A Letter of Love to My Flotation Devices

 

If you’ve got friends like mine; raise your glasses. If you don’t; raise your standards. – Unknown

 

Has your best friend(s) saved you at a time in your life?

Like, the 3:00AM phone call type of save your life?

 

Perhaps, you called them after you found an email that confirmed your suspicions of “crossing the line” and they showed up at your house and you didn’t have to say a word.

That friend you climbed trees with, watched “Jerry Springer” and yelled at the television with and then you both grew up, got married and are still friends.

That friend where you just know too much about each other and you both will take all secrets to the grave.

Or maybe they took you in like family, and never asked for anything in return. Their family is your family.

How about the friends that weren’t there in the early years: the new friends that get you and make your life delightfully charming and so much sweeter.

 

Yep, those are all of my exquisite, heart centered, soul-sister-friends.

I’ve always said God gives you everything you need because although my family foundation, at times, has been nothin’ short of a tropical storm throughout my life – my friendships have always been on solid ground, like a rock.

My friends did not break when times got tough they just showed up; no judgment, no ridicule, just pure, unconditional love from one sister to another.

 

And that is what they do to this day — show up. Perhaps in a phone call, an email, text message, letter, impromptu girls night out, a scheduled trip, or even a surprise reunion when you least expect it.

I’ve come to realize that is what I treasure most in life — my friendships and keeping them connected and nurtured.


This open love letter is to the old, the new and the few.

I have to spotlight a couple of them because I want you to take stalk of your life: if your “friends” aren’t like some of these amazing chicks I’m about to talk about, then perhaps you shall seriously re-think your “friends.”

We all deserve friends who lift us up, make us believe in ourselves and carry us to a new level in life…these are some of my earthly cherubs.

Come on in…


Kindergarten L-O-V-E

 

That’s my Roch (her name is Rachelle, but I affectionately call her my little Roch- long O, please).

We’ve been in each other’s lives since kindergarten and the above pic was taken at my wedding where she was my Maid of Honor.

I love her, with every particle of my being.

 

Our lives are unexplainably intertwined like only two lifetime bestie’s can be – our husbands both share the same name of Josh, she conceived her daughter on the night of our wedding and our daughters are almost two-months apart, to the day, for starters.

As much as we share in the commonalities of our life, we are dually opposite.

While I’m outspoken and boisterous, she can be meek and soft spoken. I can have a selfish, fierce independence, while she gives of herself freely and without question.

I’m grateful for these contrasts between us because I’ve been able to learn from my Roch. She tempers me and is a much needed soft place to land and voice of reason in my sometimes chaos.

 

In 20+ years of friendship we have bickered, been hard-headed, called each other out, been less than understanding and just like family called each other the next day to apologize and mend.

Our lifelong friendship has weathered everything from our childhood days of opening her Christmas presents while the parents were out, to sleeping on a hospital floor night after night while Roch’s boyfriend at the time lay in the Neuro ICU clinging to life.

 

We lost contact in high school, only to be connected years later, we moved to Denver together, lived with her grandparent’s while we tried to maneuver this bold move and I eventually moved back home; leaving my Roch in Denver where she now resides with her husband and children.

Although two hours of driving is the distance between us now, my heart knows she is always with me.

 

Why have we remained friends this long and why is she such a pivotal person in my life?

Easy breezy:

:: Her kindness makes me want to give more of myself.

:: Her heartfelt emotions allow me to take a good look at myself and wonder why I think holding it all in is the answer.

:: Because although she isn’t even five feet tall and could shop at Baby Gap, I feel fiercely protected when I’m with her.

:: When I spend time with her and watch the pure devotion she has to her children; she makes me a better mother.

:: And selfishly, because I know if I needed anything she would be there – no questions asked…consider it done.

 

Just like family. I can’t wait to watch our daughters grow up together and call each other when all of the “firsts” happen, as we already have.

I lean on you, as much as you lean on me…you just don’t know it.

Thanks for never leaving my side. I love you more then you will ever know my Roch!


 High School Sweethearts

Sarah + Lauren + Amber + Me… Besties in Plymouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If it was not for these three women + their amazing families, I’m not sure how I would have survived the high school years. 

We conjoined as a cohesive-soul group our sophomore year.

I was lost as hell. I knew not a single person at my new high school. I had to start over, I was going through an identity crisis with who I thought I was and the friends I had, to who I was forced to become overnight and the lack of support I found myself without as I chose at fourteen years old to live a “better” life in a new town with my much older brother and his family.

These three were my beacons of light and I instantly felt at “home” with each.

 

I met Amber our freshman year and she is literally like a big ray of sunshine that oozes warmth when you’re around her. She introduced me to Lauren and Sarah and from that point on the rest is history you could say.

Amber and I spent summers infused with hearty, gut busting, from your toes laughter and her parents welcomed me in with open arms. You could always find the best hospitality, food, drink and laughter at Dave and Kim’s house. Amber is my soft place to land. You are guaranteed to get a smile, laughter and gentle warmth inside your soul when around her. That is why I love her so much; she extends the love inside of her to everyone she meets and we are all softer, kinder beings for crossing in her path.

 

Lauren and Sarah are fraternal twins. I met the quiet Sarah first our freshman year and the next year outspoken Lauren joined our high school and bam – the twins! Twins by blood, opposite by nature.

Sarah can be quiet and reserved, as Lauren usually did the talking for them both. When I got to know Lauren I vividly recall how outspoken she was and never let anyone walk all over her like I felt I was allowing from others in my life at that time. I longed to have her brash and I know that is why I clung to her for so many reasons.

I think she could sense the heartache I was going through with my family at the time, and although she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve, she stood up for me in her own way by taking me in and just being there.

Sarah is kind and her heart is deep with love and devotion. She would walk to the moon and back for someone she cares about and when I saw that extended to children, animals and myself I couldn’t help but feel like God really does give you everything you need, even it is not in the package you think it should be in.

 

The unconditional love didn’t stop with just Lauren and Sarah. Their mom, Marie and their entire family took me in as if I was their own.

I spent holidays, celebrations and birthday parties with them and even lived with them at times, as I chose to be surrounded by their love rather than the pain and confusion I was feeling at home.

 

Summer nights in high school were spent at their house where Amber, Lauren and myself would sleep in the same bed and wake up the next morning to Mama Marie cooking breakfast (and sometimes Marie walking into the room and the stench of our “Dutch Oven”) hahahahaha!

 

Gratitude, heartfelt thanks, none of those words could do justice to what these ladies and their family did for me in my life and truly helped shape me to the woman I am today.

They saved me from the depths of what I could have spiraled into and showed me a love I know came from the Divine.

Thank you, thank you sweet family for my heart has your love and kindness eternally etched upon it.

 

All four of us together have seen it all: first love breakups, makeups (and breakups again), senior trips, watching Sarah endure a life-threatening accident and be there day in and day out in her miraculous recovery, moving away to college and seeing off your best friend at the airport and turning and walking away with tears in your eyes, losing family members, marriage, moving across the country, trips to see each other, cheating boyfriends, divorce, children…all the messy, but even more all the yummy as well.

 

In fall of 2011 we all four took a ladies trip to Boston and Cape Cod.

It was a hell of a trip for me to make happen for myself. The first time I would be leaving my almost one year old at the time, leaving my husband the brunt duties of Mr. Mom and taking care of my father with dementia, and not to mention I wasn’t sure if I would be granted that vacation time at work.

But, it all came together and it happened.

I thank God it did because I was reminded of how in love and in awe of these three women I am, and even more so I was reminded of the gratitude I silently carry within my heart for who they are as individuals and who they are in this world, especially my world.


 Rock Star Sisters…

Jenny K. + I at my rockin’ 80’s bachelorette party!

 

Do you remember that friend you had when you were a little kid who you climbed trees with and dreamed upon dreams?

I can honestly say Jenny K. is that friend where I can remember climbing trees with as kids and dreaming the highest dreams with as we grew older.

 

We wanted to be famous (I’m pretty damn sure if that came knockin’ on our door right now we would say “hell yes” in a much broader vision then we had in our youth of course).

We literally grew up together. We would have sleep overs and stay up really late watching “Jerry Springer” while yelling at the television because of the guests he had on.

We would collect chap sticks and sneak off to K-Mart when we weren’t supposed to. Thinking about it now, I’m almost moved to start a damn band with her (even though I can’t carry a tune) because I have always felt like I can be my most badass, rock star, out-of-the-box self with Jenny K.

As we grew older and distance was between us, we would actually write letters to each other. They were filled with the spiritual journey’s we were embarking on individually and they were lined with our biggest, boldest, brightest hopes and dreams of our future.

I always felt like she “got” me and even more so, she had been witness to all of the ups and downs I had faced with my family. She knew it and seen it all and for me you can never take that away, or recreate that.

Jenny K. represents what girls, young ladies and women today should strive to be: REAL, AUTHENTIC & UNPRETENTIOUS.

 

I’d have to say one of the largest reasons I love her so much is her ability to be completely in the moment with you; in today’s world that is rare. She also has a child-like wonderment about her which is why I gravitate to her so much. She doesn’t take life too seriously and can laugh at herself with the most infectious laughter.

I admire her ability to pursue her dreams (as changing as they are for us both) and to continuously rock out in style no matter what she is doing.

Cheers to you my funny, bold, curious, rock star sister – you’ve amazed me since we were kids and you continue to amaze me to this day! I love you so much and could not be more grateful for our friendship.


It’s just another Manic Monday…

Charmayne (aka: DonkeyLips) + I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reunited and it feels so gooooooood!

That’s the song we’ve been singing to each other since reconnecting almost ten years ago, after knowing each other since middle school.

We met again at Texas Roadhouse as we were both servers getting through school and we’ve been partners in crime ever since.

 

We’re the type of friends that could annoy some by finishing each other’s sentences and having those inside jokes and words and phrases which we laugh hysterically to.

Sometimes all we have to do is look at each other and we both start crackin’ up and a word doesn’t have to be spoken. Just a look and we know the thought.

 

Charmayne’s been through a wild ten years with me from breakups, new relationships, more breakups and makeups, crazy wild nights, a move to Denver and back, career changes, new business ventures, marriage and a child.

For a time we would do Manic Monday’s and would drink some beer, eat some shitty food, laugh and talk our ass’s off all night long. I highly recommend this to all friends out there.

 

You wanna know why I love the hell out of this girl so much?! She’s just as goofy as I am (I like to refer to her as DonkeyLips and she calls me Sweet, Sister Mary Francis McGee- goofy enough for ya)?!

Beyond that, I admire her tenacity and laser like focus when it comes to her goals and life. I love those with tenacity and grit and strength and she personifies all qualities to the max.

But, what I love even more about Charmayne is this: her devotion, commitment and love to her family and friends.

She spent day after day with her cancer stricken sister as she donated her own bone marrow to save her sister’s life, took her nieces and nephews in as her own on top of being a wife and mother to her own two children. She is the ultimate mama bear. And selfishly, I know she would knock a bitch out for me- hahahaha!

That’s my Donkeylips — I pray I can be half as devoted to others as you have been to those around you. Thank you for you.


 To the NEW:

Sara, Andrea, Aimee: I didn’t know my heart could grow with more love from new friendships, but that was proven to be false the day I met each of you; you are now a part of my heart space.

I couldn’t thank you enough for growing my heart each day with your laughter, love, kindness, support, strength and you just being you. I’m even more grateful you allowed me to be a part of your journey, as you have held me up in my new journey in life.

You have shared not only yourself with me, but your family as well and I cherish each of you and the space you hold within me. I shall love, honor, protect and nurture that heart space as our friendship grows, for one day you will be “the old” because my heart doesn’t let just anybody in.


What does friendship mean to you?

I have shared with you my best and brightest examples of pure love.

Each of these women have molded me into who I am today and I would be nowhere in my life if it wasn’t for each of you. You each saved me at a time in my life and added character and growth to my journey.

This letter of love is for you and what I feel in my heart each day for you, but fail at times to speak so eloquently or show you just how big and bright of a star you are in my life and my heart.

Thank you my soul sisters, thank you.

 

 

Love + Soul-Sister-Flotation-Devices,

Keli

Dementia: Why Humor Heals + The Crazy Shit We Do For Family

 

Swings, second shift, whatever you want to call it; September 8th, 2011 was my last night on the 3-11PM shift I’ve worked for almost six years of my life. 

A few days later I began a new chapter in my work life, as I began working the graveyard shift (11p-7a).

 

When I would tell people (excitedly might I add), that I was going to switch to working nights, most everyone looked at me like I was crazy, and they would inevitably tell me what a ______ (insert negative connotation/feeling/adjective here) shift it is. I would launch into my short, but sweet explanation of WHY I am voluntarily making this decision, and that is when some would say, “That’s understandable.

So, why did I (happily) take a voluntary demotion to work graveyards?

Easy answer: Mio Caro Padre & La Famiglia (my dear father and family).

 

My father Vic was 50 years old when I was born. Dad and I’s bond has been thick from the day I was born and I took a crap all over him.

Dad had a rather raucous past before I came into this world; life as a Marine, participating in and surviving the Korean War, three marriages, and of course, the alcohol that added to all of the “good times” and endless, history-making Conci family gut-busting laugh sessions.

 

Daddy’s Little Girl

 

I was not privy to the side of my father that involved alcohol, but only stories told by my family members and confirmed by Vic himself. By the time I came around, his drinking was non-existent.

 

Thankfully I didn’t get to see the side of him that alcohol brought out, but I have been immersed and rather in awe of my father’s humor since I was a little girl — of course his sense of humor is nothing less than genius in my mind. He never takes himself seriously and believes in and respects the raw truth. As Dad always says, “I calls ‘em as I see’s ‘em.

This quality is something that everyone knows and understands about dad. If you’re looking for an honest answer, he will give it to you –  I just hope your skin is thick enough to handle it.  Although giving unsolicited advice is not his style either, thank God.

My father is child-like in his nature and acting silly is not above him. Going out in public with him on any given day usually will include him yelling “HEY!” loudly in the middle of a large crowd, and shouting random names and/or profanities while grocery shopping, as he pretends that he did none of the above mentioned. And please note this is all with a sound mind. 🙂

In our family, we affectionately call dad a “Drama King” and tell him that he missed his calling as an actor. If he would have been a performer, I always picture him amidst the “Rat Pack” era/group singing, dancing and engaging socially, just like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin.

Dad’s conversations usually begin in Italian and start with, “Oh Christo” followed by a Vicism.

A Vicism could be:

“Did the eagle shit yet?”  = (Have I been paid)

“Your dying ass” = (I don’t believe you)

“Tits Up” = (Someone/thing being deceased) just to name a small few.

Dad despises pretenses and can spot phony a mile away. Growing up, dad frequently told me, “Keli- always be yourself. Don’t try to keep up with the Jones’ and don’t be phony, just be genuine.”

Those words didn’t mean much to me when I was in middle school and all I wanted to do was fit in, but as I grew older those words resonated within me and I heard them whenever I was not being true to myself. I strive to possess just half the qualities of genuineness my father exudes.

 

One of my dad’s favorite past times – flipping animals off at the Zoo!

 

I did not know the father who chose the bars and alcohol over his kids and school functions, nor did I know the father who continually broke promises along with hearts of the ones he loved.

Perhaps it was the aging process, or time to grow-up, or the fact that my mother (his 3rd wife) was barely able to take care of herself, which forced my father to be a different parent later in life.

Whatever the real reason, I’m beyond grateful I’ve been able to experience the father I’ve loved and cherished my whole life.  There is not a soul closer to me on this earth than my father (well, besides my husband of course). We get each other — far beyond words and usually at a glance, we know where the other is coming from and where we’re about to go. More times than not, we finish the other’s sentence and then start humming the same tune! Dad always says, “I should have named you Victoria.” 

 

Dad was ALWAYS there for me as a child and budding teenager.

When my friend’s moms’ were taking them school clothes shopping, it was my dad who did those tasks with me. It was dad who showed up at every parent-teacher conference and school function, as well as dropping me off and picking me up from school. I never wanted to leave my dad’s side and felt comfort, security and unconditional love whenever we were together.

He was both my father and my mother growing up.

My mother had her own deep-rooted issues she was dealing with and became a very distant parent both physically and emotionally. While dad was aware of this, all he could do was show up for us kids and love us unconditionally.

He is the reason why I did not go down a dark path in life, which would have been easy to do. And his unconditional, selfless love is the reason why you could say I don’t have “daddy issues” (mommy issues are a whooooooooole other Oprah show, however!)

 

By the time I was in college and living in Denver my father was living by himself with my younger brother. I remember coming home for a weekend and sitting at my dad’s kitchen table and observing cut-off notices for utilities. When I questioned him about them, he seemed unfazed and almost unaware of the circumstance.

It was then that I consciously knew I was going to have to step in and help him.

I moved back to Pueblo soon after and took over dad’s finances, which turned out to only be the beginning of repaying to him all that he had done for me thus far in life. I felt a fierce protection over him and a burning desire to do whatever I could to make the quality of his life the best it could be. I never looked at it as a task, but instead as a labor of love. I truly enjoyed taking care of whatever needed to be taken care of for my dad.

In the beginning, it was not much; I paid his bills every month and made sure he had groceries.

It was not until years had passed, and the truly unthinkable and unexpected happened, that Dad was seen in a different light…


 

The Big D: Dementia 

I was 24 years old in 2007 when my mother Jackie was diagnosed in May of that year with Stage 3-4 Lymphoma cancer.

Two months later she died on July 28th, 2007.

 

The mother whom I had fought bitterly with most of my life and then learned to finally forgive in the last two years of her life, was now gone.

She was not only gone, but my father was left a widower, and not soon after my brother Mike (same dad, different mom… and I affectionately refer to him as Brother) and I began to see changes in dad we rarely noticed before.

They were subtle and slow changes, not too alarming, but enough for us to question dad living alone. So, we brought dad to live with Brother and me. It was healing for us all, I believe, to be together. Dad needed some extra TLC and this would give us better visibility into dad’s behaviors, etc.

 

It was not long after we were all living together that Brother and I noticed the decline in dad’s memory and cognition. The famous spaghetti sauce dad made growing up now required one of us to help guide him through what to put in it. Dad was beyond obstinate in wanting to change his clothes, shave and take a shower (an Oscar-worthy performance on dad’s part in protesting that he hated water and that he took enough showers in his life, he didn’t need to take another one-LOL).

We would notice him isolating during family functions. Half-eaten cheese sandwiches were a regular fixture in the kitchen, and of course, we were always on the hunt for his beloved coffee cup that he would warm up throughout the day and then forget it in the microwave.

Brother and I were at a loss of where to turn, what to do, or how to even go about handling this. Neither he, nor I were trying to not believe what we saw considering our backgrounds in psychiatric nursing, but we were left wondering, “Could dad really be losing his memory?”

 

My two dads.

 

We decided to take dad to his doctor and hopefully get some answers; our suspicions had been confirmed: Dementia.

I do not believe that we were shocked, only relieved to put an official name on it and get to work on a course of action.

Dad’s dementia was discovered in the earliest stages and he began a regimen of Aricept and Namenda to “help slow the progression, but not cure it” said the doctor. The early detection of the disease and jumpstart on these medications, I believe, has been what has allowed my father to not decline so rapidly. And some major family love to help the heart!

 

It will be 5 years in July of this year that my mom passed, and 5 years that my father and our family have been getting to know dementia.

I moved out of my Brother’s house 3 years ago and when I did I took my father with me. It was a joint decision we all (bro, dad, me) made together and believed it to be the most therapeutic for everyone involved.

I welcomed this opportunity to take dad on my own and have never looked back since.


 

WHEN LOVE SHOWS UP 

It was just dad and me living on our own, but soon after I met my now husband, Joshua. Josh knew the minute he met me what my priorities are in my life and he knew the highest one being my father.

My husband never made me feel like I had to choose between two people, he has consistently supported me by sharing in the responsibility of taking care of my dad and for just doing that, I am forever grateful for his sacrifices.

I hope I say it more times than not, but for all the times I don’t:

Thank you, My Love. Thank you for being you and thank you for making decisions based upon family and our future when you had more than a right to choose just yourself.  

 

My hubby and I married on November 28th, 2009 and 11 months later came our most precious, amazing gift straight from the Divine- sweet Ava Rose. Even with all of the sudden changes dad adjusted well. I think having Ava has added a few more years to dad’s life; he feeds her all of her meals, he speaks Italian to her and reads her books and watches Sesame Street with her, and he even chases her all around the house.

I love watching those two together. I will hear them playing and she will burst out in the heartiest laugh imaginable, and it is at those times that my souls’ wings soar.

 

Feeling the LOVE from dad the day I was having Ava.:) Love. <3

 

Dad + Ava…the moments I treasure.

 

As you can see, the journey my father and I have been on goes beyond most father-daughter relationships. I have felt like the parent a lot, but I am comfortable with that and have not resented that role in my life.


THE CRAZY SHIT YOU DO FOR FAMILY 

At the end of the summer of 2011 when dad began showing slight declining changes in his dementia and increased anxiety, I became concerned.

I have a fierce protection over my father; the protection that a mother feels for her child and I go into overdrive trying to protect him from whatever I think I can control. Dad’s changes weren’t drastic, but they were alarming to my husband and I. Dad would leave the front door wide open after coming in from outside, his questions peaked concerning the “who is alive and who is dead in the family” list, and mostly his anxiety increased when I would get ready to leave for my shift from 3-11 p.m.

 

My husband, Joshua…my rock.

 

When I would get ready to leave and go through the ritual of telling him where I was going, what time I would be home and what I did for a living, he would then tell me to call off and not leave him (my husband and I have always worked opposite shifts [he works days], so someone is home with dad at all times and this also worked out after having Ava and not having to use daycare).

Dad begged me daily to not go to work, “please don’t leave me.”

Although my dad is quite the jokester, the true anxiety he felt was palpable, and it was then that I knew I had to do something about this. After continuously bouncing ideas and maximum stress off my husband, we both agreed that taking a graveyard position would be the best solution at this time. And as synchronicity would have it, not soon after that conversation an opening popped open and I slid right into it

So-long stress, anxiety, fear and any other negative feeling that was clouding that time.

 

Thank God my husband knows how to handle my crazy + for moments like these.

 

I have officially been on graveyards for five months now. It was an easy transition for me and one of the best decisions I (and my husband) have made thus far.

Are there times when I want to sleep more than anything? Yes.

Are there times when my schedule is off whack and I don’t think I can cram another possible thing into it? Abso-frickin-lutely!

Do I think I am in over my head at times (taking care of a 16-month old, being a loving, supportive wife, taking care of my father and not trying to lose it when he asks me the same question for the 10th time, going to school to be a Health Coach/Counselor and starting my own business/practice, homework, eating healthy, cooking, full-time job AND maintaining relationships with family and friends and oh yeah, taking care of myself)? HELL YES!!!

 

But, let me tell you what keeps me going, not losing it and being grateful on top of it: Staying positive, having a husband who knows how to handle me and allows me to be me, having more time with my family than I ever had, being able to spend holidays with my loved ones, being able to read Ava a story and put her to sleep at night and tucking my Dad in bed and him thinking I just don’t work anymore, or when I get up after I’ve slept during the day, he asks, “Did you have a good nap?”, knowing this is only temporary, being grateful for dad’s amazing health, the love and support from my family (thank you Brother for helping take Dad periodically, so Josh and I can have time together), surrendering, deep breathing and remembering that through all of our triumphs and letdowns, I Love You’s and I’m Sorry’s- Family Is Everything – and that includes the friends that have become family!

Do I think that dad can stay like this forever and that his dementia will never change? I wish, but I’ve read the books. Of course, I am an eternal optimist, but I have made myself knowledgeable for what can be.

 

How I’m Handling My Father’s Dementia…

What I do know for sure is that I will go down swinging. However, I won’t sink the entire ship just because I don’t want to see beyond the horizon, and in that time I pray for strength, guidance, mercy, and peace.

 

Vic+Keli

Thank you, dad, for you are one of my largest, continuous learning lessons in this life and thank you graveyards for being part of this journey…no matter how much shit people talk about your wacky shift, I will forever be grateful to you.

 

Love + Loving Dementia,

Keli