Life in the Slow Lane

Today I woke up feeling good. On 7/11/18, 2 months and 2 days ago, I had just one of the worst evenings of my life. The following few days were even more difficult. These last 2 months have been a journey that I realize is life-long and I’m in no rush to finish. I’m enjoying and embracing every step forward and every obstacle that prohibits steps forward, or that even sets me a few back. Obstacles and set backs are really necessary learning experiences.

Today I’m in gratitude. I might not be in an hour, but for now I am and I’m incredibly grateful.

I could write for hours about how I got here (I promise I won’t). The biggest contributor was my childhood and the mal-adaptive strategies [albeit very normal] I developed early on to deal with life while my brain was forming. One of my newly favorite psychology writers Van Der Kolk calls it Developmental Traumatic Disorder (DTD). This diagnostic explanation is fairly new in the world of Psych. It didn’t quite make it to the DSM 5 which is latest edition of the manual by which mental health clinicians diagnose and bill for disorders. For now the closest diagnosis is PTSD, which DTD is branch of. Particularly for me, for now it’s Delayed Onset, Complex PTSD. It turns out I’m just another statistic and if someone were watching closely, everything that happened to me could have been predicted.

I’ve been through a gamut of emotions the past few months. Many before 7/11, but even more, and much more intensely since. Crazily, but also not surprisingly this episode took place just 2 days and exactly 25 years after what was one of the most transformational days of my life at the time when I was 17. I’d written about it before in My Mom. It’s one of my trigger dates, something I don’t think I fully believed in until this summer. I didn’t consciously recognize the significance of how the date triggered me, but my body did. The Body Keeps the Score.It really does.

What I realized most profoundly this summer is that I have PTSD. I really do. Two and a half years ago I had my first panic attack. I was immediately diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Last summer the PTSD diagnosis was added. While I remember telling people about it, somehow I didn’t realize how important it was to my mental recovery to embrace and work on it. In fact, when the true awareness hit me like a ton of bricks just less than a week after 7/11 this year, I was surprised to realize that I’d been sharing and telling people about it prior to then. A few days ago I re-read something I added to my blog page in May “About Me”, and it was there too! Why wasn’t I working on it?

I wasn’t working on my trauma and PTSD for many reasons. Because it wasn’t urgent and didn’t seem important. Because no one tells you that it’s important. In fact, no one can; it’s something you have to discover on your own when your body is ready. Also because I didn’t have the time or the life style until now. That is why I’m in gratitude this morning. I’m moving in the slow lane and I love it.

From a young age I moved fast. I always had excessive energy. I never understood how anyone could sit at a meeting or in a class and not fidget. I was just always bursting out of my skin. Driving… I had to be in the fast line. I was constantly assessing for traffic, changing lanes with the flow. Heart always racing. Breath always erratic. I was always, always, always looking for more efficient ways to do things. From driving to folding laundry to cleaning… to redesigning whole work groups and even departments at my job. I was good at it. It was a great outlet for my energy. I was efficient and I helped others to be as well. A good use of my talents. Or so I thought.

Now I’m living in the slow lane. I still have the habit of moving fast, but I catch myself at least 80% or so of the time when I realize that for no good reason my heart is in a lurch or my breath isn’t steady. I stop it and slow down. I manage my breath. I smell the roses. I ground myself in the present and it’s SO much better. I think about that quote about how nothing or everything is a miracle, and see things as beautiful. Even ugly things. I wish we could teach our children this from a young age. Instead we are programmed to ‘succeed’, to do more & faster, to have it all, to do it all. We are programmed to think we are a failure if we don’t meet this criteria. On paper by this methodology I was a huge success.

Take two driven people like my husband and myself, put them together, and what do you have? It’s debatable. 7 years ago I would have thought a match made in heaven. In fact at our wedding we incorporated the Japanese term of kaizen (continuous improvement) into our vows. Ugh… how I cringe now. All I can think of is U2’s lyrics in the song ‘Moment of Surrender’

The stone was semi precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

I do believe in continuous improvement, but not in the way it was taught to me (faster, better, do more, etc). I believe it the slow movement. That less is more. That slowing down and even stillness is where the magic of life lies. Take a look at the pets in our lives. They are content with doing less, watching the world outside the window for hours just as it is. Accepting us for who we are. Not caring about how we are dressed or what fancy letters come after our name. They are in a sense more human from a sense of connection than we are. I have four pets. I didn’t even have time to pet them before. I would shoo them away when they came to climb on me when I collapsed on the couch after 16 hours of non-stop movement. We had to have our dog in day care just to get exercise and go out because no one was home long enough to play with him or take him out. Picking him up and dropping him off was another burdened activity on the check-list. Why have pets, kids, a house (2 in our case), a garden, etc – when there was no time to put any love or life into any of it? It’s been a slow realization for me that none of this makes sense. That I was living by a clock and not a compass. It took even longer to do anything meaningful about it. I’m still on that journey and in no rush to any finish line. The unfolding is a beautiful experience that I’m embracing wildly.

I wrote a few paragraphs back that I could write for hours about how I got here. Everyone has their own journey, their own stories, their own level of awareness, and their own (hopefully) point in their life – more often than not in the second half of it, in which they proverbially “wake up”.

My own story started on March 1, 2012. At work I enrolled in a Franklin Covey industry based class for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a 2-day seminar that set the path of a new life for me. At the time I was recently remarried and my husband and I were just finishing up the renovations we worked on non-stopfor 2 months in our new home. I felt SO alive during those renovations. I loved working on the house. We often stayed up until 1 or 2am in the morning on work nights and didn’t feel the least bit exhausted in the morning.

Once the renovations were finishing up I started to feel trapped, bored, and useless. Something I wasn’t accustomed to feeling. Since my husband and I moved in together with our kids the year before I felt like I was mentally unraveling. The renovations were a pleasant distraction. I began going to a bible study at the hospital where I work which one of my vanpool mates hosted. I hung onto many of the teachings and words, learning new language to explain what I was feeling. The Covey class used similar language but explained it in a different way that opened me up in a special fashion. Three things I really connected with was the concept of a paradigm that we see the world through, that I make my own independent choices constantly, and that to feel in line with who you are; we should be living by a compass and not a clock. Wow. This was mind blowing and life changing for me.

Shortly after I explored the bible much more. Then I ran into a Bishop Spong book quite by accident (I honestly cannot remember which one). I was never religious, but grew up Catholic and felt like it was a sin to question anything that didn’t make sense. As soon as my mind took me to those questioning places, guilt kicked in and I pushed it away. The John Shelby Spong book provided the freedom to question what made no sense and shift the focus to something that did in a more mystical, metaphysical way where it allmade sense. From there I found podcasts on the Centers for Spiritual Living to help time pass while having to drive to Bedford, MA quite often for work in 2 ½ hours each direction. Those podcasts prompted me to read the ghastly large book by Ernest Holmes called “The Science of Mind”. The world was opening and unfolding in ways I could have never dreamed. From there for some unknown reason I started taking yoga classes, which spoke the same type of language. Then I would listen to Alan Watts during my lunch walks and long commutes. All different words, but the same beautiful, timeless messages that make sense.

Years later in January 2016 I loved yoga and this way of thinking so much, I started yoga teacher training. My regular life with work, the kids, pets, blended family, commute, and constant RUSH was becoming unsustainable. Why was I adding a full weekend a month commitment to this training? I don’t know but I just felt compelled.

For some reason I thought in yoga teacher training I would learn more about the poses, teaching, and the actual class. Instead, like the Franklin Covey class years before it became a personal journey. I quickly decided that it was a necessity to meditate regularly. Once I started quieting my mind and relaxing regularly, I realized that is how a body should feel and how I lived for the previous 40 years was anything but calm. It started to become unbearable to not feel calm. Combine that with what I now realize is a few PTSD triggers from work at the time, it’s absolutely no surprise that I had my first panic attack exactly when I did and they escalated from there; completely out of control. My body was releasing 40 years worth of emotion that was bubbling just under the surface. The same energy that kept me moving, grooving and successful; was the same energy that was keeping me stressed and mentally unaware that I was damaging myself by not dealing with the trauma that has plagued my mind, body and spirit.

The past two and a half years since have been transformational. A lot of bad and negative things arose, but more positive, learning experiences than anything bad. You have to go through it to move through it. It sounds simple, but it’s much harder than it sounds. It wasn’t until now that I’ve given myself the time and opportunity to heal. But you have to make the time. Your life has to allow it. You have to slow down.

This past summer was rough. I spent hours upon hours writing and allowing myself to remember and experience the anguish of old memories. Many were the same memories that came up during what I now know as PTSD episodes, but I’d felt too ashamed, embarrassed or dramatic to explore. In writing, crying, thinking, gardening, exercising, waking up in the middle of the night, reading, etc – I started to explore my triggers and where they came from. It made sense. I learned more about how the brain is wired and why I seemed to lose control at times. I logged and shared trigger dates with my family. I allowed myself to feel all that I’ve always pushed away and thought I moved past years ago. It was always there waiting for me to deal with it. I just didn’t slow down enough to hear it.

Today I feel good. Over coffee this morning I saw my husband petting one of the cats who was purring where he shouldn’t be (on a counter). When my husband moved his hand away to finish getting ready for work, our cat Gilmore bipped him on the hand – asking for more petting, which Daren provided. We are in a place where we have time to pet our cats. I am thankful I am in a job where if I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t sleep for hours that the pressure of getting dressed and driving to the office with a smile is not there because I can telework and I’m part-time. I’m thankful for the mental health breakdown this summer. I spent so much time on the days I wasn’t working living like my pets. I napped in the middle of the day if I needed to. I only ate when I was hungry. If I felt like the sun was calling me, I read and wrote outside. If I felt the urge to move I went for a walk, run or bike ride. Listening to my body helped me to attune to what it’s telling me in other ways too. Our bodies are a walking, living, physical communication device. It’s a compass of that path we should be on.

This summer I also listened to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People CDs that I was provided with from that class back in March of 2012. Listening to the late Stephen Covey’s voice felt like listening to an old friend with sound, sage, timeless advice. I also spent quite a bit of time doing those old exercises again. I created a mission statement, thought about my values and principles, my ‘rocks’, how I communicate with people, how I think and how I live. I thought about the life that I want to program. My own talents. Not the talents the world has barked at me – like designing things bigger better and faster, but what I wanted to be when I was a kid with no restrictions and what that meant. The imprint I want to leave on the world.

These aren’t overnight answers. If I thought for a New York second that I know them right now I’d be fooling myself. I’ll be working on them for the rest of my life. I’m trying diligently to listen to the compass. If we quiet ourselves enough, and ask our inner selves for advice, the most profound wisdom is all there, right within us. Our bodies know what we need. They keep the score.

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

My dog Koji who teaches me all sorts of invaluable lessons without saying a word
Bored at home after carpal tunnel surgery of my right hand this past Monday (9/10), I decided to try to open my right brain by painting with my left hand
My left handed drawing depicting what is supposed to be a sunset
This one started left-handed by I switched to using my wrapped surgical hand to clean it up (majorly). It’s a rendition of a little knickknack my step-kids gave me for the holidays several years back by one of my favorite fun modern artists (Miami artist Roberto Britto)

On Abuse

Division Bell

Wikipedia defines a division bell as: A division bell is a bell rung in or around a parliament to signal a division and thus call all members of the chamber so affected to vote in it.

Hence –it’s a call to action.unknown

It’s also an album by Pink Floyd that was released in 1994. Pink Floyd was one of my favorite groups in high school. In 1994 when this album was released I was a senior in high school just about to graduate. I heard it right after I made my decision to join to military once I graduated. It felt like a time of hope. The album spoke to me.

It’s time for me to do my part in a call to action against domestic violence. I grew up as a child in a household with domestic violence. My father was the perpetrator, my mother, brothers, and myself the victims. More than anyone though, even my family would agree, for some reason I bore the brunt of the violence.

Like a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, I didn’t know I was in a bad situation. I didn’t realize my father was an alcoholic. I knew he was a gambler. I knew what happened in our house wasn’t right, but I also thought it could be worse and the people who experienced something worse were really the victims. There were so many people in my life who saw the signs and bruises and heard our excuses. Teachers, friends, friend’s parents, our own extended family, our neighbors. No one dared ask past the excuse. They all suspected, but they dropped it there. I always thought – they should suspect more, poke a hole in my ridiculous story so I have a reason to elaborate. Since they didn’t, I assumed my parents were right and it must not be too bad.

Everything went. Things broke. Things were thrown at us – food, boiling water, household objects. Our heads and bodies made holes in walls and doors. I was thrown across the room, beaten with a chair, punched, kicked… you name it. Called names, told I was stupid, lazy, a whore, an idiot, etc. Looking back it’s a miracle I made it out ok.

I was also told not to cry – by both of my parents. Neither could stand anyone yelling back or crying. I learned so early on to bury my feelings and cry only under the cloak of darkness.


I knew I wanted out of that house, probably from the age of a toddler. My mother once said to me she couldn’t leave my father because she didn’t finish high school and couldn’t take care of us. It was my life’s mission as a kid to finish school and get an education so I could take care of myself. I didn’t want to be like her and put anyone else into the situation I was in.

It wasn’t until about a year after I left my house & was in the military that I realized anything was different about me. I overreacted far more than anyone else to other people’s anger. I jumped when asked to do something and did it better than anyone else. The only good that probably came out of my growing up situation is that it made me a good solider, a good employee, one who aims to please. But other people’s anger really got to me. I went to see a counselor through the EAP program once my ship was on land. She gave me a book about co-dependence and didn’t think I needed to go back. It was no help at all to me.

When I got pregnant with Tommy I was determined to be a different kind of parent. I read every book I could get my hands on about parenting, which was pretty limited 21 years ago – it wasn’t like I had Amazon or all the time in the world to shop while I was active duty. I think the books served me well. John didn’t read anything and was quick to listen to me. We were on the same page as parents – loving, stern, caring, rules, and fun. Once I had Tommy and I was a parent myself, I started to realize how it feels to care for and love another little human so much. It really started to bother me thinking about the way I grew up. I just didn’t understand. For about a year I think I cried and journaled EVERY SINGLE day. John was kind and patient. He was more angry at my parents than I was. Again I went to counseling through the EAP, and again I found it to be a waste of time.

One day about a year of absolute post suffering, in the middle of writing – something just clicked inside me. It was like something you read about in books or see in the movies. All of a sudden my sadness was just lifted. It wasn’t replaced by bliss and I wasn’t overly joyed; but I felt a sense of letting go of the past. I suddenly realized what John meant when he said there is nothing you can do about it anymore. I think I just put the pen down and stopped shedding tears. I was just done crying about the past. I was only 22 at the time.

For the most part since then I’ve been able to talk about my experience without getting swept away by it. When I was 30 my mom passed away and her boss asked our family if we would write a little something about her life. I wrote this story that I shared on the 10 year anniversary of her passing on my blog page:

At the time there was nowhere to post it. I emailed it to a bunch of my family and friends. Everyone gathered around & supported me. It was the first time I was public with what happened in my house. I hit send and was kind of frightened by the reaction I might get. I had always felt ashamed and broken by the situation – as if it made me different from everyone else and less of a person. But the love and support I received made that feeling disappear. It felt good to share. I felt light.



For the next 10 years I only talked about it when it seemed relevant (super rarely). It wasn’t until I went to a Yocovery class last March that I realized I was still very much affected by what happened to me. Yocovery is a special program at my yoga studio where addicts and family members of addicts go weekly to share their stories and do a little yoga. I was curious about what it was one Friday evening, so I drove over and joined the class. Everyone started sharing their stories. When it came to be my turn and I started talking, I was surprised to get choked up and then start crying. Wow – it did still bother me. Over the next few months I started to read about the affects of child abuse on adults. I was a classic case. Anxiety, anger, rage, guilt, shame, emotional numbing, dissociation. On the outside I’m very normal and well adjusted, but I hid a lot. And I hid it so well I was no longer aware it was even there.

In December I became aware of a group called Exhale to Inhale (ETI). ETI. is an organization that supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault through the teaching of yoga. I joined the group and will soon be taking trauma teacher training so I can volunteer my time at shelters and safe houses. In the month of April the organization asked members to hold donations based classes through their own events and at their home yoga studios. I wanted to be a part of that. I emailed my beautiful point of contact at my home studio and got it registered for a volunteer class on Sat 4/15/17 I may also host a personal event at the house in Branford on 3/31. Stay tuned.

As strong as I feel, while researching some quotes, pictures and facts to incorporate into this class; I had to stop, cry and feel. Even 23 years after I have left the house, the experiences sit so deeply within in me until today. As a child I had nowhere to go, I didn’t even really know I was in harms way. In school we learned when to tell, but my parents would tell me that is for other people, not us – don’t waste their time. And I believed them.

I just still wanted out of that house. Music through my growing up helped me to escape and deal. Be normal. Sing in the car. Have something fun to connect to. Dance in my room with the door closed. Pink Floyd was one of those music groups for me. Those last few weeks in high school when the Division Bell came out, the end was in sight. The songs on that album mean so much to me. They can be relevant for so many topics. In my room while falling asleep – those songs… the lyrics and instruments were about the rise and fall of innocence before and after abuse. “On the Turning Away” from Momentary Lapse of Reason spoke to me about people who kind of knew but turned away. And then the escape. The ringing of the division bell at the end of that album in the song “High Hopes” as it faded away, sounded to me at the time like the bell toll that was my escape. Any bells I heard after that, especially in my early days of boot camp and in the military were the sound of justice for me. I hope to make that album in some way part of the theme for the karma class to raise money for ETI. The ringing of the Division Bell is a call to action to vote on something and bring justice. It’s time to do something about domestic violence.

Also in reading about the topic of child abuse I had to shake a bit in disgust. Sometimes as a society we take identifying “abuse” too far. Feeling angry, yelling at a kid every once in a while when they actually did something disrespectful, not looking up for the 5th time when a child shows you something and pretending it’s the best thing you ever saw while you are trying to finish something for work, taking some time for yourself and not attending every last little league game is NOT abuse. I couldn’t believe the things I was reading. It’s not even in the same league. Doing these things repetitively could be – absolutely… But children who now feel like they are being neglected and abused by working parents because they only help with their homework 50% of the time is not neglect. I understand why people tune out and don’t pay attention to so many allegations.

There is real abuse taking place. It can be hard to weed through the garbage of allegations, but those who know about it or have experience just can tell. There is a true sense of hopelessness, loss of control, and fear in victims. ETI’s two platforms of Intimate Partner violence and sexual assault help survivors to feel empowered, to feel safe, to help themselves, and to connect with the spirit inside of them that knows the right thing to do.

People are surprised I don’t hate my father. I do love him. I can’t be around him for long. I feel kind of bad for him. He has no real friends. He is still an alcoholic. He hangs with the wrong crowd and does the wrong things. When you talk to him he lives in the past and will still talk about my mom and how she left him, never understanding his part in it. He is still quick to blow up. Has been in jail a few times. He is loving. He is generous with his money. He has some really insightful, intelligent things to say sometimes. People that don’t know him who tell me that my father is a good man and nice company don’t know any better. I liken it to what my brother Mario once said recently about the type of people who support certain politics – if you say you like pops you just don’t know any better; and there is no way I can explain it to you because you haven’t experienced the dark side.

We all come from different experiences. Don’t judge, but do give and command respect back – Always. Act in love, but don’t be pushed around. Listen to your gut if something feels off and stand up for what is right. Push a little harder if you are talking to someone you suspect is having any of these experiences. They likely won’t tell you the first time you ask, but once or twice more may be just the little barrier breaker that can save them.



If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

My Mom

I wrote this story in October 2006 for my mother’s old boss Sean who was publishing some stories about my mom in the Homeless Voice in Hollywood, FL where she worked.


My Mom

By Esterina Messeder


Earliest Memory of My Mom

            The earliest memory I have of my mother dates back to when I was three or four years old. I could not have been any older because the memory I have is in a home that we moved out of when I was four. I remember waking up one early morning, and from my bedroom I heard my parents fighting in the kitchen. I heard a plate crack, more screaming, and then my father slamming the door on his way out to where I assume was work. Then I heard the sobs. I waited until I was sure that my father was not coming back in the house, and made my way to the kitchen. Evidence of the argument was left behind by glass on the floor, eggs splattered on the wall, and the kitchen sink running. My mother was sitting on the floor against the left leg of the table with her head in her lap, crying loudly. She did not hear me come in. While I can not recall the exact words that were exchanged, I remember the gist of the conversation. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me she couldn’t stand my father. I asked her why she did not leave him (I had no concept of marriage or divorce), and she said that she never finished school and would not be able to take care of us kids on her own. I remember from that moment on I made a vow to myself to finish school and have the ability to take care of myself so I would not have to depend on a man.


Growing Years with Her

            Over the next 15 years or so if I had to sum up my perception of my mother in one word it would be depressed. The image of her standing in the kitchen washing dishes, hunched over, with a cigarette hanging loosely from her lips, barefooted in a knee-length house dress is what comes to mind when I think of my childhood. I cannot say that there weren’t any happy times; I can distinctly remember a few. But only a few. She seemed so helpless against my father, so un-empowered, and so lonely. I could not help but NOT want to be like her when I grew up. I would fantasize about getting a job, getting her an apartment, and taking care of her so she would not have to depend on my father.


The Turning Point

            But on July 9, 1993 when I was 17 years old everything changed. It was my brother Frankie’s 13th birthday and he wanted McDonalds for dinner. My parents, Frankie, and I were outside eating dinner in the backyard as a family in the early evening. My father started an argument with me about how if my current boyfriend didn’t give me a ring by the end of the year; I would have to break up with him. I argued that I didn’t want to get married young and that I wanted to go to school and have a job first. Well it seemed like whenever I talked what I thought was sense, my father would get mad because I didn’t agree with him. Sometimes it was just yelling, but more often than not there was violence involved and I would get hit. This particular evening it was the latter. As usual the next few minutes would be a blur of trying to shield myself from blows, my mother yelling in the background, and my brother(s) pulling my father off of me. But this time it was different. Only my brother Frankie was there and he didn’t pull my father off of me… he disappeared into the house. My mother tried unsuccessfully to pull him away while I cowered on the floor and was being beaten with a chair. My father just threw my mother to the ground. Then we heard Frankie’s faint voice from in the house telling us calmly that he had just called the police.

This was a monumental moment. No one had ever called the police before. A male and female officer came to the house, and my mother and I were required to go down to the police station to write a report. As a female officer was asking what happened, my mom was being her usual self by defending my father. It was at this time that I think my mother’s perception of the world changed. This woman looked my mother straight in the eye and said “I don’t want to hear any bullshit, look at your daughter, he toked her”. My mother was silent and I could actually see in her the realization that she had been living with a monster. On the way home that night she said told me that she can’t believe she never realized until now that she is not in control, and she promised me that things would change.


The Aftermath

            After that night things did change. I had a restraining order against my father so he was afraid of coming near me. That silly piece of paper really helped me to feel a bit more secure. But still, I could not wait to leave my house. The fighting continued, but I could tell that my mother was stronger and not quite so naïve anymore. As the weeks went by and turned into months, it came closer and closer to the time that I would be graduating high school and having to make a decision about my future. One evening in April 1994, I was in the car with my parents on the way home from seeing an accountant who did our taxes. My father was arguing with me about something or another, and I asked to get out of the car. I was only a mile or two from my house when I walked home alone that night thinking about my future. There was no money for college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and there was no way I could live home any longer. The logical solution was to join the military. When the thought first came to mind I pushed it away because I could not imagine leaving my mother alone with my father and with no other women in the house. But if I wanted my life to be different, if I wanted money to go to college some day and be able to get a decent job and experience so I could take care of myself and not depend on a man like my mother had to, I would need to take this risk and do something that no one in my family has done before… leave.


My Adult Years

            Every day that passed since Frankie’s 13th birthday I watched my mother grow stronger and stronger. She started to have confidence; she was standing up straighter, and smiling more.  When it came time for me to go to boot camp I knew she was sad, but she was so much stronger and happier than she had been just one year earlier. Over the next few years she really made some changes that I was so proud of. She lost some weight, she got dentures because she was so self conscious of her teeth, and most importantly she went back to school. She realized that even she could be happy and it became her mission in life to help others be happy.

But her real happiness did not come until just a few years ago when she picked up her life in the end of 2000 and spontaneously moved to Florida. I was sad to see her go, but I could hear such a difference in her voice. She was a new person. My mother got a job at a homeless shelter down in Florida. Though I never really understood what she was doing, I knew she was happy. She was no longer Cathy the mother, or Cathy the wife, she was Cathy – the person who is making a difference in the lives of people that could not otherwise help themselves. She had a reason to get up in the morning. She had confidence. And I can’t say it enough, but I know that she was a lot happier than she had ever been when she lived back home in New York.

Last summer in 2005 she came up to NY and CT where I live now to visit. While I was driving down to LaGuardia airport to pick her up, I was SO excited to see her. I was imagining her getting on the plane and being just as excited to see me. My husband was calling me every 15 minutes or so from home tracking her plane to let me know where it was in the sky. With every passing minute my anticipation grew. I was so nervous and excited. When her flight let off I watched all the passengers coming toward the baggage claim area. I was enthusiastically looking for her when a lady walked up to me and said “Esterina it’s so good to see you”… it was her! And she looked so different! So different. She was older, calmer, wiser, and far more beautiful than I ever remembered her. I almost didn’t believe this person in front of me was actually my mother. As we walked toward the baggage claim area and she was talking, her voice sounded the same and I realized how much she changed. I was in a complete daze. It took about 10 minutes or so for me to calm down from the excitement. I couldn’t wait to spend the weekend with her, and after she grabbed her suitcase we made our way out to the parking lot to my car. We were only walking a few minutes when she asked me to slow down. She was holding her side and told me that her shoulder hurt. At that moment my excitement disappeared. I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach, but I could not put my finger on it.

Over the next few days my family and I had a wonderful visit with her. First she came back to CT with me, and then we drove her down to New York where we visited with my brothers. She told us stories about all that she was doing in Florida and Venezuela, and all the plans she had, and people she was helping. I didn’t understand most of it, but I was proud of her and the life that she made for herself. But her shoulder hurt, and she had a nasty smoker’s cough, despite the fact that she’d quit smoking a few years earlier. I pushed the thoughts of these odd health things out of my mind, and I made a vow to myself that we should have her come up to visit every year.


The Cancer

            It was the weekend when hurricane Wilma whipped into Florida last October. My husband, kids, and I were spending the weekend at my brother Frankie’s house carving pumpkins with our kids, and celebrating my brother Mario’s birthday a few days early. We ate, drank, and played the music loud. We never heard a phone ringing that evening. Mario went home on Saturday night and we all went to bed. Sunday morning Mario called really early to say that our grandmother had been calling us all night. I checked my messages, and sure enough she had. He said that my grandmother said something is wrong, and to please call my mother just to tell her we love her. Well, Mario called the homeless shelter where my mom was staying and talked to her boss Sean. Sean told him that the day before my mother went to the hospital and there was a mass on her lung. She got nervous, checked herself out of the hospital, and then got on the next flight out of Florida to Venezuela. After Mario called me to tell me the conversation he had with Sean, I hung up the phone and stood speechless in Frankie’s kitchen. The kids were running around, and my husband, Frankie, and Frankie’s girlfriend were all happily chatting away while making breakfast. When they realized that I had hung up the phone and was just standing there, all activity in the house seemed to come to a halt. They were all looking at me… waiting for me to say something, and I blurted out “Mom is dying of lung cancer”.

It was a stupid thing to say at the time because we had no idea what it was. There was just a mass on the lung. It could have been pneumonia. It could have been something else. It could have been a much more mild stage of cancer. But within the next few weeks after all different types of tests in the U.S. and Venezuela we learned that she did indeed have lung cancer. It was stage IV, small-cell lung cancer. These words meant nothing to me until I looked them up on the Internet and learned that the average life expectancy of someone with this type of cancer was only a few months. I was beside myself. I cried that whole first night, and made plans within in the next day or two to visit her by week’s end.

When I went down to Florida I got to see the life my mom had been living. I met all her friends, co-workers, and Sean. She was happy and surrounded by people who loved her. Though I would have liked her to be closer to the family at this crucial time, I saw that she was happy in Florida and thought there might be too many bad memories associated with staying in the New York area. The second day I was there we took a nap in the afternoon. My grandmother was also visiting and was ironing in the next room. My mother told me right after she woke up that she had a dream that my daughter was there with us, and there were 4 generations of women together in the same room.

I visited her quite a bit over the next few months and each time I learned a little bit more about her life. I learned about her experiences as a child growing up. I learned about her father (my grandfather) that I never knew. I learned about what she had been doing in Florida and the close relationship she developed with God. I got much closer to her with every visit, but each time I went down she looked more and more sick. The last time I visited in May, I took the kids down there with me on Mother’s Day weekend. I knew my grandmother and aunt were going to be there and I wanted to make her dream actually come true where there were four generations of women in the same room. I got to her apartment with the kids while she was out at the doctor. When she walked in she was so surprised! And so was I, but not in a good way. She had lost so much weight since the last time I’d seen her, and she had a cane. I acted normal, but inside I knew she wasn’t really getting better. Her right leg was in excruciating pain. The night before Mother’s Day we all went shopping and cooked a fabulous dinner. Everyone contributed a food item to the dinner. We pushed the dining room table to the middle of the room and sat around it for what would be our last big meal like this together (though we didn’t know it at the time). It was such a wonderful, relaxing evening. The next morning on Mother’s Day my mom had a hard time getting out of the bed. I took her to the emergency room where she was checked into the hospital. I didn’t know that when she walked into the ER that day with my kids and me, that it would be the last time she ever walked on her own again.


Last Trip back Home

            Well to make what could be a long story short, she’d spent a lot of time in the hospital over the next few months. Sometime in mid-July her oncologist told my aunt that there was nothing more that he could do. He expected her to last only a few more weeks without treatment. I think all of our hearts broke that day. I was afraid to call my mother. I didn’t know what to say, or how to act. I was secretly relieved every time I called and no one picked up the phone. My mother called my grandmother the next day and asked her if she could “come home”. It was what we all wanted. Sean worked really hard to make her wish come true (God Bless him). I had no idea how bad off she was. When I heard she was too weak to travel on a commercial flight, and that it was dangerous to move her, I have to say that I was shocked that she deteriorated so quickly. After a LOT of cajoling, an air ambulance flight for her to come up to New Jersey was finally scheduled. I was SO happy. But I was nervous for her. It was only a year after the last time she came up this way to us. I was just as happy, but for completely different reasons. Again I imagined her getting on the plane and being just as excited to see us. This was going to be the last time I would be this excited to see my mother.

There were a few good days before her body started to shut down. She had a few good meals and had a few good laughs with us. She got here not a moment too soon. In the last few days we kept vigil by her bedside in my grandmother’s apartment. There was a lot of time to think about her and her life. I feel sad that such a large portion of it was spent miserable, but I am proud of her for turning it around and helping other people. With hospice’s encouragement I talked to her a lot even when she couldn’t talk back. I was surprised with my children’s ease around her. My 9-year old son was holding her hand, talking to her and kissing her. In her last few days and hours I told her how proud I was of her. I told her how she’d shaped my life and taught me through her life that being able to take care of yourself and not depend on anyone else is important. I wondered what she was thinking, what she was remembering. Did she remember the bad times? The day I saw her crying in the kitchen when I was three or four years old? Was she remembering the people she’d helped? I wanted her to know that I learned so much from her. Even when she was lying there on her last day she was teaching me that life is too short to not enjoy it, to hold grudges, or spend too much time over thinking things. I only hope that she is as proud of me right now as I am of her.

This picture resembles mostly how I remember my mom looking from my childhood.


These 3 pictures were taken fourth of July weekend in the summer of 2005 before we found out she was sick. She did have cancer at this time. We just didn’t know it. It was the last carefree time we spent with her.



She passed away right before midnight on August 6th 2006, but hospice didn’t arrive until after mid-night so the official date is listed as 8/7/06. We spread her ashes on what would have been her 50th birthday on October 25th that same year. We went to Steeplechase Pier in Brooklyn where she grew up and raised us kids until I was almost a teenager.


If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog