counting my blessings

I’ve been very unhappy lately and it’s been over a month—five weeks and two days exactly—since I’ve been able to experience true joy. Probably longer than that if I’m being honest. If you follow my blog, you’re aware that my boss of almost twenty years, who was also one of my dearest friends in the entire world, lost his battle with cancer last month. People keep asking if I’m “okay” and depending on your definition of “okay,” the answer is “yes.” I’m functioning. I get out of bed every day, work out, go to work, indulge in some social interaction, read, write, etc., but despite the outer appearance of hanging in there, I’m merely going through the motions. My friend’s death weighs on my mind almost constantly and I miss his presence in my life more than I can convey in writing. Throughout our years of friendship, whenever I would express unhappiness or dissatisfaction with my life to my friend, he would acknowledge my feelings, but urge me not to lose sight of the wonderful things I had in my life despite not having other things I desired. With his advice in mind, I have decided to dedicate my blog post to listing the wonderful things I have in my life even in the midst of my sadness and the gaping hole his death has left in my heart. I hope by putting these blessings down on paper, I will be in a better position to appreciate my life as I currently know it.

Friends – Alan was extremely special to me (still is), but he is not my only close, loyal friend. My friends have always been there, but they have really stepped up in my time of need. They check up on me without being overbearing. They are patient with my mood swings. They attempt to distract me while acknowledging how difficult it will be. My friends who have also experienced true and devastating loss have shared their stories and reassured me that my feelings are normal. My friends who live farther away have invited me to come visit them and have offered to come to me. With their words and actions, they have made it clear I have friends in this world. I’m positive Alan knows he can never be replaced, but I’m sure it gives him peace knowing I have so many other wonderful friends looking out for me. I thank my friends from the bottom of my heart.

Family – My closest family members know how much I valued my relationship with Alan and they’ve been completely supportive during this difficult time. I fear that I will grieve too long and eventually frustrate my family, but my mother has assured me she’s there for me every step of the way. My brother in New Mexico checks up on me regularly and I know it pains him to think of me so sad. He told me so. My sister Marjorie picks up the phone each and every time I call unless she’s at school and if she can’t get talk, she sends me a text to let me know when she’ll be around. She’s been a rock to me this past year. From the day I called her crying when Alan received his diagnosis to the day his wife told us his organs were failing and he might not make it, my sister listened on the other end of the phone while I cried hysterically. She apologized for being powerless to make the situation better, but just being there for me was a comfort. I get to see her three weekends in a row which hasn’t happened since we lived under the same roof over twenty years ago. I am grateful for something to look forward to.

Writing – Writing has been my most powerful distraction from pain. When I get lost in my writing, I’m able to put my own problems to the side at least temporarily. Most of the fleeting moments of happiness I’ve had over the past month have been due to the act of writing, the success of my existing novels, and the anticipation of publishing my fourth book later this year. I’m busy with my book manager and cover artist working on the cover, my editor has completed her first round of edits, and I’m genuinely excited about and grateful for this aspect of my life.

Good books –Besides writing, another true distraction for me is reading. I read on average a book and a half a week. I have no idea how I manage to do that. Okay, I lied. I read whenever I have a few minutes of free time, including while blow drying my hair, riding the subway, and eating my lunch. Sometimes I get so engrossed in a book, when I pull my head out of my Kindle, it takes a moment to remember my sadness. I’ve read the following amazing books in the past few weeks: Is This All There Is? by Patricia Mann, Spin by Catherine McKenzie, Killing Ruby Rose by Jessie Humphries and Driving with the Top Down by Beth Harbison and they were all five star reads.

Job – Many people use going to work as a distraction from dealing with their personal problems.  Unfortunately, my friend’s death threw my world off-kilter both personally and professionally. My grief follows me to work each and every day since Alan was my boss for eighteen years and at three different law firms. Aside from the last year when he was sick, we saw each other five days a week (not including vacations) and ate lunch together almost daily. Walking into work each morning knowing he’s never coming back is so hard and I often have difficulty catching my breath. I have broken down at my desk on multiple occasions. It took me a week to be able to walk past his office. This doesn’t sound like much of a blessing, but bear with me. As challenging as it is to proceed as if it is business as usual when it’s far from it, I’m blessed to work with some great people who understand my pain and are dealing with their own feelings of loss. For the most part, people at work have expressed their sympathy but have also given me room to breathe. My clients have been kind as well and often check up on me. I’ve taken to eating lunch in Alan’s office which now provides me with some comfort and makes me feel closer to him. And of course, there is the obvious: I make a good living, I have comprehensive health insurance and a 401K plan. People tend to take these things for granted, but I’m thankful for a steady paycheck.

Television – I’m a huge fan of the small screen and I am blessed that despite the limited first-run shows currently on the air, I can curl on my couch and binge-watch my new favorite show, The Good Wife, on Amazon Prime. I also can watch back-to-back sappy original movies on The Hallmark Channel. Finally, I’ve recently rediscovered The Long Island Medium on TLC. I’ve always believed that our spirits live on even after death, but now more than ever. Watching The Long Island Medium reinforces my belief that Alan’s energy is still out there and that he can hear me when I talk to him. I know not everyone shares my thoughts on the afterlife and everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but I’ve heard too many stories from credible individuals as well as had my own experiences and I will not be swayed. If it brings me peace of mind and doesn’t hurt anyone, why not?

Spin class – I’ve been running since I was in grammar school and until recently it was one of my favorite activities and certainly my exercise of choice. Since Alan passed away, running has becoming painful because it brings all of my thoughts and feelings to the surface and I wind up breaking down in tears. Spinning, on the other hand, takes so much concentration that I can’t follow the class and focus on my despair at the same time. Since I don’t want to be the only one in the saddle when everyone else is in third position, I choose paying attention to the instructor. As a result, I get a great workout without crying. Here’s to that!

Text messages – I am unbelievably grateful to have saved all of the text messages Alan and I exchanged. Although I only allow myself to read them every couple of weeks, each time I go through a month of texts, it’s like traveling back in time. I can laugh at his jokes, read his advice, and marvel at the amazingly sharp, witty, and easy banter we shared. It’s truly priceless. Unfortunately, I only have messages since October, 2013, after he was already diagnosed with cancer, but his sense of humor was always present.

Memories – Above all else, I am grateful for my memories of Alan and for eighteen years of having the best, most loyal boss in the entire world. I used to say that no job was one hundred percent stable but mine was as close as you could possibly get because Alan always had my back. More valuable to me than that, however, is the friendship we built together over the course of close to two decades. It was a marathon, not a sprint, but when we reached the finish line, neither of us had any doubts of where we stood in the other’s heart. I carry no guilt about the things I said/did not say to Alan and there is nothing Alan could have told me before he died that he didn’t already tell me with words and show me with actions at least a hundred times. For that, I am truly blessed.

And there you have it. Tonight before I go to bed and more than likely shed a few tears over missing my dear friend, I will also count my blessings of which there are many.

A friendship stolen

On July 8th, 2014, I lost one of my favorite people in the world to blood cancer.  I am not the only person who experienced this loss. Cancer stole Alan from a wife of over thirty years, two sons, parents, a brother, and a slew of friends, clients, and colleagues who loved him. Since this is my blog, this post focuses, not on Alan in the general sense, but on my relationship with him. It would be impossible to compress the entirety of our friendship in a single blog post, but I’ve tried to paint a picture of this wonderful man and the enormous influence he had on my life with this very long blog entry. Anyone who has spoken to me for more than one hour knows about Alan. I talked about him all of the time and he was a point of reference for almost everything—Alan said this; Alan told me that; One time me and Alan…—and so on and so on and so on. Seriously, I idolized the man. He was a rock star. But more than that, for me, he was sunshine on a rainy day; a hot fudge sundae after a breakup; a white flag after a brutal war.

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On July 16, 1996, I started a job as a junior trademark paralegal at a law firm. Alan was my boss. I was a single teeny bopper practically right of college, Alan was almost forty and married with two children and, at the time, the age difference seemed enormous. Our conversations rarely developed beyond those that were work-related. As years went by and his associates and other paralegals left the firm, Alan began relying on me for more substantive projects and for assistance on the more administrative tasks related to his trademark department. This required us to spend more time together and, as a result, we got to know each other beyond boss/employee and became friends. Eighteen years later, I considered Alan one of my closest, most trusted friends and I loved him like family.

Alan had a sharp, witty sense of humor and perfect comic timing. Often times when I hung out with people at work, I was the quiet one. I think I was afraid to crack a joke and have it met with radio silence since the other members of my department were extremely funny. Alan would sometimes laugh at something I said and comment, “funny girl!” and it made me feel validated. Like I, too, was funny even though I was more subtle and shy than my colleagues at the time. Making Alan laugh made me comfortable about my ability to make others laugh and I slowly became more confident cracking jokes and not playing the shrinking violet. After eighteen years, I think I made Alan laugh almost as much as he made me laugh.

I remember the first time I confided something personal to Alan. It was regarding one of the many men who would come into and out of my life and who ultimately was not “the one.” Alan’s advice was logical and never sugarcoated, yet he communicated it with such understanding, humanity, sincerity, depth, and humor that I began to turn to him for “the male” perspective almost every time I got involved with someone moving forward. It started off slowly, but by the time he passed away, with the exception of more serious boyfriends whose privacy I respected, Alan could have probably recited my love history since 2003, along with all of my relationship “issues.” (But, of course, he was my trusted friend and he would never disclose such information!)

Yes, Alan was there for me in the big moments, including September 11th, the death of two grandmothers, my own cancer scare, three (unfortunate) World Series wins by the Red Sox, transitions to two different law firms, and serious family dysfunction. He even held my hand when I blocked an abusive guy on Facebook. But he also became my go-to person for the little things. I used to joke that Alan was always right because, well, Alan was always right! Because of this, I began to rely on him for even the most mundane things on the assumption that he would have the correct answer readily available to share. Some people utilized the Internet, I had Alan. Can you mix cold medicine with Excedrin? Ask Alan. What brand Netbook should I buy? Ask Alan. Do I look prettier in pink or purple? Ask Alan. I can’t reach around my neck to clasp this necklace. Alan will do it for me when I get to work. I can’t put together this desk-top calendar. Alan will do it. Should I call this guy or wait for him to call me? What does Alan think? My cable is broken. How do I fix it? Call Alan. I was such a pain in the ass, but Alan insisted he enjoyed helping me. I often apologized because I was afraid I got so much more out of our friendship than he did. (I still feel that way.) But Alan consistently argued that point. He said, “this is the balance of our friendship. I like it. It works. It is what it is.”

When Alan left our first firm, he took me with him. When Alan left the second firm, he took me with him. He negotiated my salary and benefits and told me that any firm that wouldn’t bring me along was a firm he would not be going to. I am a hardworking and talented trademark paralegal but I’m not indispensable, but Alan was incredibly loyal to me and me to him. Even after I discovered my passion for writing, and the paralegal gig became more of a way to keep up my NYC life style than a career I wished to cultivate, I enjoyed coming to work every day. I was the rare employee who hated when her boss went on vacation. Sunday nights weren’t so bad because I would have my Monday morning chat with Alan, and we would undoubtedly make each other laugh at multiple points during the day. We had lunch together almost daily and on those weeks when we (mostly him) had too many outside lunch plans, we would schedule a late afternoon “coffee date” to catch up. He’d drink hot chocolate, I’d drink cappuccino, and we’d share a piece of cake and catch up. Alan always made time for me.

Random information to give you a bit of insight into our banter. I have a thing for hats and one of them is a beret. The first time I wore it in front of Alan, he called me “Rerun” (from the television show What’s Happening for those of you born after 1990…) and continued to do so whenever I wore it. At first, I made him insist that my ass was not as big as Rerun’s. After a while, Alan started calling me Rerun whenever I wore a hat, even if it was a winter hat or a baseball cap. The first time I visited him at the hospital, I wore the beret purposely to make him smile and hopefully elicit a “Rerun” comment. A client once mistakenly referred to me as “Merrybeth” in correspondence. It could have been a spell check issue, but from that day on, Alan called me Merrybeth (when he wasn’t calling me “Rerun”)! He also called me Merry Tyler Schorr. He teased my lifetime habit of “twiddling” my hair and did a silly impression of me that left me in a giggling fit. I would often say, “Do the twiddling impression of me. Please!” And he said when I tried to wink, I looked like Popeye and he would do a mean Popeye impression that also cracked me up. If in the course of his day, he came across a really funny name, he would send me an email with just the name on it: Bernadette Scubblybutts was one of them. (If you are reading this Bernadette, I apologize for laughing at your expense and for your unfortunate last name.) Part of our job requires us to work with attorneys all over the world. We are lucky in that everyone communicates in English, but one time our German associate sent us an email with a German sentence embedded in the text. After determining that it translated in English to, “that was fast,” whenever I completed something quickly, Alan would say, “dass das so schnellging!” It seems silly, but sharing these inside jokes (and there are literally hundreds of them), with Alan was priceless to me.

The day my first novel Just Friends with Benefits was published, Alan choked up and expressed how unbelievably proud he was of me and how he thought I was underestimating the accomplishment of writing a book, much less getting it published. He would joke about me forgetting all about “my old friend Alan” once I became a famous bestselling author. It goes without saying that I will never ever forget him. If I win the Pulitzer Prize, guess who will be the first person I thank? Alan. I haven’t won the Pulitzer Prize and I’m pretty certain I never will. But I will still thank Alan for…everything. We used to talk about writing a book together. We actually started one close to a decade ago. It was a “He said/She said” type of book about the differences in the way women and men think and act in certain circumstances. Most recently, we discussed writing a trashy romance novel. I’d write the book and he’d insert the naughty bits since I don’t like writing sex scenes. Alan was an amazing writer and it was initially his compliments on my business writing that gave me the confidence to write fiction. He was a beta reader on my first three novels and a source of inspiration for all.

Alan was truly the one thing in my life I never worried about. It never occurred to me that our friendship wouldn’t continue on for decades. I never worried that Alan wouldn’t be at my wedding someday. I even imagined asking him to be my “Man of Honor” and giving me a pep talk on the big day. The one thing I dreaded was Alan retiring before I was ready to write full-time because I couldn’t imagine working for anyone else or anyone else putting up with me. Like I said, I’m a hardworking and skilled paralegal, but I can also be a brat. Sometimes I speak before I act. On many occasions over the last eighteen years, I sent Alan emails that I was overwhelmed; I couldn’t take it anymore; I needed help; I couldn’t finish whatever assignment he gave me until much later. And then ten minutes later, I’d email him the completed assignment and hope he wouldn’t mention my earlier outburst. He never did. When we’d talk about it, he’d say, “I know you Merrybeth. When you overreact, you’re just being ‘Meri.’ It’s all good.” That was my relationship with Alan. I did/said stupid things and he just shrugged and said, “That’s Meri.” If he was here, he’d remind me that I also did really good work and had a lot of goodwill in the bank. But sometimes I shake my head and think, “Why did he put up with me?” We made a deal that I would work towards writing full time when he was ready to retire. That way, I wouldn’t have to work for someone else and he wouldn’t be without his favorite paralegal and “work wife.” Sadly, he didn’t live up to his end of the bargain.

The last year was very rough. How could Alan, the strongest most solid person in my life, be sick? And why would God, if there is a God, choose to do this to him of all people—truly the best person I’ve ever known? How could anyone be so cruel? I hated that he had the power to ease my pain in so many situations—just a month before his diagnosis, he had talked me off the ledge when I had an abnormal mammogram—yet I was powerless to help him the one time he really needed it. I did what I could. I visited him at the hospital and at his home, we had Google “Hangouts,” we talked on the phone and texted daily and I made sure to tell him how much I loved him regularly. I tried really hard this year not to rely on him so much because any problems I had were frivolous compared to what he was facing. But Alan saw right through me and said, “It’s one thing to be sick. It’s another thing to be treated like I’m sick.” He said he wanted me to be “me” around him and allow him to be “him” and if that meant coming to him with what I considered silly problems, I should. And so I did. The only thing I didn’t share with him was my concern that he was never going to get better. I could not imagine the world and my life without him in it. I still can’t. I’m not going to go into details about what happened and how everyone thought he was getting better until he…didn’t. It’s too painful and I still haven’t wrapped my head or heart around it and I don’t think I ever will. But I will forever be grateful that Alan knew me so well and truly loved me unconditionally. He was so incredibly unique, special, intelligent, hilarious, knowledgeable, goofy, loyal, warmhearted, intuitive and sensitive. And he never failed to tell me that I was one of his favorite people. Me! How I won such a special place in his heart is beyond me. I always joke that I became Alan’s “work wife” by default because everyone else quit. Alan used to tell me I would meet the right man for me when all of the planets aligned. Well, Alan was not my husband or my lover, but his influence on me is probably the most significant of any other relationship I’ve had to date. The planets must have aligned just right when we met. His friendship changed me and added value to my life that cannot be measured. I am a better, more confident, gentler, wiser, funnier, more interesting person because of the time I spent with Alan. I’ve laughed harder in the last eighteen years than some people do in a lifetime. The pain I feel over his death is worse than anything I’ve ever experienced and I had no idea I was capable of such grief. Not a moment goes by when I don’t miss him. Alan hated seeing me sad and I can almost hear him telling me that my sadness causes him pain and I am so much prettier when I smile.

As overwhelmed as I am with sadness right now, I am well aware of how incredibly blessed I am to have Alan in my life for eighteen years as my boss, friend, mentor, therapist, comic relief, cheerleader. Alan was taken away from the living world way too soon, but he will always be with me. He has bestowed onto me enough advice to last a lifetime and I will always hear his voice in my head telling me I’m on the right/wrong track. In this world, I will never stop loving and missing him and I know he will continue to look after me from the afterlife. Friendship never dies.

One person in the U.S. is diagnosed with blood cancer approximately  every four minutes. For more information and to find out how you can donate towards a cure, please click here:

http://pages.lightthenight.org/nyc/Manhattn14/AlansAngels

 

 

 

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