Monday, December 31, 2012

The Ninety-Five Percent Sister

In the fall of 2005, we were in to the second trimester of Gi’s pregnancy with Alaina; there were
ultrasounds ordered at Pennsylvania Hospital.  We didn’t know if Alaina was to be a boy or a girl.  The doctor reviewed the images and asked if we wanted to know the sex.  We decided we did and we were told that we were to expect a girl.

“I can tell you that I am ninety-five percent certain you’re having a girl,” he said.  “The baby is covering up pretty good, but I am that sure you’re having a little girl.”

Timmy was at school.  We picked him up and asked if he wanted to know a secret.

“Yes.”  Timmy said, “Of course I do.”

We told Tim that he is still going to be a big brother; however he was having a little sister.

“Are you sure?”  Tim asked he leaned forward.

“Yes Monk,” I said.  “The doctor told us he is ninety-five percent sure the baby is going to be a girl.”

Tim scrunched up his face.  “So there’s a five percent chance he could be wrong?”

His mother turned to face him.  “Don’t you want a brother or sister?”

Tim sat back a little.  “I do.  I was kind of hoping for a brother to be honest. But I’m just saying he could be wrong, even if it’s a five percent chance.”

No matter.  Tim loved his sister…still does.  This past Christmas, we went to lay the grave blanket made from our tree trimmings.  Alaina cried knowing that she doesn’t have him in her life the way he should be.

“Why did he have to die?  He was the best brother a girl could have.”  Alaina said sobbing at Tim’s graveside.  I wish I had the answers for her; to either confirm or deny it was part of a divine plan.  I can only answer that the God I believe in only took Timmy because his injuries were too severe.  He would have been a shell of the boy he was.  Sadly, I know he wouldn’t have survived his injuries.  For a ninety-five percent sister, Timmy did love Alaina, as he loved his family.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tim's Tree at Christmas 2012

I hung a Spider-Man ornament on Tim's Tree at Archbishop Ryan High School.  I didn't get the chance to take a decent photo of it because it was too dark when I hung it on the young tree's branch.  I wanted to go back up before Christmas to take a picture of it; we were having some heavy winds during the week and I was afraid it would blow away before I got the chance.  A few parents who supported me in my grief ventured up to the high school and took these photos.  Thank you Steve, Regina, and Bernadette!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Tim's Grave Blanket Christmas 2012

Tim's Grave Blanket Christmas 2012 - the ornaments were chosen by his sisters, mother, and me.  It may not be as fancy as a store bought or tree lot made, but it was made with a lot of love.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown - Why?

Names of the Victims ages 6 to 52
God Rest Their Souls
Friday, December 14, 2012 has ended, the sun has risen and a new day begun.  It’s now almost twenty-four hours since a gunman walked into a school in Newtown, Connecticut, and slaughtered twenty-six human beings; one being his mother, the majority children - babies!  He is identified as Adam Lanza.  Of course the media tells of his sordid past – giving him a character description as quiet, troubled, and awkward – and I am to feel for him?  My plans for the day are to attend a Christmas Craft Show run by the Cheerleaders of Archbishop Ryan, purchase this year’s Christmas tree, and go to a Holiday party a friend is sponsoring and has planned since the summer.  My plans are to attempt to make this Christmas as merry as possible for my daughters.  It’s hard for me not to think of my Tim’s death, and how much I miss him.  It is also at the same time hard not think of the pain and anguish the parents and families in Newtown are facing.  I am sure there was at least one parent who had made plans similar to mine and is now having to plan a funeral and keep from falling into the abyss of grief.

The majority of the victims of this maniac were children; twenty children torn from their parents and families, robbed of their futures as well as the very breath they breathed.  The ripple effect had begun as people question their faith in God or whatever higher spiritual being they believe.  People question the usefulness of Law Enforcement, the so-called safety nets involving Mental Health and Social Worker programs and systems. Questions are being voiced ranging from low decibel whispers to shouting out to the Heavens “Why?”  Candle vigils form, people gather in their places of worship seeking solace or answers, police chiefs hold press conferences to explain the time-line of events and give the death-toll.  The animal who did this crime – this massacre - escaped justice by committing suicide.  I could be safe to say it was not from regret or guilt.  It was escape.

But that is not all I am thinking about.  My thoughts are with the twenty children and their parents.  I don’t want these parents in this club for which I am a member.  I paid my membership with my most precious blood – the loss of a child.  I can respect their anger, but I will not fully understand it because my loss is so different from theirs.  My son, Timmy, was taken from me, his mother, and siblings because of a tragic accident.  It was an accident that affected not only our family but the kids from Archbishop Ryan and other surrounding Catholic high schools, the kids who went to grade school with him, the cops who work with me, and all the way up to the Cardinal’s office.  I’m thinking of my own grief; I am wondering how I would have dealt with today’s tragedy if it was the mechanism that lead me to become a member of this club.  This club I wish on no parent.

My son’s death cost me to lose nearly five months before I was strong enough to return to work.  Nearly five months sitting on the sofa, sometimes crying, sometimes staring like a zombie at the television, sometimes screaming into the phone because someone tells me about the date of my son’s death is noticed on a dart board or how much pain he would have suffered was avoided because he died, or how my son suddenly became an omnipotent protector of his family.  As well-meaning as it may have been, it was stupid to have been said.  I had said many times before it was the kids who saved me – why them?  It was because they, through the simplicity of a hug and kiss, sharing a memory, or creating a T-shirt honoring his memory, expressed they were in pain and their world had changed as well.  They were thrust into seeing they will not live forever and life is precious as it is fragile.

Only a few months ago, a man walked into a movie theatre in Aurora Colorado, and shot an automatic assault rifle into an audience who were attending The Dark Knight Rises.  Within a few days, the news released a photograph of James Holmes, the 24 year-old man with his freakish orange tinted/dyed hair.  His get-away was thought out to blend in with arriving SWAT teams and simply walk away.  That ghoulish and tragic night, Holmes wounded fifty-eight people and killed twelve.
For what reason had this man committed this insane crime?

We may never know because his defense counsel will blame a diet of Twinkies, bed-wetting, and social awkwardness.  Psychiatrists could paint a portrait of Holmes being a victim.  Who knows what will become of this animal. 

As with the offender in Connecticut, we will truly never know or understand.  He took his reasons with him.  The FBI will classify Adam Lanza, with Holmes, the Columbine shooters, and others into a growing profile of the Lone Wolf shooter – white male, early to mid-twenties, socially awkward, perhaps bullied, parents either divorced, separated, or dead, and doted on him and the triggering may possible be a figment of his imagination – much as Scrooge’s attempt to debunk Marely’s ghost as an “…undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”

In October, 2010, my family went pumpkin hunting – a quest to find the ideal pumpkins which would be transformed into Jack O’Lanterns.  Our sojourn took us to Lancaster County home of the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch, about an hour’s drive from our home.  There amongst the farms, horse-drawn buggies, bakeries claiming the world’s best shoo-fly pie, was once a single room school-house in a town known as Nickels Mines.   

Four years before, on October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV entered the school and shot ten people – killing five girls ages six to thirteen. Roberts committed suicide, the school was torn down, and the Amish asked that no evil be thought of the man who killed their children because he will have to face “a just God”.  A new school was raised nearby and was purposely built to be as different as the original.  I, like many people, wondered how the Amish could think this way until it was explained to me.  The Amish believe forgoing vengeance didn’t undo the tragedy or pardon the crime – it was step one to a more hopeful future.  I admired their strength and perseverance. Maybe it is because the Amish haven’t forgotten Matthew 7:1-2?  In Matthew, Christ taught “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I’m not a religious man; but not being religious does not mean being without Faith or being without a belief system.  I live in a world, like you, were life is motivated, at times, by vengeance and avarice.  I can go to any book in the Bible and find a passage to reflect this tragedy much as I can use a passage from a Hemingway novel or a song in the Top Ten to give credence to the emotions I am attempting to convey.  I can peek under the robe worn by the Ghost of Christmas Present and see the demons bound to him – Want and Ignorance.  The spirit warns, "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased." 

Of the warning of Ignorance, Facebook pages are popping up calling for the draw and quartering of Adam Lanza’s remains to calling him a hero.  Yes from seeing that, Dickens may certainly be correct and the writing will not be erased; the Amish I hope are correct and think Lanza like Roberts before him is now facing a just God.

The Names of the Victims
Sandy Hook Elementary School
Newtown, CT
December 14, 2012
May Angels take flight and fly fast to be bring comfort and guidance to their families.

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hocksprung, 47

Madeline Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Russeau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison Wyatt, 6

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tim, A Christmas Hero

In November, 2010, my buddy Kenny posted a picture of a kitten on his Facebook page explaining how his daughter Samantha saved a kitten from some kid threatening to hurt it; Kenny’s cat didn’t take to the kitten being in her domain and she had to be kept at his sister-in-law’s home.  I wrote to Kenny, telling him that I would take the kitten in, provided that no one else had already.  Later that evening I, along with Gi, drove to pick up the little purring ball of fur.  When we brought her in Alaina named her Baby Silla – all three of the kids took an instant love to her.  Silla took a special liking to Timmy; she followed him everywhere.

Thanksgiving came and went; Christmas Day soon fell on us, this year a Saturday.  For over a week there was talk of a blizzard on the news and The Weather Channel.  The temperature dipped into the low-30s and a disturbance began to brew in as we could look for a nor’easter. 

That afternoon, Christmas Day, Gi took the kids to her parents’ home in the Poconos after we opened our presents.  I went to work…civil servants sometimes have to work on most of the holidays.  I came home later that night and waited for my family to return.  I was concerned about the snow growing from flurries to a blizzard.   It had started to snow earlier in the day, as a nor’easter was blowing in with an expected snowfall of twelve to thirty inches, and it had already piled up about six inches outside by 11 PM.
When the kids and their mother arrived home safely, all worries were put aside and forgotten only to have a new one pop up out of nowhere.  As the kids came into the house, the front door was left open as packages were brought in from her aunt’s car.  Timmy looked around the house and asked where Silla was.   The worst thought was the kitten had snuck out of the house; that soon transformed from ideation to fact.  I put on my boots and coat and trudged up and down the street, calling the cat by name and “psst-psst-psst” as checked for little kitten paw prints in the snow.  About an hour later I went back in the house.

“Did you find Silla?”  Timmy asked.

“No,” I said as I took off the boots and coat.  “We’ll make up a few posters and go looking again in the morning.”

“But Daddy, it’s freezing outside and the snow is getting worse.”

“Monk, I know…but she has a nice thick furry coat and a lot of kitten fat.  Cats also have great survival instinct; hopefully she’s curled up someplace out of the wind and keeping warm.”


“We’ll go out in the morning.  Help me pick out a picture of Silla.  Okay?”

Timmy groaned under his breath.  “Fine,” he said.  I know he wanted the cat back in the house.  I know he had his fears of the kitten freezing to death.  I know he loved the cat.

We picked out pictures of Silla and made up a poster on the computer; we printed out about twenty posters complete with our home number, name of the kitten, and of course a monetary reward.  Tim grabbed the stapler and said something about hoping God and Saint Francis helped the cat and it would be a Christmas miracle if we find Silla safe and sound. 

My neighbor Larry was out shoveling snow in front of his home.  As Timmy and I walked up to the first telephone pole and began to staple up a poster, Larry looked over the top of his car.

“Hey Marty, Merry Christmas,” Larry said.  He stopped shoveling as he watched Timmy hold the poster up and fasten it to the pole.  “Did you lose something?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Alaina’s kitten got out last night.”

“Oh?”  Larry looked at the poster trying to make out the information.  “What’s the kitten’s name?”

“Baby Silla,” Timmy said to Larry.  “I just call her Silla but my sister named her ‘Baby Silla’.”

As Timmy was telling Larry the name of the cat, Larry held up his hand.  “Shush,” he said gently.  “I just heard something.”

There it was, a tiny little meow coming from somewhere near Larry or his car.

“Tim, say her name again.”  Larry said as he looked under his car.

“Silla,” Tim said as he crossed the street.  Again a tiny meow was heard.  “Silla, is that you?!”

Larry bent over near the wheel well of his mini-van – a small green boxy mini-van, not the sleek soccer-mom style.  A moment later he stood up holding a gray and white patch-worked ball of fur that was our kitten.  “I guess she slept there overnight right there on top of the tire.  Must have made a nice little shelter out of the snow and wind, don’t you think?”

Tim unzipped the top of his coat and put the cat inside the liner.  “Thank you!”

“Hey, she didn’t meow until you said her name.”  Larry smiled giving the credit to Timmy.  “I’m just glad she was found.”

“Thanks Larry.”  I said shaking his hand.  “I guess the kids got a little Christmas Miracle.”

“That is what Christmas is all about.”  For some reason I was half expecting Larry to touch his finger to his nose and blow away, changing to snow and wind, like the hobo in The Polar Express.

I followed Timmy as he ran into the house to announce Silla was found.  I regaled to Timmy’s sisters how he was the hero of the day, since it was his voice Silla responded.  The girls followed Timmy into the kitchen where he took the cat to feed her.  God only knows the adventures this little cat had overnight – I know how much heart-ache was averted because Silla made Timmy her person.