I opened Facebook and my jaw dropped to the floor. The first thing to pop up on my screen were my cousin’s friends telling her how sorry they were for her loss. What loss? I quickly put two and two together that my uncle had a stroke and died. I called my mother screaming. I was in total panic and disbelief. My mother said she knew nothing and hung up on me to call my family in California. It couldn’t be true. I kept telling myself it couldn’t be real. Then I felt my grandparents around me, and I knew that it was true. I like to believe that they were helping my Uncle to crossover. He passed away with no warning. I couldn’t imagine how my aunt and cousins were dealing with this. I called my cousin Lila, who was crying. At that moment when she answered the phone crying, I knew for sure that it was real. He was gone. They obviously felt badly that we found out on Facebook, but within all of their trauma and grief they did not contact family.

My Uncle was a special man. I know everyone probably thinks that about their family, but he truly was. He healed so many people. His mission in life was to help as many people as he could, and he did an amazing job. I had so many conversations with him and was always amazed by his brilliance. I called him Uncle Einstein because he looked like Albert Einstein and had a brilliant mind. I would never have another conversation with him. He wouldn’t be at Max’s Bar Mitzvah. Reality slowly began to set in.

My brother lives in Virginia with his wife and kids. He has a chiropractic office in Buffalo and happened to be in town that day. How crazy is that? I went to go see him for an adjustment because I was having so many headaches. My big puppy tends to pull me on our walks, and he had pulled my neck out. Leave it to my awesome brother to get rid of my headaches. There is nothing like a good chiropractor. Before my adjustment Corey turned to me and said, “I guess we are headed to California!” When he said that out loud, I knew I wanted to go. Could I go?

My husband Seth and I started to look up flights for me to get to California. How was I going to do this? I started to question myself. I started to think about everything that would have to fall into place for this to happen. I started to think about all the work that it would entail to go on this trip. If Seth was coming with me things were about to get even more complicated. I have three kids, two kittens and one puppy that I take care of every day. I am the one that keeps everyone organized, gets everyone where they need to go, feeds everyone, etc. Seth takes trips for work and doesn’t think twice because I am home to take care of things. He is a lucky guy! When I travel, things are a little more complicated. My wheels started to spin, and I started to doubt my ability to be able to go. I started to get angry with myself for doubting if I could go. I wanted to go, and I was going to make this happen. This was a challenge that I was going to conquer! No excuses to be made. When you want to do something, you need to find a way to make it happen.

First, I talked to my mom about my wanting to go to California. My parents were willing to take the kids for four days. Step one of child care was accomplished in making my plans for my trip. I couldn’t believe that I was going to leave my children for four days! The next step was getting my puppy Tanner taken care of. I talked to my friend’s mom who was willing to take Tanner for the four days. I accomplished the hardest two steps and now needed a plan for my kittens! As you can see, my going away is not an easy task to accomplish! Max is 12 years old and I decided it would be Max’s job to take care of the kittens. The kittens love Max the most, so I knew they would be happy in my choice of care taker. Max could hang out at home (during the day) and play his video games and spend time with our kittens. I had child care, puppy care, and kitten care all covered at this point. Packing up three kids, my puppy and myself was no easy task. I know that I am not alone in saying that prepping for traveling is one of my least favorite things to do. My mom won’t fly and my dad’s back bothers him, so they were happy to stay home with the children. I was really going to do this!

Seth has been asking me for years to take a trip with him. I have previously only done one night away from my kids (like an overnight at Russel’s or Salvatore’s). This was going to be three nights away and a very long two days of traveling. I was going to be across the country away from my children. Every time I would get nervous, I would assure myself that my kids would be ok. My fur babies would be ok. Sometimes I need to worry about what I want and not what my children want. It has taken me 12 years to get to that point, but I have arrived. I am sorry Seth, that it took my uncle dying for me to realize that three nights away from my kids is ok to do.

I get motion sickness, so I am always a little hesitant to fly. The two flights to California were on time and smooth. My mom stocked me up with every remedy she could think of so that if I got sick, I would have stuff to help me. I sat and read and watched movies the whole day. When is the last time I have been able to relax all day? Seth gets to fly to California all the time for work. Now I see why he doesn’t mind. Seth told me he gets tons of work accomplished on the plane because no one can bother him. There are no children, no wife, no clients, and no employees on the plane with him. It is his favorite work space.
By the time we took two flights, rented our car, and drove 45 minutes to our hotel, we were both toast! We made it! I was very proud of myself and very thankful that Seth came with me!

I slept for 11 hours that night! I cannot tell you the last time that I did that. I woke up to 9 missed calls from Lillie and went from peaceful bliss to total panic in two seconds. I felt like a terrible mother in that minute. Why are us mother’s always so hard on ourselves? I called Lillie and explained that it was only 8:00 AM in California. She didn’t understand the time difference very well. I explained that I had been sleeping and that when I don’t answer I am asleep. My kids were fine! They were in good hands and I quickly calmed down and regrouped to have a nice day. It was time to get ready to go see my family. That is why I was there.

When I went outside the sun was shining and the weather was so much warmer then Buffalo. Wow was the word that came to mind with the weather California was having the weekend I was there. When I arrived at my aunt’s house I was in total awe as I looked around me. Everything was green around me. There were birds chirping, deer running around, a lake across the street, a pool, a hot tub, a tennis court….my instant thought was, “Can I live here?” My cousin Adam opened the door and gave me the biggest hug. It was at that moment that I knew that I had made the absolute right decision coming. I would fly across the country just for that wonderful hug. By the time I hugged my Aunt Judy, my cousins Adam, Josh and Lila and met their friends, I couldn’t have been happier to be there. I soaked in the family time and the sunshine that weekend. My cousin Marnie arrived late afternoon and my brother Corey arrived that night. It was for a terrible reason, and I was wishing my parents could be a part of this, but what a wonderful family reunion. When I would smile and have a good time, I would find myself feeling guilty. “Remember why you are here,” I would tell myself. Then I would think of Uncle Harvey and that he would want us all to be celebrating his life and having a good time together.

I did have a couple of hiccups that day! When I checked in on Tanner, I didn’t get a good report. Tanner is a huge puppy. He is 55 lbs and strong and bigger every day. I am guessing he will gain at least another twenty pounds. Seth and I are working hard to train him. My friend’s mom told me he was just way too much for her. I felt terrible. At that moment, I should have called my parents and asked them to go get Tanner. They were hesitant to take my three kids and my puppy at the same time, but they would have done it for me. As Tanner gets older my parents will have an easier time watching him for me. I keep reminding myself that as hard as it is to have a puppy, every month gets easier. Lesson learned that she can’t watch Tanner. I appreciate her trying!

A very nice relative arrived that night. He was very excited that Seth and I were from Buffalo and started to tell us people that he knew from Buffalo.

I think the long days had gotten to Seth because he was being super cranky and was not wanting to play Jewish geography as he called it. It’s funny how people tend to think that I know all the Jewish people in Buffalo. I will say that I know a lot of them, but certainly not all of them! I wasn’t happy with my husband that night and his lack of tolerance! He made it up to me the next day by being a total sweet supportive husband. I know I expect too much of Seth. I expect him to be sweet, calm, understanding and patient 24/7. No human being can be like that all the time!

The next day was harder. The next day was the service/celebration of my uncle’s life. I didn’t want to go. My aunt didn’t want to go. For some reason, going to this event was making it seem very final to me. When I walked in the room, I couldn’t believe the love that I felt from every person that I met. My brave cousins took the stage to go over my uncle’s life story. I face timed my parents so that they could feel like they were there the whole time. My cousins Adam and Josh spoke for about an hour about my uncle’s incredible life. I learned so much that I didn’t already know. My cousins did such a fantastic job! I don’t know how they did it. I am telling you all now that I will never speak at a funeral. In fact, I told my husband that I didn’t think I was going to be able to speak at my son’s Bar Mitzvah. I am a total mush ball!

My cousins finished speaking and then one by one his patients came on to the stage to talk about the wonderful help that Uncle Harvey gave them. I don’t know what you all believe in, but I like to think that maybe Uncle Harvey was watching. I hope that he saw his entire celebration! It was a good one!

My brother, cousin Marnie, Seth and I head to the restaurant next to my aunt’s house to order everyone dinner. The rest of the family was toast and wanted to go back to the house to relax. It was a long emotional day for everyone. My brother Corey was placing our order with the server. Just as he would place an order, and the server would read it back to confirm it, he would get another text message that somebody else wanted food. I swear we added to the order at least five times, and that server truly had the patience of a saint. Finally, we had placed all the orders and went to sit at the bar and have a drink while they made all the food. We eventually made it back to the house with enough food for everyone.

We all went back to the house for dinner and I started to get sad. I get sad every time I leave my brother. He was flying back to Virginia that night and I was flying back to Buffalo super early in the morning. I was leaving my brother and all the family that I was sitting with at the dinner table. I didn’t want to leave. Why can’t all my family live in the same location? Why can’t I make that happen? It was time to drive my brother to the airport and say goodbye to everyone. Leaving is never easy for me. I want my California family to know that even though I am thousands of miles away, I send them my love every day.
My lessons learned:

Take on a challenge! Just because I think something will be hard and complicated doesn’t mean I can’t do it! When you take on a challenge and accomplish it you feel good about yourself. I did that in honor of my uncle.

In just one day a loved one can be gone. Say I love you often and give lots of hugs to your loved ones. I will tell you all that this experience has made me appreciate all my loved ones a little more. Go hug someone you love!

Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R