The Working Title Is… For Scratch

It wasn’t until my Junior year in college that I faced any kind of sickness where the 766 miles between Milwaukee and Syracuse meant I would be without my Mom’s medicinal magic for the first time in my life. 

What is it about a mother’s touch placing that cool washcloth on your forehead, or the way she’d quietly close your bedroom door encouraging you to rest? I am convinced those simple acts of love held healing qualities of their own.

On this day, however, miles from either of our homes, the boy I had been dating – and who would eventually ask me to marry him – jumped into service.   He arrived at my row house with a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and a package of Keebler Soft Batch chocolate chip cookies.

I know I looked as horrible as I felt, and if memory serves, he looked a combination of frightened and disgusted.  With furrowed brow, he said, “I’m so sorry.  I asked at the store if they had the for scratch cookies because I know you love the ones your mom sends, but no one knew what I was talking about, so I got these.” 

Even the Nyquil fog and a pounding headache couldn’t keep me from giggling.  “Isn’t that the kind you said your Mom sends?  For scratch?” he asked.  I explained that from scratch meant homemade and that you start with the basic ingredients…flour, eggs, sugar.  You could see the light bulb go off in his head, “Ahhh, now that makes more sense.”  And a “for scratch” reference to our “le duh” moments was born and would stick with us forever.

So, this weekend, when I snuggled in with Netflix whose top suggestion for me was a limited series called From Scratch, I thought of Pat with a smile.  As I read the summary, I immediately realized that the storyline might hit a little too close to home, but it also said it was set in Florence, a city I love, so I thought, “What the hell, let’s give it a try.”

I’m glad I did, and I highly recommend you do too. It’s a beautiful and sometimes complicated love story…the love of a husband and wife, the love of parent and child, the love of extended family, the love of food and wine and the beautiful Italian language of love.

I ended up finishing all eight episodes in three days.  And I won’t totally ruin the plot for you any more than watching the preview would, but I had a few visceral reactions that have moved me to put pen to paper, or more appropriately, fingers to keyboard.

At one point in the couple’s journey, they adopt a child.  The scene with the birth mother is tender and touching.  The screenwriter scripted words that I can only hope my own birth mother would have uttered if given the opportunity. 

On Amy and Lino’s first night home with their newborn daughter, Amy is reluctant to let anyone else hold the baby citing the fact that forging an immediate physical bond with the adoptive parent is of utmost importance.  As Amy cradled that sweet baby in her arms, watching Lino and her dad assemble a bassinette, my emotions ran so strong, and I am certain I said out loud to the television, “That’s bulls*it.  Bond schmond.”

I spent the first months of my life in foster care and didn’t even meet my mom and dad until I was six months old.  And I am here to tell you, that “immediate bond” is nothing but a pile of malarkey, as my Grandma Hogan liked to say.  I loved my parents with my whole heart and soul.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them or mourn for the things they have missed as my daughters grow into accomplished women.  I often share my story with new moms, or with women for whom adoption guides their path to motherhood, with hope that they will be kind to themselves and know that the bond is forged through a lifetime of love…not just the first minutes or even months, nor is it shared DNA that is the conduit of love between mother and daughter.

I basked in the light of my mother’s love for almost 28 years, and it has now been 27 years since I last held her hand in mine. In a few months, I will have lived longer without my mom in my world than I did with her.  Who knew math could be so heartbreaking?

Last night, on a rainy Halloween with very few visitors to my door, I finished the last two emotionally charged episodes of From Scratch. To say they were heart wrenching would be a gross understatement. With hauntingly familiar scenes of confusing conversations with a multitude of medical professionals to having impossible-to-consider conversations with your children, I was ugly-crying on my couch. 

Until that is, what would be the final conversation between Amy and Lino.  I have no point of reference for that scene.  My husband’s disease advanced so quickly that we were robbed of that pivotal climatic goodbye.  I’ve thought about it a lot.  What I would have said, if given the chance.  Imagining what he would have said.

As Amy held Lino’s face in her hands, my ugly-cry morphed into that no-sound-producing-hiccup kind of cry.  After more than 12 years of considering it, I absolutely knew what my next line would have been.  I waited for Amy to deliver hers.  And then, a silence that seemed to last forever was finally broken by, “TRICK OR TREAT!”

Good God.  I quickly hit pause and ran to the door ready to shove a Twix bar in the face of whoever was there.  Apologies to the Zombie Cheerleader who was clearly shaken to see a blotchy middle-aged woman with tears streaming down her face downing peanut m&ms like her own life depended on it.  That poor girl will never forget this Halloween.

I resumed my place on the couch, took a deep breath and hit play.  “Thank you,” Amy and I said simultaneously.  “Thank you for your life. And for sharing it with me.” 

It was just as I had imagined.

The scenes that followed, however, bore no resemblance to my life.  Amy’s grief was so debilitating that her mom and sister had to help bathe her.  She couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time.  I watched those scenes unfold vacillating between pride over the strength I think I’ve exhibited and a fear that maybe a breakdown should have happened and is still brewing just below the surface.

This beautiful series served as a reminder that grief is a reflection of the love you shared, in both its strength and depth.  It is a reminder that tomorrow is promised to no one. That we should live our lives as fully and completely as possible.  We should burn no bridge.  We should forgive each other.  We should say thank you. Count our blessings. Love and be loved. 

We should accept the gift and promise held within each new day…always ready to write our own story, for, er, from scratch.



family, hope, Inspiration, mental health, Uncategorized

Quarantine Lessons From A-Z in 500 Words or Less: Letter B

The Working Title Is…B is for Brian

Note:  I share this with my brother’s input and full approval.

Ever since we can remember, our parents celebrated the gift of adoption that led my brother and me into their loving arms.

Along the way, my mom shared what little detail she had about our births.  They played in my head like an ABC Afterschool Special – especially Brian’s, as his birth mother had (cue hushed voice) “some issues” that made her unable to care for him.  This was never a shock to me since Brian also had “some issues” for as long as I could remember.

As I consider lessons learned—and yet to be learned—from quarantine, Brian may be a shining example of one of the most important.

It’s imperative that “some issues” shake the whisper and come quickly into full voice.  Mental health must be discussed as openly and honestly as physical health. That is not an indictment of my parents, simply indicative of the times in which they lived.  And the times, well, they better be a-changin’.

Sandro Galea, MD, from Boston University School of Public Health, recently wrote[1] “We must recognize the pandemic that will quickly follow — of mental and behavioral illness.”  Adding, “In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety, depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence.”

My parents were incredibly attentive to my brother’s needs and sought care at every turn, especially after a diagnosis of schizophrenia and manic depression in 1980. However, Brian was a victim of time and circumstance enduring many hospitalizations until almost four decades later when a physician looked at the entirety of his condition and determined Brian had been misdiagnosed his entire life.  Three years ago, another physician armed with patience and pharmacology skills, helped Brian take his first steps into life with Aspberger’s and anxiety.  In doing so, he changed Brian’s life.  And mine.

We must heed Dr. Galea’s warning and practice self-care and advocate for the mental health of those we love and those on the margins of society.  It’s time to shake the whispered tones.  No one questions why a diabetic pancreas needs insulin. Why should treating the mind be any different?

Brian is now thriving in a job he loves.  He is filled with pride over working on the frontlines with a premier grocery store and co-workers who look out for one another.

Conversely, I have been quarantine-binge watching Peaky Blinders, so when I saw Brian at work sweeping up all the gloves customers have so cavalierly tossed all over the parking lot, my blood boiled. Lost in reverie, I reached for the imaginary razor blades hidden in my hat and looked to start pouring gasoline all over the offenders’ cars.

“What are we going to do about this?”  I squealed.  Brian, looked quizzically at me and calmly replied, “Well, I’m going to do my job and pick them up.”

Yes, yes, indeed.  A much better solution.

It’s time to take the blinders off and take care of one another.  Now, more than ever.


[1] https://www.physiciansweekly.com/covid-19-be-ready-for-the-coming-mental-health-pandemic-2/