Another 30-Day Song Challenge: Days 22-30

With all the upheaval going on lately in my life, I realized I never quite got around to finishing the 30-Day Song Challenge over here on the blog! So, let’s lighten things up and take a look at the last songs of this challenge.

Day 22: A Song That Moves You Forward

“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

How can one not have this song in their playlist? It’s the perfect song for getting all the negative energy and toxic relationships out of one’s life. It’s the ultimate “moving me forward” song.

Day 23: A Song You Think Everyone Should Listen To

“Taxi” by Harry Chapin

I think I’ve written about my dad’s love of Harry Chapin before, and this song is simply a *chef’s kiss* on top of an incredible career of one of the most underrated singer-songwriters in the history of popular music. It’s a bit of a long song, but the story it tells is kind of relatable (a taxi driver has a reunion with the one who got away when she hails his cab) and it probably brings up similar memories of ones who got away when people listen to it. The story goes that when Chapin was invited to perform it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the reception was so incredible that Carson supposedly invited him back on the show to perform it again the following night…although the show’s archives do not show that it actually happened. But Carson did have him come back a couple of months later to perform another song called “Sniper”. Chapin ended up making 14 appearances on The Tonight Show between 1972 and 1979 (Chapin died in 1981). I remember watching Harry Chapin’s episode of Behind the Music and my dad was watching it with me. A bit of “Taxi” was played during the episode, and my dad actually said the line, “Harry, keep the change” along with the recording. The song proved so popular that Chapin released a follow-up single, called “Sequel”, in 1980. And one last thing about this song: the guy singing the bridge on this song (“Baby’s so high, she’s skying…”) also sings the bass vocals on another Chapin song, “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” (written about an actual truck accident that took place in Scranton, Pennsylvania in the 1960s) and also was the singing voice for Bluto in the movie Popeye (which stars Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall). His name is John Wallace, or “Big John”.

Day 24: A Song By a Band You Wish Was Still Together

“Monty Got a Raw Deal” by R.E.M.

A lot of my favorite bands overall are British, but my absolute favorite American band is R.E.M., followed pretty closely by the Eagles. Unfortunately, R.E.M. decided to amicably split up in 2011, but they left behind a catalog that really helped to define the sound of a generation. They were alternative before alternative was cool, they were game changers without the baggage and fad labels of grunge, and they made incredible music as a single unit, with lead singer Michael Stipe usually handling the lyrics, while the other three members (guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry) composed the music. R.E.M. has a lot of great songs in their catalog, but this album cut from Automatic for the People (possibly one of the best albums released in the 1990s) is one of my favorites. It’s a song about the actor Montgomery Clift, who was considered a sex symbol in his early career in the 1950s, but a car accident in 1956 left him severely injured and kickstarted an addiction to prescription painkillers and alcohol that ultimately contributed to his death from heart disease in 1966 at the age of 45. In addition, Clift was also closeted in his adult life, believed to be at the very least bisexual (although his friend Elizabeth Taylor would later refer to him as gay) in a time where being openly homosexual was not only discouraged, but often illegal. Michael Stipe might have used this information about Clift in writing the lyrics for “Monty Got a Raw Deal”, because a couple of years after Automatic for the People was released, Stipe came out as LGBT, although he did not put a specific label on his sexuality at the time. In a 2001 interview, Stipe would later clarify that he identifies as queer.

Day 25: A Song by an Artist No Longer Living

“Fashion” by David Bowie

David Bowie is another artist with an incredible catalog of songs, but I just absolutely love the groove in “Fashion”. It’s got a little bit of a disco element to it, but Bowie puts his own spin to it, and it’s got that coolness 😎 that he is so famous for showing on his records.

Day 26: A Song That Makes You Want to Fall in Love

“Angel Eyes” by The Jeff Healey Band

It may seem ironic that a blind singer (Jeff Healey lost his sight as a child due to a rare form of cancer, and it was cancer that would later take his life in 2008) is singing about making a woman’s “angel eyes” turning his way, but this song was actually co-written by John Hiatt (of “Have a Little Faith in Me” fame), who is sighted. But it was Healey who made this song famous. And every time I listen to it, my heart ends up aching because I want someone to feel the same way about me that he’s describing in the song.

Day 27: A Song That Breaks Your Heart

“Veronica” by Elvis Costello

I had picked this song for this challenge not knowing that my mom would pass away less than a month later. It’s been less than three weeks now since she died, but it’s already starting to feel like an eternity ago that she was here. It’s a void I’m learning how to live with. But Elvis Costello had co-written this song with Paul McCartney about Costello’s grandmother, Veronica, who suffered from the same disease that took my mom, Alzheimer’s. It’s relatable, at least to me, and it hits me in the jellies. I’m actually going to include both the music video and studio versions of the song, because in the music video he actually talks about what it was like being around his grandmother while she was living with the disease.

Day 28: A Song by an Artist Whose Voice You Love

“Cherry Wine” by Hozier

I think I’ve mentioned how much I enjoy listening to Hozier when I wrote about “Take Me to Church” in my post Losing My Religion. This song is another one from his self-titled debut album, and it touches on a subject rarely talked about: a woman abusing a man. (The music video also deals with the subject matter of abuse, but makes the woman the victim instead of the man like in the song.) The song itself is sad, but it takes true talent to make good art out of pain and suffering.

Day 29: A Song You Remember from Your Childhood

“I Can’t Dance” by Genesis

Seriously. This is one of the first music videos I ever remember watching. The music video is a spoof on fashion commercials and even works a little bit of the lyrics into the video (“…her dog’s talking to me but she’s out of reach…”).

Day 30: A Song That Reminds You of Yourself

“At Seventeen” by Janis Ian

The opening lines, “I learned the truth at seventeen / That love was meant for beauty queens…”, really resonate with me. I have something to confess about myself: I’ve never felt I was ever particularly beautiful, and the sad truth is that I’ve never had a man that I was attracted to ever tell me that I was “pretty” or “beautiful”. This is one of the few songs out there that really speaks out to the “ugly ducklings”, but unlike the story, I don’t think I’ve ever developed into swan…I’ve just become an ugly duck. Or, at the very least, a plain duck. It talks so much about how if you’re pretty, you get more advantages in life…but do they really end up happier? Whereas all of us plain girls get thrust into this world with nothing but dreams and we have to work for everything we have, from relationships to success and independence. And perhaps us plain girls end up happier than the girls who got by on their looks because we appreciate the effort it took for us to get there. “And dreams were all they gave for free / To ugly duckling girls like me…”

Thanks for sticking with me through all of this. And I hope you enjoy my song picks!

The Newest Normal

It’s been two weeks since Mom died. Her ashes came home last Saturday, my dad returned to work on Sunday, and the hospital bed that she spent her final months in was sold on Monday. Most of her legal and financial affairs have been settled, and my dad has been taking care of all of that since her death on the 10th.

I would say that this is the beginning of a “new normal”, but the truth is that while we were caring for Mom in her final years, there were a lot of “new normals”. So, in reality, this is the beginning of the newest normal for me and my dad as we begin life as a widower and his adult daughter living in the same house, trying to figure out where we go from here.

The first night being completely alone in the house with Dad at work was a little strange and nerve racking. Sleeping in my own bed for the first time in about three years without the prospect of either having my mother walk into it during a sundowning, trying to take her to the bathroom, attempting to calm her down during nighttime anxiety, or checking on her to make sure she was sleeping comfortably (especially in her last months) was a strange feeling. Roxy also apparently felt as nervous as I did, as she climbed into my bed with me that first night and eventually kept pressing her body weight into my legs, which, while that makes her feel comfortable, is absolute hell on me and makes it hard for me to sleep. So, I was awake quite a few times that first night by myself.

Monday saw the sale of Mom’s hospital bed. The buyer was a young firefighter (who was around my age, give or take five years) who lived in our hometown but worked at a fire department in a neighboring county. He was in need of a bed in order to care for his own mother, although I didn’t learn much more about him or his mother’s condition. He brought over some of his fellow firefighters to help him load the bed into a trailer for transport, and we also gave him some of the unused supplies we had from caring for Mom, including wipes, oral cleaning supplies, and a wastebasket and liners for it that basically works like a large Diaper Genie. (We made sure the wastebasket was thoroughly cleaned before giving that to him.) Most of the money from the sale went into the bank, but Dad did keep a little bit of the cash and split some between the two of us. Let’s just say it’s enough to fund a trip to the local bookstore and still have some left over, if I spend it wisely. That trip likely won’t happen this weekend, but I’ll keep it in mind.

Monday night I got to talk to The Lady Bryan for the first time in a long time. (I always link to her blog when I mention her because she is an awesome person and an awesome writer and I always feel the duty to try and spread her awesomeness to as many people as possible. So, check her blog out if you’d like. She doesn’t update very regularly, but when she does post it can be entertaining.) It was easier said than done, because my cell phone (an iPhone 5s that was my dad’s before he upgraded to his current phone) has a tendency to overheat and crash when it is not connected to the charger (and that includes during calls). So, when she and I agreed to a call that night, it was initially supposed to be over our house phone…but the static was just too much, so I switched over to my cell phone. Thankfully, it was connected to the charger and behaved itself the entire time. My dad and I are trying everything we can to prolong this phone’s life, but being that it’s a seven-year-old model that Apple isn’t even releasing operating system updates for beyond iOS 12 anymore, my guess is that we will likely need to replace it at some point…but that will have to be up to my dad. Anyways, our conversation lasted a good two hours, and we talked about just about everything, from her son’s latest interests to my nieces’ mischief-making (R. has gone from “threenager” to “fourrible” — although I only mean “fourrible” in an adorable way — and The Bambina has turned into a human squirrel, trying to climb her way onto everything or attempting to escape her high chair…but doing it in a cute way). When I laid down to go to sleep that night, Roxy actually stayed in the living room, and thus my legs were spared the Wrath of Dog.

Tuesday night I attempted to do some yoga and picked a routine on YouTube that was supposed to help prepare the body for sleep. I learned a few things from that one:

  • Perhaps placing the mat right in front of the TV wasn’t the best idea. There was one point in the routine where I was on my back doing a twisting pose involving my legs and my arms had nowhere to stretch out to, so I ended up extending them up by my head. (We rearranged the living room after clearing out Mom’s bed so now there’s a large central area of floor and we’ve moved the coffee table out of the way.)
  • My body kinda looks like a roly-poly when I do yoga. I don’t have so much flexibility because of my weight, so I couldn’t do all of the poses exactly to the video, but going into it I knew I was going to try and do them to the best of my ability, so as not to over-exert myself. I wasn’t going to be mad at myself if I couldn’t stretch all the way to my toes or get my knees all the way to the floor in a twisting pose.
  • Apparently my right side needs more work in the flexibility department when it comes to lower body poses.
  • A towel really does make the difference, especially when doing a pose that involves knees on the mat (our carpet is old and not very fluffy, so I pretty much just feel concrete under my knees, which can leave them feeling sore for several days if I’m not careful).

I’m not sure it helped my sleep a whole lot that night, but Roxy behaved herself that night and stayed in the living room. I’m thinking of incorporating some workouts from a different YouTube channel that involve low impact movements and also incorporate dance into some of the workouts.

Wednesday was a tiring day for me, not necessarily because of the yoga. Maybe it was a reaction to stress and/or caffeine withdrawal, but my body just felt worn out, as did my mind. My emotions were verging on depressed, like I just couldn’t shake this little nugget of negativity that was inside me. A cup of instant cappuccino did help a little bit, and I ended up taking a couple of naps during the day to try and help my energy level. I decided to try and take it easy that evening, and I ended up watching the Grand Final from Eurovision 2008 on YouTube.

Wednesday night, though, was kinda hellish. Roxy is sometimes prone to developing anxiety at night, and I can always tell when this happens because she will actually start to tremble. This has happened for as long as we’ve had her, and thankfully this doesn’t happen all the time. So, after dealing with my legs being smooshed, I actually moved over to my dad’s bed for a little while, as it’s bigger and has more room — both for my legs to stretch and for Roxy to stretch as well. Usually the way I try to calm her down when she’s feeling anxious is to have her lay next to me and I’ll try to rub her or hug her. Easier said than done, given her size. (She’s not a huge dog, but still…70 pounds or so of dog is a lot pressing up against you.) She was still a bit trembly, even after moving back to my bed, but she seemed to do okay once the sun rose because by the time I got up for the morning, she had actually gone back out to the living room. Maybe she doesn’t like the dark and quiet so much? Or perhaps her grief over losing Mom (who, as I’ve said before, Roxy considered to be a snuggle buddy and felt comfortable laying with) just got to her that night? Her mind is a mystery to me sometimes.

And Thursday, yesterday, was my dad’s first day off for the week. When we were caring for Mom, this was sort of my reset day, as I had the other half of my tag team at home. Even now, this is sort of a reset day, a reset from the evening solitude that I’m trying to prevent from turning into loneliness. We spent it napping in our living room seats and then we ordered groceries for the week. (We ordered them off the Walmart website and then Dad picked them up a few hours later, which is what my brother has also been doing for his house as well. The pickup service is free there, so it’s cheaper than getting them delivered. Given the coronavirus, contact between the shopper loading the car and the customer is minimal, basically just confirming the customer’s identity and order and letting them know when to open their trunk or hatch. My dad’s Jeep also has a button both up front and in the back where he can press it and the hatch will automatically begin closing. Once he brought the groceries home, I helped him unload the Jeep and then I began putting the groceries away. One week’s worth of groceries for just two people doesn’t take very long to put away.

We’re both trying to find a routine that works for us. We’ll be mourning Mom’s loss for months and years to come, but now we’re trying to learn how to live as just the two of us. It’s still too soon to talk about what’s next for us long-term, but right now we are just trying to take it day by day. When the calendar turns to July in a few days, we’ll be rounding the first of many corners. I don’t know if we could have been able to get through those first few days after Mom’s death without each other. Such is life for a new widower and his daughter.

The Longest Goodbye

My mother passed away on Wednesday morning after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She was only 67 and would have turned 68 next month. I’m not going to go into all of the details of her death, other than that she died in her sleep and she had been experiencing somewhat of a rapid downturn in the last couple of days. This was a day that we were expecting to come, but to have it actually happen still feels surreal and it can hit you like a ton of bricks. She will be cremated (as her parents were) and my dad has expressed his desire to have the urn with her ashes placed in his casket whenever he dies (hopefully a long time from now), as he wants to be buried. My mom was a lapsed Catholic and my dad was raised Protestant (at times he has identified as Southern Baptist, but he does not attend church). Both denominations frown upon cremation, but as her ashes will ultimately be buried at some point, I don’t think most Catholics will have a problem with that. It had been many decades since she had attended mass anyway.

I’ve written about her condition on here before, and when I wrote about it in detail for the first time, it felt like a huge weight lifted off me, as only my family and closest friends really knew about it at the time. A lot of times when this disease strikes, the person is usually quite old and the loved ones who are at my age are usually their grandchildren, not their children. When my grandfather (her father) was battling this same disease, he was a bit older (in his 70s) when he first started showing symptoms, and my uncle (who took on his care and affairs) eventually made the decision to place him in a nursing home, where he spent his final years. When he passed away in September 2014, I hadn’t seen him since my brother’s high school graduation in 2008. My grandfather actually outlived my uncle by three weeks (my uncle died in August 2014, and while my aunt, who we had strained relations with, never told us his cause of death, I suspect it was related to his alcoholism). My grandfather’s death was something I had seen coming for a while, but by that point he was a bit of a distant memory, and I think the pain of seeing her father like that became too much for my mom, which is probably why she stopped visiting him. She was always an emotional creature, an empath.

Having a parent or a spouse going through this before your eyes, though, is a completely different experience. I didn’t really have to say goodbye to her when she finally passed, because in reality I had been saying many goodbyes to her these last few years: goodbye to her as a vibrant, independent woman, goodbye to her as a woman who always seemed younger than she actually was, goodbye to her as someone who could drive their own car (and whose police record was just two tickets: a seat belt violation because her mother wasn’t buckled up in the front seat, and a slight speeding ticket), goodbye to her ability to read and write, goodbye to her being able to walk and talk…I’d been saying goodbye to so many different pieces of the mother I had known for over three decades. Her passing away ended years of suffering and I am at peace with that. And I told her I loved her every chance I got, even when she could no longer understand what was going on around her. We always made sure she knew she was loved.

I feel okay sharing my mom’s first name on here now, no one can hurt her now…so instead of focusing so much on her death, I want to talk about her life.

Her name was Theresa. She was named after her aunt, one of my grandfather’s sisters. The friends and family who knew and loved her best called her Terry. My brother and I just called her “Mom”. She was born July 17, 1952 in Rockland, Maine. Her mother was a full-blooded Sicilian American who was born and raised in Rockland and her father was of mostly Irish descent and was originally from a town near Boston, Massachusetts. She also had a half-brother (my uncle), who was my grandmother’s son with her first husband. While my grandfather never legally adopted my uncle, he raised him as his own (only being his stepson in the legal sense). My grandfather was in the United States Coast Guard for many years, and he’d be stationed in different areas, but her family didn’t really move around that much; they moved to Amesbury, Massachusetts (a small town just past the New Hampshire/Massachusetts state line) when she was a child, and then to Ketchikan, Alaska as a teenager, where my grandfather spent his final years in the Coast Guard before retiring. After he retired, the family returned to Amesbury. She graduated from high school in 1970 and soon made her way to Florida to start her adult life. She opted not to go to college and instead took jobs working in insurance. My grandmother followed her to Florida a few years later when she and my grandfather divorced. Neither of them would ever remarry, but they would remain on friendly terms for the rest of my grandmother’s life.

In the early 1980s, she and my grandmother both took jobs at a photo finishing plant near Orlando (basically, they’d process and develop people’s film into photographs and then they’d bill and send the photos and negatives back to the retailers who’d be serving the individual customers), and it was there that she met my dad. My dad at this time had recently left the United States Marine Corps after three years of service (his initial enlistment had run out and he opted not to re-enlist) and was working in the civilian world again (there’s a saying in the Marine Corps that goes, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”, and it’s for this reason I never refer to him as a “former” or “ex-Marine”), and when he laid eyes on my mother, he fell hard. He had already developed a reputation as a bit of a naughty boy (who was also in the middle of a divorce from a woman he’d met during his time in the Marines), so my mom kept rebuffing his advances at first, and he was really trying to charm her. She finally agreed to go out with him, and that began a beautiful romance that would last 36 years, 34 of them in marriage. They married in September 1985 after 2 years together as a couple. I was born on March 24, 1987 and my brother was born November 18, 1989 (just a few days after the fall of the Berlin Wall). She became a stay-at-home mom for the next few years while my dad worked various jobs driving long haul tractor trailer trucks and taxis, then at an aluminum siding shop and a printing company. My mom went back to work once my brother and I reached school age, first at the local McDonald’s, then both of our parents went back to work at the same photo finishing company where they met, although by this time, the company had changed its name and moved to another building in Orlando. They worked there until the plant closed in 2005. The last place where my mom worked before she retired in, I think, 2012 or 2013 was back at the local McDonald’s and by then she was already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

My mom was one of the kindest souls you’d ever meet. She had an amazing talent of being just the dose of positivity someone needed when they were feeling down. She was the one I went to when I needed a heart-to-heart talk, and her hugs and kind words always made me feel better. She loved chocolate and just about anything I cooked for her. (I got it from her mother. Her mother was a great cook and I learned a lot of what I know from watching her cook when I was a child.) She also had a longtime love affair with the novels of Stephen King. I haven’t taken an exact count, but I think her collection consisted of at least 25-30 of his novels spanning his long and storied career. We’d often spend weekends at a family friend’s house, and she and my dad would spend all night playing spades with their coworker and her husband, with the women forming one team and the men forming the other. Meanwhile my brother and I would be hanging out with their son, who was right around our age, while he’d be playing on his Nintendo 64 (usually Super Mario 64 or GoldenEye 007, although we’d also play Super Smash Bros) or listening to Weird Al Yankovic or playing with Pokémon cards or Dragon Ball Z cards. There were always snacks around. Although she was a bit shy on the surface, once she found her comfort zone, she was incredibly friendly and could light up a room with her smile. Her sweetness stayed with her almost to the very end. There were times when she’d experience great mood swings and have moments of depression or irritability, but she’d also have moments, not necessarily of lucidity, where she’d be amused at the smallest things. She always had a soft spot for babies (even though she only wanted, and got, two for herself), and would go into moments of cuteness overload when she’d see one at the grocery store or on TV. (I don’t necessarily have the same reaction with babies, but I do get it when I see kittens. Apparently my soft spot is for animal babies, not human ones. 😂) Even when she didn’t realize that the last babies she met were her granddaughters, she still adored them.

Roxy was her snuggle buddy through much of my mom’s final years, and even as her memory was slipping away, Mom would let Roxy lay her head on her lap and she’d rub Roxy’s head and body. There would be many nights where Roxy would lay in the bed with Mom and me while Dad was working. My dad is by far Roxy’s favorite human, but she absolutely adored my mom as well. She wasn’t able to come into my mom’s hospital bed in her final months, but Roxy knew in a way what was going on with her. Roxy, like the rest of us, is in mourning. She’s been anxious, whining, smelling areas of the yard without going potty. She exhibited the same feelings when our cat was put down in 2014. (Our cat always treated Roxy like a frenemy, but Roxy accepted her as “her” cat and didn’t really cause too much trouble with her. She’ll still chase other people’s cats off our property, but doesn’t mind cats that she considers to be “hers”.)

I think I want to finish this post with a picture of the two of us. This was taken in May 2003, when I was 16. My mom and I were about to head out to my friend’s sweet sixteen party. My friend, whose family was originally from Puerto Rico 🇵🇷, was the only granddaughter in her family, and her grandparents wanted to throw a party for her. Typically in most parts of Latin America, families will throw a formal party for girls turning 15, called a quinceañera (pronounced “KEEN-sahn-YER-ah”, for those of you who don’t speak or know much Spanish), also known as a quince (pronounced “KEEN-say”, named for the Spanish word for fifteen). My friend’s grandparents basically decided to throw her a quinceañera, but for her sixteenth birthday instead of her fifteenth. It was a very formal affair, and my friend had to wear a pink ball gown for the party (it is at this point I should mention that my friend has not really ever been one to wear dresses or the color pink, but she did it for her grandparents). The guests had to dress nicely as well, so my mom and I ended up going to the local TJ Maxx and were able to find dresses for the occasion. My mom’s dress was a simple one with sequins all over it, and I ended up picking a fluttery, almost Spanish-style dress with large dusty pink flowers printed on it. I actually still have that dress, although I long for the day where I’ve lost enough weight to be able to fit in it again. My dad took a whole bunch of pictures of us in the kitchen. This one in particular stuck out. I hope it warms your heart as much as it did mine.

I know I’m entering a new phase in my life and there are major decisions I’m going to have to make about the direction I want to take in it, but first I have to take some time to grieve the loss of my mother and closing this most recent chapter. I’m gonna miss her so much.