Take a Piece of Me With You by Deneen Azzolino

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

One thing that death has shown me is how short and precious life really is.

I have had family members and friends die in the past.  My Son, Grandparents, Parents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Friends and even my sibling. You can even add family pets into the mix. Every time you lose someone, I personally feel a little piece of you goes with them too. You just never are the same after they leave.

They all affect you differently.

I know all deaths are sad but I also look at how they change you and your life afterwards. Some people would say that’s weird or odd but one of the people I lost had me really think about life in a whole different way after her passing.

 I had a teacher friend who I adored. She was a wonderful teacher and an amazing woman. When I had the opportunity to work in her classroom I was so excited. I always enjoyed talking with her so much so that there were times I would clock out and sit down in her classroom and start talking with her. My husband would call me on my cell and ask me when I would be home for dinner, it was after five. ( I get out of work at 3:30!) In one of our talks she confided in me that she was going to finally retire and spend time visiting her sons who had their own families. She was well past retirement age but she always loved her profession and the children she taught that she never wanted to stop! In the mean while, she also found out her cancer came back again. She had told me not to worry because she would beat it this time like all the others. Well, this time she couldn’t beat it, it had beat her.  I remember my principal coming up to me privately to let me know that they received a phone call from one of her sons saying she had passed. I cried, I cried so hard, not only from losing my friend, but also knowing that she never got that chance to retire, to slow down, to enjoy the life she was planning. When she passed I thought of all those so-called bucket list items that I have. I have quite a long list. Do I wait till I retire? Do I start doing them now?

I think she made me realize how life is way too short and too precious to put off all those bucket list items. Enjoy life now!

When my Great Grandmother (Meméré Houghton) on my mom’s side passed away it was so hard. It was one of the first times I had to deal with a family death. This wonderful woman was my rock! She meant the world to me. She was spunky and as stubborn as the come and VERY old school because that’s all she knew how to be. We butted heads at times but in the end, as much as I hated to admit it, she was usually right and she knew it but never once did she say “ I told you so” she didn’t have to! When she got sick with cancer I think it was the first time I personally had to deal with cancer. I did have a few acquaintances that I had known in the pass die from cancer or from other reasons but this was right on my doorstep. This was MY family. As she got sick she really started to depend on me more and more. For some reason I was her “ Chosen One” she said she didn’t trust anyone else. It put me in an uncomfortable situation with my family. I was to do it all. I had to make all decisions that concerned her and her health. She didn’t know it but I did consult with the family. I had to, this was too much for one person to handle. When we found out how far along she was her doctors offered her to do chemo and radiation. She tried it once and she said she wasn’t going to do it anymore. I looked at her and told her I didn’t want her to die, I loved her and needed her to be around for me and our family and she just said that she’s been around long enough!  I had to take care of her as she became sicker and sicker. At that time I had Matthew and Amanda and when they were in school I would be taking care of Meméré. I would take her to her appointments and where ever else she may have needed to go. Then I would go home and take care of my husband and children. I had finally gotten her into a senior citizen apartment complex. She had her own little apartment. I noticed as the cancer was getting worse, she would call me up and yell at me about coming into her place in the middle of the night and rearranging her furniture.

I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. I knew deep down it wasn’t her yelling at me it was the cancer. I spoke with her doctors and the social worker that was assigned to her case and us. They were amazingly helpful. They both suggested it was time to put her into a nursing home. My Grandmother, my mom and my aunts didn’t want her to go into a nursing home and of course I didn’t want her to go into one either but there was no other option.  I just couldn’t take care of her full time with two young children at home. My Great Meméré agreed to let Meméré St. John, my Grandmother and her daughter stay with her to help her out and to be there for her if need be. That only lasted a few days because Meméré St. John realized what I had been trying to say all along, that it was just too much for anyone. She was at that turning point that she could seriously hurt herself from falling. We also found out that the cancer had spread from her thyroid to her brain.  In the end it didn’t take very long. One day I had gone to the nursing home to do my daily visit and I found her unresponsive sitting in the chair, just staring off into the distance. I ran to find a nurse and they rushed me out of the room and told me it wouldn’t be long. I called the family and everyone came to be with her when she passed. I remember holding her hand and feeling her life just leave. My rock passed away.  I still to this day, hope and pray that when I get to be in my elderly years I have just one ounce of the dignity and resilience my Great Grandmother had in her last days. Her death hurt me so much because she was that reliable voice of wisdom. No matter what you needed,  she was there for you always. Now that she was gone. I was missing my rock of wisdom.

When my Grandmother (Meméré St. John) on my mom’s side passed away it was like my best friend died. Yes, she was my Meméré but she was much more than that. I was so use to calling her every single day! It never failed. Even if it was for just a few minutes we would do a quick catch up on the day. Just like with my Great Grandmother, Meméré St. John was a woman that knew resilience. She brought up 4 daughters on her own and two of those were twins! She was a tough cookie! Oh, and she had a wonderful sense of humor. Even when she was sick she cracked a joke!  I remember going to go see her when she was sick and in a nursing home, I walked into her room and she was sitting on her bed. She had cancer too and lost a considerable amount of weight and I just looked at her and started to cry and she had said to me  “ Why are you crying? I always wanted to lose weight but this isn’t exactly the way I thought I would have to do it!” I laughed and we just sat and talked for a long time. When she passed away, it took me a long while to stop going to the phone to give her a call. I’ve always been so close to people on my mom’s side. I just guess it came from when my mom and I were on our own. She had divorced, my biological father and her and I moved right in with my grandmother. Her sisters ended up being kind of like my sisters too. I was always close to her side of the family. My mom had built in babysitters at the time! The stories my Aunts could tell you about me growing up!!

My Grandmother on my biological fathers side Grandma Dorothy was this tiny spunky wonderful lady. She had a wonderful sense of humor. I didn’t get to know her all that much because of my parents divorce but what I did know of her, I knew I wanted to be just like her! When my Aunt called me to let me know she had passed and she wanted me to come to her service.  I felt that instant love, in someway it told me Grandma Dot would want me to be there and I should go to not only to pay my respects, but also to let her know that I loved her and wished I couldve been able to spend more time with her and get to know her more. The sadness I had was more from not being able to have that chance anymore. I also lost that matriarch connection to my biological father side. I so wish I would of had the sense I do now to have asked her questions about my family’s history on her side. There are so many blanks that need to be filled in, that sadly now will never happen.

When I found out my Grandfather on my mom’s side died it was another situation of wishing I knew him better. I met him a handful of times when my dad was stationed in Fort Monroe, VA. This man who was my Grandfather was so charismatic, he pretty much oozed it. My first impression of him was “ Wow! This guy is so cool” He was in the Navy so he had all the cool tattoos and must of had a woman in every port. He was a drummer in a band so he knew all of the cool music! This man was the total definition of Casanova. I swear he could charm anyone! I wish I could of got to know him better. I know for a fact my grandfather had tons of wonderful stories to tell.

When I think of family members passing away and having a different feeling about each one, This is the one comes to mind the most.

I have my Dad, who was actually my Stepfather but I truly never thought of him in that manner and then I had my biological father who I tried to connect with on several occasions. When my dad died it was very sad. He had always treated me as his own and even adopted me so I had his last name and the same as everyone in my family. I felt special. I was never treated differently than my half siblings and I never thought of them as half, they were always just my sisters and brother. My dad was in the Army and the family affectionately called us “ The gypsies” We pretty much moved around every three years or so to a different state and even spent 3 years living in Germany!  Deep down inside I loved it but there were a lot of cons to all those pros. We never had those deep roots and even though I was close to my Grandparents, my Aunts and my Uncles, I never had that close relationship with my cousins. I do regret that part of being an Army Brat but how many people can say they lived in Germany? When my dad died from an awful disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, I was sad he died but deep down inside I knew it was a blessing because of the deterioration of his brain. He was not the man he once was. My dad was a very proud man and I knew he would have not wanted to be the way he had become.

When my biological father died, I had such conflicting emotions. I felt I should of had some sadness but I totally felt nothing. I had been in touch with him off and on for a few years and I tried so very hard to stay in touch with him but he really did not want that. I remember telling him when I was getting remarried and if he would like to come to the wedding, he asked if he could walk me down the aisle, I told him I was having my children Matthew and Amanda do it because I was not a young woman being given away by her father and he told me no he wasn’t coming if could not walk me down the aisle. I called him again a couple years later to tell him he was going to be a grandfather again when I was pregnant with my third child and he told me point blank he never liked kids and he never wanted kids! I was totally thrown for a loop on that comment. I did try again even after all that. I just tried to keep in touch because he was my only connection left to that side of my family but it was never meant to be. I received a phone call from my Stepmother and she told me that my father had passed away from cancer. I asked her why I wasn’t told about him being sick and she just said that he didn’t want to tell anyone. I went to the funeral; I did put a picture of his grandchildren inside his coffin. I wasn’t even asked to sit next to the family, which was fine because I didn’t even know any of the people that were there. At one point I heard someone behind me say “ who’s that?” And then another saying “ that’s Jerry’s daughter!” “ Wow! I didn’t even know he had a kid!” I think in the end, those comments stung more than him passing away! I lost a whole side of me I never even knew. That was the saddest part. 

A good friend I had who passed away very unexpectedly totally put me in a complete state of shock! I was on the phone with her in the afternoon talking about slipcovers for this god-awful couch I was trying to cover up and then that night her significant other called me up and told me she had died. I was crying telling my husband. He had even asked me if I was sure that’s what he said? I had to call him back up the following morning to ask him if that was what he said and if it was true or did I just have a very bad dream. Unfortunately it was true. I just couldn’t believe that only a few hours before we were talking and laughing. She was such a good friend. She helped me through some very tough times I was going through and no matter what was going on she never stopped being there for me. I still keep in touch with her daughters today. I felt like I had lost a tried and true friend. Those don’t come around very often in your lifetime. You are a very lucky person if you have one.

When my Aunt Nancy died I was very upset because she was not only my Aunt but also my Godmother. I’ve said this before but one thing with my mom’s sisters, they were also like my sisters because we are not that far apart in ages. Especially my Aunt Nancy.  We have always been close as we all were literally growing up together. During the summers my Dad would drive us all the way to Massachusetts from as far as Kansas at one point and we all would spend our summer breaks with my Aunt or my Grandparents. She would make them all the best! I will never forget our closeness and the bond we always had. Her son, my cousin Michael passed away from cancer he tried so hard to fight it and it hit us all very hard because of the fact he was young and he had a wife and 2 boys that were very young. He had his whole life in front of him. It’s just not fair.

My Stepdad’s parents, Grammy and Grandpa passed away when I was in my late 30’s and with each of their passings it just made me go back to all the memories we had growing up and spending time at there house with my cousins during the summer. All the times she made lemonade, the sun ice tea and the picnics in the backyard. One crazy memory I have is the invasion of the gypsy moth caterpillars! I remember the so vividly because of their backyard being full of all oak trees! Those caterpillars love those oak trees! You could actually hear them munching on the leaves! We always had to spilt the summer time between my mom’s side and my dad’s side. There was even a time when we had lived at my Grandparents house. I almost feel that when people who were such a big part of your childhood die it’s like they take a small piece of you along with them.

My step dad’s sister was a sweetheart of a lady. The one thing I remember as a kid growing up was how much I wanted to be like her. She was tall and slender and had long beautiful hair. I remember her having to use a very special hairbrush on her hair because of how thick it was. She was always so kind to my siblings and me. When she passed away my mom had asked me if I would take her cat, my cousin said please take him. So, I now have Cooper. My cousin gets to see him often when he comes over and I have a little piece of my aunt.

My brother Gary passed away a little over year ago. He was the baby of the family and the only boy out of three girls! I have memories of all the stuff he would get away with being the baby of the family! 

I remember as a little kid he would sing the song All by myself by Eric Carmen at the top of his lungs. It was the cutest thing ever! Still to this day when I hear that song I can see him walking around singing! He was so cute growing up and turned into a great looking man and he was a sweetheart of a guy. He would do anything for you and stick by your side no matter what. There was a seven year age gap between us, so growing up I feel we weren’t very close but when he got sick I use to call him up and we would talk on the phone about everything and anything.  I look back now and wish; no it’s more like regret I wasn’t closer to him.

Even when you lose your pets there is such heartbreak because most people treat them not as an animal but as family members. They are with you through thick and thin. They give you the unconditional love that no one else will give. When you are having a bad day, they are the ones that sit and listen to you and you can tell them all about it. They will never judge. They still love you no matter what.  All they do is sit and listen and give you the love you need at the time.

I had my big black cat Bo. He was by my side through a divorce, three moves and two pregnancies and stuck by me no matter what! He never, ever complained! When we had to say goodbye to him when he got sick at the age of 21 I was almost inconsolable. I still tear up when I see pictures of him. I miss that cat so much! I have pictures of him with all four of my children sleeping right next to them. That was one thing he loved to do is snuggle. I had another cat Buttons who use to drive me crazy by sucking her paw to go to sleep. She would lay by my head and start to suck on her paw! It would drive me absolutely crazy!  Oh, how I miss that now!  She was one who loved to snuggle too! One of our family biggest pet losses was our beautiful Great Dane Sophie. She was bigger than life, not only by size but by her personality! One thing about

Great Danes are they usually never live to double digits. This amazing dog gave us 14 years of her love. I swear she was part human. She was the greatest. She loved everyone and everyone who would meet her loved her right back! The hardest thing for us as a family to do was to say goodbye but deep down inside we knew it was the right thing to do. We would have been selfish to try holding on to her longer knowing how much pain she was in. In the end it was her body that gave out but her heart was still strong as could be!

When my son passed away at the age of 29. It had to be one of the most tragic events in my entire life. It broke my heart.  I swear it still has not mended. I don’t think it ever will. That loss has completely made my emotions crippled. It changes you completely when you lose a child. In my humbled opinion there is nothing in life that is worse than the pain of losing your child. It’s the worse pain you can ever experience in your life. I don’t think there really is anyway you can describe it.

I’ve lost a lot in so many different areas of my life. When I do a story like this it makes me realize how much. It also makes me dig deeper than I usually do. A retrospect you could say. It’s brought back good memories and some not so good memories. When I think of all the people I have lost, I believe they all had a little piece of making me who I am today. When the people in your life die they take a little piece of you with them. When I think my son’s death, I feel I lost a piece of something I created with love and a lot of pieces me and a lot of those pieces went with him too.