On the Road Again

My husband and I are driving a Penske truck filled with furniture from our last apartment In the Bronx, NY to Texas. We’ve made this trip before.

Last time, we drove the opposite way with the same furniture from my parents’ home just after we were married 8 years ago, just after my Dad died, a year after my brother died and two years after my mother did.

I was so grateful for that furniture at the time. Newly married, making a home with someone for the first time, I was thrilled to have really nice things to bring to our shared space, a new apartment we’d chosen together.

Having lived in a tiny studio apartment in the West Village of NYC for 18 years prior to this big change, I had no furniture to speak of. My husband had some nice things to bring from his place, but not enough. We were stretching our budgets to get our apartment. New furniture was not in the plan. So my parents was a blessing.

It was amazing how perfectly the furniture all worked together. We chose rich colors for the walls off of the colors in the rugs, and somehow, it all had an eclectic warmth that just felt right. So “us,” somehow. The us we were becoming.

For the first years of our marriage, in those years after those huge losses in which I grieved and lived as best I could, that furniture surrounded me and held me and filled the empty gaping hole their deaths left.

I cherished it all. I had my father’s bronzed baby cowboy boots as book ends. A china cabinet held bluebirds, brown ware and silver pieces from my mother’s collections. We ate off of plates and used pans brought up from their kitchen. Put drinks on coasters from their den.

Our bedroom furniture was from my parents first house. The first expensive rug they bought, a now-worn but still lovely Oriental, sat under their gorgeous dark wood dining table and chairs.

But somewhere along year 6, something began to shift in me, and now, 18 months later, after a Konmari wave that washed away my clutter, a new apartment search, offer, and purchase, a renovation, putting an apartment on the market, a sale, a closing, a move, and a settling in, here I am. Day two of a three day journey to take much of that furniture to a new home.

My cousin, who my parents loved, who has a lovely wife and two young kids and a house, is happily taking the furniture off my hands. Whatever he did not take, others in NY needed and wanted.

Tomorrow we reach Austin, where the pieces will be put in their new home.

And I will let go. Of the grieving time. Of the me that has lived these 8 years in the after-shock, doing my best.

I feel such a mix of sadness and relief and excitement. Sadness because I still wish they were here instead of their things. Relief because something is done that I seem to have needed to do. Some job I unconsciously took on will soon be complete. And excitement is for this next part, whatever it will be.

Today I crave space. I want to be surrounded by things that resonate the me I am today. Our new home in no way resembles our last. And I love it with its new colors and furniture, and kickass river views.

I kept one chair out of it all. And reupholstered it. It looks wonderful there, surrounded by our new pieces, our new rugs.

At the end of the first day’s drive, we were treated to a blazing orange sky. Since my mother passed, I am convinced that beautiful sunsets are her way of letting me know she is there, loving me. It was clear that she, my Dad and brother, approve of this trip.

My parents and brother are still with me. But now they fill my heart space. I carry them wherever I go.


Holiday Panoply

This week’s blog is a few days early. I wrote this in response to a word prompt via Daily Prompt: Panoply.

My mother was one for panoplies. Not as in the historical definition of “panoply:” a complete set of arms or suit of armor. But as in “a group or collection that is impressive because it is so big or because it includes so many different kinds of people or things.”

She was quite mad for decorating for holidays. From my earliest recollections, she put time and effort into decorating our house for each holiday.

It began with a small Manzanita branch which she spray-painted white. From its branches she would hang little ornaments and such. Perhaps she had seen something like it in one of those women’s magazines of the 1960’s with articles of how to be a good mother, wife and hostess. Those same magazines provided the recipes for many of the staples that she came to cook for us, too. Lots of recipes utilizing canned goods, as I recall. Things like Spam casserole and meat dishes with sauces made from Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.

My mother had grown up in a rather eccentric household. Somehow, she and her twin sister never learned how to cook. My Grandma, their mother, did not cook. Their father, an active alcoholic, did the cooking, sometimes. I am not, to this day, sure how they all managed to feed themselves. But once my mother was married, she underwent a self-education of things such as housekeeping and cooking. With knowledge gleaned from the resources at her disposal then – women’s magazines, popular cookbooks and recipes from newly forming friendships – my young mother forged her way through the early years of starting a family.

At first, the Manzanita branch was decorated for the major holidays: Valentines Day, July Fourth, Thanksgiving and Christmas. But soon this expanded beyond just the basics to the other less widely decorated holidays as well: President’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Graduation Days, even Veteran’s Day.

We all teased her about it. My friends through the years would always comment upon seeing the tree and its adornments become more and more elaborate. But even in the midst of our jaded perspective on it all, there was also a sense of amazement, too.

The Manzanita branch holiday tree became a central figure of whatever house we lived in. From the first little house in the Sharpstown neighborhood of Houston, TX, to the house in Dallas, TX where we lived for a year until my Dad’s business venture failed and we moved back to Houston. To the Briargrove neighborhood house where my Dad started a new company and went back to night school. To another house a few blocks away in Briargrove as his business grew and thrived. And finally to the really nice house my parents bought after I was off to college in the higher-end neighborhood of Memorial.

How it made all of those moves intact is a mystery to me. Those branches are fairly delicate things. But somehow, it survived, and was always a symbol of something constant amidst the changing environments of our family’s life.

Once in that really  beautiful and much larger home, the home that was to be my parent’s last house, my mother’s decorating could really take flight. The Manzanita tree took a much less central role, bowing down alongside the growing collections of decorations. It would still be decorated, but it sat on the kitchen island, a more ordinary display in comparison to the dining and living rooms, which were transformed into holiday wonderlands that could have competed with any department store displays.

I came home for holidays and though I am sure on some level I appreciated it, I never stopped to think about the effort she put into it. (And I never once thanked her for doing it, which I feel regret over to this day.)

I didn’t reflect on any of this until after she and my father died, when my husband and brother and sister-in-love were going through that big, beautiful house, processing our parents’ lives and deaths by going through all of the things they had amassed in their lives together.

The hours she must have spent collecting each item. Putting them all out. Then taking them down and packing them all away again.

The love she must have had for us and for the doing of it. It takes true love to accumulate a Santa collection that literally has its own room. Closets for each season…with shelves and drawers filled with bunnies, Lincolns and Washingtons, hearts, witches, black cats, pumpkins, ceramic figures of patriotic people, stars of congratulations, new baby banners…

It was so hard to let go of those collections. I did not have the room in our small New York City apartment to store or even use all of those beloved objects. But I could feel her in them, as we sorted through and discovered her hiding places for even more of her collections.  I imagine my father must have tried now and then to get her to promise to stop buying things. It was clear that she hadn’t. The joy she must have had in finding each one. The love she must have felt for us as she imagined creating each holiday wonderland for our enjoyment.

I chose to take one object from each of the major holidays. I cherish them today. We found the Manzanita, and thankfully, my sister-in-love (who is much like my wonderful mother in her ways and in her heart) expressed a desire to keep it. She and my brother have a larger home in Houston. I know that my mom would be so happy for them to be using it.

My sister-in-love also chose to keep many of my mom’s holiday panoplies. I now get to enjoy them on our holidays together visiting their home in Houston. I walk amidst the Santas, beautifully displayed and lovingly put up now by my amazing sister-in-love. I take time with each one, appreciating them, remembering my Mom, and her love.

The Manzanita branch is there, now stripped down to its natural color. It is still a symbol of something constant amidst the ever-changing world and our family in it.

#holidaydecorations #manzanitabranch






On Weddings

As I sat in Dublin airport after a weeklong trip over for another family wedding in Ireland, waiting to get on the plane to go back to NYC, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own weddings. I have had two. But only one husband.

Let me explain.

On July 10th, my husband (who is Irish) and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, having married on that date in 2010. On July 24th, we celebrated the seven years since we were legally married in a civil ceremony on July 24, 2009.

In early 2009, my father, after having lost his father (my grandfather), his wife (my Mom) and one of his two sons (my brother) all within three years, was battling acute myeloid leukemia. He was a fierce warrior who, despite being in tremendous grief having lost the woman he had loved for 56 years and his beloved child, was fighting hard to stick around for myself and my remaining brother and his family. And he was doing a heroic job of it. That’s a whole other blog in and of itself.

Though he was fighting hard and we were deep in the planning of a big, beautiful wedding to be held on July 10, 2010 that I prayed he’d be around for, I had this intense sense that we should be married earlier somehow. So we decided to “make it legal” a year ahead of the big wedding. We chose July 24, 2009, and decided to invite just a few key people, my Dad being the primary important guest.

It ended up being a very sweet little service at the city hall in downtown NYC, which is actually quite nice as such spaces go. My husband’s sister (the one Irish family member who lives in America) and her husband and daughter came to represent his family for us. I wore a brooch of my mother’s and my father wore a tie pin that had been my brother’s. We all went to dinner together afterwards to celebrate.

My favorite memory from that ceremony was actually the next morning. My husband and I took my Dad to breakfast and then to the airport. I thought to take a short impromptu video of my Dad at breakfast, where I asked him how he felt now that I was married. With his signature wicked wit and amazing timing, my Dad made a joke followed by his wish that we would be as lucky as he and my mother had been in their happiness together. He said that if we’d “have love at the center of it all” we’d be fine. The lighting is awful, but is the only video I have of him as an adult, and I cherish it. I also have a few photos from the civil ceremony. I often think back and wonder how difficult it may have been for him to make that trip up to NYC for the service under the circumstances. He never let any strain show if so. He was there for us, and I am so grateful.


My Dad lost his battle with leukemia on April 14, 2010, a few months shy of our wedding date. I am incredibly grateful that I have beautiful memories of him standing beside us that day at the courthouse. That he was there to share in our joy. That he was able to “give me away.”

Despite his death, and perhaps to honor him, we went ahead with the wedding as planned, as you do in life. It was incredibly hard, but we knew he would want us to move forward and to enjoy the kind of wedding that he and my mother had always wished for me to have.

It had been tricky deciding where to have the wedding. I’m from Texas and my family is there. He’s from Ireland and his family is there. But our lives are in NYC. After much deliberation, we decided to hold it in NJ: to be close to NYC for out-of-town guests to enjoy, and yet near to where my husband’s one US-living sister’s home is.

It had been very hard for me to plan a wedding without my mom and brother being there, but my Dad, and my other brother and his wife, had been there to support us in every step. Along the way, there were small but poignant signs of my mother’s presence, so I felt her there with me, but of course I would have done anything to have had her there physically. And my brother’s absence was unimaginable, and still is to this day. Losing a sibling is a strangely incomprehensible thing. That’s a whole other blog to be sure.

Additionally, remember my husband’s only US sibling? My sister-in-law and her husband and two children in NJ? Their house became “Wedding Central,” and they generously hosted not only the Irish contingent in their home, but hosted the day-after BBQ there as well, and did countless other things. Too many things to list, but the list included helping to transport everyone before during and after the wedding weeks, and hosting an unforgettable post-wedding NJ shore week that became our “family-moon.” (Two gorgeous beach houses, food for 40, and days of sunshine, love and laughter.) They were basically the most generous people you could wish for, and were pillars of strength for my husband and I as we carried out the actual machinations of coordinating a wedding in an area we knew little about.

With all of this family love and support, our dream wedding was planned and we were ready for the big event.

We were so blessed to have had so many of both of our families travel from afar to come to our wedding.

I come from Protestant people, and small families. We were small in number to begin with, but after the losses of the previous three years, we were even smaller. My little remaining family would mostly be coming from Texas, though there was an aunt and cousins coming from California and Colorado, and two of my Dad’s cousins from Vermont and Delaware.

In massive contrast, my Irish Catholic husband is the youngest in a family of 9: 3 boys and 6 girls. Wow, right? All raised by their mother on her own after their father died when my husband was two. Super wow. She sounds like an extraordinary woman. I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her.

From these siblings, my husband has 23 nieces and nephews. (Though this presented a great challenge at first in terms of learning everyone’s names, this has turned out to be an incredible bonus. With luck, there will be as many weddings to go to! I just came from the 9th Irish wedding, my 8th. The first happened before I came along, but with luck I won’t miss another!)

32 of these wonderful people came over from Ireland for our wedding. We were incredibly honored and chuffed (Irish for complimented) that they would all make the effort and the expense to be there for us. We were similarly honored and chuffed that my family, and many of our friends came as well.

Maybe everyone feels that way around their wedding — each gift feels astonishing and treasured; each guest, an unbelievable honor. We were blown away.

What we wanted most from our “real” wedding was to bring our two families and friends together. All of the people who had helped shape our individual lives and our coupledom. We had a huge rehearsal dinner for everyone from out-of-town and a barbecue the Sunday after our wedding in hopes of bringing Texas and Ireland together. We knew it would be the one time in our lives that this would happen, and we were going to make the most out of it.

And though it was a bittersweet joy without my father there, because he had made the trip over to Ireland in 2008 with us to my husband’s family reunion, everyone at our wedding, save for a few of our individual friends, had met my father. I felt so buoyed and held by the love from both of our families and our friends that day. I know that they carried me through it all. Their love infused my heart with joy to counter the sorrow that was there that day as I missed my mother, my father and my brother.

If all of the above is not enough to be grateful for, since becoming a part of my husband’s wonderful, huge family, I have come to realize that they are the gift that keeps on giving. When I met and fell in love with my husband, I could never have imagined that my own little family would become even smaller in such a short time. It is a true miracle that I have inherited a whole other family, one that continually astonishes me with their warmth, their closeness, their total love of being together.

Every time we go home to Ireland, I sit in gatherings filled with laughter and great “craic” (Irish for enjoyable conversation,) music and love. These are marathon sessions that go into the wee hours of the early morning, colored with stories and songs.

I grew up wanting sisters, and now I have 7, 6 from my husband and one from my brother! I literally pinch myself sometimes when I am surrounded by that love in Ireland, or in NJ, or in Texas, amazed at being a part of such inclusive and infusive love.

Don’t get me wrong. I would give anything to have my parents and my brother back. But in lieu of that, I consider myself one of the luckiest women on this planet because I now have a huge family of both Texan and Irish people, and they fill my heart with so much love there is little room left for too much sorrow.

And I have two anniversaries to celebrate and cherish every year lest I ever forget the many gifts I have been given alongside the great losses of my life.

#irishweddingsarethebest #loveatthecenterofitall



Girl with a Pearl Necklace

My niece just graduated from high school and turned 18 on the very same day.

She is very special to me, as is her brother, who is a few years younger. They are my remaining older brother’s children, and our little family of my husband and I and my brother and his family have become more and more important to me with each passing year.

More so I think since the deaths of my mother, father and other brother several years ago. Losses sharpen and intensify the remaining connections. It is one of the sweet gifts such losses contain.

I decided to continue a family tradition and take my niece on a trip in honor of her graduation. My Grandma FitzGerald (who I was named after) began the tradition when my oldest brother (the one who remains) and our cousin (my mom’s twin sister’s eldest daughter who was my eldest brother’s age) graduated from high school. She took them on a two week trip to Europe. She did the same when my middle brother and our only other cousin (my mom’s twin sister’s other child who was John’s age) graduated from high school.

When my high school graduation came, Grandma and I went alone as there was no cousin there to join me. (That trip is a whole other blog post. Being a namesake can be complicated. I was also a bit wild. Gran was a bit of a force to be reckoned with. We were an interesting combo on a trip to Ireland, England and Scotland at the height of “the Struggles” in Ireland and when, politically, Europe was not too keen on Americans. Gran eschewed social norms and loved to talk politics and religion upon meeting strangers. At seventeen, I found this incredibly embarrassing, and a lot of eye-rolling and running off with the only other young person on the tour to sneak beers in pubs to meet boys ensued.)

Back to my niece and our trip.

I had come up with the idea to carry on this tradition: I knew that if my mom were alive, she would have done for my niece what her own mother had done for her children. So now I will do this for her, for all of us who remain. I cannot wait for our trip this summer, to have that time together and to perhaps tell stories about my memories of my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother.

But I wanted my niece to have something to open on her birthday, and after racking my brain and scouring the internet for all the usual grad gift ideas, I still felt at a loss. Then an idea occurred to me. I have a beautiful, sweet pearl necklace that my mother gave me when I graduated from high school. What if I passed it on to my niece?

When she gave it to me, my Mom had told me that her grandmother had given it to her when she graduated from high school. I think I remember feeling special when she gave it to me. I know I loved wearing it.

I had the great luck to have actually known my Great Grandma Burns. She had been a world traveller, and incredibly sophisticated. She had beautiful taste, and a style that was quite European-seeming that she had passed along to my Grandma. Originally from Kansas City, the daughter of a fairly well-to-do flour miller, Great Grandma Burns had been all over the world and had an elegance that she had imparted to Gran Fitz that was way bigger than Texas, where our family had eventually relocated as a result of my Grandma’s marriage to a traveling salesman.

Great Grandma Burns had bright, sparkly eyes and though she was intimidating, she was warm and funny, and I loved her. My mom, my Grandma FitzGerald and Grandma Burns and I would go to have luncheons in department store tea rooms together, four generations of women. She and my Gran Fitz would dress to the nines, as did women in those days, replete with a hat, pumps, a skirt suit and matching bag and gloves. I, being the youngest, would run to open doors for them. “Age before beauty,” they would say, if I ever made a face at this task.

I remember liking the necklace, but at 18 I doubt I really thought all that much about it then, being much more concerned with parties and boys and my friends.

As I grew older, the meaning of the necklace deepened and changed. We lived through both my Great Grandma Burns and my Gran FitzGerald’s decent into dementia, and eventual death. Life began to shape and change me, as She does to us all.

Later, when my own mother moved through her two cancers, and after her death, that pearl necklace remained, a symbol of her love of me, and of the love of the women who came before me. Whose hearts and dreams brought me into creation. I am the living embodiment of their imaginations and wishes and hopes and desires.

It has brought me such joy throughout my life. I truly treasure it. As I treasure my niece.

I was so excited when the idea of giving it to her came to me. It felt like divine inspiration.

So it surprises me that now that I am actually giving to her, I feel sadness around it for some reason. A strange mix of emotions have taken me completely by surprise. Sadness, fear, anxiety…I do not want to give it from this space. So I have to unravel what is going on.

Is this sadness because I do not have a daughter to give it to? Hmmm, I don’t think that’s it. I’m ok with that, at least for today. (More on being child-free another time. That too is at least a whole other blog post.)

Is it that I am letting it go? Ahhhh, yes, that’s it…I am sad to let it go…as if it somehow holds the actual love my mother had for me and by giving it away I will lose touch with it or something. That is the odd fear-panic I am feeling. Attachment is deep y’all. Damn.

And what if she doesn’t treasure it as I have? What if she hocks it for beer money someday (ok, this is probably projection and totally revelatory of my own wild youth — I did do that once but it was a bracelet an ex-boyfriend had given me, not a family heirloom, and she is very level-headed and not at all like me at her age, so that’s definitely a reach.) If I give it, I have to really let it go, and that means giving it without expectation or any strings attached to the receiver. She is free to feel about it and do what she wishes with it. I have to be willing to actually let it go to her.

I have loved that necklace so much. Cherished it. But I don’t actually wear it much. Isn’t it better is it is given to possibly be worn by someone my mother and I both adore?

I wonder if my mom felt pangs of sadness when she gave it to me? Don’t get me wrong, the overriding feeling I have is one of joy and love in thinking of giving it to my niece. I am just examining the other complicated things that it has brought up.

There’s something in here too, I think, about the passage of time…maybe the necklace, without me realizing it, has been a symbol of my own youth? A rite of passage, anointing the next young woman of my family…and giving it to her hits home that I am no longer that girl at the cusp of the start of her adult life. I am deep in the middle of mine, heading towards the transition to the later years. Yep, that definitely rings some bells.

Realizing these layers inside, I can be more clear and clean around this. And so I give it to her without expectation, but with some hope. I hope she appreciates it and loves it as I have, but that is all literally out of my hands.

As for it being a symbol of my mom’s love, I have beautiful memories that do not require a physical object to live.

No matter where the necklace ends up, may it resonate love and dreams and family and new life. May it bring whomever wears it in its remaining lifetime great joy in the wearing.