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November 2020

I Am Back and Ready

Seven years, three months, one week, and one day ago, I lost my Dad, Neil, to a Glioblastoma (GBM). My father was a “man’s man” and, although he was able to scare many of our suitors away, if you made it into his inner circle- a place of unconditional love and support- you would find that the only thing bigger than his brawn was his heart. Ronni found this out in the mid-80’s when a fluke run in with this small town man changed both of their lives forever.

My dad was born in the tiny hamlet of Shickshinny, PA. He spent his childhood there and married the love of his life, Donna, who grew-up across the Susquehanna River in Mocanaqua. He raced cars, chewed tobacco, and he loved walking in the woods. He taught seventh grade science at the high school from where he graduated, and raised his children to be able to identify deciduous trees in February. He lived 2 ½ hours away from New York City, or as we called it, The Big Jabłko, but he lived a life as if it were a world away.

When my Dad met Ronni, or Vern as he called her, our family had just entered a time of enlightenment. We had heard of Vern- a jet setting producer for the likes of Barbara Walters and such, who resided in The West Village- and on Thanksgiving Eve, my Dad drove thirty minutes to the nearest bus station to fetch our holiday guest. Our family Thanksgivings consisted of 30-35 people, all who were close family. The fact that Ronni did not run out the door never to be heard from again still amazes me, and from that weekend on, we were family.

I met Ronni as a child, annoyed her through my teen years, dumbfounded her with my absolute stupidity in my twenties, and became her best friend in my thirties. My forties brought an unconditional, omnipresent love that bonded us deep within our souls. We shared lobster in Maine when times were good, and peanut butter and cucumber sandwiches when they were a bit tighter. We paired $400 bottles of wine with Dominos while watching Netflix in her bed. She taught me how to ride the subway and helped me navigate some of the hardest times of my life.

When my Dad was diagnosed with a GBM, my world was rocked. He was my hero, my rock, my sounding board, and the best Dad a kid could ever have imagined. I watched our Mighty Oak slowly lose his strength, and often not be able to recall the words in his everyday life. I began to grieve before he died. I mourned for small losses everyday throughout his fight and really thought I was going to be ready when he died. In the days that followed his death, I was relieved because my Dad was free. Guilt overwhelmed me. How could I feel more at peace with my Dad gone than I did with him here? In talking to Ronni, she helped me see that I had been caring for the emotions of those around me better than I had been taking care of my own. She urged me to treat myself as I would someone who came to our home to pay their respects. Taking care of myself and being selfish was not only alright, but critical for self-preservation.

Fast forward five years from that day… I was teaching, and during a break, I checked my phone. Two missed calls from Veronica Bennett. It was not Sunday- Sunday morning was our standing phone date- yes we called throughout the week to chat, but TWO missed calls. I called and Ronni told me she had pancreatic cancer. A death sentence. There is much that I can share about the time between that phone call and now, and I will on a much more regular basis now… but for the past month and a half, I needed to be selfish. I needed to process a loss that I knew was going to happen. I thought I was ready, but in the end, I was not. I was not done with our relationship in this life. I miss my Friend so very much. I am so sad.