Our Beloved Aunty Kiki

11.08.2020

On October 28, 2020, my beloved Aunty Kiki passed away.  Only one short month earlier (September 25th to be exact), she was admitted to SMILO Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital.  She couldn't eat, and we soon learned that the Uterine Cancer she had been battling for 2.5 years had gotten worse--so bad, in fact, that she now had a blockage in her stomach, which was preventing her from being able to digest her food and get the nutrition she needed.

I'll spare the details of her deterioration.  For most of us, watching someone wither away in a month's time is FAST.  However, for my mom and I that watched the "up and down" rollercoaster in October, the time went by painfully slow--especially that last week when she was sent to Connecticut Hospice. During her last week of life, my son went to visit her, followed by my husband, some of her bowling friends, and her sister from Delaware, my Aunty Irene.  

My son told me from day one that he wanted to see her, even if he knew she was dying.  Aunty Kiki, for him, was his "favorite childhood hero."  Besides being there for every birthday celebration and every holiday, Aunty Kiki would make special trips just to see Little Lewie.   She would do "sleepovers" with him at Grammy's house, which included watching The Polar Express, taking him to Friendly's, and making him her famous "Aunty Kiki oatmeal," which was really just an instant packet of Quaker Oats.  You see, having been an educator for 30+ years (a history school teacher and a high school counselor), she had a special ability to relate to kids, and quite honestly, she made everyone, kids and adults, feel like the most important people in this world when they were in her presence.  When I was growing up, she felt like a second mom, and that's exactly how Little Lewie felt about her, too.  (She never had any kids of her own, so we became her kids.)  Here are just a few pictures I found of Little Lewie and her together...  In some ways, you can say that Little Lewie was her little shadow.









In 2017, Aunty Kiki was diagnosed with Cancer; Lewie was nine years old at the time and making his First Communion.  As his godmother, Aunty Kiki wanted to be there more than everything, but she was undergoing her first round of aggressive chemo treatments.  From then on, finding a picture of her was difficult.  The sickness from chemo caused her to miss a number of holidays, and even if she did have the strength to see us, she looked like a Cancer patient.  At the time, I didn't feel right taking pictures of her in that condition, but I now wonder if I should have asked her.  Maybe she still would have wanted to be in those pictures after all--hair or no hair.

Her 70th birthday in 2019 was a blessing.  It was a short stint during her Cancer when she was told she could stop the chemo, and she spent several months doing what she loved best--bowling, visiting Maine, and being with family.  Her hair was back, her energy was back, and her vibrant spark was back.  Her 70th was probably the last day we had a chance to see the "true" Aunty Kiki--the one that was happy and not plagued by this horrible, horrible disease.

On the Thursday before she died, my mom, Little Lewie, and I made the trip to Connecticut Hospice to see her.  (We even brought our puppy, Bruce.)  Due to COVID, they would only allow up to two visitors at a time inside, but she was allowed up to five visitors outside.  Bruce would be allowed to see her outside, too.  Since the nurses there said she was too weak to be pushed outside in a wheelchair, they helped Little Lewie roll her entire bed outside--right near the ocean (where the building is located).  Little Lewie wanted to honor her by bringing Friendly's.  She had told him that when COVID was over, she would treat him to breakfast at his favorite restaurant.  Now that we knew that wouldn't be possible, we decided to stop at Friendly's and bring her a vanilla milkshake.  We ordered our meals to eat along with her, too.  The sad truth is that she could only take one sip of her milkshake, but she smiled and said a few sentences to Little Lewie--it would be the last day that she could say full sentences to anyone.

This is the scenery at Connecticut Hospice and what it's like to roll a bed outside.
I didn't take a picture of Little Lewie's last day with her; the moment,
instead, will be forever engraved in my memory.

It took my Aunty Irene from Delaware another three days to come up and see her.  Since she lived out-of-state, she couldn't visit until she presented a negative COVID test.  Once she got her results, she rushed up to Connecticut to see her.  At this point, it had been days since Aunty Kiki spoke or even opened her eyes, but when she heard her sister's voice, her eyes opened.  We spent that last day, the 27th, talking to her, and we even asked the music therapist to play his guitar.  He played and sang some Beatles, some Elvis, and some John Denver.  We particularly became emotional when he played "Annie's Song," as my Aunty Kiki's name is Annie Gallant.  While she couldn't speak, her feet seemed to move gently to the music.  She could hear us!!

The very next morning, her suffering was over.  She had waited until everyone she loved had a chance to visit, and then (we were told) she went peacefully.  I had the honor of giving her eulogy and even helping write her obituary.  Little Lewie even wrote a few words about his favorite person in the world.  I told him that she loved him too much to leave; if she had her way, she would be back as one of his guardian angels, and I believe that's exactly her new role.  Since her passing, in a strange way, life has been a little lighter and happier.  She would want that for us because she was a big kid at heart.  She loved life.  She is, and forever will be, our inspiration for love, laughter, and joy.  God bless you, Aunty Kiki.  You are our beacon of light.

My 45th Birthday

10.18.2020

We celebrate birthdays in this house from August until October.  Little Lewie starts the cycle on August 11th, then Hubby is on September 16th, I'm on October 3rd, and then my mom (Grammy) is on October 8th.  

I love that we all have birthdays right in a row, and I'll admit that I do love having a Fall birthday.  Every year, I basically request the same things--a hike, pumpkin picking, and/or a visit to a farm somewhere.  I just LOVE the Great Outdoors, and October in New England is usually the perfect time for everyone to be outside without feeling too hot or too cold.

This year, I had several weekends to enjoy my birthday.  We started the celebration on the first week of October at Hogan's Cider Mill.  A friend recommended the place, and we went on a triple date with two of my closest friends.  I started out with a "flight" of hard cider and tried the varieties you see below.  I don't drink much, so needless to say, just these few samples were enough to get me silly.





I finished my tasting with an Applegria, which was out-of-this-world.  It came garnished with an orange slice and a cinnamon stick, and it was oh so yummy.  I quite honestly enjoyed the cider more than if we had gone to a vineyard!  (If you noticed, their tap room is outside--perfect for staying safe during a pandemic!)

The next week, my mom and I went pumpkin picking.  Hubby and I were supposed to go hiking, but he hurt his knee walking  running with our puppy, Bruce, and now it looks like he has a torn meniscus.  (This week will most likely be the MRI followed by surgery.)  I was disappointed that his knee injury would be interfering with our typical fall hikes and farm trips, but at least I still have my mom and Lewie!

                                        My coworkers sent me these beautiful flowers!





My mom and I went to our favorite farm in Bethlehem, March Farm, and we enjoyed picking out our pumpkins along with some Cider Donuts.  We reminisced about the days when we used to take Little Lewie here to explore their playground and little houses.  Oh how I miss those days!  Without a little three year old toddler in tow, the farm trip was pretty quick, and we left to grab a bite to eat before going home.  (My mom wouldn't let me take a picture of her since she hasn't had her hair done since COVID began in March.)

If I ever go back to reminisce about my 45th birthday or this particular fall (2020), I'll remember it as a time of highs and lows.  The highs, of course, are getting to celebrate with my hubby, friends, my mom, and Little Lewie.  (Also, Hubby surprised me with a new laptop computer to replace my current one that has a big horizontal black mark across the screen.)  The lows were that my Aunty Kiki was admitted to SMILO Cancer Center just a few days before October, and Hubby injured his knee.  At this particular moment, we've been told that my aunt should go into Hospice, and yet, she still isn't done fighting this disease; after all the chemo, surgeries, and everything she's been through, she still wants to fight; she still wants to LIVE.  In one minute, we're planning for her funeral, and the next, we're talking to doctors about how she can get rehabilitation, so she can move back home and enjoy the rest of her life.  Every day, I either drive my mom to see my aunt, or I'm visiting her.  She's spent a long 23 days in the hospital so far, and we have no idea whether Hospice is next or rehab.  What happens when the mind is strong but the body is weak?  Can her will alone help her to heal?  How about prayers?  (My aunt is very spiritual and religious.)

We wait and see and remind ourselves how very precious life is...  Another birthday is another year to live...

Mystic Boat Adventures - Celebrating my Hubby's 50th

9.26.2020

2020 has certainly been the year of milestones, both good and bad.  On September 16th, Big Lew celebrated his 50th birthday--a milestone I still can't seem to fully realize, considering that I started dating my husband in 2002, when he was just 32 years old!  Back then, Big Lew (and me) looked more like this:

Now, 18 years later, we're married, have a 12 year-old son, and a puppy named Bruce.  We've lost important people in our lives but also made new long-lasting friendships.  We struggled through the pains caused by addiction and illness but also learned from them, grew, and developed a new inner strength centered on gratitude and spirituality.  We've made both monumental decisions and trivial ones, but together, we've learned to respect our differences, honor our contributions, and celebrate life's moments--both big and small.  Together, we learned that life isn't always perfect, and sometimes the most well-intentioned plans go awry, but we've also learned that sometimes life hands us these perfect moments that can never be explained other than calling them a sheer miracle.

Before the pandemic, I imagined celebrating Lew's 50th surrounded by tons of family and friends from every stage of life.  (Thanks to good ole' Facebook, Lew has managed to stay in touch with people from grammar school, high school, college, grad school, and beyond.)  More than likely, the party would have been big and maybe even a little rowdy and overwhelming.  I think it would have made Lew happy, satisfying his extraverted instinct to be the life of the party; however, on the other hand, a celebration like this might have been sure to conjure up old memories too--memories of loved ones, like his parents, that might have been too painful to remember right now.  

Life is always about surprises, and so this year, instead of hosting a party and worrying about social distancing, we decided to look on Trip Advisor for an outdoor activity instead.  We found one.  Mystic Boat Adventures offered an opportunity for us to rent our own mini-power boat for two people and be part of a tour of the Mystic River and Seaport.  Since turning 50 only happens once, we spoiled ourselves and chose the three hour sunset tour.  People who went on the adventure raved about the tour, so the closer our date came, the more excited we became.  Now instead of a party, hubby and I had a chance to go on a fun date instead--just the two of us.

Taking the day off from work, we headed out to Mystic early, partly to get something to eat and partly to make sure we were at the dock on time.  (Our ticket said very specifically that if we didn't arrive 40 minutes early, we would have to forfeit our trip.)  When we arrived, we saw that a few outdoor seafood restaurants were closed due to new "after Labor Day" hours.  However, a small little sandwich & breakfast shop called Carson's Store was open, so we happily went in to order and then eat outside on their porch.  The store was darling, and their lobster rolls and sandwiches, like a lobster BLT, were to die for.  It was situated on a quaint street in Groton, CT leading to the ocean, where all the homes surrounding it were historic, most built in the 1800s.  While waiting for our food, I couldn't help but walk up the street a little ways to admire the old homes--I even snuck in a few pictures.






Eating at Carson's was the best decision we could have made, for not only did we not get hungry during our three-hour sunset cruise, but after the tour was over, we were wet, salty and uncomfortable.  There was no way we could have mustered up the strength and energy to sit for an evening dinner.  (My makeup didn't hold up well either!)

After parking at the dock and visiting a nearby restroom, it was our time for the boat trip.  Our tour guide brought us to our mini-power boats (there were five couples in total), and then he proceeded to give us a half an hour driving lesson.  I personally didn't have an interest in driving the boat, so I spaced out during the lesson and let Lew take the reigns.  He was happy to do it.  The next thing I knew, we were off to the races.  We cruised out into the open waters, then took it down a notch to tour the Mystic River, and then it was back out into the open waters again to do donuts, figure eights, and other fun boating stunts.  I jokingly told my husband, this was a guy's trip.  If I had my own power boat tour for women, I would have most definitely kept the cruising limit at 30, so we could enjoy a nice leisurely ride with a throttle in one hand and a glass of vino in the other.  (Then again, boating and alcohol are probably not a great mix.)




My favorite part of the tour was cruising down the "Mystic River."  We didn't see much wildlife, but we saw lots of beautiful privately owned million dollar boats.  They had names like "Gratitude," "The Whit's End," "Wanderlust," "More Overtime," "Seas the Day," "Tie the Knot," and "Mystic Mermaid."  Then we drove to the historic part of the river where we had a chance to look at replicas of the Amistad and some of the oldest whaling ships in the U.S.; they were all docked at Mystic Seaport, a 19th century seafaring village and museum.  During the time of our tour, the boats and the seaport should have been packed with visitors from all over the world, but because of COVID, the whole area was eerily quiet.  






After the beautiful tour, it was time to head back out into the open waters, so the boys could "play" with the boats.  It was a bumpy and windy ride back with lots of splashing.  (My clothes, hair, and face were wet and salty after the tour.)  Once everyone calmed down from their stunts, it was time to search for a perfect spot to view the sunset.  Our tour guide took us to one place by an island with a house.  (Unfortunately, the homeowner came out and made a fuss--she felt our boats weren't giving her privacy.)  So, we left that little cove and found another.

After the sunset, we scooted back into port--a little cold, tired, and wet from our adventure.  Thankfully, there was a place to change our clothes before the 90 minute drive home.  

It might not have been an expected way to celebrate my hubby's 50th, but it sure was a memorable one.  Maybe next year, I'll surprise hubby and Little Lewie with their own Mystic Boat Adventure for Father's Day...  We shall see.

A Boat Charter to the Thimble Islands

9.05.2020

In mid-August, a scary reality dawned on me...the summer was almost over, and I had little to show for it!  It's as if I turned on a light switch, and the darkness was suddenly revealed.  I kept looking at the calendar, as if it were my first time, counting the days.  "No, that can't be right.  School isn't starting in less than two weeks."

COVID-19 stopped everything.  There were no amusement parks, adventure parks, weekend getaways, museum trips, trips to the movies, or restaurant reservations.  Sure, some of these places opened up with appropriate social distancing measures, but we didn't even consider them with my 75+ mom living with us.  In my daily habit of doing the same-ole-same-ole, I neglected to consider that we could have made plans doing safe activities--activities that would have been fun if I only took the time to think outside the box, do some research, and be a little creative...

On August 17th, after two months of being asleep at the wheel, I finally started researching activities on the internet, and guess what?  I discovered that if I had opened my mind a bit, I would have seen there were actually many safe alternatives to staying home.  There was a two-seater boat tour in Mystic (Mystic Boat Adventures), bicycle rentals, Harley rentals, kayak rentals, and the like.  There was hot air ballooning, RV rentals, and glamping (luxurious campsites with heated tents, tree houses, or another unique places to stay).  Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in my own depression, fear, and anxiety that I let an entire summer go by without any plans, and now, in less than two weeks, it was time for school...the carefree weeks of summer vacation would be over!

On the 17th, I started researching Thimble Island Cruises--an activity in Connecticut that I always wanted to experience.  I didn't like the idea of going on a boat with other passengers, but hey, maybe I could be convinced to think otherwise.  

Then I read... "This year only...charter a boat for less than $200 and invite up to 15 passengers to go on a one hour boat tour."  The only "hitch" was that the boat charter was not available on the weekends; I could only charter the boat Monday - Thursday, so I had to take a day off from work and find others that could do the same.  On the 18th, I called to make boat reservations, and before I knew it, I was asking friends to join me for that Thursday (the 20th).  My sister-in-law could go with her four kids since, being a school teacher, she would not be expected to return until August 24th.  Then two of my grade-school friends could come with their two children as well.  (Their husbands couldn't get the time off from work, but then again, if they had, we would have been over the 15 person limit.)  I wanted to invite other friends, too, but we couldn't go over the limit...not even by one person.
























The day ended up being spectacular.  In fact, the weatherman said the temperature and the dew point made it one of the top ten best days of the year.  We wore our masks onto the "Sea Mist," but once we were on, we social distanced by family.  Each family found their own comfy spot on the top deck of the boat, and we enjoyed taking in the views.  We learned a little bit of history, too, such as there are 365 Thimble Islands, and the name of the islands come from the Thimbleberry, a plant native to the area that produced sweet, red berries, similar to raspberries.   Unfortunately today, the captain told us that the Thimbleberry plant doesn't even exist on the islands anymore.  While some of the islands are nothing more than a rock (that stays above sea after high tide), some of the other islands are populated and lavish...with beautiful houses, decks, and even swimming pools.  We all joked about each of us purchasing our own island.  I found my dream island above...it's the one with the ski chalet type house with solar panels.

On the tour, my two close friends surprised Lewie by bringing him birthday gifts (since they weren't able to come over for his big day).  They also brought Munchkins to share (in lieu of a cake) since we were limited in terms of what we could bring aboard the boat.  They sang "Happy Birthday," and so, Lewie was able to celebrate his 12th birthday AGAIN--"Sea Mist" style!   

The hour tour went by fast, so when we disembarked, we decided to find a nearby restaurant with outdoor dining; some of the restaurants closed in the area by 3 p.m., so we drove to the next town over and ate at a popular seafood restaurant.  There, we sat at picnic tables and enjoyed food like fried clams, lobster rolls, fried shrimp, onion rings, hot dogs, burgers, and fries. We talked about our summers, the 2020 that never was, and of course, the looming first day of school that was bringing a little anxiety to all of us.

At the end of the day, we vowed to send each other pictures, and we all left, grateful for having this last "summer experience" to enjoy together.  I left wishing I had planned more unique outings like this but also feeling satisfied at the same time.  It was better late than never.  It's a day, for sure, that will go down in the "history books" as the boat ride during COVID-19 that made life feel normal and even a bit joyous.  We will rise above this pandemic, and our friendships will endure this and any challenge that comes our way.