Danube Waltz” and invited her to a concert.

Mom was suspicious and held him at bay. She said he had that “married look” so Mom did some due diligence and asked around among those in the know.

The verdict from one of Dad’s workmates: “Oh, Mele. He’s a high-class Guinea.”

Everyone around laughed but mom had no idea what it meant and they finally explained that he was an Italian who liked the theater and the opera.

Mom and Dad went to the concert and she wore a beautiful green dress from Germany but did not know they were going to sit on cement steps as the concert was at Lewisohn Stadium on the campus of city college.

She recalls: “Well your father was quite the gentleman. He took out his handkerchief and spread it out for me to sit on. When I saw the big hole in it, I knew he was not married.”

Thus began their courtship that led to their engagement in 1962 and marriage the following year.

In the early going, before Dad got a job with New York Telephone Company, where he’d work for more than 30 years, his employment was spotty.

In one year, he had seven different jobs. He’d hide his toolbox under the bed because he did not want to tell mom he had lost a job.

Even when he had steady work at New York Telephone, he regularly sought to work overtime. I remember as a boy when he would come late at night and kiss me while I was sleeping, his razor stubble rubbing against my cheek.

No one out-hustled my old man for side gigs or finding ways to put bread on the table, whether that meant washing windows or working with furniture makers.

Those efforts led to one of my favorite stories.

He sought work with a Hungarian cabinet maker who had arms as thick as tree trunks, and when Dad said he wanted to work, the cabinet maker, who was drinking with friends, told him:

“Verk?! Ack. No good. Get heart attack and die. Come, have drink!”

Dad said he feared refusing the guy so he had a water glass filled with rye.

Dad said: “I came out of there and I didn’t know if the stars were shining or if it was raining. All I know is it was the best job interview I ever had.”

Dad did not have time for bullies, braggarts, bigots or, to be honest, bosses. He embodied a blue-collar nobility and advocated socialist views: he favored universal health care, a four-day work week and was a supporter of unionized labor.

He was a man of many appetites:

He had a hunger for knowledge, to connect with people and, of course, for food.

He was also a man of many talents: He was a playwright, a student of woodworking and antique restoration, a fan of the arts and museums.

He was also bilingual: He could swear in English AND Italian.

It was when his volcanic temper would erupt that the Italian swearing would flow like a melody.

He could be demanding and a perfectionist, so you didn’t want to be around him when he was agitated.

Dad tells the story that after one of his more memorable blow-ups at the dinner table, I told my sister: “You know Cathy, it’s safer in Vietnam than it is here.” Apparently even when I was younger I was a bit of a smart ass.

Dad was also a ham and a performer. In community theater, he played Marty, Officer Krupke and Big Jule.

And sometimes you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth.

Would it be something profane? A bad joke? Or would it be a bit of wisdom that would start with the phrase, “As they say in Italian…?”

Or would it be something delusional, like when he’d go around introducing himself as his alter ego, the Great Khan, brother of Garbage Khan.

He’d often remind me: “You know if I were not this crazy, your life would be boring.”

But it was his other roles that mattered the most: as husband, father, Opa, brother, uncle and cousin.

My last story of Dad comes when he was 19 years old and in the Navy.

A chief who was an insomniac went out on the deck of an aircraft carrier at 2 in the morning to drink coffee and somehow drifted into the active flight deck.

One of the hooks they use to catch landing planes struck the chief and killed him.

Dad said even though he was not there to witness what happened, it left him badly shaken but another officer told him:

“It was his time to die and you have to accept that.”

Accepting Dad’s death – that’s a hard concept to wrap your brain around because we will miss him so much.

I am sure there will be a point when we will come to accept our loss, but in the meantime, we celebrate his life and we wish him godspeed.

When Death Sends You a Message About Life

Life has a way of tapping you on the shoulder to ask if you are making the most of what time you have.

And then there are times life punches you really, really hard to ask if it’s got your attention.

A friend and former colleague dying one week after he learned he had cancer qualifies as one of those moments.

George Spohr, who had been a business editor at The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., found out he had cancer on his 37th birthday.

This is his clear-eyed text message five days before he died:

“For the past few weeks, I’ve been pushing past a lot of abdominal pain. The pain got so bad that I was hospitalized in Syracuse the past four days (I was home visiting family for the weekend). They found a mass on my liver, and spots on my pancreas and lungs that might be related. They did a biopsy and I got the results on Thursday evening. I have cancer. I don’t know much more than that; it’ll take a few days to learn what options for treatment I may have or how advanced it is. But I wanted you to know. The prognosis isn’t good (yesterday might have been my last birthday), so please keep up your prayers.”

I wish I could be a scold and say, “See boys and girls? This is the reason you should be sure to go to the doctor regularly.”

But that would not only be insensitive but untruthful.

George, according to a mutual friend, had been diligent about seeing the doctor regularly. Tests leading up to the discovery of his cancer turned up nothing abnormal.

He was a bear of a man, with a booming laugh and a toothy smile. He was an unabashed fan of White Castle and would make a point of posting photos of ones he visited as he crisscrossed the country.

He would punctuate gossipy conversations with “Are you serious?!”

George claimed to be a Republican and fan of Trump’s. With him, you could never be quite sure if he was pulling your leg.

That led to this text exchange with him after he told me the news:

Me: “But yes prayers bigly! Yuge! Hope you cracked a smile. Sending prayer and heartfelt wishes for strength and healing.”

Him: “Thank you, sir. Yes. #maga. Always!”

In the beginning, I had a combative relationship with George over turf issues in the newsroom.

Over time, we grew to mutually respect one another and the talents we each had and from that, our friendship grew.

I watched as he advanced in his career, moving from one newsroom leadership position to another in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and finally Indiana.

The way he died seems so desperately unfair, implausible and frightening.

I would be lying if I said that it did not have me badly rattled.

I am one of those people who have 1 percent of their mind occupied with anticipating the random worst things that can happen to myself or loved ones: a crash, terrorist attack, illness, derailment, etc.

I like to think that partly based on past personal experience (the unexpected death of my fiancée) and a longtime career in news, I’m braced for those out-of-the-blue moments.

But maybe not.

George’s death reminds me about a philosophy my wife and I share about gift-giving: Rather than getting a CD, we might consider tickets to a concert or a play instead.

Behind that premise is the notion that time spent with friends and loved ones — and the memories and stories they create — will last longer than any material object.

Another friend called it creating “scrapbook moments.”

My scrapbook with George is perhaps thinner than I’d like but I thought there would be time to add more memories.

Life reminds you though: Not always.

Rest in peace, George.








Photos and a Winged Visitor Help Reconnect With a Lost Loved One

Every other photo of Carla, my fiancée who died 11 years ago today, shows her with some kind of animal.

This is no exaggeration.

Carla with a horse.

Carla with a cow.

Carla with a cat.

Carla with a camel.

Carla with a llama.

Carla (and I am not making this up) sitting on a bench with a lion cub. She was a young girl and the photo was taken somewhere when she was traveling overseas.


And then there are two Polaroid photos — taken years apart — of Carla that might be my favorites of all.

In one of them, taken before we met, she has a pixie haircut and round, Harry Potter-like sunglasses.

Those glasses are somehow appropriate because, like Harry Potter, who had an owl named Hedwig, Carla is holding an owl.

It has big black round eyes that nicely complement her sunglasses.

Flash forward a number of years to 2000, and here is another photo of Carla with another owl – this one taller and even more regal looking than the other.

The photo was taken at the Great American Weekend Fourth of July festivities in Goshen, N.Y.

The owl has talons like hooks of steel and a beak to match.

What I remember most about this photo was Carla saying how the owl liked her.

It reaaaallly liked her.

It moved its body so it was pressed right up against her cheek.

I remember her saying to me later that the owl’s sheer size and sharp talons made her careful not to move suddenly.

You can see she is smiling just a tad uncomfortably as she looks into the camera.

That same day in 2000 a Polaroid of me (with my own round-shaped glasses) was snapped with a hawk perched on my leather-gloved hand.

These photos were stowed away long ago and largely forgotten about — that is until recently when I was clearing out many files and drawers in preparation for a major house project.

Here’s the weird part: I found these photos a day after spotting a hawk perched outside our window.

We’ve lived in the woods of the Poconos for nearly 13 years and have seen every kind of wildlife: Bears, deer, possum, skunks, fox, wild turkeys, etc.

But this was the first time ever that I saw a hawk so close, much less in a tree branch right outside of our window.

Carla was a strong-willed person who had a way of making her presence known and felt.

Maybe this hawk visitor was her spirit animal checking up on me.

Maybe it was her way of signaling to me that she’s OK.

Maybe this was simply a coincidence – seeing the hawk and then the next day finding the photos after 17 years.

Whatever the explanation, the back-to-back discoveries brought me a measure of comfort.


More Than Just A Hat: A Story of Loss

Man in Mourning: Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?

Remembering My Late Fiancee and Her Crazy Made-Up Vocabulary





























Coming of Age in the Summer of 1977

In the summer of 1977, I had a paper route delivering The Daily News in the Bronx to almost 100 customers, many of them older.

One of them was Mr. Norton, a tough-talking grizzled New Yorker who frequently sent me to the deli to get him a six-pack of beer.

He was a shut-in and an avid reader of The News, so when the papers started to pile up outside his door, I grew alarmed.

It took a while, but I finally got the attention of the security service that patrolled our buildings and was there when the officers broke into his apartment.

In what was an appalling lack of discretion, the officers asked me – a 12-year-old — to come inside and identify his dead body.

Mr. Norton was on his back on the floor, his face a frozen grimace.

I remember it distinctly to this day.

That was one of several events that summer that yanked me from my protected cocoon of school and home and forced me to confront the realities of death, violence and the ugly side of human nature.

Up to that time my exposure to death was fleeting. I had lost a grandmother and a grandfather, neither of whom I knew very well.

But that summer taught me that death could be immediate and unpredictable.

It saw the continuation of the reign of terror of the Son of Sam, a serial killer who used a .44-caliber handgun over a year to kill six and wound seven.

I was too young to date or drive (he targeted young couples in cars) but the idea that some madman was killing people at random was hard to comprehend.

Even more disturbing was a young couple on my paper route who had a toddler son. Outwardly nothing seemed amiss but one day the husband apparently snapped and killed his wife, their son and himself with a large knife.

The brutality shocked me but I was even more upset by the disconnect between how I perceived him and the reality of what must have been going on behind closed doors.

And then there was the citywide blackout of July 13–14, 1977.

Plenty of neighbors helped each other and people banded together during the crisis but that kind of altruism was eclipsed by arson and looting that felt like something out of an apocalyptic movie.

Though my neighborhood was spared the worst of that property damage, I recall feeling disappointed and confused that people could act that way.

Coming of age – when you cross from childhood into young adulthood and your worldview is reshaped – conjures up movies such as “The Breakfast Club” (1985) or “Stand By Me” (1986).

But my coming of age did not happen in after-school detention or with a bunch of buddies on a trek to see a dead body.

Real life – not Hollywood – burst my insulated bubble that summer 40 years ago.

My Pollyannaish ways became a thing of the past.



Years Later, the Emotions of Grieving Loved Ones Are Still Raw

Note:  This was not an easy essay for Richard Rodriguez to write.  In fact, it was in development for six months before he decided to go ahead with it. 

The results reflect a profound courage to confront the pain, anger and confusion of grieving for lost loved ones. It’s a real credit to Rich that he opened up like this. It’s well worth your time to read.

My first time dealing with death and grieving was with my maternal grandfather.

My grandparents lived with us in a two-family house, and one morning my dad and I went into their apartment and my grandmother said my grandfather was still sleeping.

We went into the room to wake him up.

As soon as I walked through the door I froze as I saw his pale face.

My dad went over and tried to wake him but I knew he was dead even though I had never seen a dead body before.

I never went past the doorway that day and was always wary of going in there for years after.

Many years later, my mother had complications after heart surgery and ended up in a vegetative state for a year before she finally died.

I have never had closure with her death.

Prior to the surgery we hugged and figured all would go well. After the surgery, she never regained consciousness. The day after, she had a cardiac arrest.

Her heart was restarted but the damage was done as the time her brain was without oxygen proved to be devastating. I was never able to say goodbye.

I was away at a job-related workshop when she entered the hospital a few weeks before, and the night she went to the hospital in an ambulance I was awakened abruptly in my hotel room by a “presence” in the room.

It could have been a dream but I woke up screaming. The next day when I called home, my brother told me of mom’s condition and that she was in the hospital.

I still wonder if somehow she was reaching out to me. I never saw her at home again.

Years later, I remember having a dream that she had come home. She seemed so relieved. In the hospital prior to the surgery that is all she wanted: to come home.

She was fearful of having the surgery. I think she knew she would not make it.

Among her things at the hospital, my father found individual letters addressed to us.

In them she expressed her love, words of encouragement and about my upcoming wedding and my brother David’s wedding.

She spent the time to write her last thoughts and wishes for us. I can’t imagine how hard that was for her. I still have my letter tucked away in a drawer. I’ll never forget it.

We visited her every day with hopes that there would be a miracle and she would come back to us. Numerous doctors and specialists evaluated her and they all concluded that her brain was too damaged to recover.

The doctors approached my dad with a DNR (do not resuscitate) and he was so upset he would not sign it. He was angry and demanded they do everything in their power to keep her alive

It was heart-wrenching to see her every day and hold her hand and try to communicate with her and hope to get a response.

Deep down we knew the chances of her coming back were very slim. I knew my mom would not want to exist in this state when she was so vibrant and full of life before.

She was eventually removed from life support and was able to breathe on her own and transferred to a nursing home.

I stopped coming to see her, as it was so painful to see her this way.

My father was unhappy with me. He was there every day. I couldn’t do it anymore. I would pray and ask God to take her and end her suffering.

She remained in this state for over a year before she succumbed to an infection and died.

The funeral was a blur. Her one request was not to be buried underground.

She did not want to be below the dirt. She feared it. I’m not sure why but she was adamant about it.

We were able to place her in an above-ground mausoleum. I have never been back to visit it. I know it should have been a relief to finally let her go, but the whole experience wrecked my feelings of my mom.

I still think of her every day. I still have no closure and I’m not sure if I ever will.

Fast-forward about 20 years later to my oldest brother’s illness and death.

He was sick but had gotten better and we were all together for Thanksgiving.

He seemed to be on the mend, but being a longtime rheumatoid arthritis sufferer on immune system-compromising medications, he needed to be very careful and concerned whenever he was sick.

He had lost his wife some years earlier to a bad infection that hospitalized her and eventually took her life. It was a devastating loss for him.

He relapsed that week after Thanksgiving. Eventually his daughter needed to call an ambulance to get him to the hospital. His condition deteriorated quickly and he ended up in intensive care with a bad infection.

He was on a respirator and it was hard for him to speak but at least he was still present and fighting. The one thing that truly disturbed me was that he was in the same hospital room that his wife died in. Deep down, I knew he would never leave this room.

His conditioned worsened and his organs began to shut down. They had to start dialysis as his kidneys stopped working.

I could not believe that this was happening and he was going to die in that same hospital and that same room. I hope I never need to step into that hospital again — ever.

Christmas was awful that year. His children stayed with him at the hospital on Christmas Eve when we traditionally all got together.

Two days after Christmas his son and daughter decided to stop the machines and treatments.

He went quickly. I did not make it to the hospital before he died. I did not get to say goodbye.

They kept him in that room until I could get there — my poor brother in that same room that his wife died in. I hope there was some connection for them and they are together now.

I have not sent out Christmas cards since his death. I also used to do a yearly Christmas letter and have not done that either. I’m not sure when I will start those up again.

Is this still mourning? I can’t imagine what it is like for his two kids: They lost both parents way too soon.


Fuck you God. What the fuck is wrong with you? You suck. Sorry that’s just how I feel right now.

I know these feelings are raw and harsh even after the years since these events, but my mom and my brother were the most influential people in shaping the person I am today.

My brother was a sort of surrogate father to me growing up as for many years my father worked two full time jobs to provide for us and save in order to purchase a home for his family.

I spent a lot of time with my brother who taught me how to work on cars, build things, etc. All things that a dad would typically would do.

In my dad’s absence, my mom took me to the park and taught me how to hit and throw a baseball, ride a bike, and many things you would think your dad would do.

I’m not knocking my dad for not being around as he did what he needed to do to provide for his family but the other members of my family stepped in and filled the gaps and helped each other with our everyday lives.

My mom and brother were more important to me than I can begin to describe here.

Related content:

Remembering Mom and Dad

Remembering Mom and Dad

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of my father’s passing and while it is an unhappy milestone, I am safe in the knowledge and faith that he and my mother are together in a better place free from suffering, pain, and surrounded by Jesus’ love.

I’m sure dad’s putting the greens in the Elysian Fields with his friends John and Mr. McNulty.

Mom’s probably shopping at Macy’s.

In either case, upon knowing that his time was near, he asked the four of us to stay together and help our mother until she joined him.

I remember back about 25 years on mom’s birthday that we got the news that dad wasn’t going to make it the week.

The four of us got together and put a plan together to get mom to the hospital every day.

Each of us would take mom over and then take her back to Beth Abraham Nursing Home.

Since Larry was the oldest, he took the burden of wanting to tell mom the bad news.

We were in Beth Abe talking and he was going over what he was going to say when I noticed that the room that he went into to collect his thoughts had a quarantine sign on the door. I quickly got him out before he touched anything, and sat him down in the cafeteria.

He was pondering what to say. Perhaps he was thinking what Galbraith or Drucker would say.

I walked over to mom and knelt beside her wheelchair and said, “Dad’s not doing too well.”

Mom said, “Is he going to die?”

“Yes, I said, so let’s get you over to see him before he passes.”

Mom turned to another resident, and said, “My husband Larry isn’t doing too well and my boys are here to take me to the hospital to see him.”

Wow, mom could always do that. Take a tragic event and let others know that it’s going to be OK and that we would get through this.

My brother Larry had finally composed himself and on our way out asked me why I told her.

It’s what I do, I’m the social worker.

I guess now when I look at my brothers, I can see their talents much better. Larry is the professor; Andrew is the businessman who dealt with the hospital and dad’s wishes; Francis, who was mom’s favorite, is the engineer with one foot on earth and the other reaching out to the heavens, and I’m the social worker.

We all pitched in to make mom as comfortable as she could be.

Those last three days were good for us as well. I recalled confessing to dad something that I did as a kid. My brothers joined in and when his time finally came we were unburdened with no regrets.

Live Jesus in our hearts…forever…Amen.

An Appreciation of Carrie Fisher

In the constellation of stars who died in 2016, the one that I was heartsick over the most was Carrie Fisher.

When I first saw her in “Star Wars,” the special effects and droids got more of my 12-year-old’s attention than her signature character, Leia Organa, the blaster-toting, tough-talking, take-charge princess.

By the time “The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980, the romantic tension between her character and Han Solo got my notice. And when “Return of the Jedi” premiered and I was 18, well, let’s just say that her appearance in that golden bikini left a lasting impression.

But as I got older, the appeal of her roles in the “Star Wars” franchise took a backseat to her plainspoken and brutally honest conversations about her struggles with mental illness and addiction.

I was horrified the first time I read about Fisher going into rehab.

The image of my beloved baby-faced star was shattered, replaced with an upsetting notion of an unstable celebrity who was following the familiar Hollywood path of drugs and booze.

Over time though, I came to appreciate — and admire — her willingness to forthrightly discuss her experiences and her treatment for bipolar disorder.

“I am mentally ill. I can say that,” Fisher said. “I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

She was a role model for so many people, me included.

Fisher – among others — inspired me to seek help for my depression. If Carrie Fisher could tackle these issues head-on and in public, what was stopping me?

Fisher’s death also struck me forcefully because she reminded me of my late fiancée, Carla, who had battled her own addictions.

Fisher was open (some called it over-sharing) about her stints in rehab. Carla was similarly open and channeled her experiences into helping others in recovery.

Fisher was a high-profile inspiration for others. Carla was also a source of inspiration but on a grassroots level. I saw this repeatedly as she connected with people individually and offered to give them a boost.

When Carla was fired as a domestic-abuse counselor, her enraged clients broke into the office in the dead of night to find her home phone number. Carla saw it as a victory because the women felt empowered and took control.

Fisher and Carla also had an ability to poke fun at – and sometimes even celebrate – themselves at their worst moments.

Some of Carla’s stories were funny, like the time she was drunk behind the wheel and rear-ended a police car, and some were terrifying, like when she was confronted by a guy who pointed a gun at her and her friend and demanded their drug stash.

Russell Crowe recalled a moment with Fisher in 2000. On Twitter he wrote that she grabbed his butt and said “You would have loved me when I was on Xanax.”

An appreciation of Fisher that appeared in The New York Times noted there were better ways to honor her than rewatching “Star Wars.”

“Read her books,” wrote Lawrence Downes. “They are works where misery and brilliance commingle with wit, the creations of an actual person who had many layers and is worth getting to know, as opposed to Princess Leia, who has none and is not.”

I agree but I think there is an even better way to honor her memory:

Don’t judge them if they have a mental illness or are now or have been an addict.

Offer to help in what ways you can.

Carrie – and Carla — would approve.

Related links:

An Open Letter of Apology to Carrie Fisher



Mourning — and Celebrating — Three Music Giants Who Died in 2016

It is finally over — the year that took so much away from us in such a big swipe.

The year of course is 2016, “a year that will live in infamy,” if you will allow me to paraphrase FDR.

It was a year filled with losses of the famous and talented. There are so many to count and in so many fields of entertainment and arts.

But there are three that stand out as the awful trifecta that death dealt us in this wretched year: two performers whose names are immortalized with a single name, Bowie and Prince, and George Michael.

Sadly these three titans of music died in the same year. Many of us loved their collection of work and mourned the loss of so much music that never became.

As I ready myself to say a very well-deserved good-bye and fuck you to 2016, I take a moment to enjoy a YouTube feast with some of their most celebrated songs and performances.

Every fan has their favorites. And it would be wrong for me to praise one over the other.

But in my heart I carry the joy of watching and listening to George Michael’s “Freedom,” David Bowie’s “Modern Love” and Prince’s Super Bowl halftime show that included “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Purple Rain.”

I know there are so many songs that each of these artists performed that are immortalized in video and accessible online.

But these songs and performances are the ones I hold in my mind’s eye any time their name is mentioned. I turn to these to relive a glorious time in my youth when I felt invincible and indestructible.

2016 proves that life is fragile and must be treasured because in an instant, and over an ill-fated year, it can be snuffed out indiscriminately.

I look forward to 2017, optimistically and hopefully, remembering the words, “You gotta have faith,” and “I’m still standing in the wind. But I never wave bye-bye,” and “You better live now before the grim reaper comes knocking on your door.”

Come on everyone, Let’s go Crazy!!

Remembering My Late Fiancee and Her Crazy Made-Up Vocabulary

Note: Today marks 10 years ago that Christopher Mele’s fiancee, Carla Carlson, died.

Those who knew her celebrated the larger-than-life character she was. For those who never met her, this tribute — in the form of a Carla-to-English dictionary — will give you a better sense of who she was and why she was unique.

Rest in peace ODB. You are missed.

English was a second language for Carla. Her primary language is something I call “Carlaese” or “Carlaspeak.”

She had a shorthand expression for so many things. Here’s a glossary of some:

Earchs: Ears, or sometimes referring to her hearing aids

Moo: Milk

Mock milk: My skim milk

Pussycat list: Her favorite actors who were hunks or sexy, as in: Sam Waterson is on her pussycat list

Leguns: Legs

Bunnies: Butt, behind. As in “Nice bunnies.”

Put my eyeballs on: Put on her eye glasses

Pray to St. Yolanda Vega:  Her homage to the woman who picks the winning Lotto numbers in the hopes that she would pick Carla’s numbers

Boogeritis: A runny nose, a bad cold

Frowzy: To be in a state of disarray or unkempt, as in: When he woke up, he was all frowzy looking.

Scrunch: To get a rub or massage, as in: Can you give my shoulder a scrunch?

Gripper pads: Usually referring to the cats’ padded paws, sometimes referring to devices with Velcro

Eggie wegs: The plastic Easter eggs the cats like to play with

Gum snapper: A term generally applied to a young, inept cashier or receptionist, as in: Some gum snapper couldn’t find the price of the carrots.

Belly warmer: A reference to a young girl, generally in her late teens or early 20s, often in a relationship with an older man, as in: Yeah, that college professor was seen having coffee with some belly warmer. Derived, I think, from the notion that if they were together that she’d be on laying on top and keeping his “belly warm.”

Forshnoricated, to forshnoricate: To get organized, to tidy up, as in: Before we go on vacation, I need to get the bills forshnoricated. This is one of my all-time favorites.

Handyman: A reference to the handicapped sign to hang on the rearview mirror of her truck so she could park in a disabled person’s parking spot

Glom: To steal, to take without asking

Gonif: A thief, or someone crooked not to be trusted

Fish eye/Godzilla eye: To be looked at sideways; at a glance; with one eye open and one closed; to be viewed with disdain or distrust, as in: Yeah, she was giving me the fish eye from across the room.

Pike off: Spy on; check out; snoop

Dirt alert: Juicy bit of gossip, high-priority dish

PUD file: Potentially Useful Dirt, something to tuck away for a rainy day

Amies: A reference to animals, as in: We are going to the zoo to look at all the amies.

Hidey hole: Some secret spot for stashing things

Hide in plain sight: Usually referring to something that went missing that was right in front of her

Perp chirp: A reference to my First Responder pager, which would sound a little chirp with bulletins about police activity, hence Perp chirp

Whoziwhatsis: Her all-purpose term for an item the name of which she could not remember, but somehow I would always understand what she was talking about.

Walking sideways: To be a crab, or to be in a crabby mood, as in: I can tell you had a bad day at work because when you got home, you were walking sideways.

Lit up like a whorehouse on a Saturday night: A house with lots and lots of lights on

As Irish as Patty’s pig: Um, I guess this one is self-explanatory. I never quite got it.

As bold as brass: Again, self-explanatory. Usually reserved for when the cats got caught doing something bad, like jumping up on the table, and then denying that they had done anything wrong

Poooooor: An expression of sympathy, sometimes in a mocking way, but again usually reserved for the cats, especially if they’ve not been fed yet, as in: Pooooor baby. Nobody fed you yet?

The hairless ones: A reference to the boys as pre-teens who were sans body hair

EBS: What the cats suffered when they had not been fed: Empty Bowl Syndrome.

The Man/Daddy: Talking about me in the third person to the cats, as in: Are you glad Daddy is home? Did the Man feed you?

Keeplock: A term from her days in correctional services, meaning to put the cats in solitary confinement, as in: When I serve the turkey, the cats are going into keeplock.

Big Perch: When she got her new bedroom set years ago, the queen-sized bed became Molly’s “big perch” where she liked to stay during the day and sleep. The name sort of stuck and the house in Lords Valley, with its viewshed, also became “The Big Perch.”

MBC: Might Bitey Cat, a reference to Misha, who likes to gnaw on feet and toes.

Tumbleweeds: To brawl or fight; to roll around in the street in a fight, as in: If she makes one more snide comment, we’re gonna be tumbleweeds.

…or know the reason why: This usually came at the end of some kind of question or statement, as in: I’m going to find that bank statement or know the reason why. Never quite grasped this one either.

Lemonsucker: A sourpuss, someone who thought they were high and mighty or uppity, as in: That priest was a real lemonsucker.

Looked like a bum in a fit: I don’t know the origins of this, but it means to look disheveled, unkempt; see “frowzy.” Also could be used interchangeably with: “Looked like the “ ‘Wreck of the Hesperus.’ ” (After a poem by Longfellow.)

Slit-eyed: Tired; eyes like slits from not being able to open them

Garb: Garbage

Rags: Her beloved rags, The National Enquirer, The Globe, The National Examiner, Star. Fridays were “Rag Day,” because that’s the day they hit the newsstands. And woe unto you if you forgot to bring home the rags.

Fershstunken: Stinks, smells bad, as in: I need to take a shower to get rid of the fershstunken.

Whoopin’ it up: Partying and drinking pretty hard

Price of rice: To set someone straight, as in: I’m going to tell him about the price of rice

Purpsi: Her favorite soft drink: Pepsi

Guzzoline: Gasoline

The Disease Store: Her name for the local supermarket, which is called Mr. Z’s.

Sunday goin’ to meetin’ clothes: Your finest threads; dressed up for special occasion

No big whoop: No sweat, no big deal; also No biggie

Clutching their pearls/Getting a case of the vapors: Sort of evocative of Victorian upper society and being offended at something relatively small and feeling faint or light-headed over it; think the straight lady in a Marx Bros. Movie, as in: When I cracked that joke at the meeting, the chairwoman was sitting there clutching her pearls.

Crazy hour: Not any particular time or not even an hour long, but it referred to that point of the night (usually the night) when the cats would be so hyper and frisky, jumping around, springing backward, etc.

Whimwhams: Feelings of anxiety, butterflies; insecurities

Don’t touch my shit: One of her golden rules. Just leave her stuff alone and no one gets hurt.

Since Hector was a pup: I have no godly idea where this comes from. It is used to refer to a significant passage of time, or age, as in: That store has been there since Hector was a pup.

Knee-high to a kitten: Again, another measure of age, usually referring to kids who have now grown up, as in: I remember him when he was knee-high to a kitten.

Growth experiences are a bitch: Sort of a variant of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This one is a Band-Aid to get you through a tough time by making you laugh and reminding you that you will get through it.

Shit happens: A bit of a variation of no big whoop. A general dispensation and way of addressing something big or small that has gone awry, especially if it’s out of your control, as in: Yeah, it sucks that the tree limb fell on the car, but you know, shit happens.

Plo-plos: Pillows. Especially used if she was switching from the dayside decorative pillows to the nighttime ones, as in: Can you get the plo-plos out of the closet?

Smokin’ dope: To express disbelief or something absurd, as in: I looked at the prices for steak at Mr. Z’s. Forget it, they were smokin’ dope.

Beams: Indoor lights, as in: Why are all these beams on?

When the student is willing, the master/teacher will appear: Very Zen like. More or less that when you are ready to change or to learn, an opportunity will present itself for you to grow or change.

Ambiance: Yes, this of course is a legitimate word, but she would draw out the ‘a’ so it was “Aaaaambiance” but it would refer to her desire to have the lights turned off and candles lit in the room.

White trash tables: Folding snack tray tables, the white trash reference comes from the notion that white trash uses them as everyday dining ware.

Appropriate: Here it is a verb, as in to appropriate something, which in Carla’s case, meant taking it, usually on the sly. Not exactly stealing but not exactly kosher either. As in, I needed to appropriate some office supplies from the jail.

Dipseydoodle: Flim-flam, to con, to get away with something, as in: I had the cashier so dipseydoodled that she forgot to charge me for the bread.

Parlay: Just one of those words she liked to use as in, I parlayed my coupons.

Three thousand nine hundred ninety nine: Again, one of those words she used a lot. For some stupid reason, this one grated on me. Maybe because she never used a different number, ever. Example: We have 3,999 rolls of toilet paper in the closet but none in the bathrooms.

Babies: The deer. Again with the elongated pronunciation: “Baaaaabies.”

Hurty: To hurt, to ache

Clicker: TV remote control

Heaterarator: The heating elements, the baseboard heat.

Nappy: Nap, sleep, as in: The cats and I are going to take a little nappy.

Ching chow: Chinese food

Wontonton: Wonton soup

Poofy: Her way of describing swelling, as in: My feet are all poofy.

Firin’ around: To be running around, especially doing chores or work; sort of implies an aimlessness to the effort

Sue my ass and get a fart: Especially popular expression when it came to bill collectors

Go scratch your ass with a broken bottle: An all-purpose insult

Eat shit and bay at the moon: See above

Snout: Shout, the washing pre-treatment

Greedy Gus: Someone who wants a lot, takes a lot

Friends in low places: We like these people, such as clerks and secretaries

Better to be lost than found: Sometimes it’s better to keep a low profile

Pataki cigarettes: When the governor signed legislation mandating that cigarettes flame out quickly if they’ve not been puffed on as a fire safety measure, Carla went nuts because her smokes kept snuffing out, hence her hatred for “Pataki cigarettes.”

Gussied up: To be all dressed up, spiffed up, could be implied to be in a slutty kind of way

Naked cats: When the cat is without its collar, it is naked

Cut from the cheek of his/her ass: Someone who is very much alike someone else, as in: Michael is cut from the cheek of his dad’s ass.

Slam’s Club: Sam’s Club

Wrinchkey: To tear, mangle, break; to make more difficult; or sometimes to twist, turn, remove as in: I need you to wrinchkey this bolt off or Don’t wrinchkey the envelope, use an opener.

Sleept: To have slept

Grade Z movie: Really, really bad movie. A stinker but possibly fun anyway.

Kidney killer: The muscle-enhancing supplement creatine that Garth would take

God squad: A holy roller, someone who is very religious or preachy

Cat’s paw: Someone who is being manipulated to do something on behalf of someone else, as in: Danny will sometimes unwittingly be Michael’s cat’s paw.

How you doin?/Whatya doin?/What’s shakin’ baby?/What’s on your agenda today?: All different ways of asking what’s going on.

Check please! Meant to convey a desire to get out of there, to remove oneself from a tight spot, as in: When I saw security coming for me and Arl at the mall, I was like check please!

Fleabagus: What she would call the cats if she saw them scratching

‘She’ is the cat’s mother: I don’t know the origins of this and it was not cited too often, but it would come out if one of the boys used the pronoun ‘she’ in some context where it was no clear who she was.

Dead: As in empty, broken or flat, usually referring to her cans of Pepsi which might have been left open for some time, as in: This one is dead. Can you get me a new one?

Bird bath/whore’s bath: To get scrubbed up just using a washcloth and water in the sink. It’s a quick bath to get ready vs. a full-fledged shower.

Hire the handicapped week: Usually said in connection with shopping at ShopRite where the baggers or the cashiers were slow-witted, or in some cases, outright retarded

Getting a bath: When the cats would lick her hand or arm

One toke over the line: A person who is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. They are just a little more crazy than the average person. Someone who is a bit of a burnout.

Cocksuckers from hell: This is an all-time fave of mine. Used only in the most extreme of stress and anger, especially if she was trying to fix something and it would not work or if something broke, spilled or if she was scared badly enough from one of my practical jokes.

Ease into the day: To lounge in PJs in bed, reading the paper or watching TV until about noon or so; the idea being not to act too rashly by jumping into the daily chores (just the opposite of me!)

Sidewalk superintendent act: Someone who watches from the sidelines but does no work

Farfel mouth: I don’t know the origins of this one, but it was a reference to the cats meowing

Would you jump in my grave as fast? Usually reserved for someone who cut in front of her on line

Muscular spiders: Big spiders that needed the exterminator’s attention

I’d rather clothe him than feed him: A big kid

..could put a saddle on him: Usually a reference to a big dog

Scuffs: Slippers

Kicks: Sneakers

Felony fliers: Expensive sneakers

Lounge wear: Comfortable pajamas

Fuck me where I sit: An exclamation of agitation

Didn’t even get kissed first: The notion that she was getting screwed over without the benefit of a kiss first

Case of the ass: Someone who is a state of disagreement or unhappiness; pissed off

Drunkin Doorknobs: Her nickname for Dunkin’ Donuts

Marlboro miles: Someone who looked like they had been around the block a few times and had the wrinkles to prove it

Fellow traveler: A member of AA, a recovering alcoholic

If I were president, there would be one brand of toilet paper: One of her soapbox speeches. Always made me laugh

Tapdance on your eyelids: What she would threaten to do to you if she got pissed off and angry

Staring at the inside of my eyeballs: To sleep

Valley of Fatigue: Getting sleepy

I’m getting in the car: Her oft-repeated threat that, if carried out, meant she was getting in the car and headed to do harm to someone. This one was especially used in the direction of Pat, who pissed her off to no end. So I would often have to talk Carla out of the treetops and convince her that it would NOT be a good idea to go to Pat’s doorstep and shoot her.

Paying for the sins of others: Her lament that other people were causing her discomfort. For instance, because Oxycotin has been so widely abused, it was that much more difficult  for her to get her legitimate scrips filled in a timely way. Or the docs would hem and haw about giving it to her. Because “others” had abused the drugs, she was now paying for their sins.

Tut!: What she’d shout at the cats to get their attention and to reprimand them for doing something they should not be doing. Also worked well on sons and significant others.

Jailin’ it: If someone’s pants were droopy or falling down, they were jailin’ it, a la gangbangers or inmates who would dress that way for fashion

Beat it biscuit lips: What she would say to the cats if they were trying to beg for food, or to the kids if they were eavesdropping somewhere they should not be.

Arthur-it is: Referring to arthritis, especially with Molly

Fart smella: Her play on words. Instead of saying “smart fella” someone would be a “fart smella”

In addition to her shorthand expressions, she also had a nickname for many people:

St. Josephite

The Maje

Big Gay Al (BGA)

The Oompas



Roger Dodger

Miss Saigon

The Skipper




Kevin Bibi

Officer Special

The Padre



The Boy

The Ungrateful One




The Kid

His Nibs

Her Nibs


The Divine Miss M.


Little Kruchev

Little Pute


Sue B.

The Crow Lady

The Bear Man


Plumer the Plumber




Mary Mac

The Rat Bastard




Mondo Video


Related links:

More Than Just A Hat: A Story of Loss

Man in Mourning: Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?

When I Drive, the Dead Are Always With Me

I am never alone when I drive.

I do a lot of chauffeuring of my kids, but I also spend a lot of time alone behind the wheel and I always have some unseen passengers.

In my front console I have a variety of items ranging from pens to Chapstick to an eyeglass cleaning cloth, but there is also a number of memorial cards for people whose funerals I attended.

I find myself deeply affected by them all.

I feel for the deceased and for their family, even if I don’t know them all that well.  I may have worked with them or known them through family or a friend, but I take their mourning to heart and I truly have empathy for them.

I know what it’s like to lose someone you love and it is devastating, and it will always be with you.


So when I drive around with my carload full of people who I remember and feel this connection to,  I hope they are looking out for me in some way.

This does not stop at the cards in my console.

As I pass by roadside memorials of where people had fatal accidents, some of whom I have known, I think of these poor souls as well.

Many of them were young and taken before their time. They had many more years of life and family to take care of.

One memorial I am deeply affected by is of a woman who I do not even know but the circumstances were so unbelievable I just cannot stop thinking of it every time I pass by this spot.

It started one morning on my way to work when I was detoured around an area that was closed to traffic.

When I finally got to work, I checked the news reports and found that a woman had been killed by a gas tanker that took a curve too fast and overturned onto her car as she was driving the other way.

The timing of this accident could not have been more perfect.

If this woman had been a minute later or a minute earlier, she would have most likely missed the truck.

She was coming home from work and was killed by this person who went down this hill too fast to negotiate the turn.  The driver of the truck survived, but he left a child motherless.

I guess we never know when our ticket on earth is going to be punched and we will leave this place, but we should try to live and get as much done before we are taken prematurely.

I pass by this spot almost daily and watched as the area was cleaned up because the tanker spilled gas.

The work was completed but someone still has left a small arrangement of flowers at the spot that marks where this woman died.

I’m sure most people drive by and do not notice, but I see it and think about her every time.

For other ruminations about mortality and death, listen to this AMR podcast (“No One Gets Out of Here Alive”) and read these blogs posts about close calls on the road (“Remember: Thou Art Mortal”) and mourning (“Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?”)

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“I Am Dead”

Arleen’s finger was aimed straight out.

She held it somewhere around her cheek to emphasize her point.

“You know if you don’t do this, she will come back and haunt you every day of your life.”

We were in a waiting room at Horton Hospital in Middletown, N.Y., and my fiancée Carla had fallen into what doctors were telling us was an irreversible coma related to complications from Hepatitis C.

Arleen was talking to me and Carla’s son, Garth.

Arleen was Carla’s best friend.

And she was speaking the truth.

And Garth and I both knew it.

She was warning us to make the right choice about a decision that no one should have to confront: Should we sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, directing doctors NOT to take any extraordinary measures to keep Carla alive?

The decision legally fell to Garth as Carla’s next of kin, but we had teamed up and convinced ourselves that Carla would pull through and therefore we would not sign the DNR. We felt there was still hope.

Done with our little caucus, Garth and I returned to the waiting room and told Arleen of our decision.

And that’s when she warned us about keeping in mind Carla’s wishes. We knew in our bones that Carla would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially.

But here was the problem: Carla never filed any medical directives with explicit instructions about what to do in a circumstance like this.

Had such a document existed, it would have relieved Garth and me of the enormous burden of making that decision.

We ultimately told the doctors not to take any extraordinary measures, and Carla died a few days later.

As if grieving her loss was not overwhelming enough, I then discovered that Carla had no will! In the aftermath of her death, I tried the best I could to tie up the loose ends of her estate.

It was a heavy, heavy lift.

The experience left an indelible impression on me, and I set about right away to get my own medical directive organized as well as a will.

When I got married in 2010, my wife Meg and I talked often of the need to get our will done. We finally did and it was a HUGE relief.

I’ve gone even further and organized detailed information about all of my finances, my wishes for my funeral and a prewritten obituary and collected it all in a huge file labeled “I Am Dead.”

Meg and I recently reviewed it in detail, right down to the music I want to have played at my funeral. (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” cover by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole.)

We sat on the couch going over the file, playing that song and crying. The experience “drove a truck through the heart of my soul,” Meg said.

Yes it did, but I would not want my loved ones to go through what I did.

No one gets out of here alive. If you haven’t organized your will and/or your medical directives, do it now.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for your family.

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Man in Mourning: Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?

It was nine years ago today that my fiancée Carla died.

The weeks immediately after her death were a blend of profound sorrow and emptiness.

Carla, who led a colorful and sometimes pain-filled life, used to joke: “Growth experiences are a bitch.”

Yeah, that about described it.

Looking back on those early months after her death opens a window unto my state of mind and how I was coping. Below is an excerpt from an email I wrote a little less than four months after she died.

I think of it as a meditation on a man in mourning.

March 18, 2007

Mom and Dad came up to help me go through Carla’s footwear (Imelda Marcos was such a rank amateur), coats, jackets, pants, sweaters, tops and her bling.

Mom also ably went through what we used to refer to as the “foofoo bathroom,” the one upstairs that I ceded to Carla and that she promptly turned into a “girlie” bathroom with all the perfumes, sprays, lotions and other female-y stuff to match.

Mom was able to fill something like nine black garbage bags with clothes and shoes to donate to charity. Wow, did Carla have good taste – albeit a bit weird at times — in clothes and accessories. Of course, that would match her taste in men! LOL

I came back to the house today after dropping Mom and Dad off at my sister’s and went into the foofoo bathroom. Sure, it’s the same but it is something less now.

Carla’s crazy, chaotic style of stocking the shelves has been replaced with organized groupings of stuff that’s worth keeping.

Her dresser, once a hodge-podge of décor is now a bunch of jewelry boxes, stacked.

And the closet? Devoid of her nutty, weirdly stylish array of clothes.


The sense of loss came back as if you were at the beach and had your back turned to the ocean and a wave crashes over you and knocks you down. You suddenly are below water, and then break through, cursing and wondering what the hell just happened.

And then it came back again: How dare she leave me and the boys? Who the hell did she think she was, not taking care of herself like that? Why didn’t she get to the doctor sooner?

So much for forward momentum.

And then came this: Come home from grocery shopping with the boys. Stowing the food and came across an open bag of her beloved Sun Chips. And with audible apologies to her, I took it and tossed it in the trash.

But then came time for Mike to help me put away cans of my soda.

And there they were: Two 12 packs of her goddamned Pepsi, squirreled away in a narrow little cabinet by the stove. The Pepsi that I was in charge of stocking in the fridge, the Pepsi that she would start the day off with a “pffffft” as she pulled back the can’s tab, the Pepsis she carried EVERY-friggin’-WHERE with her – doctor’s offices, fairs, shopping, you name it.

And so Mike asked such a simple, but profound question at that moment: What are we going to do with the Pepsi?

Damned Mike if I know.

Much in the same way I still have the cooler that was packed with her Pepsi on Nov. 6 – the day we headed to the doc’s and then the hospital – still sitting in the truck, untouched, unopened.

So, yeah, where do you put the Pepsi and the pain?

The answer I think lies in not mourning Carla’s death but continuing to celebrate her life.

She had no use for the pity pot and would probably kick my ass from here to next Tuesday if she thought I was wallowing in self-pity.

Doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, but there it is.

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No One Gets Out of Here Alive

The older you get, the closer your mortality appears to be gaining on you in your rear-view mirror.

Once you cross the threshold of 50, you’ve lived enough of life to have experienced some losses personally, seen others who have suffered them or just simply are more aware that no one gets out of here alive.

I recall as a kid my dad watching old movies, and when certain actors and actresses would appear on screen, he would run through a check list aloud:

“Oh, he’s dead.” “Yeah, she’s dead.” “Oh, wow, he’s gone, too.”

(As an aside, for those concerned about the actor Abe Vigoda, who has been prematurely declared dead, there’s a website dedicated to keeping tabs on his breathing: http://www.abevigoda.com/)

Hollywood stars aside, I’ve mulled over the question of how long I want to live in a previous blog post.

And in a recent conversation, my mom lamented aging as being a pointless process of biding your time. There again, my folks live in a retirement community that they not-so-euphemistically call “God’s Waiting Room.”

In this latest podcast of About Men Radio, Pedro and I explore the question of death, dying, facing our mortality and what, as grown-ups, we should do about preparing for it in terms of wills, medical directives and other cheery stuff like that.

Don’t shuffle off this mortal coil without giving it a listen.

The Night I Nearly Died

Us men, we are invincible, right?

Maybe it’s “machismo” or just stupidity.

I don’t have time for my own well-being, right?

Some years ago, I discovered the answer to that question and in the process, faced my mortality.

It’s ironic that the night this started, I was attending the funeral of a family man who had died before his time.

It began with a bad stomachache that I attributed to lunch but when I got home it just got worse.

I was up all night puking. I was on the bathroom floor, delirious from pain but never did I once say to my wife that maybe – just maybe – I should go to the ER.

Finally I was able to sleep and when I woke up, I felt a little better. I saw my wife off to work and got the kids off to school.

Meanwhile, the pain had settled into my lower abdomen, on the right side.

Damnit! This was probably appendicitis. I called in sick to work and called my wife and told her that I would drive myself to the hospital.

No problem. I got this.

Why should I bother anyone and inconvenience them? I was feeling better and the hospital was only a few minutes away.

The doctor checked and he agreed with my diagnosis and sent me for a CT scan for confirmation.

I eventually got wheeled into the OR and when I woke up in recovery, the nurse told me that my appendix had actually burst.

With much difficulty, I made my way into the bathroom. I leaned on the sink and looked in the mirror and saw someone I hardly recognized.

Who the hell was this guy with the pale face, sunken eyes and look of death?

This was me and this was serious.

With a burst appendix, I could’ve died. It probably burst right on the floor of the bathroom that night, which is why I felt better.

But all that time that I wasted refusing to admit I needed help, those toxins were leaking into my gut and setting me up for an internal infection that could have done me in no matter what the doctor did.

I spent the next two-plus weeks in the hospital, always with a fever and constant IV antibiotics.

I don’t think I ever realized how grave my situation was.

To this day I have downplayed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m still lying to myself because it scares the shit outta me that I flirted with death.

I missed my kids performing in the school talent show and I missed some of my son’s baseball games. In truth, though, I came close to not seeing them grow up at all.

At the hospital, I convinced the doctor that I could go home and take my own temp every day, take my meds and come back if I was not feeling well.

I just wanted to go home.

I should have stayed in the hospital.

Better yet, they should’ve just shot me.

Two weeks later, I felt a weight in my lower abdomen, so I went back for another CT scan.

The doctor said he would need to drain the abscesses from the infection caused by the burst appendix. He explained he was going to go in through my anus — using both hands and a syringe — to drain the fluid.

Nice. I should have at least gotten dinner and a movie first.

Still, the procedure was successful.

After all of this, I was not the same person. It took most of a year to really get back to normal.

I still don’t think I realized how close a brush with death this was.

Thank goodness for antibiotics and for my doctor for violating me with that syringe.

I’m glad I’m still here to talk about it.

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Do I Really Want to Live That Long?

The other day I took one of those absurd Facebook quizzes that bombard my feed. You know the ones like, which Biblical character are you? What color best represents you? And, if you were a tree, what kind would it be? (Apologies, Barbara Walters.)

This quiz asked a series of questions to determine how much longer you would live. It was multiple choice, with questions about my favorite beverage consumption and least favorite holiday, among other things.

Shrug. Sure, why not?

I went through the quiz and answered accurately and honestly, never giving a thought to where this might lead me.

The pop-up box declared that I would live for another 44 years and some-number of months. (The smaller number escapes me because I was so gobsmacked by the first figure.)

Forty-friggin’-four more years!? Are you kidding me?

In essence, this little parlor game was telling me I am essentially only halfway through my life.

My reaction to this finding (which has about as much validity as a Magic 8 ball or the “Zoltar Speaks” fortune-telling machine from the movie “Big”) surprised me.

I don’t want to last until I am 94!


I love my wife and my sons, but not to sound cliché, I don’t want to be a burden on them in my advanced dotage. (Besides, my wife and I have a pact that we are both going out together in a burning bed set ablaze by the embers of our passionate lovemaking.)

I turned 50 in October, and while I am benefiting (finally) from many emotional insights and real-life wisdom, my body seems to have other ideas. Though I work out and eat right, there is more snap, crackle and pop in my joints than a bowl of Rice Krispies.

I have seen the ravages of dementia in relatives and the toll of age on mobility and energy. I think I can stay pretty active and sharp for another 20, 25 years, but beyond that, I have my doubts.

I have witnessed what others have endured in what is euphemistically called “elder care” and I don’t wish that on my sons, who I want to go on living fulfilling, unencumbered lives, free of adult diapers, trips to the doctor and circular conversations.

And for sure, I have not saved nearly enough money to last me into my 90s.

I fear much more the death of my loved ones than I do my own. The question of what is a “good” age to die has been explored recently, with at least one essay concluding that 75 is an appropriate age to go.

That sounds about right for me. I am sure there are those who will disagree with me and think my outlook is all rather selfish.


But if you will excuse me, I’ve got to get busy living what’s left of the rest of my life.