Jan 26, 2015

Pop-Pop Passed Away Last Night

In honor of Anthony Carl Morelli Jr.

I was in 1st grade when I remember losing my first grandparent. My “Grandma Leik,” my mother’s mom. A tiny lady, no taller than 5 foot (with shoes on) who had a thick Brooklyn Accent, ate yogurt, read the newspaper, loved lady bugs and always took my side. “She doesn’t have to finish her dinner, she has a tiny stomach like me, leave her be..but there is enough room for dessert.”  She was the only person who my mother retreated from. She was small, soft, but incredibly strong. She passed away from end-stage renal failure and I do remember she also has stroke. A "TIA" they called it. She said not to worry, it was just for a moment. “My tongue got twisted around my eye and I couldn’t see what I was saying.” She had the ability to make everything seem light and approachable. Even the scary parts of life.

Her husband, my grandfather, passed away when I was an infant. I don’t remember him. So when it was just her in the house, she moved from New York to Pennsylvania. It wasn’t longer after that she got sick, less than a year after her move. Maybe she knew she was going to get sick, maybe it was God’s plan. It was perfectly imperfect timing though. She was never alone while she was ill, I just wish we had her healthy for longer.

When she passed, my mother was distraught. She had lost her father and brother less than four years prior; and now her mother too. I can’t image the emptiness she felt. Like a piece of her family, her childhood, all gone so quickly. The funeral was in Long Island New York, at my mother’s childhood parish.

My grandmother’s viewing was the first time I remember ever seeing my mother cry. As a first grader seeing your strong stoic parents have a vulnerable moment sticks with you. I wanted to comfort my mom. I wanted her to go back to being the one who comforted everyone else. It felt backwards and that made me feel frantic. I sat next to her and said “Don’t worry Mom, Grandma will be a baby in someone else’s house now, we just have to figure out where she lives.” 

I don’t know why I said it, or where the idea came from. 7 year olds, particularly Catholic 7 year olds, aren’t generally exposed to ideas or theories of reincarnation. The internet didn’t exits then, so it wasn’t a product of Google. We only ever watched Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, so it wasn’t the premise of something I saw on Television. It just came from somewhere inside of me. It was something, which I truly believed. Maybe children are closer to heaven so they have a better understanding of the circle of life. Either way, my comment, stopped my Mom in her tracks. She didn’t cry and she didn’t speak. She just looked at me and then hugged me.

Years later, she reminds me of that story and tells me of how much peace it brought her in that tumultuous time. The wise words of a 7years old.

Fast Forward, 22 years. My grandfather has been diagnosed with Liver Cancer. This time it is my father’s father. I have since lost my Father’s mother and this is my only living grandparent.

It happened right before Christmas. He had some curious test results and needed to go back to the Doctor. “Make sure he doesn’t come in alone, we’d like someone to be with him” the receptionist told my father—and that’s never a sign of good news.

By New Years Eve the cancer was also found in his Colon, Rectum and spread to his Lungs. All stage 4. He woke up less than 10 days ago feeling like he couldn’t breath. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

He never came home.

They kept him in the Intensive Care Unit for a little under a week and then moved him to the hospice floor. He knew he wasn’t going home and we knew he wasn’t going home; but I never talked about it to him. “Make sure your Aunt throws away my milk, it expired yesterday. And tell her to bring me my glasses and cell phone.” It was a last exercise of control over his life and made him feel better to get just a few things in order.

My grandfather deteriorated fast. It was hard to watch, but also a blessing. He was too proud and refractory to allow us all to watch him slowly shrivel up and fade away.

He was the type of man that did everything his way. He never wanted to depend on other people and loved his independence. Hell, he worked full time up until his diagnosis. He was a mover and a shaker and he never seemed “old” to me because he never retired to a life of sitting on the couch watching sitcom re-runs. Instead, when his job required him to learn the computer he took a computer training class. “I’m the oldest one in the class Lana,” he said to me proudly. 

He didn’t get lost in the tides of change, he keep swimming and always stayed in front of it. He got a cell phone when the trend started and even knew how to operate the voicemail, although he refused to leave his own voice on the prompt for a personal message. My message says “Hi, you’ve reached Lana, I’m unavailable to come to the phone…” So he would leave all his messages saying, “Unavailable Lana, it’s available grandpop, make yourself available and call me.” It made me smile every time.

He was a man who always did things his way. He was painfully and refreshingly pertinacious.  He was famous for these one liners; that were part persnickety and part fun. 

“Pop did you get your hair cut? It looks nice.”
“No, I got them all cut.” He’d say with a devious smile.

“Hey Pop, that’s a good idea.”
“Ya know Lana, I was so bright my mother called me SUN.”

“Pop what did you say? What?”
“Don’t you call me a whop, Eye-talians don’t like it.”

He was an original jokester and a text book wise guy. I loved that playful side of him.

Five years ago, when his wife, my grandmother passed away, he didn’t want to be “that old guy who moved in with someone” <-those are his words. So he sold his house, rented an apartment, got a new car and even got a girlfriend Wanda. A family friend who was also in her 80’s and they rekindled a romance. He was like a teenager again. 

          “Pop are you coming over for the BBQ?”
          “No I can’t, I ‘m going to Wanda’s house.” 

And he’d hop in his new car, with a Teddy Bear on the dashboard (given to him by his girlfriend Wanda) and drive up to take her out to dinner.

He didn’t follow any rules and did what he wanted. I always admired him for that. He’d call me in the summers at 7:00am 


            “Why aren’t you awake yet?” he'd  bellow into the phone.
“Pop I’m on break from teaching, I’m sleeping in,” I’d moan into the phone.
“You can sleep in when you’re dead” he’d say. And even in my sleepy fog I’d smile. 

I visited him almost every night while he was at the hospital. I had to miss seeing him on Saturday, because I had plans to go away for the weekend. Friday night I asked him if I should stay home, he shook his head no and pursed his lips. “Live your life, don’t be a jackass.” I told him I’d see him Sunday and he shook his head okay and closed his eyes to go to sleep. Even in his final days he stayed true to himself. So I went to the beach for my annual girl’s weekend with my friends. And Sunday night, (last night) when I got home, I went to see him.

It was late, just me and my dad. They had classical music playing in my Pop’s room. It was nice, I know he enjoyed it, but it made the air extra heavy for me. My Pop was in an unconscious state...shallow breathing, sinking into the bed a bit, certainly smaller than when he arrived less than two weeks ago. Yet, he looked comfortable. I talked to him the whole time and although his eyes were closed, he occasionally moved his eye brows like he was listening.

I talked to him anyway. About the traffic, the weather. I told him about each one of my girlfriends; “The Nurse,” “The Ballerina,” “The one who eats the Pizza Bagels.” I’ve been friends with these women for almost 20 years but Pop had his only little playful names for them. At the end, I told him I wouldn't come up tomorrow because we are getting a snowstorm. I took a deep breath and I said to him that it was okay for him to take a long rest and go to sleep. “You can finally sleep in Pop.”

I knew he knew what I meant.  

He absolved me of my guilt to the go to the beach that weekend and if he had any feelings of guilt, I wanted to offer him the same piece of absolution. I told him I loved him and he moved his eyebrows like he heard me again.

As we walked out, my dad asked me why I talked to him. "He can't hear you, you know" he said. But I told my dad that two years ago, when he himself was in a comma in the ICU, I talked to him on every visit. I told my father that I saw Pop move his eyebrows like he heard me; just how my dad lightly squeezed my hand when he was in the coma. "He does hear me dad” I said. I wasn't sure of much, but I was sure of that.

I noticed my dad was timid to touch Pop. They’d always had a strained relationship. A lot of history, I’ll never fully or never need to fully understand. So maybe my dad was hesitate because they were never really affectionate anyway, or maybe because the beeping and the smells of the hospital scared him like it used to scare me. It's just... I learned to block the hospital out and focus on something that reminded me my Pop was still there. I stared at his forehead and thought about how his white hair was still thick and beautiful at 87. I kissed Pops forehead and told him I loved him.  

It was the saddest visit thus far and for some reason it felt like something was different. We were the last two visitors he had last night and we got news that he passed in his sleep at 3am.

I like to think that my conversation with Pop gave him peaceful vibes. But I yearn for the 7 year old version of myself who was so sure that he would come back a baby in someone else’s house. A version of myself that didn’t make death feel so hollow and definitive. That didn’t make death, in someway, about myself. But as we become adults and grown it’s almost human nature to equate things with ourselves.

So, I can’t help but think of the Lyrics from a John Mayer Song…

One generation's length away
From fighting life out on my own’

I am adult, not a child. My Pop is gone. I have no grandparents left. It’s like we’re all moving up on this infinite timeline whether we like it or not. It’s scary and ironic that death is the aspect of life that makes life feel real and precious and brief. It makes you want to stop the clock and just be in the moment. But time ticks and children grow older and adults do too. We transition from phase to phase in life effortlessly without convocation. Which is why sometimes I think we don’t notice that time just happens and life just happens. And death is part of life, no matter how much effort we put into ignoring it.

And if my grandfather were reading this right now, he’d remind me that sometimes in life there is nothing you can do but keep moving forward. “We’re all getting older, so what can you do? You get mad or sad you’ll get happy again. So live your life and stop being a jackass.” Besides, he never slept in, so now he gets his chance.

In Loving Memory of Anthony Carl Morelli Jr. 

Short and Sweet…AKA…Moral of the Blog
Hug your family tight. Tell people you love them. People get mad, but they get happy again...so don't worry about it. Try, even when you think you can’t. Don’t be a statistic, be an exception. Always work and work hard dammit. But only do what makes you happy and screw em, if they don't like it. Take a hold of life’s opportunities, don’t be a victim of lifes circumstances. Most importantly, find the humor, always channel your inner wise guy. Life's too short not to laugh a little.
I love you Pop-Pop


“Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too” –Fleetwood Mac

Mar 21, 2014

It’s Walt’s Fault

And by Walt, I mean Walt Disney.  That’s right, the one and only.  The creator of “Happily Ever After,” “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” and the same guy rumored to be frozen in a capsule somewhere.  I blame him, not entirely, but to a certain extent for the unrealistic expectations of what “love” is supposed to be. 

Last week I was asked to sit on a panel in Philadelphia called the “Great Love Debate” where myself and some very talented and experienced dating gurus try to answer the question “Why is everyone still single?”  As I ponder this question, in anticipation of our debate, I couldn’t help but think about a former theory of mine, which I coined; “The Disney Dilemma.”

The Disney Dilemma developed after a debate with a very strong-minded 4 year old.  I was babysitting in college, one of my many side-jobs at the time, and I took the kids outside to play.  On this particular day, the little girl I was babysitting, 4 years old, asked me, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I had just changed my major from Communications to Political Science with a minor in Pre Law.   I had my sights set on law school, but how do you explain uncertainties, majors, minors and the possibility of law to a child?  So I used the age-old tactic of “reverse and avoid.”

“I don’t know yet, what do you want to be?”
She smiled and looked up at me with big blue eyes, “I want to be a pwin-cess” she proclaimed. I instinctually wince whenever a little girl gives me that answer.  Ugh, Walt Strikes again, I think.
“Um okay, but every girl is already a princess, we’re born that way. What do you really want to be?”
“A Pwin-cess!” she insisted.  
“But they’re not real, honey, don’t you want to do something important?  Become an artist, teacher, a dancer maybe?” She now appeared to be growing annoyed with me.
“No!  Just a pwin-cess!”  She crossed her arms and scowled.  

That was it.  I didn’t ask her again. Can you blame her though?  After watching a few of those Disney Princess Classics, who doesn’t want to become a pwin-cess?  It’s almost contagious… Cinderella, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas… all their stories were very different, but then again, they all are very similar.  You see in each story the “damsel in despair” is saved by some form of “Prince Charming.” 

Sure, in some cases the damsel is a house maid, the only woman with a bunch of dwarfs, Arab royalty or a mermaid.  And their despair ranges from oppressive step-mother, father forcing a suitor or the stifling life under the sea.  But what remains in each story, no matter how vast the differences, is that each and every one of these “pwin-cess’s” is saved by Prince Charming.

That’s really the story line isn’t it? Watching the girl be saved by the man, who turns out to be a Prince!  
As children, we sat wide eyed in front of our TV sets waiting for that faithful embrace and finally the kiss.  We dressed up like princesses at Halloween.  We idolized these characters and bought the pink and purple paraphernalia.  And because of this; deep rooted inside each of our adult selves—no matter how independent, driven, or self-assured—a little part of us hoped that we could find Prince Charming… or at least run into the real-deal British Royalty; Prince William and Harry before they got hitched.  

Don’t get me wrong.   I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to find the man of your dreams.  In fact, I hope we all do. But the problem is that these movies, these story lines, have told us time and again, that no matter how hard the struggle, the poverty, the coma, the work or the displacement—Prince Charming can save you!

So I can’t help but believe that these movies tainted the way we view love.

I racked my brain trying to think of one Disney Princess movie where the story line was about girls who were friends that found love while they were independently establishing themselves.  Not one.  Not until the 2000’s did Walt’s team start to think past the idea of Prince Charming swooping in to save it all.  And only recently can we look to movies like Brave and Frozen to change the stigmas.  Although it’s almost too late for the 20somethings, 30somethings, 40somethings and so on.  The younger generations may have a shot at viewing “love” differently, but for anyone over the age of 20, it’s already tainted. 

Disney overlooks the importance of friendship and self development or empowerment for girls… and why not?  The heart of the story (pun intended) lies with Prince Charming swooping in to save the day.

The problem remains that we’re NOT Princesses and the guys we date are NOT Prince Charmings.  But before everyone gets all “she’s a cynic” I want to forewarn you that I do not find this disappointing.  I wouldn’t want to be a maid trapped in a house or helplessly laying in a glass coffin waiting for some man to make it all better.

I’d rather make my own way.  Find my own self.  Pursue my own passions.  Does this make me selfish or a feminist?  I think it makes me honest.  Men have been doing this for eons? Why can’t the women jump in too?

And the male readers should be thanking me for my honesty… because, you know what guys?  Damn Disney Princesses have put WAY too much pressure on you too.  Not only do you have to be handsome and charming, but you also have to be able to fix almost EVERYTHING!  No matter the situation; mean step-sisters, coma in a glass coffin, fins from a sea witch, quicksand in a desert or a bunch of Indians and English settlers all trying to fight one another!  No matter what; you have to be ready to save the day!  NO PRESSUE, right?

Do you see why I call this the Disney Dilemma?

So, is it so wrong  to admit that  I want to see a movie where the princess is just a girl who  pursue what she loves, fights some of life’s battles on her own and learns through experience.  As she goes along doing what she loves, what makes her happy and what gives her purpose, she meets a wonderful guy.  He may not be a prince after all, but he  is charming in his own right.  He has flaws just like her, (maybe a tattoo or two) and sometimes he saves her but sometimes she saves him too.  They’re relationship is egalitarian not authoritarian.  They don’t live happily ever after, because that’s all bullshit, but they live as happily as they can.  They take what life throws them and despite it all, they work hard to make it work.  

Is that really such a terrible truth?  I don’t think so. In fact, I think that’s why Frozen is such a hit. It really does follow close to the above plot, without the tattoo’s of course.  It’s a movie about sisters, who risk their lives because they love each other. The younger sister started to feed into the “Disney Dilemma” when she declares she fell in love in one day and wanted to be engaged. Kind of a double entendre in its own right, and I respect Disney for mocking its own one dimensional plot structure.

But in the end, although she finds love on her journey (not from the 24 hour engagement), the crux of the story is about finding her own happiness and embracing the love she has for her family. She had the choice to run to her true love or to save her sister. She chose her sister. She did this because love IS all we need. But it’s not always romantic love. It’s the love for our family too. The bonds we share with all people should be celebrated just as much as romantic love. The fact is, she loved her sister, long before she ever loved either of the men in the movie. And in the end it was her sister’s love that thawed her, not the kiss of man. Proving that all relationships where love is involved should be celebrated; The love for our parents, siblings, friends and significant others. They are all important pieces that make up our whole being. It’s not one person that completes us (Sorry Jerry McGuire) but I believe it’s all these facets of love that make people whole.

Making the whole premise of Classic Disney Princess the antithesis of what an independent woman represents.  It’s sad to admit, but I have friends who will be upset with this post because they themselves sacrificed what they want for relationships.  Dropped out of school, left jobs, left family and moved away.  They have done all this in good-faith because they believed that those relationships would make other problems better and make their lives complete.  They believed that the relationship would fix all their other issues.  They believed that some guy could swoop in and make it all better.

It may have worked for a little while for some, but it didn’t and wouldn’t work indefinitely.  It’s not fair to expect any one person, especially a significant other, to carry the weight of your world and be responsible for your own happiness.  One person, one man, cannot not fix everything, or be everything, or make everything exactly what you always dreamed of. That’s your job.

So although, many people may be offended by my anti-Princess school of thought, I am speaking from a truthful, realistic perspective. Because life is hard. It’s hard to find yourself, it’s hard to be true to yourself. It’s hard to find people to love, who love you back (platonic and romantic). And when life gets hard, from illness or loss, you realize that a romantic kiss can’t save the day. Sometimes you need more than that. You need a hug from your sister/brother or a phone call to your best friend. You need a little bit from all the pieces; all the people you love, who love you, so you can stay whole. I’m glad Disney is starting to catch on… ;)


Love is all you need. But you don’t’ get all that love from one person. It’s from all the people who love you in your life, giving a little bit of themselves to make you whole. Celebrate all the love, not just the romantic love.  I’m glad Disney has jumped into the 21st century with Brave and Frozen; finally movies that express that loving yourself and your family is just as important as romantic love…We 20somethings just need to recognize that and leave the Classic Princess mentality in the past.

Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.  ~Veronica A. Shoffstall, "After a While," 1971