Thursday, March 14, 2024

Somewhere In Time

What we leave behind, is not as important as how we lived. Or so they say. I have always been a private person, yet here I am putting words to paper (screen) on my blog, about this of all things. Talk about a living, breathing embodiment of an oxymoron. Some might even drop the oxy part when talking about me, God knows I have earned it over the years. 

Tomorrow will be a month to the day that my mom passed away after fighting a brief battle against what is medically termed, interstitial lung disease, accelerated by Covid. I still have a tough time believing it happened, even now as I write this. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the day would eventually come.  She was 79 years old and had several health issues. But for it to happen like this, and in less than a month, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully wrap my mind around it. 

Mom was a tough New “Yawk” broad, right from the old neighborhood in Little Italy. If you have ever seen the movie Donnie Brasco, that was the literal neighborhood and atmosphere she was raised in, and me to a small extent. I have so many emotions coursing through my veins right now it is almost impossible to lock down which one is taking the lead, be it grief, melancholy, remorse, regret, or gratefulness. 

All I know is, there is an emptiness that I’m all too familiar with, since I lost my dad when I was just seventeen. It is an emptiness that I know will subside over time, as losing my dad did. It is not like I have gotten over it; nobody really get’s over losing anyone, you just learn to adapt. Paul Rudd in an interview recently said it best when talking about when he lost his dad to Cancer and he said, “When you lose a parent, the world is off its axis and never rights itself…you adapt or perish..”

I too would have so many questions if I could ask her. If Rudd could talk to his dad, he knows exactly what he would say. "I'd go back to that conversation. 'So, what is there after? Does God exist? Is it super kickass after you die, and can you go anywhere you want? And can you go to the farthest reaches of space, and, like, look around the bottom of the ocean and be everywhere, and check in on all of us?' “When you died, did you float above and see everything down? And did you just feel all your dead relatives coming around? And if so, how far back did that go? Did you stop at the grandparents, or did you have great-great-grandparents that you never knew that were like, 'Mike, finally. Great to see you.' Wait till you see what this whole thing's about. Get ready for your mind to be blown.”

Towards the end of her life, around 2020 when Covid hit, mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Just as it did to her mother and her mother’s sister, the insidiousness of that disease was slowly taking her away from us. I am grateful that it did not progress as far as it did with her mom which was truly heartbreaking. I don’t know how my daughter would’ve managed seeing her Nanny like that, even as bad as her disease was towards the end. Of all the diseases known to man, even Covid which accelerated her interstitial lung disease, Alzheimer’s is truly evil that it destroys the person without their awareness. Perhaps it’s for the best considering. It’s always the caregivers that feel the brunt of it the most.

I am thankful for having my mother as long as I did. I’m also thankful that she knew who we all were right up to the end.  She was surrounded by most of all her favorite people. I know in my heart that she is in a far better place now. Part of me is jealous because she has all the answers that we try so desperately to answer in this world, knowing full well the futility in that. I will leave you with my eulogy that I will give for her tomorrow.  

“Good afternoon, everyone. Barbara, Emma, my family, and I thank you all for being here today to say goodbye to MaryAnn, my mom. I want to especially thank Assemblyman Robert Clifton and the honorable Kenneth Smith, Superintendent of Brigadier General William C. Doyle cemetery for all they and their staff have done. I also want to thank the nurses and doctors at CenterState hospital for doing everything they could to help my mother. You all have our everlasting gratitude. 

MaryAnn was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a big sister to, as she would always say, her “baby brother” Johnny. She was Nanny, a grandma to her best friend in the world, Emma, and she was a friend to so many. If you were in her circle, you were loved beyond words, and if you were not in her circle, also in her words, fuhgeddaboudit. 

I once heard a saying that time was a predator that stalks us all our lives. I would rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment because they will never come again. 

MaryAnn Aldana Spector was born August the 6th 1944. She was a chip off the Aldana block without question. She was raised on the tough streets in the lower east side of New York City. She was a Hester Street kid. Some of the earliest and let us just say colorful memories of her childhood that she told me was how she had met her dad, Charlie, for the first time. 

You see, Charlie was serving in the United States Army and was deployed to France during WWII. He took part in the Invasion of Normandy and through the grace of God, he made it back home a few years later to his loving wife Clara and his baby girl MaryAnn. The first time she saw her father she said, and I did confirm this, I quote, she asked him, “Who the fuck are you?” 

The stories I was raised on, about her life growing up in New York City, was something right out of a Hollywood movie. Granted the movie was more like The Godfather than something wholesome like Miracle on 34th Street, but she was never one to sugar coat anything. She told me stories of how gangsters would visit the family on occasion and how her Grandpa John would make wine in the cellar and “gift” it to those “certain” people in “the neighborhood.” She even told me how she was caught sampling that wine with a loaf of Italian bread at half the age my daughter is right now. 

She loved her little baby brother more than words could ever do justice. She would always look out for him when they were growing up and protect him. She would buy him candy and his comic books but as with most brother/sister relationships, there were some occasional moments of blackmail. When her brother would do something bad, such as lighting firecrackers inside the cracks of the walls of their house, he would tell his sister not to squeal on him or he would tell mommy and daddy that she was smoking. 

Many years later she met my father, Hal Spector and they married and did the greatest thing ever, they had me. I wasn’t the first, although I am the one and only child they had, mom had a few miscarriages before me. She would always say how if they had survived, she would have named us all Joseph, Jason, and Jeremy. My mom was officially the first Kardashian and didn’t even know it. 

A few months after I was born, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Their marriage, like most marriages, was not some idealistic Norman Rockwell portrait. My father had issues along with his disease, but mom loved him dearly and cared for him as his disease progressed. 

Perhaps he didn’t deserve that unconditional love; mom never really spoke too much of it, but I could see that as I got older, how strained life was for them and how MS didn’t just ruin one physically but emotionally as well. Still, she remained by his side up to the day he passed in 1993. 

Their love for each other, even in its most challenging times, defined itself at my dad’s funeral. I had never seen my mother more heart broken. While a part of her may have died that day, out of that pain rose a woman beyond determined. As time passed, she would go on to care for her aging parents. She was always the one caring for someone else; she was always the caregiver. It was something ingrained in her, almost spiritually. She would tell me when she was younger that she always wanted to become a nurse, and I could see why. 

She had tremendous pride in the fact that her father had served in World War II. Her knowledge of military history was almost encyclopedic. This was a woman more comfortable sitting down and watching a movie like The Dirty Dozen than a romantic comedy. How many of you here under the age of fifty know who Audie Murphy was? Well, I do, because of her. 

When I was in high school, I had the distinct honor of having written a play for the Alumni of Rollins College in Florida. Looking back, it was quite intimidating for a 16-year-old to be thrown into the spotlight like that and what made it even more daunting was the fact that a personal hero of mine, a man by the name of Fred Rogers was in the audience judging the plays. We all know him better as Mr. Rogers. 

I remember how proud that moment made my mother and years later, when Fred Rogers was fighting his last battle against Cancer, being the man that he was, he made it a priority to prepare children for his eventual death. When he died his website had posted a link to help children cope and understand what happened. The post simply read, “Remember that feelings are natural and normal, and that happy times and sad times are a part of everyone’s life.” He went on to say, “The connections we make in the course of a life, maybe that's what Heaven is.” 

You see, we are not given a great deal of time in these physical bodies of ours. As I have grown older my views on life after death have evolved. While my faith has been strained and tested over the years, my belief in science tells me that your soul, your life force, your chi, whichever word you choose, is an energy that at the time of death moves from this 3 dimensional existence into one that is still a mystery to us all, and probably always will be. Perhaps even by design. As the law states, energy is neither created nor destroyed. It is eternal. It does not disappear. We simply change. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. 

However, we often spend our time here living wastefully, as if we have been magically granted immortality. You know it’s funny, here I am almost 50 years old and still deciding what kind of person I want to be. Nobody tells you when you lose a parent or parents, that it feels like that kid who had his training wheels finally taken off his bike. Sure, you have been an adult. You have married. Had a kid and all of that but are you happy with the person you have become that your parents raised? Think about that. 

Death has a sneaky way of making you re-evaluate life. It is never too late to change. It is never too late to forgive. It’s never too late to ask for forgiveness. None of this is going to last exceptionally long. It will be gone before we even realize it. 

We should be grateful for the people, the connections, everything that is dear in our lives right now. Seize this time. Live for now. Make now always the most precious time. Because now will never come again. So, spend your time doing good things. True, do no harm, but also do your best to be of value to others. Wake up and live a meaningful life. Live a life of love. 

When we lose a parent, no matter their age or even our age, we feel lost, even orphaned. But you must keep breathing. Because tomorrow, the sun will rise. Wouldn't it be amazing if our time here, living in this world, has been preparing us for the true meaning of our existence once we're gone? Maybe all this time, we’ve just been waiting for those training wheels to finally fall off.”

Love you always mom.  I will see you again.  Somewhere in Time. 

Mary Ann Spector

August 6th, 1944 - February 15th, 2024

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