It’s Funny about Grief…

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I have my Bachelors degree in Accounting, my Masters degree in Sport Administration and my PhD in Greif.

The first two I earned with hard work and money at an accredited institution of higher learning. The last I earned through life, no formal classroom training required.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s funny about grief…

To say you never get over the death of a loved one is true on the facts only. Of course you never get over the loss, how could you? But you do learn eventually how to deal with it and incorporate it into a full and happy life.

They say happiness is a choice, anyway, right? And I completely agree with that statement. We choose how we view any situation and equally, how we are going to react.

Each loss is different, as well. I have lost a child, parent, sibling and grandparent in that order. On its face that’s messed up, if you ask me. Leave it to me to start big…

It’s funny about grief…

We both lost our son…same person…completely different approach.

But there is no right and no wrong way to feel and react (except if you harm yourself) and I think it is actually brave to get help from someone who does not know you and is trained to guide you through the labyrinth of emotion.

It’s funny about grief…

For as many times as I have experienced it I have never really gotten good at it. And, I think that is good.

Grief, for me, starts with a light blocking Kevlar blanket covering me and shielding me from the piercing cuts of sadness that permeate from the outside. Under its cover I can safely deny the depth of emotion and reality in front of me. You are never actually protected but the impenetrable veneer gives me at least the pretense of safety.

Then the Kevlar makes me hot and sweaty and I can barely catch my breath. Its presence makes me remember the reason for its existence and I fall into a deep depression, often removing myself from any type of social situation which would make me uncomfortable…which would be all of them.

Then, eventually the Kevlar is gone and a heavy wool blanket takes its place, still covering me with heavy protection all the while allowing at least a glimmer of light. The wool is itchy and makes me angry. And, I’m angry with everything.

A clerk wishes me a nice day and I get angry. How can I have a nice day?

A friend is expecting a child and I have to go to a baby shower to celebrate. But how?

A father is teaching a child how to ride a bike and I am filled with rage. How can life be simply going on?

It’s funny about grief…

The sun comes up every day. And, it sets every evening. All around the world life is going on.

Then, one day, I notice I am bouncing down the stairs. When did that happen?

I notice I wish the clerk a happy day in return.

I look forward to shopping for baby things and showering the expectant mother with love and best wishes.

I appreciate the simplicity of a father teaching a child how to ride a bike and feel the warmth reaching my heart.

It’s funny about grief…

Then, on an ordinary day, many years later,

I hear Mike and the Mechanics sing “All I Need is a Miracle” while driving and burst into tear laden singing at the top of my lungs.

“All I need is a miracle…all I need is you.” In context I know it’s a love song (or a lost love song) but in my own context it represented my greatest hope for a miracle which was not to come.

I am singing so violently that people can not only hear me through the sealed car but start to look with a mixture of worry and fear.

But then…

It’s funny about grief…

It’s because as quickly as the song enveloped me with sadness and memory, the vicious emotion passes and the moment of malaise is over. I dry my tears, brush off and move on.

If I have learned anything these past 25 years it is to allow myself the luxury of these strong emotions because when I actually feel them, feel the grips of despair, I know they are as fleeting as the shape of a cloud on a windy day.

Eventually, if you get past the denial, get help for the depression and allow the anger to dissipate into acceptance and acknowledgement, you will feel happy again. Even that bouncy happy that fills your heart with joy. Choose to be happy. I know you can do it.


Even Angels Need Birthday Cake


Things I learned the “Summer of 1984”

Even angels need birthday cake.

(Recipe included

Just because he only got three cakes does not mean we should stop celebrating that he was born!

 Our overuse of the word awesome has actually devalued it.

Incorrect use: Oh wow, this movie is awesome!

CORRECT USE: It’s so awesome that she can operate on a babie’s heart, the size of a walnut!

Incorrect use: You got us tickets to the game? Awesome!

CORRECT USE: He’s breathing on his own? Awesome!

Today is the best day I’ll ever have.

There are no guarantees so make the best of every day.

Karel Soucek is one crazy dude.  Tom came into the recovery room at Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital and told me this guy went over the falls and lived. Six months later tries to jump into a ten foot barrel in the Houston Astrodome and hits the side. He was no Nik Wallenda!

 Pediatric Cardiologists and Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeons are two different specialties.

I had no idea that first you see a cardiologist who performs the diagnostics then you see the surgeon (who often has the bedside manner of a brick).

McDonalds has great coffee.

In the lobby of CHOP ( Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) there was a McDonalds. We got a coffee and cinnamon rolls every day. Never underestimate the power of good coffee.

 If a surgeon offers to try the newest surgery on your child…run, don’t walk to the surgeon who does.

The surgeon at the time at Buffalo Children’s Hospital had never done the surgery called the switch. In fact, it had only been performed fewer than two dozen times. He said he’d try.

Mortality rates become a sobering statistic when you are talking about state of the art medical intervention.

We said “no thank you” and became the first family to take our child away from Buffalo for open heart surgery. I guess all legacies come to an end.

Sometimes a hole in your heart is a good thing. Tommy’s pediatric cardiologist turned out to be a world renowned doctor. My sister-in-law Mary had not been at CHOP for a month when Tommy was born. When his diagnosis ( was made she went directly to Dr. Rashkind’s office and is singularly responsible for having him take her nephew on as a patient.

In the end, faith is all we have.

Things are often not what they seem.

I saw a man tossing a little boy up in the air in an enjoining waiting room and felt a pang of jealousy. My husband reminded me there was likely a very serious reason why those two should be in that room. Reframe: thank God they had that playful time together.

The sound of laughter in a hospital is not at all strange.

Superheroes wear masks…and scrubs.

When it’s too hard to pray, too hard to think beyond the next moment, I discovered there are countless and nameless people who are doing the praying for you.

July 2, 1984 – Happy birthday Tommy III – forever young…

Today is not sad, it’s Tommy’s birthday!

My eldest would be 26 years old today!  Imagine, I am the mother of a 26 year old – not actually, but I could be.  He was born on a Monday, after a pretty normal Sunday except my water broke and I had to go to the hospital.  About 20 hours later, born by C-section was beautiful dark haired Tommy, named after his Daddy and his Papa.  I could see he was beautiful even without my glasses!

For those few hours in recovery all was right with the world.  My husband went home for some sleep and to make some phone calls (no cell phones back then!).  As the story goes, the doctors became concerned that he was not “pinking up” and called my husband back saying they were going to transport him to Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.  My husband called our church and they dispatched our wonderful assistant pastor, Father Zaepfel.  Tommy was baptized in the recovery room at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston, New York. 

After some complications (the equivalent of a stroke in an adult on 7/3) Tommy was diagnosed with transposition of the great vessels on July 4, 1984.  VERY long story short we transported him by air ambulance to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where my sister-in-law was just beginning her internship and he was scheduled for a new surgery (performed fewer than 10 times in the US) on his two week birthday.

The surgery was successful and likely is why we had him with us for nearly four years.  I can never thank the folks at CHOP enough for their gift to my family.  Tommy developed a seizure disorder likely due to the event (a bit of a fit as described by a British intern at Children’s Buffalo) on July 3.  He also had Cerebral Palsy for probably the same reason – not good to deprive the brain of oxygen, you know?

Tommy died on May 14, 1988 after being in a coma from a massive and lengthy seizure for almost 4 months.  I spent years trying to make sense of it but that can never be done.  The good news is, even though it will never make sense, I have allowed joy back in my life and I live it every day as if it were the best one I will ever have.

I am a mom.

Life is good!

Jude Russo Caserta

Being a Mom Act I (Act II was Mother’s Day)

I know this seems backwards and it’s true, it is.  Act II was written and posted first and there is a huge reason for that.  My son Anthony, writing his last finals on May 13, 2010, is my second child.  For me, Mother’s Day is about the living.  It is how I have been able to deal with not having both my sons with me.  Just like the Christmas picture that never was, if I dwell on what I have lost then there is no joy in the day.

Hugging Mother’s Day is the anniversary of my son Tommy’s passing.  May 14th 1988.  Adding insult to considerable injury, May 14, 1989 (his first anniversary) was on Mother’s Day.  See what I mean…can’t dwell…

On July 2, 1984 our first son was born by c-section.  Ouch.  After only a few hours his color did not improve to a vibrant pink and was whisked off to Children’s Hospital in Buffalo after a quick baptismal ceremony held in recovery.

He was diagnosed with Transposition of the Great Arteries ( and a VSD.  VERY long story short, we took him to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for a successful surgery.

Just a few months after visiting Philadelphia for the year post operative exam (where he looked great) he began having regular seizures.  He didn’t physically develop at age level and was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy.  We never went more than two months without an in-patient stay at Children’s.  This abnormal experience became part of our normal life. 

 What I describe here is a very sickly child.  He was anything but!  He had an outgoing personality and quick smile.  He had a sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye.  He once negotiated with Santa when he was given a toy at the Christmas party at his school, Niagara Children’s ETC.  It was a yellow plastic school bus.  He told Santa he already had a bus, he wanted a book.

In January 1988 he had a seizure and was in a coma for 3 ½ months. The phone call just before dawn on May 14th is like a distant dream to me today and the years of grief replaced by a life of gratefulness.  I survived what I hope is the very worst period of my life. 

Funny thing is, I am a very happy person and I really appreciate my life.  My husband and I beat the odds and are going to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary this fall.  He is a past president of the board of directors of Niagara Cerebral Palsy and is also an active member of the Cerebral Palsy of New York State board.  Our second son, Anthony, is a really nice kid.  He works hard and seems to love life like his two parents.  Best of all, he is sensitive to folks with disabilities and carries the essence of his brother in his perfectly healthy heart.

Life is good!


Twitter: MidMajorMom

Twitter: JudeCaserta

Being a Mom Act II (Act I on Friday)

If you are looking for some kind of budget coach babble or college athletics insight, today’s blog is not for you.  Stop reading and please check back next week when I will resume my inside view of college athletic business.  However, if you would like to indulge me, I will give you a little glimpse into my life and what makes me tick. 

I am the mother of two sons.  The first was born in 1984 and passed away on May 14, 1988.  Tommy is the first “Act” I describe in the title.  The second “Act” began when my second son was born in 1990.  Two and one half excruciatingly long years after the death of his brother.  I have been a mother in two acts with a 2 ½ year intermission.

In 1990 when Anthony was born I was still in the middle of a long grieving process.  I used to watch him sleep and wait for him to have a seizure like his brother.  That never happened.  I cried for years at Christmas when we took a family picture for our annual Christmas card knowing that all four of us would never be in one picture together. 

What I did make peace with eventually was that I am the luckiest person on earth to be chosen to raise two extraordinary children.  When I was pregnant with Anthony I prayed for ordinary.  All the right parts in all the right places…Please God let him be healthy…and he was. 

We watched his brother struggle with health issues his entire short life.  Anthony almost sensed this even as a young child and has displayed real courage and character whenever he has had challenges.  When he was cut from the swim team his freshman year in high school after being an all-star in elementary school he visited the coach the day the list was posted.  He asked the coach what he could do to make the team next year.  About a week later he set out on a course to lose 10 pounds and start working out.  He ended up losing 35 pounds, grew two inches and swam regularly with his club.  He made the team the next year and was selected a captain his senior year. 

When he searched for a college he did it without the intention to swim.  I am proud to say he earned Presidential scholarships at three schools and attends Fairfield University on a full academic scholarship.  The greatest surprise is that he decided to walk-on to the team and continues to improve his times. 

The hardest thing for me has been letting him do what he needs to do.  Having one child die can cause difficulty when raising another.  It can be tempting to put him in a bubble and protect him in case something bad is going to happen.  It is hard to see him fall and fail but I know if he is going to learn how to succeed and thrive he needs to skin his knees and bruise his ego.

I am also lucky that my own incredible mother is still with me.  I spent the day with her today and know that each Mother’s Day is special and unique. 

Motherhood has also taught me I am much stronger than I ever imagined I could be.  I take no credit for surviving the death of a child but I will accept some for picking myself up and trying again, just like my extraordinary second “Act” son Anthony who has made his mother proud at every turn.

Life is good!


Twitter: MidMajorMom

Twitter: JudeCaserta