Unemployment - not just for those in finance

All things great in 2008. Not! Let's see . . . my Dad died. And now, I have joined the ranks of unemployment. I was laid off this afternoon. A second round of layoffs happened today.  The first one happened before I returned to work after Dad passed.  I am not the only one. Saw it coming. Not unexpected. A little stunned, but my spirit is still strong. From a staff of almost 30 down to 6 . . . and the clock keeps ticking. Gotta love non-profits. Sure.  My time at GCWW was not wasted. I was meant to be there, so that I could appreciate the time I had with my Dad and meet the people I've met who've been so supportive during our family's cancer journey. Greater things are in the stars. I look forward to taking the time to refocus and reinvent myself. One door closes, and another opens, they say?  To blessings & a new chapter. Mahalo.

(To be clear -- Only GCWW, the headquarters, has laid off its staff, not the individual GCs across North America.) 


Dad's ashes

Cloudy & a little humid today. Mom's second weekend with us in Parlin. Last night, we brought Indian food home for dinner. Mom even tried a dish of stewed cambing (goat).  I made banana whole wheat pancakes for breakfast this morning.  Then we went to a local Portuguese bbq restaurant for lunch this afternoon.    
We finally spread some of Dad's ashes at Keyport.  It was that time during the day when the sun peeked out, and a soft bayshore breeze blew Dad's ashes into the endless memory of our July Keyport day.  

As I watched Dad's ashes falling into the water, I thought,  . . . like pixie dust -- so true, so light, so peaceful.


Morning ride - on the bus

(listening to my ipod)

I'll Be There
by The Escape Club

Over Mountains
Over Trees
Over Oceans
Over Seas

I'll be there In a whisper on the wind
On the smile of a new friend
Just think of me
And I'll be there

Don't be afraid, oh my love
I'll be watching you from above
And I'd give all the world tonight,
To be with you
Because I'm on your side,
And I still care I may have died,
But I've gone nowhere
Just think of me,
And I'll be there

On the edge of a waking dream
Over Rivers
Over Streams
Through Wind and Rain
I'll be there
Across the wide and open sky
Thousands of miles I'd fly
To be with you
I'll be there

Don't be afraid, oh my love
I'll be watching you from above
And I'd give all the world tonight,
To be with you
Because I'm on your side,
And I still care I may have died,
But I've gone nowhere

Just think of me,
And I'll be there
In the breath of a wind that sighs
Oh, there's no need to cry
Just think of me,
And I'll be there

On the bus

on the bus
endless thank you cards
to write out
(almost 300)
Grief (sometimes seemingly endless too)
takes me by surprise
and i weep
on the bus


Autumn's time

I’ve been keeping a vial of Dad’s ashes in my bag, on my commute in and out of the city, driving to and from Parlin. We haven't had a chance to spread them in Keyport just yet. Makes me feel like Dad is still with me, even if in a small way. Guess that’s why Mom likes being at home with Dad’s ashes. She can feel that she’s at home with Dad.

Every time I enter Mom & Dad’s home in Jersey City, for a moment I recall those last few weeks – how Al & I stayed over, went back and forth . . . how I would walk straight to Mom & Dad’s bedroom to see how Dad was doing . . . how I would chat with Dad to see where his thoughts were that day . . . how I would play one of two music CDs (guitar renditions of Ilocano folks songs) from our family friends, the Tangonans . . . or I would put the TV on the
Escape instrumental music channel . . .

We are all still adjusting to the
‘new normal’ which means we get to enjoy Mom’s company on the weekends in Parlin. We pick her up on Friday night and drop her off back at her home on Monday morning before we go to work. And in the meantime, I call Mom at least three times a day – once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at night. Unless we happen to be in Jersey City in the middle of the week to have dinner with Mom or attend to some official business like installing a security system, addressing last will concerns, or tying up some loose ends on Mom and Dad’s finances.

I know that the
'new normal' offers much in terms of peace for Dad, Mom, Al and myself. I welcome Autumn’s leaves turning color and time.


Happy 40th Anniversary

Today is my maternal grandfather's (Lolo Mateo) birthday and my parents' 40th church wedding anniversary. My folks actually eloped in June of their wedding year before having a church wedding the following September.  Al & I will be so blessed if we make to our 20th.  

Mom spent her first weekend with us in Parlin since Dad passed away.  She had her moments, and so did I. We trekked out to Sandy Hook, just 20 minutes away from our home. Mom reminisced about how the last time she and Dad were there was when she was pregnant with me.  Dad was afraid to have a second child after Michael, so I came as a surprise. Mom shared that when I was born, Dad was so excited that all he could do was smile and say how much I looked like him. 

We attended St. Bernadette's 8.30am service this morning.  Mom had her moment through the Mass. Mine came at the end during the closing song. Something about . . . Jesus, You are the way especially in times of distress.  And both of today's readings seemed to address the transience of physical life as well as the reward of an eternal one . . . 

It was a typical Cabalda-Torres weekend what with the Jersey shore (Sandy Hook & Avon), cheering niece Nicole & nephew Max at their scheduled Freehold soccer games and dinner at Dino's (which I have to admit, has replaced our former 'family occasion' restaurant, Kujaku, in Stamford).  We bring in our own bottle of wine, and we are always happy to see our favorite waiter, Evan.  I didn't get my usual sauteed soft shell crab slathered in white wine sauce with linguine.  What with all the eating we've been doing (Mom's home cooked meals & such), I opted for the flounder florentine (fish stuffed with fresh spinach & feta).  And of course, I took half of it home.  

As Mom & I worked through a bottle of cabernet (from Chile), all she could say was, Your dad must be looking down on us very happy.

Happy 40th anniversary, Dad.  We miss you.


On the turnpike: men in black

I find myself weeping mostly when we're headed home from Jersey City back to Parlin on the turnpike. Maybe it's muscle memory.  All those nights we left Jersey City to go home and pack more clothes for the next few days only to return to waiting in Jersey City.

A good friend reminded me that Dad's moment of death is only a part of his life, not his entire life.  

Tonight all I could think about as we drove down to Exit 11-GSP, was how the men in black from the funeral home carried my Dad away in a navy blue body bag.  I didn't see them actually place my Dad's body in the bag.  But I watched them carry the body bag from the bedroom and through the living room.  

The hospice nurse warned us that if we didn't want to see them do so, we should go to another room.  She mentioned that she'd had a hard time the first time she witnessed a death in hospice care, and the body was carried out. 

I held the door for them as the men in black went down the stairs and placed Dad's body into the back of a black SUV.  All I could scream inside my head was, They're taking my Dad away in a body bag . . . how am I watching this?  

No, it wasn't a bad dream.

On the turnpike: Dad driving

While driving on the turnpike, I can also reflect on how Dad was there to help Al & me through Al's open heart surgery.  On more than one occasion, Dad offered to drive me down to Parlin so I wouldn't have to go alone. Sometimes it was to pick up more clothes as I was staying in the hospital with Al as he recovered.  And other times it was after work, and my parents helped to keep Al company during the day in those first few weeks while I was at work.  I'd only been at my job then for a couple of months when Al's open heart bypass had blessed our life as we knew it then.    

Silent most of the ride, I tried to hold back my tears and said, "Thanks, Dad, for driving me down."  

Dad responded, "Sheelagh, you don't have to thank me.  Of course, I'll do anything for you." 

That's all I needed to hear.  


Night calls

Every night 

(ring, ring)

y skaramoochi
agida da ta

hello sheelagh
why are you calling

hi dad
just calling to say hi
how are you
what are you watching

watching my drama on TFC
did you eat
what did you eat for dinner
don't work too hard
you take a rest now

good night, dad
talk to you tomorrow
love you

love you too
good night


no more
night calls.)

Grumpy Griever

Today was hard.  My last day before I return to work.  I had to finalize some bank business with my mom.  I'm having extreme anxiety about my mom being alone for full days as we get back into the swing of . . . life.   

Mom & I had lunch at sinugba, Dad's favorite turo-turo restaurant, corner of West Side & Roosevelt avenues, in Jersey City.  Mom & I got the combo meals.  She ordered sinigang pork & isda.  I had pinakbet & longanisa.  We topped off our late afternoon meal with a shared halo halo. Yum.

Spoke with two of my women friends tonight, each of whom lost their mom a while ago. They reassured me that:
  • Grief moves in waves, and each day does get better.
  • The worst part is over.  
I'll have to write these on post-its and staple them to my body.  (Yes, staple them.)

ps Thanks, sisters, for sharing your courage with me.

Grumpy Griever     



We've been unsuccessful in persuading Mom to come stay with us for part of the week in Parlin though she has agreed to the weekends.  I think.  

Al & I head back to work this week.  I worry constantly about Mom being alone too much.  At least, I have work to keep me busy.  

We visited with Mom this evening after attending a family christening (Al's side).  We asked Mom once again if she'd like to spend the night or perhaps the next few days in Parlin.  She declined and said, "Sheelagh, it's normal for me to grieve."  

"I'm grieving too, Mom," I responded.  "And I worry about you.  I don't want you to be alone too much."  At least, not right away.  

Mom says she can't leave Dad alone in the house because he'll have no one to keep him company.  (His urn, which contains his ashes, sits prominently next to his photo in the livingroom.)  She has many things to do in the house, she says.

Mom shares that she couldn't sleep last night, so she waited for Dad to come and visit her. But he never showed up. 

This is where it would be helpful to have more siblings.

Am working on Mom to consider the idea of exploring a bereavement group.  She's a little resistant right now.  But I'll keep trying.  Going to church every morning seems to be working for her.  

I have been overwhelmed by the tremendous support we've received from family and friends. In addition, we've received so many thoughtful notes from current colleagues as well as co-workers from my former life at NYU.  Thank you so much to everyone for your thoughts, prayers, condolences & love.  

That we have received such encouragement from everyone makes me so grateful that I am my father's (& mother's too) daughter, that he had so much to do with the woman I've become.  Makes me wonder how children are 'born to' their parents, how any child connects with a parent.  

As I witnessed half a dozen babies being christened today, I was saddened by the thought that my Dad will never physically be there to share in our future daughter's or son's birth . . . How St. Thomas the Apostle was the same church that I attended Tito Frank Ramirez's (Dad's good friend) funeral this past May . . . How I could experience both life & death (eternal life, so the Catholics teach us) in the same location . . . 

To blessings.


Dad's obit - Thursday, September 4

In case you missed it in The Jersey Journal.  (Click on the link.)

Of course, the death notice does no justice to Dad's life.  The funeral home asks very dry questions when your family member passes.  Any living relatives? Their names?  The funeral director tells you that you can't list everyone in the notice.  

Did i mention that the funeral home which hospice recommended was absolutely terrible? Apparently a hierarchy exists among funerals with bodies v. direct cremations & memorial services.  Funeral homes can be big business, says Al.  But it was the one hospice suggested. Maybe hospice gets some kind of kickback.  
In addition, it was the funeral home who had cancelled their payment meeting with us. Then I had to hear, "Usually the family pays for service fees beforehand."  I had to remind them that they cancelled the original meeting, and they assured us it would be fine to send a check in the mail.  Then the original quote they gave us was shy of $50, so now we have to send a second check into them.  Sad.   

Can't wait to complete the feedback form. 


Not at the head of the table

As I reflect on Dad's portrait below, Dad's sitting at the head of the dining table in his & Mom's (their) home. He always sat at the head of the table. He won't be there anymore.

My mind wanders. I catch myself thinking about my Dad's last breath throughout the day. I can see his image, and I relive those last 12-15 minutes. Wondering if my dad knew that Al & I were there during his last moment, at the time of his death when his body left this physical world, and his spirit began its journey into eternity.

Since we've been on retreat here in West Yarmouth, Mom has often said, "Your Dad would have enjoyed it here very much."

And Al responds, "I'm sure he's smiling and he can see I've caught no big fish, Mom."


Portrait - Dad at home

I'd exhausted all of my vacation and personal time this past June, so that I could be with Dad and support Mom. I'm so thankful that I was able to take a leave from work when Dad was hospitalized a second time in August. A few times, I'd wondered whether or not I was making the right decision. Should I be at work? How much time did Dad have? How much time did I have with Dad?

I definitely made the right decision. Making sure to relieve Mom from her night shift, I will always treasure the time I spent 'in the now' with Dad in the hospital and then at home where he died so peacefully.

It was the most sacred and holiest moment I'd ever witnessed in my entire life. I'm glad Dad got his wish.

he is here

winding roads capeside
bay water soothes the lone soul
his spirit is here

Anniversary of 9.11

As I reflect on September 11, 2001 I remember seeing a huge hold in the WTC before getting on the PATH at Grove Street in downtown Jersey City. If I hopped on the train, chances were I would return home around noon if things were that bad.

Once I emerged from the 9th Street station, I walked to Washington Square Park where students were running across in bedlam, on their cell phones, sobbing and in panic. Something was definitely wrong.

I looked across the park and down LaGuardia. There was no WTC.

I was working at 4th & Mercer then. I went to the office, and NYU had decided to shut down. I'd stay in the city to help manage any student crises. By noon, PATH trains were shut down.

I'd walked part of the way to Midtown, got on a bus. Covered in ash, people around me were hysterical, talking about having to run through the streets downtown. Eventually, I'd made my way uptown to Innwood and stayed with friends that night. I couldn't get through to my folks until the next morning.

When I finally got through, I said to my Dad (he was the one who picked up the phone), "I'm fine. Spent the night in Upper Manhattan. Am planning to make my way home so long as the trains are running."

As I hopped on the 1 train back to the PATH the next morning, the silence was both deadening and peaceful. Almost no one in transit, no one uttered a word. I wasn't sure what had happened. I just needed to get back home to Jersey City.

Within the next couple of days, I found myself volunteering with the Red Cross, placing emergency items in boxes that were being shipped across Hudson River from downtown Jersey City at Exchange Place to WTC. We heard that the body bags the firefighters thought they needed an abundance of, weren't necessary.

In the months ahead, I was obsessed with reading every individual's bio who had died in the WTC posted in the NY Times. Tearfully I spent my mornings at work wanting to give each person my time. A moment to honor them. My heart goes out to all those families who lost their loved ones so unexpectedly.

Life is a such a miraculous gift.


Deflating in West Yarmouth - Cape Cod (MA)

A most heartfelt thank you to everyone who attended Dad's Memorial Mass this past Saturday. It was such a comforting and loving sight. So many familiar faces and some not so familiar. I was most overwhelmed by the moment when each individual had an opportunity to place a cornflower blue pompom stem in a basket by Dad's ashes & photo. One by one, I could feel each person honoring Dad. And as Al mentioned, no doubt that Dad would've reacted with an enthusiastic "My goodness!"

The repass was a wonderful way to celebrate Dad's life & spirit too. The last time we were all at South City Grill was to surprise Mom for her 65th birthday last December. Felt like life was coming full circle somehow. Cousin Mitch shared a comprehensive photo slideshow of Dad and his life -- so many occasions, so many moments, so many connections with family & friends. I appreciated tremendously that folks had an opportunity to share their memories with us in such a public & intimate way. Thank you so much. We look forward to sharing memories of Dad often.

Dad's ashes will be with Mom in Jersey City. Mom has given second thought to bringing them to the Philippines since she will be living most of the year in the States. I'm extremely relieved that Mom changed her mind. I think she is too.

Mom, Al & I decided to leave Jersey for a few days to decompress. Al & I had originally planned to get away at this time to the MA shore off season along with both Mom & Dad. On the drive up, I was sad & overwhelmed thinking about how Dad was supposed to be with us too. Back in June, Dad said to us that he didn't think he would be able to come. He was right.

I am reminded that as my life begins a new chapter, one without Dad physically here, I will be a grief dancer for a while. And that's okay. Part of the process, I suppose. No doubt, we will each have our moments. As we walked onto Sea Gull Beach this morning, I looked at the vastness of the water and felt the warm sun as well as my Dad's presence. The quietness of that moment embraced me with such peace.

For those of you who were unable to attend Dad's memorial service, we missed you. Please know that we do understand. Here is what I shared:

How to begin to honor the life of a man who was my father, my mother’s life partner, a brother, an uncle, and good friend to so many? Since my dad had been in hospice care at home, I’d been hesitant to begin writing about his life. At Dad’s request, we brought him home to die peacefully, and he asked me to be sure to write a good one.

Dad’s life is more than just an interesting story. It is the journey of a man who arrived in Jersey City in 1967 to meet a woman who would be his remarkably doting wife and experience a life that included both a son and daughter, loving nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, in-laws, cousins, godchildren and wine-drinking, card/tennis/golf/mah jong-playing buddies.

Dad and Mom moved all over Jersey City before settling on Nunda Avenue along Lincoln Park and eventually Gates Avenue bordering Bayonne. While many of Dad and Mom’s old friends moved to the suburbs, Dad and Mom chose to remain in Jersey City for its convenience and familiarity. Jersey City is where my parents met. Jersey City is where Michael and I were born. Jersey City is where Mom grew her nursing career with Hudson County. And Jersey City is where Dad cultivated many of his long-standing friendships.

Since doctors diagnosed Dad with aggressive advanced stage prostate cancer more than three years ago, Alex and I made every effort to visit with Dad and Mom a little more frequently, making sure to make our weekly Sunday lunches. Great friends, Dad and Al have had many philosophical and laughter-filled conversations, sometimes trying to out-rationalize each other. As Dad’s health deteriorated, we visited more often, stopping by on weeknights after working in the city on our commute back home to Parlin.

During one of our meals, I asked Dad, What is the best advice you can give Al and me? “Live a simple life,” he said.

Dad was a man of simplicity. Enough money to more than provide for his children. Enough love to grow a marriage that withstood 40 years and financially support extended family when needed. Enough faith to appreciate Catholic brotherhood. And enough strength to fully enjoy living with cancer.

Living simply is best described by Dad’s daily routine. Attending daily morning Mass here at Our Lady of Mercy. Senior discounted coffee with his buddies. Hitting a few golf balls at the local driving range. Grilling in the backyard on a weekend afternoon. Family karaoke with Dad’s high scoring renditions of the songs, “More” and “My Way.” Spontaneously deciding to catch a movie with Mom or ring up his buddies for a friendly round of mah jong. Sitting in his canopy chair at Bayonne Park engaged in sudoku.

The months before Dad embarked on the last leg of his journey, having suffered renal failure Dad dutifully underwent long-term dialysis. It eventually became too much to endure along with the pain caused by spinal tumors. In early August, it was apparent that we, as a family, had to support Dad in how to best live the rest of his life. We halted all medical treatment, including chemo and hemodialysis.

In the hospital Dad turned to Al and said, “You be the one to talk to me. Those ladies don’t know how to talk to me.” Dad was decisive, confident and amazingly strong. “I’ve had enough. Stop it all. No chemo. No dialysis. I’m ready.”

“It’s better to go straight than to take the winding road,” he said.

Dad always enjoyed speaking in metaphors. Out of grad school, I was living alone for a long while. Dad would often say to me, “A flower with no bees buzzing around it – smells bad.” Thanks, Dad!

We’d known that Dad had been ready to die for a long time. He’d been sharing with us since March that he didn’t know if he was going to make it to this December. Having returned from a respite in the Philippines this past winter, Dad was also able to enjoy time with family in California this past spring. In addition, visits from grandnephew Malachi and niece Kathleen as well as nephew Mitch were rightfully timed this summer.

What I will cherish more than our historical argumentative adolescent daughter-father relationship is the summer memory of our Keyport outing this past July. Despite the unbearably painful bone metastases, Dad walked with a cane then. We wanted to meet Dad’s ongoing request to go crabbing and enjoy a day along the bay, where the serenity of the water and summer breeze will forever carry Dad’s spirit -- his robust heart, stamina and courage.

We love you, Dad.


One week ago - mourning morning

It's the morning of Dad's memorial service. Dad died one week ago today. I'm anxious in anticipation of being overwhelmed by everyone and everything that will happen today.

Many of our family arrived from out of town. Yesterday, Mom had Uncle Tante (Dad's brother) try on one of his suit jackets. That unnerved me a bit. It was too small anyway.

The funeral home will deliver Dad's ashes in the urn we chose directly to the church this morning. Not surprising, I have been in event planning mode and anxious about today's details.

I miss Dad.


In Memoriam

Memorial Mass 
Amante B. Cabalda

Saturday, September 6

Our Lady of Mercy 
40 Sullivan Drive (at Bartholdi Avenue)
Jersey City, NJ 07305

Repass to follow at:
South City Grill / 70 Town Square Place
(behind Newport Mall in downtown Jersey City)

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month symbolized by the color blue.  
While black is the traditional color of mourning, 
we invite all Memorial Mass attendees 
to wear any shade/symbol of blue 
to show support to Amante's family & friends.

In lieu of flowers, please feel free to make donations in Amante's memory to:
Gilda's Club Worldwide
'Cancer Support for the Whole Family, the Whole Time'
322 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1401
New York, NY 10001
* Please be sure to indicate in the memo 'in memory of Amante Cabalda.' 

Friends & family:  Thank you so much for your visits, phone calls, cards, care packages, thoughts & prayers.  We are overwhelmed by your support and look forward to celebrating Dad's life with you this Saturday. For those of you unable to attend, we do understand and look forward to sharing memories of Dad with you soon.