Remembering My Brother 8 Years Later

Taken from Facebook

I usually write a blog post every year around June 30, the anniversary of Ralph’s death, I never take that blog lightly, putting a lot of thought into what I want to say.
This year I’m having a hard time articulating what I want to say, and I’ll probably skip the formal post. But I still have something to say.
I miss my brother. I miss him every day and in so many different ways. When I counted out the years on my fingers today, I was almost shocked to see that it’s been eight years.
I miss the fact that he got on my nerves. I miss saying “Oh really?” while inside I’m thinking, “Ok, wrap it up” I miss that imperfect relationship that I would never change.
I miss the family constellation that was complete before June 30, 2009. When there really were 6 of us, bound to an expectation of love and loyalty. And again, it was imperfect.
I miss that despite knowing that I’d spend the afternoon listening to Ralph snore, I spent nearly every Sunday at my mothers house, watching football. I miss wanting him to shut up. Because he was loud and annoying.
I miss knowing that I would always be his little sister, and have the necklace (and a bunch of other jewelry) to prove it. I miss his sincere gifts, like a Snuggie or an Avon watch, because he was always so excited to see what you thought. I always loved them, even if they never made it out of the box.
I miss my greatest supporter and knowing that he truly believed I could do or be anything. He was always so surprised by my struggles with myself.
I miss him because he was kind and good. I miss him because he is my brother



Six Years Later: Remembering My Mom

It was her greatest adventure; a dream come true.
My mother was scared to death of flying. She was so afraid that it left her grounded for the majority of her life. In 1995, my brother got married in Iowa, which forced most of the family on to an itinerary that included a 12 seater plane that squealed as the air rushed through the seams. I turned to my sister and said “The family that flies together….” and she joined in, “dies together.” But my mother remained calm, likely with a little help from the benzodiazepine family. I looked at my mother and through my white knuckled fear, said, “See mom, now we can go to Ireland.”
About a year later, I got engaged and one of the first things on my list of to-dos was to take my mother to Ireland. This was my last chance before  soldiering off into my adult life to make my mother’s dream come true. So, we went.
Here are a few highlights to our trip.
– Driving through Ireland had to have been one of the most stressful things I have ever done. They just hand you the keys to a car that has the steering wheel on the right and send you out onto roads where everyone is driving on the wrong side. My mother didn’t care. I was her chauffer and she was out exploring the world.
-Maps. Remember maps? Those paper things that you spread out to figure out where the hell you are going? Yeah, I used those. But not my mom. She didn’t read maps and she was too busy touring her mother land. So every morning, I poured over the maps so I could take her on her next adventure.
-If you go to Ireland, you have to go to Blarney Castle. You have to kiss the Blarney Stone. If you didn’t, you must self combust. My mother and her lifelong fear of heights hung off the side of a castle and kissed a germ-covered rock. I almost backed out.

-Ireland is known for its bars, beer and Baileys. These are all things my mother was not known for. But when in Rome…. My mother decided she had to experience the real Ireland, so one afternoon she decided she wanted to go to a bar and have a drink. We walk into this small tavern and start to walk towards the bar. I looked off to the side and realized there was a sitting room and figured out quickly that this was where the ladies sit. Well, I’m no lady and neither was my mother. We bellied up to the bar despite the disapproving looks from two older men sitting to our right. My mother topped off the day when she ordered a Baileys with cream. The bartender just stared at her. He presented my mother with a Baileys and a small pitcher of cream on the side. It was as if he could not bring himself to poison the Baileys with the cream. I, on the other hand, ordered a vodka. Because that’s what you do when you are in Ireland; you drink vodka.
While these are just a few of my memories of Ireland with my mother, the thing that sticks out most is her face. So many times I turned to look at my mother and was met with a look of total contentment. Pure peace. As tired and anxious as I was, I let my mother have her greatest adventure. I’m just glad I was there for it.


Carrie Fisher clogged up my news feed today and initially, I didn’t think much about it. Maybe too many celebrities have died this year and I’ve lost my ability to be shocked. And the fact that I haven’t seen an entire Star Wars movie didn’t help either. So I was looking for something beyond news of Princess Leia when I stumbled on a quote that made me look further.

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.” ~ Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

In that moment, I mourned Carrie Fisher. I realized how brave she had been in the face of an invisible illness and how much we needed people like her to remind us that it’s ok to be not ok.
The night my brother died, I basically threw up my emotions on Facebook. I put it all out there to see and I didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it. I spent the next 5 1/2 years writing about every little painful thing I could think of and I felt free. I was living my truth and was, for the most part, minus the pain, loving my life.
That all changed about a year and half ago when, what I now refer to as a “chemical event” occurred. My mind started to change.
I had noticed a pattern in the last few years during the fall of increased stress and difficulty managing everything.  I legitimately had a lot of things that happened in the fall, so I just assumed that the solution was to step back and figure out what my priorities were. Unfortunately, that didn’t help.
I look back now and realize that it started in late summer, increased in September and spun out of control by late October. I was experiencing a prolonged episode of hypomania, although I didn’t know that at the time. According to Wikipedia, hypomania (literally “under mania” or “less than mania”) is a mood state characterized by persistent disinhibition and pervasive elevated (euphoric) with or without irritable mood but generally less severe than full mania.
Ok. I said it…..In case anyone is wondering, I have Bipolar II. Bipolar II is different that Bipolar I in that you never reach a full manic state, but your mood cycles nonetheless.
My hypomania, while at times euphoric, was largely irritable. The longer this episode went on, the more out of control my life became. I was agitated all of the time. I wasn’t sleeping. I was testing boundaries and pushing people to their limit.
I didn’t know I had Bipolar until my life started falling apart and I became desperate for help. I ended up in a psychiatric nurse’s office on a Sunday afternoon and she broke the news.
I was devastated. I felt damaged; like my life would never be the same. And it hasn’t.
I started a psychotropic cocktail of meds that included mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics. (Side note….why the fuck can’t they call it something other than anti-psychotic?) The next day my mind was so quiet that it was frightening. For the first time it occurred to me that maybe I had always had this problem. I didn’t know that people actually live without noise in their heads. I didn’t know what to do.
I responded quickly and positively to the cocktail, which the nurse was pleased with. At one of my first med checks, she looked at me very seriously and asked, “How did you function? You’ve been able to get a Masters, hold down a job, teach and see clients. That’s amazing.” My response: “I did what I had to do. I didn’t know I had a choice.”
Several months later, I had put on a large amount of weight, which is common with certain psychotropics. I was at greater risk for high blood sugar and the nurse and I together, decided to make a change to my regimen. It’s been a very long road.
Summer came and went and I was faced with another fall. As expected, I noticed I was more agitated but hoped that we would continue to tweak the meds and I could avoid a relapse. I didn’t.
This fall is a blur of cycling hypomania and depression. Things were happening so quickly, I’m not even sure if I was hypomanic or depressed. Best I can tell, I was both. I was frightened. I was alone.
I’ve had a LOT of shitty things happened. I watched my dad die when I was 11. I endured the loss of a sibling. I had to say goodbye to my mother. All of those things felt overwhelming and were life changing. None of them were anything like this.
My body and mind betrayed me. I’ve never felt so helpless or so alone. I got up everyday and lived my life because the world doesn’t recognize psychological illness without an incredible amount of stigma. It takes so much to trust people with this secret. And even more energy to hide it.
Am I better? The answer is no. I’m close but then again, we are all just one chemical away from disaster. But it dawned on me that this illness seems to have taken my ability to write. That, coupled with the intense fear that people would find out pushed me to write this today.
As Carrie Fisher pointed out, I need to stop being ashamed. As my nurse pointed out, it’s pretty amazing that I’ve been able to do all of the things I have. I should be proud. I shouldn’t be hiding.
So this is Bipolar. 

Riding the Depression Wave

Two years later and today I needed to read this more than ever. Recognize the slope!


Given all of the attention placed on Major Depressive Disorder and suicide this week, my son said to me last night, “So, are you going to write a blog about that?” pointing to an article about Robin Williams. And my first thought was, no. Not going there.

I’ve written extensively over the last five years about death, dying and grief, but never specifically addressed depression in any of my writing. Was I depressed dealing with the loss of my brother and mother? Absolutely. I was dealing with not only what they call “ambiguous grief”, which is often experienced by children of a parent who has died, as well as siblings who lose a brother or sister (i.e. you aren’t a widow or a widower, so society tends to minimize the impact), but also “complicated grief”, which is what they call it when you lose more than one key person in a short…

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In a world where it feels like so many things go wrong, sometimes, things can go so right.

There’s this thing called vicarious grief, which is a grief response, stimulated by someone else’s loss. I find this concept difficult and misleading because in some ways it dehumanizes the loss experience. My friend Jeanette’s daughter was strangled in her dorm room by her boyfriend 18 months ago. I knew Karlie, but not well. The morning of her death, my sister called me, gave me no details of what happened and asked me to put some food together and come to the house. I showed up with food, because that’s what friends do. The next few weeks were a barrage of emotions, many of which left me wondering, “Is this my grief?”

When our friends lose loved ones, we often neglect our own feelings in order to offer strength and support. But I was devastated. I ached. Each night, I would climb in bed and cry. I’d cry for Jeanette. I’d cry for Karlie, who must have been so afraid. I cried for her sisters, knowing how devastating it is to lose a sibling. I was experiencing vicarious grief, but I was still grieving.

Karlie’s trial was stressful for everyone and I found my blood pressure rising everyday when I read the accounts of the testimony online. I cried at night, again, devastated that anyone’s daughter could endure so much.

And then today. Today was sentencing day. I knew this was such an important and painful day for Karlie’s family and yet, there really is no good outcome. You only hope that justice is served. Karlie’s killer was sentenced to the maximum. That didn’t make me cry. This did.hands

WGAL posted this picture of Jeanette’s hand reaching out with a caption that said “This is the sculpture of Karlie Hall’s hands that she was working on before she was murdered. Her mom now compares it to Karlie, calling her an unfinished piece of art as well.”

What I wanted to do was throw myself on the ground and curl up in the fetal position and wail like a baby. In that moment, I thought of Karlie and every other unfinished piece of art. I thought about how much life we waste and what I wouldn’t give for so many moments to redo. We are all unfinished pieces of art.

And then in all of that ‘vicarious grief”, this happened today too.


While I was nervously waiting to hear the sentence, I was in a Facebook group message and a friend mentioned Ed Washington. I had no idea what she was talking about so I looked on my News Feed and found this link .

Ed had graduated with my younger sister Crissy in 1991, but had been paralyzed his freshman year during a football game. I didn’t know Ed but Crissy had been friendly with him. I had thought about him from time to time so I was surprised to read this update:

Ed, who was paralyzed in ninth grade from a football injury 29 years ago, is an amazing young man with a positive attitude. He never asks for much but he now has a situation where he needs his “lifeline”, his wheel chair, to be fixed. He has not gotten any cooperation from his insurance resources and he has been bedridden for over five months because he has been caught up in the red tape of trying to get his wheel chair repaired. We are asking family and friends if they would be willing to help pay the expenses of repairing his wheel chair ($4995.00). We want to get Ed out of his bed and back in motion in his wheelchair. A donor has already put a deposit down to order the parts needed. If you would like to help Ed, please donate through this page.   God bless you and thank you for your prayers and support.

This gofundme page was shared on Unionville High school Alumni page, as well as, individually by many former students. In just 13 hours, nearly $10,000 has been raised for Ed, a man who has been bedridden for 5 months. When I opened that page and scrolled down the names, I was so proud to know that 30 years later, people did not hesitate. I wanted to cry. I seriously wanted to cry. Because Ed is an unfinished piece of art too. And now he’ll have new wheels.

The world  is still good.


What People Don’t Understand About Racism

I think given the current events and general misunderstanding about racial bias and privilege, this is quite timely.


I’m about to make some controversial, yet, hopefully, thought provoking statements. In light of all of recent accusations of police brutality, riots, police shootings, etc., I have seen a lot of strong opinions on the topics. I’ll be honest, I don’t watch the news very often anymore. My life has enough going on without me taking on other people’s stuff. I’ve been accused of being uninformed and if that’s the case, then, I can live with that. I may be uninformed on the particulars of media slanted coverage that paints African Americans as crazed lunatics stopping traffic, looting stores and killing cops. I’m also under informed on the particulars of innocent police officers being gunned down for no other reason than wearing a uniform. But I am not uninformed when it comes to the underpinnings of the racial divide and why it is so vast. It’s my business to know.

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Why We Chase Happiness

Seems like a perfect day to think about what makes you happy. Happy Happy Day!


Since this is phase 2 of my blog, I thought I’d add something a little different than what you are used to seeing from me. Don’t worry, I’m sure I go back to the deep depths of my soul in the not too distant future. But in the meantime, I wanted to add a little psychoeducation to the mix.

In my work in Behavioral Health, I am the Psychoeducation Nazi. Ask anyone who works with me and they will confirm my insistence that you cannot make real change without first understanding why you need to do it in the first place. For example, many of the parents of children with developmental disabilities or behavioral disorders that we work with have not been given vital information about their child’s diagnosis on the most basic levels. For example, individuals diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome lack developmentally appropriate impulse control. It’s part and parcel…

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Shining a Spotlight on Logan as She Graduates

Dear Logan,

First, I must tell you that I only reserve my “spotlight” series for a select few in my life that I find worthy of a public shout out (plus none of this would easily fit into a greeting card). But, if anyone deserves this public gushing right now, it is you. Not to mention, it’s always nice to hear this stuff from people other than your parents.

I find it hard to believe that I first met you as an infant, nearly 17 years ago, which means technically, I’ve known you longer than you’ve known me. I am dumbfounded by the fact that this week, you will be handed a diploma and sent off into the real world to find out who you really are.

What I want to say to you is this…unlike most people your age, you are fortunate enough to have laid a solid foundation in the search we all go through to find ourselves. I have watched you from a distance and up close develop strong values (with the occasional slip-up…yes, I know about those too), beliefs and convictions that elude many of us until well into adulthood. Yes, you will continue to question, change and discover who it is you choose to be, but, please understand, you are so ahead of the game in these departments. Take that little tidbit of information as you go out into the world.

Hold on to your friendships, your family and your faith when you walk out that door and know that everyone is rooting for you and the success you are destined to receive. You deserve all that is good in this world. You haven’t settled for less than that yet. Don’t settle for anything less in the future. Know your worth. It will guide you to great things. It already has.

And to your parents…..I can’t say enough. It has truly been a pleasure to watch them raise such incredible kids. Melissa, you have kept me grounded in my own parenting moments, reassuring me that a little “mom crazy” does not equal permanent psychological damage to the childhood psyche. In fact, it helps build beautiful, inspiring kids.

So Logan, I will continue to watch, cheer and hope for your continued success. Don’t unfriend me on Facebook or Instagram when you run off to college. We know where you are and I’m always up for a road trip to accompany your mother on a fact finding mission if things go awry and we need to do an intervention.

Since I’m a sappy sucker for quotes, I’ll leave you with this one:

Don’t live down to expectations. Go out there and do something remarkable. ~Wendy Wasserstein

I have all the faith in the world that remarkable things will come your way. They already have.

Happy Graduation Logan!!!!


Everything I Ever Learned in Life, I Learned From My Mother

I learned that while Sunday dinner is mandatory; all other meals are optional.

I learned that even if your mostly Irish, if your last name is Ciliberti, you need to learn how to make sauce (even if you start with a can).

I learned that, eventually, the sound of the word “mom” said over and over again will cause temporary insanity.

I learned that phrases like “because I said so” and “she is not she; she is your mother” have an actual genetic component.

I learned that Neil Diamond can sing with the best of them, even if he is embarrassing to see in concert.

I learned to dance a tango, sing Christmas songs in July and how to take an ordinary event and use words to turn it into a story.

I learned that there is no greater parental punishment than quiet disappointment.

I learned that laughter is a requirement for living.

I learned that respect is an actual aura that surrounds a person.

I learned that loyalty is only second to love.

I learned that age is truly just a number and your mind determines how old you are.

I learned that stroking a child’s hair, no matter how old that child is, can heal all things.

I learned that sometimes it’s enough to want your children to have it all.

I learned that someone else’s definition of happiness holds no bearing on the heart.

I learned how to love amidst pain and heartache.

I learned how to be a mother.