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May... 6/7/2016
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The month began tragically with the sudden loss of my brother-in-law, Mike. He and my sister, Wendy, were to celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary a week later. And a much-expected grandson was on the way…

My family and I had known Mike for even longer—my other sister and I considered him our third brother. And what a fabulous, giving human being he was. He was there for you, whenever and wherever needed. But above all, he was dedicated, heart and soul, to my sister and their son, Ryan, and his family. Apart from being a tremendous husband, father and grandfather, he was brother to 16, and a devoted and beloved son, son-in-law, uncle and friend. He was smart and funny, humble and fun, and just an all around gem. He attended two churches and tirelessly volunteered his many talents and services to anyone in need, without expecting anything in return.

We are all still in shock and miss him so terribly.

A few days later, at the visitation, friends and family paid their respects en masse, in a veritable outpouring of love for Mike and the family. The funeral mass was simple and beautiful, with a moving sermon by Pastor Tom Fanta of St. Dominic Church, who presided over the service, as well as poignant eulogies by Mike’s brother, Kevin, and the deacon of New Community Bible Church, where Mike was also a member. The last to speak was his son, Ryan, with a tribute incomparable to anything I had ever heard before. Mike was so many things to the many people in attendance, but Ryan made sure that each person came away with all the facets that comprised his adored dad.

The cascade of love from family and friends, expressed in meals, cards, phone calls, visits, thoughtful gestures and prayers has been extraordinary. Family and friends travelled from Colorado and California, from Seattle, Louisville, Cincinnati, Chicago and Milwaukee, all for their love for Mike. Ryan’s very pregnant wife ended up receiving a go-ahead and flying in from Denver with their adorable 2 1/2 year old, who lifted spirits as only a little child can. Our brother Chris and his family came and were a big help. We wished that my other sister could have crossed the ocean, but she was not able due to health issues. We have to believe that Mike is at peace. He is an inspiration to us all. Mike, you are so missed…

My heart aches for my dear sister, Wendy. I am glad that I live close by, and will do my best to give her all the comfort and love that I can provide to help her through this heartbreaking time.

The following weekend, Ed and I had dinner with good friends Mary and Chris. It was an evening which was to include Wendy and Mike, and their absence was sadly felt.

And life goes on. A week later, we attended the wedding of my nephew, Jeff, and his bride, Tonya, of Ukrainian descent. The ceremony was held at St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland. It was a beautiful, traditional Ukrainian ritual, beginning with the Betrothal at the back of the church where the rings are blessed and placed on the fingers of bride and groom who enter together, as equal partners. Next came the Crowning, the most sacred part of the ceremony, with the bride and groom adorned with crowns to signify the new kingdom established by their union. Symbolizing that union, an embroidered cloth joined their hands, with the priest leading them to the altar. The entire ritual was accompanied by a chanted exchange between priest and choir. As it was all in Ukrainian, I can’t tell you what was said or chanted but the symbolism was very poetic.

The congregation stood for the hour-long ceremony and was happy to be seated at the wonderful reception afterward. It was a sumptuous Ukrainian feast that never ended…reminding me of Naples last month!

Our table, already brimming with an assortment of salads, roast beef, shrimp and pork, was next served salmon, chicken parmesan, leg of lamb, potatoes, two different soups… The waiters brought out course after course. And don’t get me started on the dessert table! Everything was excellent and there went all my good resolutions!

Music and dancing followed. A good thing, too, so we could dance off some of the many calories consumed! Tonya’s parents are lovely as is the rest of her family. It was quite a party and great fun. But Ed and I left at 9:30pm--I had to rise the following morning at 4:45 am to catch a flight for a concert with Jim and The St. Louis Symphony!

I boarded my early flight through Chicago to St. Louis the next morning, arriving at around 9 am. I slept a tiny bit, and was grateful for the needed boost. Soon picked up by symphony staff and whisked off to Powell Symphony Hall, I was greeted by Jim, his mom, who had flown in for the concert, Wendy Leonard, our tour manager, and master of the electric violin, Tracy. I shared Mike’s last days all over again and was deeply touched by my friends’ words and hugs of comfort.

We sound-checked at 10 am, and rehearsed with this top-notch symphony orchestra from 11:00 until 1:30 pm. We then dressed for the show and were on stage for our matinee concert at 3 pm. Maestro Steven Jarvi was fabulous, the symphony, outstanding--and the audience responded with wonderful energy! After the show, we greeted old friends and met new ones. Before we knew it, we were at the airport, catching our 8 pm flight back to Cleveland. We landed at around midnight. Thanks to Wendy Leonard, I was at home by 1:00 am and hit the pillow hard. A long but rewarding day!

On May 23rd, a new little love shone his sweet light through all the sadness of Mike’s passing. The birth of baby Arthur Michael, named after Ryan’s grandfather (my dad) and his own father, brought solace and joy. He is beautiful, healthy, and weighed in at 8lb.10oz. How proud Mike would have been to meet him!

Memorial Day weekend kept us busy. On Friday, Ed and I attended the mini high school reunion of my sister-in-law, in town from LA, and met some lovely people.

On Saturday, my sister, Wendy, and I drove out to Catawba Island, spending the night at our beach house and enjoying a wonderful dinner hosted by old friends. Wendy and I have known this family forever--first in our role as babysitters for their two older boys, then as friends, and later, watching their twins grow up side-by-side with my eldest son. One of the older boys now has a family of his own! All were gathered for a multi-generational evening, and it was a lot of fun. It was also good for Wendy to be with friends who knew Mike. And we all reminisced as we paged through our friends’ guestbook in which visitors have logged their Catawba weekends over the past 30 years. A treasury that included hilarious stories starring Mike...

The following morning we drove back to Cleveland and were home by 2 pm. Ed and I picked up Wendy a bit later for a party in a neighboring town,where we reunited with other old friends, whom she hadn’t seen in a year. Again, it was bittersweet, sharing stories with those who had known and loved Mike since grade school, remembering and missing him together.

On Monday, Ed, Zach and I enjoyed a cookout at Zach’s gal’s house. Her parents and two brothers cooked up quite a meal; their yard was a lovely and peaceful oasis on this beautiful day.

And so went the month of May. We had snow and summer cookouts, and it rained a vale of tears. The loss of Mike left us stranded and overwhelmed. The new baby brought immense joy and hope. Music, a family wedding and friends were good for the soul. We all need to treasure our loved ones and make the best of each day. Life is just too precious.