My First Tattoo!

Traditional Tattoo
I’m going in!
My First Tattoo
Meet Brian, my tattoo artist
My first tattoo
Winnie likes it!
My tattoo!
It matches my black Lululemon’s!

Dear Reader:

My daughter insists that she remembers the day we passed a tattoo shop in Lahaina, HI and I said, “I want one!” She was five years old, so I would have been 42 years old. I don’t remember the moment, but I’m sure it’s true.

I stop to admire people’s tattoos all the time, and sometimes I ask if I can take a picture. My phone is full of random shots of stranger’s body art. So, when Natalie told me she had a second ear-piercing done at a tattoo shop, I thought…it’s time! I visited her the following weekend and asked her to accompany me to Traditional Tattoo. I figure a college town is a great place to find a good shop; they work in volume.

Before an artist begins to work on you, there’s paperwork to be completed. I laughed out loud when I read the question on the consent form asking if I was drunk or in any other way unable to make a sound decision. Ha, ha…I thought…I’ve been planning this for 16 years!

Then I met my artist, Brian, and told him my story and showed him a picture. I wanted a shell on my ankle because two of the three most important people in my world have or continue to call me “Shell.” My dear, sweet brother, who was four years younger than me, could not say: “Michele.” So, he abbreviated from a tender age and continued to call me that until he died in July 2001.

Sometimes, when there’s a death, little things like nicknames will disappear. But, I’m fortunate. My husband of 32 years mourned the loss of Matt with me. And, he picked up where my brother left off and still occasionally calls me “Shell.” It always touches my heart when he does. (I haven’t told him that…oh, now I have!)

There’s one more very good reason for me to carry a shell around with me; I’m leaving my home by the ocean to move to a tree-lined street in the city! You can read more about that right here in the coming weeks.

Brian checked out my photo and asked if I’d like it exactly as shown or if I wanted him to artistically interpret it. You guessed it. I told him to put on his artist’s cap. He came back a short time later with a tracing of a shell and I agreed to it immediately. I was then ushered back to a room that resembled one in a dentist’s office…if the dentist was really wild.

I took a seat in the dental chair and felt the butterflies alight in my tummy as he cleaned my ankle and started to prep for work.

“Two things,” he said. “Do not move without first giving me a head’s up. AND NO WHINING!”

“I don’t whine,” I said as my daughter took my hand and nodded in agreement.

He began the work slowly pausing to allow me to gauge the level of pain I was going to feel. I knew I could handle it. It’s a small tattoo. From prep to clean-up, it was a mere twenty minutes and we passed the time easily talking about his three daughters and the ink he’d placed on his wife’s body. We laughed when he told us that he sometimes gets carried away checking out his work and noting needed touch ups when his wife would rather he stay focused on her other assets.

My art was covered with a special, medicinal tape used for burn patients, so my after-care has been easy. Nothing was needed until I gently peeled back the tape four days later. After another four days, the redness has dissipated and I love the look. I continue to simply clean it  and apply Thayers Witch Hazel Toner and Vanicream lotion to alleviate the itching.

As we left Traditional Tatoo, my daughter asked if I’d be back for more art. My initial response was “No!” But, within ten minutes, I noticed that I kept referring to my shell as my FIRST TATOO!

Well, dear reader, have you been inked?!

Michele

 

 

Forever Young

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Matt Lehman, February 1964 – July 2001

Dear Reader:

I’m a writer; I love language.  But sometimes a picture says it all. Just a glance and you can surely see the joy and the pain I feel when I think of my brother. He was handsome, charismatic, kind and very easy to be with. It seems impossible that he’s been gone for 17 years. He will remain forever young as he is in this picture joking about his girlfriend’s early morning romp through the water.

Michele

Beauty in the Ordinary

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Dear Reader:

There are so many ways to feel happy. Sometimes, a moment can bring on a smile that lasts for days.

I showed up at the gym for cardio today, as usual. I was feeling exhilarated and energized at the 35 minute mark on the arc when a young man climbed on the machine next to me. I had met him the week before. It was impossible for me to forget his name.

I removed my ear buds and said hello. I was feeling so good that I couldn’t resist teasing him.

“Oh, Matthew, that was just a talk test,” I said.

The look of terror in his eyes was amusing, but he was too sweet to torture. I’m into humor, not cruelty, so I quickly assured him that I was fine. I imagined him imagining me collapsing near his feet and requiring immediate emergency care!

Five minutes later my workout was done and he peaked at the numbers displayed on the screen of my machine.

“Wow, you just did 40 minutes on that thing,” he exclaimed.

Not long ago, I felt self-conscious when I found myself sweating next to a young, fit person. But, today I was impressed …with myself. I knew his praise was genuine. That was a gift, but it wasn’t the only one he presented to me, without knowing it.

If you know me or have read my posts, you are aware that I lost someone very special to me in 2001. He was 36 at the time; I was 40. I will live the rest of my life looking for him… and finding him.  My brother, Matthew, seems to appear in the face of any young man who is kind to me…and also happens to call himself Matthew.

Look for the beautiful, in the ordinary, and you’ll find it!

Michele

Happy Birthday, Brother

Birthdays, siblings, brother, death, death of brother

Dear Reader:

He would be 54 years old  today, but instead he rests under a marker that reads: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not here—I do not sleep.”

Today,  I can not help but remember my brother. Perhaps, you, too, have a special birthday you remember but no longer celebrate in the conventional fashion. Or, maybe your mind turns to a loved one on the anniversary of his death. Loss will touch us all and I have found that it can be such a comfort to share the experience with others. I hope you will not mind if I share my experience of loss with you today on this day that can not help but move me.

During his 36 years of life,  my brother, Matt Lehman, occupied a large place in my heart and in the imaginations of family and friends. He was handsome, stylish and charming. (Think Matt Dillon, seriously!) He was a salesman and a collector. He’d been born with long eyelashes and affecting eyes. And bat his eyelashes, he did! The gesture was even more disarming when it was combined with his ready smile. He radiated enthusiasm, as if for him the entire world and everything in it was exciting. He was a joy to be around, and so everyone wanted to be his friend.

Matt was the youngest of three siblings. He was like the exclamation point after his two sisters. And, he certainly was not meant to be the first to die. But, as he told me one day after a visit to the cancer treatment center “how can I ask ‘why me’ when there’s a 12 year old child sitting next to me waiting for his chemo treatment?”

There was never any hope given other than the  possibility that treatment could extend his life a bit. It was in July 2000 that I received his phone call telling me it was cancer, “not a good kind,” and the doctors had estimated he had four months left. In the end, he lived a full year after his diagnosis. He made the most of that year generously sharing the time he had left with those who loved him.

I vividly remember an exchange with Matt during one of our last visits. His faith was unshakable; he was going “home.” I did not share his strong beliefs, but I found myself explaining that I couldn’t go with him just then. I needed to stay and raise my 4-year-old daughter. My baby brother was going somewhere and some part of me felt that I should go with him or instead of him. Or maybe, some part of me wondered how I could bear my grief.

For a long time after Matt’s death, I felt sure that every ring of the phone would bring news of illness or death. And, of course, just below the surface was the fear that came with being brutally reminded of my own mortality. But, I have celebrated the milestones of 40 and 50 remembering that my brother never did. I am grateful for the years I’ve been given to test my commitment to my husband (shaken but never destroyed!) and to watch my daughter grow into an adult I admire, respect and love.

And, so  with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, I remember my dear brother today but not beside the headstone that bears his name.  For he is not there. He lives with me in my heart and I know in the hearts of many others.

I welcome you to share your remembrances of those you have loved and lost.

Love,

*Shell

*This nickname died with my brother. When he was young, he could not manage to say Michele and so I was Shell to him for as long as he lived.

This post was originally written on February 19, 2017 and posted after my blog went live on March 24.

Dia De Los Muertos

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My altar
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Catrina draped in my grandmother’s rosary beads
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A lamp made by my brother

Dear Reader:

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a misunderstood holiday celebrated in Mexico, and in my home, on November 2. Given the timing of the holiday and the macabre imagery and costumes, people assume it’s simply “Mexican Halloween.” But, the meaning of this holiday is so much greater.

In the year 2000, my 35-year-old brother was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer and I did what I always do when presented with a major life challenge; I researched and read about the topic of death. Books have always been my saviors. During the toughest year of my life, as I watched Matt die, the accumulated wisdom of others brought me comfort. It was during this time that I learned about Day of the Dead.

The holiday takes its origins from the Aztecs and was celebrated around the end of summer like Halloween. With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, Catholic influence led to the combination of the holiday with All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. Dia De Los  Muertos follows the same two-day structure. In the Catholic tradition, All Saints’ Day calls us to reflect upon how we should live; All Souls’ Day is a celebration of those we’ve loved and lost. In the Mexican tradition, November 1 is the day to remember the loss of children and November 2 is the day to remember adults who have left us. The most important aspect of the holiday is the belief that the spirits of the dead join the living for the celebration.

In preparation for the party, altars are created that contain remembrances and offerings to our departed loved ones. (Sugar skulls are often included for children and alcohol for adults. You may have noticed KAH tequila in my display.) I love arranging my tribute each year and I love talking about my altar to visitors in my home. Those who are represented are gone but not forgotten; that truism is comforting to me.

I remember:

  • My grandmother, Rose Carmella Bartucci. She had a big heart and memories of her make me smile. My daughter never knew her, but her middle name and nickname (Rosebud) are in her honor.
  • My brother, Matt. I miss you so much.
  • My father-in-law Jim. My husband inherited all your best traits and my daughter adored you.
  • Bart, my faithful four-legged companion. The pink shed isn’t quite the same without you.

During the time that my brother was sick and following his death, I often felt very alone in my grief. It’s not easy or natural to speak of death and dying in our culture, but I believe very strongly that we should. What better way to start a conversation than by bringing the departed back into your living room?

I’ll end this now as it’s time to toast my loved ones.

Cheers,

Michele

In Memoriam

Dear Reader:

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I took a call from my husband as I was driving to my weekly counseling appointment.

“Something horrible has happened,” he said with uncharacteristic alarm.

You mean another horrible thing…I thought. It had been six weeks since my well-loved 36-year-old brother had died and only two weeks since we’d buried him. I was heartbroken; life was off-kilter, out of focus. Every time the phone rang, I anticipated more horrible news. I was living with the burden of a heightened sense of vulnerability.

That day the collective sorrow of the nation merged with my personal grief. I pondered what we term “senseless death” as I did when Matt passed. People taken too early, before hopes and dreams can be realized. Families left wondering why. Faith and equilibrium threatened.

The lives lost on 9/11 became part of our country’s history. Matt’s life was part of my history. The parallel drew me closer to all those who suffered that day. Loss and sadness are part of what it means to be human. It is there for all of us to experience together, but ultimately to resolve on our own.

Today, I remember my brother, Matt, who was taken too soon. I miss spending time with him; it was so easy. I remember the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on that awful day when as a nation we felt our collective vulnerability. I remember, most of all, that loss is part of life, and as such, kindness should be our imperative.

With heartfelt condolences to all who have loved and lost,

Michele