I started this journal to offer the REAL me, the one that is not well. My posts on Facebook to this point have been super refined and, well, fit for public consumption. I need this as an outlet for what's really going on in my head which, quite frankly, the average person doesn't want to hear. Allow me to share my prior Facebook posts so we're all caught up. Carolyn died on May 2, 2020. The first post was published the morning after. Then in this blog I'll get to the trauma...
I thought of you as a sort of “human cheat code”. You were doing things that others could never do in this game of life!! The same girl that met her future husband at a bar down the shore playing outsized beer pong also earned an M.A. in Theology and taught Religion for 16 years. The same woman that loved all the “girly girl” stuff was the biggest Eagles fan I know (at least based on how loudly you yelled at the TV during games). You had the exuberance of a young kid while “aging like a fine wine”. People aren’t supposed to be as multidimensional as you were, yet you were real.
I wish I could go back in time and try to save you like how Marty tried to save Doc. Last night I even stared blankly at my phone wondering if I could find an app to channel your advice.
Reading all the posts, texts, and messages have emphasized how much you were truly loved. We’ve lost a daughter, a sister, a wife, mom, cousin, niece, friend, a teacher, a colleague and so much more. Thank you to everyone that has shared love and will continue to do so over the coming days. God knows I clam up because I don’t know the right words but I am surrounded by amazing people that know what to say or type.
Carolyn, I am going to live in a way that will make you proud. The kids are so resilient. Charlotte told me that “no one will ever replace [you]” and that was the truest thing I’ve heard since you were taken from us. Ryan gives the best hugs and has developed the leadership skills you inspired on a daily basis. You taught me how to feel and I’m working on crying when the kids can’t see me and smiling when they can. I love you forever and always.
Last week, Carolyn came up to me, giddy as all get out, to say that she had ordered bottles of vodka from "HOLLA Spirits". The distillery is based in Central PA and run by a couple of Penn Staters. She wisely sold me on this and the fact that for every bottle sold, a portion of the proceeds go to St. Jude Children's Hospital (among other charities). She, of course, found a way to liven up the stay-at-home scene and give back at the same time. The highlight of the first batch was a pumpkin flavored vodka called "Praise The Gourd". Now if that ain't the most Caro-ific (Carolyny?) beverage, I don't know what is.
Another story worth passing along... In the summer of 2004, Carolyn was looking for a teaching job with her newly minted M.A. in Theology from Villanova. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was a natural landing spot and an interview there went very well. But she received her first offer from Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Newfield, NJ. OLMA is a small school on the outskirts of Vineland. That's right, Vineland. The principal there, the great Sister Grace saw a gem and offered her a position. Carolyn fulfilled a commitment to the OLMA Villagers for two years, making the daily trek from Bensalem to Newfield in Year 1 and traveled from Northeast Philly (Academy Gardens) in Year 2. She was willing to drive an hour-plus each way to serve the OLMA community. I can't help but think of Sister Grace ... and everyone that helped her through the formative years of her career. It set the stage for the amazing relationship she forged with Notre Dame since 2006. Before she moderated Peer Leadership and Soup, Service, & Scripture, she learned what it meant to be a high school religion teacher at a true diamond in the rough halfway to Cape May.
5/8/20 following the funeral
To quote Juba from Gladiator, “I will see you again, but not yet. Not yet.”
With each passing day I find myself speaking aloud as I open what has come in the mail (and computer screen). I ask "what are you doing?? why are you doing this???" How people are so out-of-this-world thoughtful, generous, and kind is almost as incomprehensible as Carolyn being taken from us this soon. I am truly looking forward to responding to everyone.
It's been two weeks since Carolyn has been called to heaven. She is dearly missed. Ryan, Charlotte, and I are blessed to have such a strong support system that has gotten us through to this point. I know Carolyn would have felt honored by both the wonderful memorial service at Notre Dame and the beautiful funeral Mass at Assumption BVM. As Father Mike said, this is a farewell - not a goodbye. Thank you to the countless family members and friends that have reached out over the past two weeks. I would like to share the fact that between the electronic donations via Meal Train and contributions mailed to our home, $9,905 will be split between Ryan's and Charlotte's PA 529 college savings accounts. In addition, the Breathing Room Foundation sent us a letter confirming numerous donations and thanking us for keeping them in mind. I can't thank you all enough for your generosity and help in carrying on her legacy. There is a certain symmetry between your kindness and Carolyn's dedication to service through her work at Notre Dame.
Just an update on how we are doing... Ryan, Charlotte, and I stopped at Starbucks for breakfast this morning; Carolyn left behind a couple of gift cards. While in the drive-thru lane, Charlotte asked "are we going to pay for the people behind us, like mommy did?" Yes, Carolyn had the occasional habit of "paying it forward" to brighten the day of the driver behind us. Carolyn's lessons are alive and well in Charlotte. Sure enough, at Charlotte's urging, I think we made someone's day. This evening, Charlotte used one of Carolyn's lessons in the kitchen to make some garlic bread. Ryan has been keeping his mind occupied playing online video games with friends. I'm happy to report Carolyn's lessons in leadership have pushed Ryan to be an awesome big cousin in recent family visits. I'm working through my emotions as I'm sure many of you are. I know this is a process and eventually the positive memories will outweigh the grief of such a sudden loss.
Shortly after Carolyn's passing, the "real world" returned with a vengeance - mandatory masks, closed offices, contactless deliveries, etc. It made me appreciate everyone that played a role in memorializing her even more. These are people who risked a lot while PA and NJ was virtually shut down. So I would like to publicly thank the following people that braved the elements to share their talents to help recognize Carolyn. Thank you [everyone] at ND as well as [everyone] at ABVM. Dave and Brandon brought the services to your home from ND and ABVM, respectively. It goes without saying... THANK YOU to all immediate family - Ryan's and Charlotte's grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. for being there at such a time of need. I also need to give a shout out to three people that worked feverishly behind the scenes: Chris ... for setting up the Meal Train, Bonnie ... who set up the Dropbox for the kids, and Eileen ... for her wisdom and suggestions for the readings and music at the services. Mark and Michele Wade at the funeral home did an incredible job during a very difficult and stressful time for them. The list of people to thank goes on and on from here, and I'm looking forward to writing more than a couple "thank yous". Finally, I would like to remind everyone that a Celebration of Life is forthcoming... we got a ways to go before anything is set in stone, but I just wanted to get that reminder out there. Stay tuned.
Okay, this is the last one for a long while - I promise. If I need an outlet, it will be in some journal or talking to the sky, family, or friends.. or professional help. I do not want to clog up any more news feeds with sadness. Maybe this will warrant a chuckle from some of you and if you want to tease me for some of my choices below, that would be great! Reader discretion is advised due to this blubbery mess.
Carolyn, when we first met in the summer of 2002, I made you a mixtape (okay, it was a mix CD). I look at the songs and I'm not sure whether to laugh or cringe. It was very... in the moment. I must've REALLY liked you to drop these hits... "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel, "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" by Bryan Adams, "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias, "Seein' Red" by Unwritten Law, "Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne, "Butterfly" by Crazy Town, "Angel of Mine" by Monica, "Adia" by Sarah McLachlan, "Ironic" by Alanis Morrissette, "Like A Pill" by Pink, "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow, "A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton, "Escape" by Enrique Iglesias, "All You Wanted" by Michelle Branch, "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond, and "Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)" by Van Halen. Pic of said CD attached with where we met, first date, first movie, and summer jobs.
Fast forward to May 2020 and I already have my own playlist of songs that have gotten stuck in my head during this grieving period. Mostly appropriate standards with a couple current hits: "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M., "Last Kiss" by Pearl Jam, "Blinding Lights" by The Weeknd, "Everything I Wanted" by Billie Eilish, "How Far I'll Go" by Auli'i Cravalho (Carolyn & Charlotte version), "Be Not Afraid" by Bob Dufford, "On Eagle's Wings" by Michael Joncas, "Atlantic City" by Bruce Springsteen, "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton, and "High Hopes" by Panic! At the Disco.
But what really got me was this dude Enrique... he of the TWO songs on the original slightly embarrassing mixtape. He sang this...
"If you feel like leaving
I'm not going to make you stay
But soon you'll be finding
You can run
You can hide
But you can't escape my love"
No sadness here, just The C.G. Funnies (and the "C" stands for Charlotte)...
Paraphrased from yesterday morning's car ride:
Charlotte: "Dad, do you think you'll date again?"
Bill: Um, I haven't given it much thought. Possibly."
Charlotte: "Whew. Well I was afraid to ask."
Bill: "I think it was very brave of you to ask."
Charlotte: "Yeah, because I want a sister."
I think Carolyn might have the most eclectic band of inanimate objects at her gravesite. Cheese curls, hot peppers (some really good Ashton family stories in there), a penny "from heaven" along with other assorted change, a Dunkin' cup of rocks, a shell and sand from the beach in North Wildwood, and even a drop of an essential oil blend. Charlotte's suggestion on what else to add? "How about a can of Truly hard seltzer with water in it or a stick through the bottom so it doesn't fly away?" Funny thing is she's in Section 8 (Row 25) at Resurrection. Hey, it's pretty easy to remember Section 8. If she wasn't there or "The 700 Level" I might get lost!
Low-key early betting favorite for Halloween costumes for Bill and Charlotte? How about "The Man" Becky Lynch and "The Queen" Charlotte Flair? Cue the red and blonde wigs. Somewhere in the sky Carolyn is shaking her head.
Last one... Carolyn, as many of you know, was the proud owner of two tattoos. Shout out t Melissa ... for being there for one of them. It took an Earth-shattering event like breast cancer for her to get them. We're talking about the same woman that ditched her half-dozen ear rim piercings because she thought I was too straight-laced to go for that look. Her famed "9 3/4" (with the pink ribbon woven to separate the numerator and denominator) spoke to many things... Her acceptance that she need not be a "perfect ten", her Harry Potter fandom, the heartache and pain that came with the passing of Coby ... who wore No. 9 on the ND soccer team, and a tribute to her immediate family - Ryan, Charlotte, and I being her "3 out of 4". In true HP style, she also got "All was well" inked over her port scar, which allowed her to look down and see something she wanted, not something cancer forced on her. I spoke to Char about this and she said if she were to get a tattoo, it would be in same vein (Harry Potter/mom theme). I asked Ryan what he would get for a tattoo and his response was "Nothing. Why the crap would I get a tattoo??"
Speaking of Ryan, best news I heard in two weeks was that he qualified to remain on the Accelerated Math track at his middle school. The young boul will be taking Algebra 1 next year as a seventh grader. For comparison's sake, I took Algebra 1 as a ninth grader at E&S.
Special thanks to the "Cabrini Girls" and Director of Annual Giving for establishing a memorial tree fund in Carolyn's honor. Early word is that the tree will likely be planted by the chapel (of course!) at Cabrini.