Today is the first February 9th that I have worked since 2017. I can vividly remember the details of how that day played out, but to sum it up…. There was a blizzard, I was working from home on my couch (don’t ask me why I wasn’t in the home office) and in the middle of an Employee Engagement meeting I got a call from my sister – a call to tell me it was time to come to the hospital and say goodbye to our mom. The good news about a blizzard is the roads were empty, and fortunately we have a truck. We made it to Long Island and I was able to say goodbye. I took some time off and went back to work on February 20th but at some point I put a permanent recurring meeting on my calendar to block of February 9th as “take today off” and it’s set to show me as out of office.
For the last 5 years, I’ve spent February 9th on the same couch I was working from in 2017. I cuddle up with my cats and a blanket and watch movies all day long. It’s my way of coping and as I put it to coworkers, it allows me a day to not deal with people. I don’t have to worry if I’ll get triggered in a meeting and want to be sad. I have built myself a buffer for my own mental health – I allow myself to be sad and I don’t worry about what other people will say or do. Sometimes when I think about this day of reflection, I wonder if it’s something I will always do. For now I have ample time off and can afford to burn the day – plus it forces me to take at least one day off in Q1.
Today I learned that February 9th doesn’t just have to be a day to curl up and watch movies. I had a meeting that I needed to attend as prep for a training I am doing in a couple weeks. I knew signing up for the training that I would have this meeting and decided I could make it work. Then a couple other pressing things came up and I ended up working all morning….and a bit of the afternoon. I knew I could take off. I knew I had logged the time already. But I still decided to work. If for nothing else, knowing I had the excuse that I was “off” so I could log out and be done if I wanted to. I spent the rest of the day with Tom visiting some friends. Today marked the first day in a while that February 9th wasn’t a sad day. Not because I actively kept myself busy to forget what today was – I didn’t, it was on my mind all day – but with time wounds heal. It’s still hard knowing she’s not here. It’s really hard on special occasions. But I hope she’s proud of who I’m becoming as I grow up. I hope she’s up there, smiling down on me.
I already learned that it’s still hard dealing with the fact my mom isn’t here….I realized that the 2nd year without was a lot harder than I anticipated. Even knowing all that, I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would hit me today returning to my middle school. As soon as my sister and I were out of middle school, my mom became an Algebra teacher there. Today they dedicated the Patricia Gotimer Memorial Garden in her name. The garden came about as an Eagle Scout project for one of her students in her last year of teaching; even leaving school at Thanksgiving, my mom made a profound enough impact on this young man that he took the initiative to build a garden for her at her school.
Even knowing that I’d see her friends, colleagues and some former students, I wasn’t prepared for all the feelings – and that became abundantly clear as I couldn’t even get through my short speech I had prepared without tears, lots of tears…
Mom, this one’s for you. You always loved seeing your students succeed and watch them do amazing things…well Tommy knocked this one out of the park. The old beat up courtyard that used to just be used by skateboarders, well now it’s a permanent place for you at ERMS.
It has been said, “Being a good teacher is a lot like being a good gardener. Good gardeners are optimistic and patient. They are able to see the potential in those struggling young seedlings and enjoy watching them grow, develop and bloom. They give special tender loving care to those few plants that are struggling and not thriving.”
East Ridge was a second family to my mom; both the staff and students. My mother’s best friends were some of you here today. You were her friends, confidants and family when Sarah and I grew up and moved out. For about 1200 Ridgefield students, she was their math teacher who loved to teach Algebra and she was so fiercely passionate about her students’ successes. For 15 years, she started the school year by decorating her classroom with students’ favorite numbers covered in pictures of things that were important to them. I imagine if she created her own, it would be the symbol for Pi, adorned with math symbols, a deck of cards, a picture of Sarah and me, a Yankees’ logo, pictures of the beach and flowers. When she wasn’t preparing class plans or grading quizzes and tests, she always loved to garden.
I can think of no better way to honor my mom than through this garden. It is comforting to know that there will still be a little place in Ridgefield for her even though she is gone. On behalf of my sister, Sarah, myself and our entire extended family, we want to thank everyone involved in making this garden happen. We would especially like to thank Tommy for his idea and hard work to create this lasting memorial for my mom and thank the entire community for the love you have shown us over the past few years.
Today marks two years without you, Mom. Two years of missing you and accomplishments I don’t get to share with you. Every day I miss you, I am reminded that life is short and it’s a blessing to wake up each morning.
This year without you was hard; harder than last year. I expected the first year of firsts this and first that without you to be hard; I was mentally prepared for you to not be there and everyone else was on eggshells about it. But then when my 2nd Mother’s Day and Christmas (and everything else) without you came, I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be. When I made everyone’s Christmas presents this year, I felt I was channeling a bit of you, and all I wanted to do is share it with you, but you weren’t here.
I know you’re watching over us and here with us everyday but it’s just not the same. I went back for my MBA and got it – keeping a straight 4.0 throughout it all too! When I got my final A, all I wanted to do was share the news with you, but you weren’t here. When I got promoted in June and then got another promotion in October, I knew you’d be proud of what I’m accomplishing but it still hurt because you weren’t here.
Every time I’m sad you’re not here, I remind myself that every day is another blessing. I remind myself that you always pushed us to be better. I will always push to be a better person tomorrow than I am today…I will always strive to make you proud.
It’s been 1 year, Mom.
1 year to reflect and remember the good times.
1 year with a flood of memories and emotions coming and going.
1 year of holidays without you.
1 birthday without a call from you.
1 less Christmas card to mail.
1 school year begun without making a seating plan for your classes.
1 year of wishing I just had 1 more day with you.
It’s been 12 months, Mom.
12 months of measuring time since you were here.
12 months of adventures.
12 months of trying to live my life to the fullest.
12 months of feeling guilty for having fun without you.
It’s been 52 weeks, Mom.
52 weekends that I look out the window hoping to see a cardinal to know you’re nearby.
52 Sunday masses saying a prayer that you’ve been reunited with Grandpa in Heaven.
52 weeks that I count my blessings and remember all that I still have.
It’s been 365 days, Mom.
365 days that I’ve wanted to call or text you.
365 days that I’m reminded of the little ways you always helped me.
365 sunrises and sunsets you didn’t see.
365 days when I’m hit with tears from nowhere.
365 days that I hope I would be making you proud.
Every day. Every minute missing you still.
“A beautiful day begins with a beautiful mindset. When you wake up, take a second to think about what a privilege it is to simply be alive and healthy. The moment you start acting like life is a blessing, I assure you it will start to feel like one. Time spent appreciating is time worth living.” — unknown
February 9, 2017 – 6 months ago, my life changed forever. August 10, 2016, nearly an exact six months earlier, I already thought my life had changed forever.
First, I lost my job in August of 2016. I had not been unemployed since the 8th grade and next thing I know, I find myself unemployed with a mortgage and student loan bills coming in. This was not something I was prepared for but I survived it and came out of the predicament only better for it. Then, once I thought my life was back to normal, I got hit with a brick from left field — mom was diagnosed with cancer. But the real curveball, she passed away 10 weeks later. Living through both of these events (without getting any grey hair 😊) have taught me some immensely important lessons that will be with me the rest of my life.
The first lesson came shortly after getting over the shock of being unemployed — there are more important things in life than a job. Sure, we’ve all heard this, but to what extent do we listen and understand it? One week into my unemployment, Tom’s grandmother was in the hospital with a ruptured appendix, being unemployed allowed us time to spend with her and listen to stories about her and her family. It also allowed me to be there for Tom’s sister when she tore her ACL and needed rides to and from appointments, or just someone to keep her company. Getting rid of a 60+ work week allowed me to remember how important it is to spend time with family and friends.
My lack of work also enabled me to enjoy our vacation to New Hampshire last fall to ring in my 30th, without working through it (which is what I did days before loosing my job when I was on vacation celebrating my friend’s 30th). And fortunately I was able to land a job offer about two months later (and then still have six weeks before my start date due to background checks and such to actually relax). Having this time to finally enjoy life again, to even have a life outside of work was big. I forgot what it was like to have free time, to prioritize myself and my family. I learned it quick enough to ensure that my current job allows me a separation and balance between work and the rest of my life. I’m very fortunate to be at a company that values personal time; it allows me to work from home two to three days a week and to be home every evening with Tom to take care of our house and spend time with our friends.
Another lesson I have learned is that people will surprise you — people you think will be there and people you didn’t expect to come pouring out of the woodwork in your time of need. You find out who your true friends are. You remember who is there when you really need it – not the person who shows up for a party, but the person who drops everything any hour of the day to be a listening ear, or the person who hops on a plane to fly halfway across the country to be with you for 36 hours.
There so many others lessons I have learned and it’s hard to put it all into words. While I have, what I hope is the hardest year of my life, behind me, I think I’ve come out the side in a much better place. I am happy and relaxed. I spend time with people that really matter. I spend time in the quiet of my own home alone with no one but the cats. I have learned to take a break and really detached from work — to enjoy vacation, and to take them more frequently. But it all boils down to putting your self and your values first and foremost in everything you do. I know that my family, whether by blood or friends who have become family, is the most important thing to me and I will do everything to make sure my relationship with these people does not take a backseat to any establishment.
I knew that turning 30 last fall was a sure sign that I was truly an adult — no more claiming that “oh I’m only in my 20s, I’m not really an adult”… I knew that would somehow click and make me feel older, but I never thought I would learn those lessons the way I did. Life has sure handed me some lemons, and I hope the lemonade I made tastes sweet. 🍋
So lesson learned, and take it from me, YOU are what is important. Your own happiness is the upmost priority. And no one has the right to stand in the way of you living your life in a way that leaves you proud and satisfied. This past year has impacted me in a way I didn’t know possible and I am forever changed from it. I hope these lessons don’t stray far from my mind and that I continue each day forward being the best me and doing what’s best for me and those I love.
“Dear Past, thank you for all the lessons. Dear Future, I am ready.” — unknown
It’s only been a few months but I find myself wanting to call or text you nearly daily about simple things — like the sunrise on the way to work or how often we see cardinals. There was the one time I walked out of the front door at your house and saw a cardinal perched in the pine tree in front of my old bedroom, it was as if the bird was just watching Tom and I as we moved all of the items we were donating our front to be picked up. Was that you? Were you trying to tell me you were pleased that we were donating so much and threw so little out?
Then there was the time I wanted to tell you who is buying your house. You always loved to here about reconnecting with people and finding out about people from our childhood. Well here’s a good one, mom, one of my high school classmates is buying your house with her husband. You would have loved to know that.
And with that, I said goodbye to your house today; the house you raised me in. My childhood memories are rooted in that white ranch. I’ve been here often this year, more times since Thanksgiving than I have probably been here since I moved out almost four years ago. You always made sure to have time for me when I came to town to go to the dentist or to get an oil change, but I left today not only knowing that 70 Flat Rock is no longer somewhere I can go home to, but not even knowing when I may be back in this town.
I know this hasn’t been my home for a while but it will always be the home I think of when remembering my childhood. It felt like I had to say farewell to the final piece of you today. I promise I’ll still visit you and think of you often, just because I won’t be going home again doesn’t mean I’ll be thinking of you any less.
eu-lo-gy (yo͞oləjē), noun, a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, typically someone who has just died.
Writing my mother’s eulogy was never something I thought I would have to do. After my mother’s passing, we asked an uncle if he would give it, he responded asking if my sister or I had thought about giving it ourselves. My answer was no, I didn’t even contemplate I would or should be the one to speak. After discerning and discussing with other family members, I decided it should be me. That’s when the hard part began.
Based on a eulogy someone shared with me I knew only two things. One, keep it short and sweet. Two, I wanted to start with a powerful and meaning quote and end with a poem. That took 10 minutes to find and put onto paper, but for the next 36 hours, there I sat, looking at a paper with nothing in the middle.
How do you sum up a life in a brief speech? A life full of love and joy. A live full of ups and downs. A life full of friends and family. A life full of laughter and tears. I began to feel inadequate. There was certainly no way I could do my mother any justice in a matter of moments. What if I forgot something important?
While attempting to complete the speech, I was driving down an old country road. It was a picturesque winter scene of New England and I completely lost it. I was crying, sobbing really. It just hit me out of no where. A few moments later, the tears calmed down, much less but they just dribbled down my cheeks. That’s when the wave of emotion clarified my restless mind. The speech came to me. So many ideas, all at once; I felt overwhelmed but it all made sense. When I finally sat down at my computer, the words flowed and this is what I had…
It has been said, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
My mom was a great teacher and a teacher to all – whether she was our mother, sister, daughter, friend or actually your math teacher. She inspired many and taught lessons both in and out of the classroom. We will miss these lessons immensely.
One lesson she taught us was to do what makes us happy. Something that made my mom happy was going on long drives. Normally these drives took us north, usually up Route 7 to Massachusetts and sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we’d hit the Vermont border. One thing we never did was drive south to New Jersey.
Often, we’d go to Kent Falls, the old covered bridge, Stockbridge, Mass or go shopping at the outlets in Lee. Some of my favorite memories with mom were these drives. We would stop in Stockbridge at the General Store so I could stock up on 10 cent candies and Sarah and I would plead to stop at Catherine’s, a chocolate store along the route, to get a treat.
She loved taking drives so much, we would drive over 2 hours away to go apple picking every fall. And during the summers, we would always drive a few hours down here to hit up Jones Beach so mom could work on her tan, a trait I did not inherit from her.
Car rides weren’t the only thing our mom enjoyed. Mom loved to play cards; though I’m pretty sure that is a requirement to be in the Donnellan family. There are many fond memories in the family of playing Michigan Rummy or hearts around our Grandmother’s dining room table.
Sarah’s favorite memory of mom is staying home on snowdays only to sit by the fire, play pokeno and feast on artichoke dip. And mom did enjoy artichoke dip; she always volunteered to make some for get togethers.
Another lesson we were taught by mom was to be good people. However that may be. Her rule of thumb was to always start by taking care of your family, and then those around you.
When I was preparing this, I asked some of mom’s friends if they had any good memories I could incorporate, Lourdes shared with me one of her memories. A few years ago, mom, along with other teachers, took up a collection to buy Christmas presents for one of the students whose family couldn’t afford them. Mom and Lourdes went out to buy 19 gifts for the students. This was also something that mom was proud to have done.
My mother loved her students. She was so fiercely passionate about ensuring they succeeded and would keep tabs on her former students; I can’t even imagine how many there were, but mom sure seemed to know whenever one of them had a big achievement.
She was very proud to be a teacher. In fact, over the past few months she would very proudly share that she was still a middle school math teacher and had not retired.
As a friend and former neighbor said the other day, “I hope one day to be half the teacher she was.”
Sarah and I want to thank our cousins, Kate, Kevin, and Kailyn, along with our friend Amaka, for their help going through the family photo albums and creating the picture boards and slideshow that brought back many memories of our mother; some of which are pictures from long before we were born, when our mom was a little girl with long blonde curls.
So let me end with some stanzas of a poem shared with our family by a friend:
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
On behalf of our entire family, I would like to thank you all for being here to support us. Through all of this, you have all shown our family love, compassion and support. It has meant the world to us.
Rest in Peace, Mom. You are missed and forever loved.