Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One Year Later

I've been thinking about this for months; the anniversary of my brother's death. And here I am, a few days from the one year mark (and a few days from his birthday) and I still don't know what to do. Last year, hours after I got the call that Ralph had died, I returned home from the hospital and my mother's house. It was the middle of the night and I was alone.So I wrote. I cried and I paced the halls, and dug out pictures that I hadn't looked at in 10 years and I wrote. I did this for hours because I didn't know what else to do. I was so consumed with raw grief and regret and pain that I didn't know how else to get it out. So I wrote what ever came to my mind and within minutes I had written something that came strictly from my heart. I posted it on Facebook, tagging people I thought may want to know. I wasn't sure if I had done the right thing but at that moment, I didn't really care. My brother was dead.

After sleeping for about 2 hours, I got up and began to plan my brother's funeral. I felt compelled to run the show because I was so desperately afraid that who Ralph was as a person would get lost in the formality of a funeral. The Catholic guilt reared it's head early when my mother insisted on a viewing. I reminded my mother of Ralph's own severe aversion to funerals and distaste for anything of ceremony and the idea was nixed within a few minutes. We were unfortunately stuck with a Catholic funeral as my mother insisted on burying Ralph with my father, but knowing how much Ralph admired my dad, it was a necessary evil. We went to great lengths to balance the ridiculous rules of the Catholic Church with who Ralph was. I had been thinking of ways to put Ralph's signature on his funeral and as I wrote a very personalized obituary, it became clear that of all things, Ralph was a legend maker. Everybody had a Ralph story. That night Ralph died, all I could think about were those crazy moments between 2 siblings 12 years apart in age and how in spite of it all, we managed to be so connected.  So we put together what we called "his real funeral" - a memory book that paid tribute to who Ralph was in the context of our family. And in the context of the music he loved so much. And we gave it to everyone at the funeral because we knew that there was no Catholic funeral that could ever do who Ralph was, and what he meant to us, justice.

This year has been difficult. The most difficult this far of my life. I cannot fully express the pain of losing a sibling to someone who has not been there. I have lost my father. I have lost friends. I have lost a marriage. Nothing compares to the pain of losing Ralph. In a single moment, my family constellation changed in a way I never expected it to. At 38 years old, I had to consider that my other brother and sisters could die and I would be the only one left. As one of six siblings, I became racked with guilt for only having one child. And as irrational as that sounds, I was consumed with that for months.

It has been a slow road back to normalcy and normal doesn't look the same without Ralph. But looking back over the past year, I learned a few amazing things about myself and the people around me.

- I learned my mother is a much stronger woman than I ever believed. When I was 11 years old, my father died, leaving my mother widowed at 44. Having been a stay at home mother and wife to a domineering Italian businessman, my mother did not have the self esteem to believe that she could go out and start over. It was years before my mother ever got a job and the recurrent themes of a Irish Catholic housewife never really went away. I truly believed my mother could not survive the death of her own child. But she has. She has gotten out of bed and continued to live her life the best she can knowing that she has buried her son. She still laughs and keeps Ralph's memory alive through allowing all of us to celebrate who he was (warts and all). She has helped the grandchildren through losing Ralph by meeting them where they are in the process, even if it means having to read the newspaper article my 7 year old nephew wrote shortly after Ralph passed announcing his death (literally - it read "Extra....Ralph died").

- I learned children can process grief and pain in a healthy way, even helping us grown ups along the way. I remember feeling such fear after my father's death; much of it in reaction to my mother's own shock and despair. My biggest fear when Ralph died was that moment Stephen and I sat Max down to tell him. I was convinced I would rip his sense of security out from under him in the same way it had happened to me. And that wasn't the case. In many ways, Max took care of me, intuitively understanding my need to grieve. He showed me none of the fear that I had internalized as a child. For days, Max would come into my room in the morning and put his fingers on my closed eyes checking to see if I was crying in my sleep. He admonished me on my 1st day back to work for trying to cover up the dark circles under my swollen eyes, saying "Everyone knows you've been crying, Mommy." Like trying to hide it was the dumbest idea in the world. And my favorite of all of the grief moments - Max coming into my bedroom as I sat on my bed crying, blowing my nose for the thousandth time and saying "Come in the living room and sit with me Mommy. You're killing trees with all that crying."

-I learned that my family; the good, the bad and the ugly, continue to be my family and that I wouldn't have it any other way. I thank God everyday that I was raised in a family where there is no need to pretend not to see the writing on the wall. I see too many brothers and sisters, parents and children adhere to a polite formality that fails to tap into the most intimate parts of the self. If you can't be real with your own family, you will never be real with yourself.

-Finally I have come to terms with my relationship with my brother. It would be so easy to have regrets about the could have's or the would have's. But what made Ralph who he was and me who I am is our strong, often pigheaded convictions. It was not all, as Ralph would say, "roses". It was a relationship of real ups and downs. Real disagreements and fierce loyalty. All that is good and bad about Irish-Italian tempers. But there were alot of laughs. You couldn't have been raised a Ciliberti and not know how to laugh. And for that I am most grateful. Because I had a brother who I loved and who loved me. And we laughed. And we fought. And then we laughed again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shining the Spotlight On.....Wendy (because isn't it there anyway?)

This is the 2nd installment in my "Shining the Spotlight On" Series and it was with great contemplation that I chose Wendy. You see, I take these series very seriously and I need to have something worth shining the spotlight on in order to feel inspired enough to put pen to paper (symbolically speaking). But with Wendy's recent graduation from the MBA program at University of Delaware, I felt this was the perfect time to hit the on switch on my spotlight and tell her story.

Wendy Gable was born in South Jersey and spent much of her youth in the orchards of the greater Bridgeton area frolicking with a core group of friends that she remains close with today. I must say this is one of things I admire most about Wendy; her deep rooted ties with people she's known her entire life. I have kept in touch with almost no one from my youth except through Facebook and that's only been in the last 2 years. But Wendy and her Jersey friends have continued to be an integral part of each others lives, sharing life's ups and downs.

I first met Wendy in the mid-90's while I was bartending at the Kennett Square Inn (a recurring theme for this series no doubt). And as many of you know, I did not like her. Night after night, Wendy and her friend Mary would come at sit at my bar and Wendy would whine and drink and give out way TMI (and this was even before we were abbreviating such things) about her life. And her voice got on my nerves. I don't know why,  because I can no longer hear whatever it was all those years ago that drove me crazy about it. But it did. So I, at best, tolerated Wendy.

I lost track of Wendy for a few years because, quite frankly, I wasn't that interested in where she was. It was in the summer of  '00 that I ran into Wendy once again at the Kennett Square Inn. I was in the middle of a personal crisis and Wendy interrupted it without so much as a glance my way (shocking). I had spent the evening having a meltdown as my marriage crumbled and was crying my eyes out to Steve Warner, the owner of the Kennett Square Inn, when Wendy plopped herself down at the table and asked if she could become a bartender. Now I listened to this exchange and thought to myself  "Clearly, Steve will see this girl is crazy and tell her to pound sand." But instead he offered her a job and told her to come in the following Monday (or Tuesday). And she agreed. And when she walked away, I said to Steve, "You are not really going to let her bartend here, are you?" Steve replied, "Why? Wendy's great." And I said "Whatever" and went back to my crumbling life.

Fast forward to the next week and I go walking into the Kennett Square Inn to get dinner, feeling sorry for myself again. As I round the corner into the bar, I see a nervous Wendy standing behind the bar. I also see the manager at the time motion Wendy over to her and whisper something. Years later, I come to find out that the manager had been warning Wendy that I was nothing more than a plant that Steve paid (in a variety of currencies) to watch the goings-on of the Inn while he was away. Apparently, Steve and I were engaged in a hot and heavy love affair that was so hot and heavy neither of us even knew it was going on.

Because I was disinterested and depressed in general, I didn't pay much attention to Wendy until she came over, looking all nervous trying to find a bottle of liquor. Now, since I was a paid plant, I knew where this bottle was. But I wasn't really sure I wanted to tell Wendy. Maybe I wanted her to squirm. But after about 30 seconds, it was clear this girl was like a deer in the headlights when it came to bartending. And so I preceded to spend the next 3 hours training the girl with the annoying voice on how to make a vodka tonic.

Over the course of the next few months, I spent every week at the Inn teaching Wendy how to make a drink, fluff a trash bag and cut fruit. And then after a period of time, on occasion, Wendy and I would actually have a drink together. By the fall, I had struck up a friendship with Wendy's friend, Mary and by default, the three of us started hanging out together. 3 single ladies in the big city.

In January of 2001, I packed up all of my stuff out of my dream house in Oxford and moved it into a studio apartment in one of the Warner Brother's investment properties, 131 East State Street (or as we liked to call it The Estates). And as my friends helped me move my furniture into my studio through a sliding glass window that lead out to the porch, Wendy came walking down the fire escape (or as we liked to call it "the fire escape of life") next to my apartment. Because while I started my life over in a studio apartment, Wendy was well established in the spacious 2 bedroom next door.

Now, this period of my life, while sad in so many ways, marked some of the most memorable fun moments I had ever had. And all of that fun involved Wendy. I mean, lets face it, Wendy is fun. We were 30 years old and we were having a ball. We dated losers, we drank too much, we smoked too much and we spent hours analyzing all of it. We spun elaborate tales about wheels of cheese and ice cream covered in bread. We inserted ourselves into other people's drama just to make things interesting (although neither of us ever crashed a graduation party, guns ablazin'). We had Seinfeld moments, my favorite of which is getting trapped behind her Pap-pap's sleeper sofa as it sprung open when we tried to move it down the hall.

So, its 9 years later and Wendy and I have survived September 11, me having a baby, failed relationships, deaths of family and friends, multiple moves, arguments, the Blizzards of 2010, graduate school and a host of other curve balls life throws at you over the course of a person's life. And we've gotten on each others nerves and told each other the way it was when neither of us wanted to hear it. But unlike the men, the moves and the curve balls that have come and gone, our friendship still remains. Because sometimes, when God slams a door in your face, He leaves your friend in the room with you.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blogging for Blogging's Sake

I don't have alot to say. Well I do but I'm not ready to go there. I hate June for a variety of reasons. My father died 28 years ago today. The 1st day of summer vacation. 1st thing in the morning. My brother died the last day of June a year ago. Late in the evening. My marriage came crashing down around me in June. I hate June.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Rant: Why I Hate Bank of America

Explain to me how someone is in charge of processing your mortgage and yet is never there to process it. I get it - buying a house is stressful. I know; I've done it before. But the incompetency of Bank of America is almost too much to bear. I wish I could fire them right now but if I have any hopes of settling before June 30 and securing my tax credit money, I'm stuck.

I must say, my loan officer, Stephanie has been exceptional. I would love to give anyone her number if they were looking for a loan, except for one problem. She works for Bank of America. Once she handed the loan off to the processor, I entered no man's land. In Stephanie's defense, she checked in with me periodically and in fact, any time I really need to get through to the bonehead processor, she made it happen.

It started with a list of standard, ridiculous requests. Can you send us a picture of your family? Can you tell us what kind of food you like to eat? Can we see the bank statements of your next door neighbor's cousin? While I found the requests a little intrusive, I complied and was left with just a few things I needed to provide; specifically things related to the sale of the house Stephen and I owned together. And this was a problem. Because not only did Bank of America hold the existing mortgage, they were also the ones in charge of  processing Stephen's refinance. It took about 2 months for them to finally send the packet to underwriting and then they had to cancel settlement 3 times due to paperwork errors on their part. They miscalculating something and had to call at the last minute and tell Stephen the payout was off by $10,000. By the day of settlement, that number had shrunk to only $7000 the original number. They also sent papers that had me resigning onto the loan that I was coming off of.  Then they failed to release the settlement funds. Then they made the check out to Stephen instead of me. It wasn't until this past Thursday that Stephen was able to deposit the check into the bank. And apparently his bank doesn't have alot of faith in Bank of America because they put a 5 day hold on the check.

So earlier this week, I get a call from Stephanie asking is the appraisal division had ever sent me the report. I told her no, that Kevin, my processor had said he was sending it a few weeks ago. He never did so I assumed it was ok. It was not. In fact the appraisal was much lower than the contract price and no one ever felt the need to let me know until 10 days before settlement. This may be the only positive that has occurred because I managed to get a $20,000 price reduction.

Then I get an email from Kevin, who I haven't heard from since about May 18th, asking for a list of things he needs from me. These things include signed HUD1 and warranty deeds on the house Stephen and I had owned. When I investigated this and tracked down the settlement agent at 9:30 Thursday night, she explained that all signed documents are sent back to Bank of America and because we settled in the house, we didn't get signed copies, instead electronic ones (without signatures).They also wanted Max's birth certificate to prove that Stephen is Max's father but that's a whole other story. Kevin also told me to just wait until Friday morning to send anything because he was going to make sure everything was sorted out. He never emailed. I called. I emailed. I called Stephanie. I emailed Stephanie. At 6:30pm on Friday night I was informed that Kevin was on vacation until June 14 (my settlement is June 11) and that because I have failed to get them the requested items (that I was waiting to hear from Kevin about), I will not be able to settle on Friday.

And this is why I hate Bank of America.