My father, Virgilio Vergel, 73

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Virgilio Vergel always wore a smile.

For as long as I can remember, my father always loved to make others smile. Armed with jokes, song lyrics with dance moves, imitations of characters, or funny greetings, he was fond of bringing a hearty laugh to friends and strangers alike. I like to think he’s still doing that. And, so, it is with a heavy heart *and* a big smile in his honor, that I announce his death:

Virgilio Vergel died on Monday, August 8, 2016, in Fair Lawn, N.J. He was 73.

Born in Ocaña, Colombia, Virgilio, or “Gillo (pronounced: Hee-yo)” as he was called, was the sixth of nine children in the Vergel family. They would move to Colombia’s port city of Barranquilla when he was three. He considered “la arenosa (the sandy city),” as it is known, his home.

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That’s Virgilio on the left. It’s uncanny how his grandson, RJ, has the same smile.

As a boy, Virgilio was an energetic child with a wide smile today can be seen in his grandson, RJ, who bears a striking resemblance. He loved to play soccer with his brothers. As a teen he was known for cracking jokes, playing soccer, and his love of dancing to typical Colombian music. As a young adult, he worked as a bank teller, but still enjoyed going dancing, sneaking into outdoor movie theaters, and riding a 10-speed bicycle.

In 1969, he met the love of his life, Maria Socorro Diaz, when she walked onto a packed city bus and he offered her his seat. They would marry a year later and move to Paterson, N.J., where they would have three children — Richard, Gina, and David.

Virgilio instilled his love of hard work, Latin and contemporary American music (he would encourage David to become a DJ), futbol/soccer, cycling, dressing sharp, and socializing with a sense of humor to all of his children. He also impressed upon them the importance of continuing onto a higher education, something he could not complete as he and his wife worked several blue collar jobs to give them a better life.

No matter how tired he was from a long day’s work, Virgilio would do everything possible for them to have an “American” upbringing, complete with bicycling trips to local parks, pickup softball games, or day trips to New Jersey beaches, baseball stadiums, or amusement parks. Sometimes the weekend fun would consist of projects around the house with cookouts in the backyard, or a trip to the music store, where he would hum the latest popular music to salesmen so that he could buy a 45-inch for the children to play on the record player. No matter what, it was always fun.

Virgilio worked a variety of jobs, as a machinist, maintenance person, and lastly, a custodian in schools and the Teaneck Police Department, where he retired early due to his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease in the late 1990s.

Parkinson’s is a tough neurodegenerative brain disorder that progresses slowly in most people. Most people’s symptoms take years to develop, and they live for years with the disease. Virgilio lived for nearly 20 years with Parkinson’s, and he was predeceased by his brother, Raul, who died due to complications related to the same disease in 2011.

If we could do one thing over, we would have had him start some type of an exercise regimen earlier, as opposed to telling him to rest more (something people tend to say to those who are ill) when the disease was “new” to us. Exercise has been shown to be very beneficial to those with the disease.

Virgilio was hopeful in medical advancements in the Parkinson’s world, as he underwent deep brain stimulation in the early 2000s, and while it took away the tremors, the one side-effect he had was the worsening of his speech. An ardent communicator (much like his daughter, Gina!), this often frustrated him.

Things he missed doing the most? Riding his bicycle and traveling to visit his family in Florida, Colombia, and others scattered throughout the world. He talked about them very often. He lives fondly in their memories.

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With grandson, RJ.
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With granddaugther, Bella.

There are many things he continued to enjoy up until he broke his hip in January 2015: watching the Colombian soccer teams, riding a recumbent bicycle, listening to music (while playing the maracas), and watching movies. Most of all, he was able to live many happy years in the home with the love of his life, Maria, and frequent visits from his grandson, RJ, and more recently, his granddaughter, Bella.

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Virgilio, in the top row, with the cool, gray hair and mustache!

We ask that you remember Virgilio’s fondness for life and celebration every time you hear Colombian music or funny stories. We ask that you consider making a donation to either the Micheal J. Fox Foundation for Research, which is working to find a cure, or the National Parkinson Foundation, which strives to improve the lives of those living with Parkinson’s disease.

Virgilio is survived by his wife, Maria, his sons Richard and David, daughter Gina, as well as brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, and other extended family, in Florida, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, and Spain.

A small service will take place at East Ridgelawn Cemetery in Clifton, N.J., at noon sharp on Saturday, August 13.

On the holidays… and change

christmasChristmas will never be like it was when I was a little girl. This is a post about how it used to be, and how things have changed. Lots go through it, and now it’s our turn.

When I was little, we didn’t have much — I will never forget one Navidad in particular in which my dad gave my brothers and I $3.00 each in a white letter-sized envelope. I wasn’t sad about the lack of toys for gifts, but felt awfully embarrassed for my father and told him it was OK. But it was awkward. I recall vividly that he handed us those envelopes on our way out to visit with family. We stuffed our stash in our rooms and piled into the car. The holidays were here and we were going to have a good time as we knew how!

Christmas time was filled with a jolly (yeah, that word describes things perfectly) times with our small, yet close, family.

My tio Raul (my father’s older brother and without question the uncle I was closest to) and tia Yolanda were always a part of it, as were my (distant? Not really, try super close!) cousins, Maria and Susy, whose mother, Mari, was my tio Raul’s sister-in-law. My aunts on my mother’s side (Mirta, Nina, Chiqui), their children/my cousins, and my maternal grandmother (abuela Esmeria) would get visits from us, as well. Gifts weren’t aplenty, but food was cooked with love, Colombian music—courtesy of my dad’s record player—filled the living room, and good times were had.

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The only way we can see my abuela now is by flying to Miami.

As we grew older, most of the family moved away to warmer climates. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the late 1990s and things haven’t been quite the same every since. My maternal grandmother, now in Miami, would go on to develop Alzheimer’s, and later, my tio Raul, also in Florida, would find out he, too, had Parkinson’s.

Somewhere in there, I was married, then dealing with the spouse’s alcoholism. Then I was separated, and divorced. Throughout it all, there were no tears on my part, only would’ve, could’ve, should’ves. It’s like I lost my ability to feel.

Cousins got married, some moved away, and, as happens, life gets in the way. There are work and parenting commitments, as the next generation of children have to be raised, and so, not surprisingly, intimate family gatherings hardly take place.

Today, Dec. 23, marks four years since my tio Raul passed away due to Parkinson’s disease related complications. I got to see him at a nursing home a few months before he passed, and, honestly, I know he’s in a better place today. I miss him terribly, but Parkinson’s can be an awful disease. I say can be, because I acknowledge there are other illnesses that are much, much worse.

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My Tio Raul (left in L photo, center in R photo)

But Parkinson’s eventually imprisons one in their own body. It starts with nerves and muscles, but eventually takes your voice. I remember when I visited him, I could hardly hear him. I kept a happy face and joked around, as I always do, but it is awful to see. I didn’t want him to feel that way.

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The last time I saw my uncle in 2011. With my cousin Maria (L) and my tia Yolanda (R.)

Meanwhile, back home, my father was still as stable as the Deep Brain Stimulation surgery he had in 2006 could keep him. He hadn’t had the Parkinson’s tremors in a long while, but his voice and ability to speak were eroding, and rigidity was taking away his independence via walker. He became wheelchair-bound, but he was home for every holiday.

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Dad at two different Christmases.

However, this will be the first Christmas without him in the home while we have Christmas dinner, for instance. Here are some tips on how to cope with grief and loss throughout the holidays, courtesy of Fordham professor Lisa Cataldo.

“People think they’re supposed to be happy during the holidays. This is supposed to be a time of sharing with your family, of positive relationships, of celebration and joy,” Cataldo said. “Many people feel alienated, because they’re not in that space, and that idealized image of the holidays only makes them feel the lack of those things more acutely.”

 

Two thousand fifteen has been a tough one for our little clan. My father fell and broke his hip on Jan. 21, 2015, and was in and out of hospitals, knocking on death’s door at least three times through March. Since then, he’s been in a nursing home, and it’s not easy. Sure, it’s a facility that can serve his needs 24/7, but this comes with much advocacy from us. You have to be there to make sure he’s not neglected. Any sign of a temperature or low blood pressure can spell trouble. A very bad bed sore he developed in February is only now showing signs of progress. (This after I had a very honest discussion with one of his nurses, who said he’s probably go to the grave with that wound. It wasn’t harsh; just real.)

In late August, I had to put my best friend, my 14-year-old black lab mix, Skunky, down. A cancerous tumor forced me to put him down and I still can’t believe I live without a dog!

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Me and Skunky in Washington Heights.

Thanksgiving was sad, but no one talked about it. In addition to the fact that my older brother, wife, and nephew moved down to Orlando, the house was quiet. My mom and I visited my dad in the late afternoon/early evening. My younger brother stopped by as late as visiting hours would allow. Out by 8 p.m.

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Christmas 2014, my dad’s last one in his house!                                              With my nephew, RJ, and my mom, Maria. 

My younger brother’s girlfriend’s mom and brothers came over, which was nice, but it was very low-key. When the patriarch of the family isn’t around, and can’t even eat due to Parkinson’s related swallowing problems, it’s just sad.

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Happier times, despite the Parkinson’s.

To make things worse, we have not quite dealt with our feelings. In one of the bad hospital stays, where a very bad pneumonia caused ICU doctors to have to intubate him, and even insert an I.V. of antibiotics through his carotid artery, my mom and I cried a little, but something about our family of five prevents us from outwardly displaying our fears and general grief. Again, it’s like we’ve lost our ability to not be numb.

There are frequent spats between us, about who doesn’t visit, or visit enough, and the person who is doing the most, of course, is my mother. She is trying to live her life, joining a YMCA and attending classes, and doing better at not spending all day at the nursing home, which is draining.

It’s draining because my father tries to speak to us and we can’t understand him. It’s draining because there are so many residents who don’t get visitors and look to you for any little conversation. It’s draining because there’s a certain smell, a certain way the staff there is overworked and stressed, and, most of all, because we know he’ll be there for the rest of his life.

It’s also disheartening to recently read about nursing home employees sharing pictures of themselves mocking or abusing patients on social media. It just adds to my guilt that I need to be there more. Working in New York, living across the river in Jersey City, and having to drive further north to the home in which my dad now lives.

There’s a lot of wondering what life would be like had he not gotten sick, or remembering what he was like before he was diagnosed. It’s pointless, but it comes up in conversation a lot when we get visitors.

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With my brothers. I miss my sister-in-law (third from left), now in Florida.

I think a lot about possibly getting Parkinson’s myself. I dream vividly; I always have, but telling my mother about how it can signal Parkinson’s really upset her. But I’m just being realistic about the fact that it can very much be genetic. I spend a lot of the time at the gym because of this, since exercise has been shown to slow the progression of the disease, something we did not know when my dad was first diagnosed.

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My nephew, RJ, lives in Florida now, and I miss him so!

I was never really big on winter holidays. I always liked the Fourth of July and summer in general. I dislike the cold, the dark coming early, and having to stress out about gifts. But we’ll do it. Christmas will be fine, but figuring out how to be with my dad when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1 is another hurdle. (We’re not sure if visiting hours will be strictly enforced or whether we’ll disturb his three roommates.)

If I could have one wish for 2016, it’s that we deal with this better. It doesn’t seem like my younger brother and I have time for support groups or therapy with the full-time jobs and side gigs, and having to drive to visit mom and dad. But I’ll suggest it. We’ll see.

I am EMPHATICALLY grateful that my father is still with us. He doesn’t seem to be in pain many times, but as his nurses aide sometimes says when I’m in his room with her wonderful Haitian accent, “He seems miserable.” (I think it’s more aches that come with being bed-ridden most of the time.)

I pray 2016 brings us some better days.

On Frontline: Why Is It So Hard for Doctors to Talk to Patients About Death?

Screen shot 2015-02-10 at 11.13.30 PMVia PBS’ Frontline / Tim Molloy:

Dr. Atul Gawande just wanted to give a patient some hope. But he ended up saying something he would regret.

In FRONTLINE’s new film Being Mortal, Gawande remembers treating Sara Monopoli, a woman who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at 34, in the ninth month of her pregnancy. After giving birth to a healthy baby girl, Monopoli was diagnosed with a second disease: thyroid cancer.

In the film, Gawande tells Sara’s husband, Rich, that he knew she would almost certainly die of lung cancer, but he still gave the family hope that an experimental treatment might help treat both cancers. Rich surmises his family’s hope must have been infectious.

“You had joined us,” he tells Gawande. “We had our sunny disposition, hoping for the best.”

“The reason I regret it is because I knew it was a complete lie,” Gawande replies. “I just was wanting something positive to say.”

The conversation captures the dilemma suffered by doctors, families and patients with a terminal illness. The patient faces a painful decision: Whether to keep fighting a disease through every last treatment, trying to live as long as possible, no matter how painfully, or to live out the final days as well as possible.

Read more & watch video here:

Celebrating my dad: ‘a tough guy, a smooth talker, a brave man and an undeniable natural comic.’

My dad, Virgilio Vergel.
My dad, Virgilio Vergel.

Having an illness or being close to death is not a competition, but as my father’s Parkinson’s disease progresses to a point where he can no longer safely swallow food or drink, I can’t help but think of people who have definitely had it tougher:

Children with cancer. Young people whose lives were taken by horrible accidents, senseless violence, or grave illnesses. Mothers who have died after difficult childbirths, and so on.

This is not to say that my father’s illness isn’t a big deal. At this very moment, it pains me to see him going through bouts of discomfort (but no pain, thank goodness). But knowing that, save for the past two weeks since he suffered a fall and hip fracture, it’s important for me to recall, and remind others, that he has lived a pretty wonderful and full 71 years, and he may continue to do so, albeit with some changes (such as a feeding tube).

My dad with me and my brother, Rich, in Wildwood, NJ.
My dad with me and my brother, Rich, in Wildwood, NJ.
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Thanksgiving eve in 2011 (?) with my cousin, Maria, her husband, Gonzalo, and my brother, Richard.
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Baseball? I learned that from my dad. (After my brother, Richard, took an interest in the Yankees, my dad bought us some Yankees hats, and took us to some games. Yet he preferred the Mets a bit more, because they had more Latinos on the team. Ha!)
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Hanging out with my brother, Richard, and my dad, as usual!
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Mom and dad by the Christmas tree at their first home in Paterson, NJ. This was a big accomplishment for them. They wanted us to grow up in a house they owned.

Don’t get me wrong, this is, without a doubt, the most incredibly difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. But this isn’t about me. This is about the man who raised me and how I choose to remember, celebrate, and even laugh, about the way he was.

Such as:

  • The time he taught me how to ride a bike, and later, how to drive a stick shift. (There was lots of yelling by him, whining by me [I can’t do this! I don’t get it!], and finally, victory.)
  • The countless time he played music from his beloved Colombian coast. It taught us such an appreciation for our parents’ home country.
  • The times he taught me to dance salsa and shimmy my shoulders along to various Colombian songs.
  • The jovial attitude he had with my friends, from making Kimberly laugh on our way to school (he often drove us), the joking around with Judy and Sibila after church, to actually going to happy hour (!!!) with Ysa, Barbara, and Melinda when they all worked part-time at Home Depot.
  • The jokes he always told among his and my mother’s family and friends. He consistently had his audience in stitches!
  • The time he and my ex-husband, Dave, grabbed pineapples off of the swim-up bar in Cancun and posed for a silly picture.
  • The way he enlisted my little brother, David, for various fixer-up projects around the house. It made David very good at carpentry and things.
  • The way he and my mom proudly bought his first home for us in Paterson, NJ, and later, their second home in Clifton, NJ.
  • The way he made sure to take us on a vacation on more than a few summers, even though it was right in state, since it was all we could afford: a full week in Wildwood, NJ. It was heaven! My dad loved to swim and he spent hours in the ocean with us.
  • The way he and my mom tried so many ‘firsts’ with their first-born, Richard. From karate classes to Boy Scouts, Richard was their first-generation dream realized.
  • The way he always talked a mile a minute in between his full and part-time job, or on his lunch break, going over his never ending to-do list.
  • The way he preferred to drive home for lunch, because he always preferred my mother’s cooking to anything else.
  • The way he had sheer pride in my mother. He always bragged about how beautiful she was when he met her on a bus in Barranquilla, Colombia, and how beautiful she was every day.
  • The way he loved his two sisters, “as elegant as they are beautiful,” he’d say, and he felt the same way about all of his nieces.
  • The way he was very proud of his younger brothers, as they were able to attend colleges and go on to stable careers.
  • The way he preferred soccer to baseball (who wouldn’t?) but because he had so much pride in having children born in the United States, he’d take us to Yankee games, and wanted us to speak to him in English as much as possible, so he could learn.
  • The way he and my uncles would take us to the park on spring and summer Sundays for pick-up games of soccer and softball, keeping my brothers and cousins entertained for hours on end. (And, again, despite not liking baseball, he was awesome at hitting [what we thought were] the biggest home runs, ever!)
  • The way he bought us puppies from the pound to have as pets in order for us to have the full ‘American’ experience (even though he didn’t exactly love dogs.)
  • The way he picked up slang from his co-workers at the General Electric plant in Paterson. (He’d come home saying phrases like, ‘What it is?’)
  • The way he initiated conversations with strangers and quickly won them over with a sense of humor, or genuine interest in where they were from. It’s something I inherited.
  • The way he never compared me to other girls or women, respected my choices (from my decision to get separated, and later divorce, to my more than one career changes), or pressured me to have children.
  • The way he encouraged my love of travel. After all, it’s what he and my mother came to this country for: for us to do the things they couldn’t.
  • The way he loved to dance at parties. This wasn’t limited to salsa, merengue, and I’ll never forget him asking me and my friend Marisol to get on the dance floor when they played a dance pop song at a Sweet 16 (I was mortified, at first; there was no one else on the dance floor!) and instantly having us laughing with his ‘pop’ dance moves. Mortification over.
  • They way he was passionate when arguing. (To put it bluntly, his quick and fiery temper, which I inherited!)
  • The way he adored cinema, especially Westerns. (Steve McQueen was one of his favorite actors.)
  • The way he bragged about my writing, and later, my journalism career. (It meant a lot to me.)
  • The way he’d lift weights at home, and cycling with his Peugeot 10-speed was always his favorite form of exercise. Getting us used bikes was a priority, and he always encouraged us to go for bike rides.
My dad and my nephew, RJ, at a birthday dinner we had in 2012.
My dad and my nephew, RJ, at a birthday dinner we had in 2012.

These are just a fraction of memories of my father and I love that writing the list brought many smiles to my face.

As a reporter for the Home News Tribune, I wrote a column about my dad (read it below), when he was about to get Deep Brain Stimulation surgery in 2007. This excerpt encapsulates why I always knew this disease, while not as terrible as some others, would become progressively difficult for him to accept, and for his loved ones to see:

I’ll always remember the day dad told me he thought something was “off” with him physically. He and I were eating breakfast at the kitchen table, and he actually looked scared — something rare for him, at least in my eyes.

This is a man whom, ever since I was little girl, I’ve looked at as a larger-than-life personality with an appetite for hard work. He is a tough guy, a smooth talker, a brave man and an undeniable natural comic.

It seemed his Parkinson’s progressed slowly at first. We have had such great laughs, and he’s enjoyed time with us, and with his grandson, RJ, who made him light up so many times. But as the years passed, he has became more of a prisoner in his own body. The way Parkinson’s affected his vocal chords is especially tough, as this is a man who loves to express himself.

Nearly 17 years after he was diagnosed, this fall that fractured his hip, this one acute trauma—a common one for the elderly in this country—was enough to alter his status. This is not going to be easy for us, but, again, my main concern is that he is not in pain, and above all, comfortable.

I’ve always heard the following advice from people who have lost parents: spend as much time with your parents as you can, because you will miss them when they are gone. It is true. I’m grateful that we have had so many good quality years with our father (and, of course, that my mother is as healthy as she is hardworking). But for those of you who live in other states or countries from you parents, this doesn’t mean you can’t do the same. Though I’ve always lived in close proximity to my parents, I feel that simply keeping them informed about your achievements, your adventures, or your travails, is important. This is the kind of thing that brings joy to my immigrant parents. And I know this from the many conversations I had with my dad early on in his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Parents want to know they’ve raised happy children. So tell your parents how much you love them, yes, but just tell them about your life. They’ll appreciate it.

Home News Tribune Online 03/17/07

GINA VERGEL
gvergel@thnt.com

As my father was wheeled away into the surgery wing at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital earlier this week, my mother, brother and his girlfriend and I all looked at each other as if to say, “What do we do now?”

The answer was simple. All we could do was wait.

On Tuesday, my 63-year-old father — the superhero of our family — underwent nearly seven and a half hours of Deep Brian Stimulation, or DBS, surgery in an attempt to slow down the progression of Parkinson’sdisease that he’s been living with for the past nine years.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease whose primary symptoms are tremor, rigidity, and postural instability. The tremors that once plagued my father have long passed. It’s the rigidity and postural instability that severely interfere with my parent’s quality of life — dad wakes mom nearly every two hours at night so that she can help him adjust himself in bed or take a trip to the bathroom.

It’s tiring.

Almost one year ago, I dragged my parents to a support-group meeting for patients who have had DBS at Robert Wood Johnson. While the surgery does not cure the disease (there is no cure), it can help manage some of its symptoms and, hopefully, cut down on the amount of pills (25) that dad pops every day.

My father, stubborn as always, wasn’t exactly thrilled to go to a support meeting an hour’s drive away from my parents’ home in Clifton. What he saw there, however, led us to that waiting room this week.

People he thought were relatives of Parkinson’s sufferers began speaking about their recovery after the surgery, flooring my father with their varying degrees of composure. He was sold.

I’ll always remember the day dad told me he thought something was “off” with him physically. He and I were eating breakfast at the kitchen table, and he actually looked scared — something rare for him, at least in my eyes.

This is a man whom, ever since I was little girl, I’ve looked at as a larger-than-life personality with an appetite for hard work. He is a tough guy, a smooth talker, a brave man and an undeniable natural comic.

That day, however, something was wrong. A slight but frequent tremor in his right arm, he said, scared him into avoiding the doctor. Eventually he went and found it was the beginning of Parkinson’s disease.

So began a long and hard journey that included him having to retire early and, even worse, having to give up driving. A difficult part for me was how the natural charismatic expression on his face was replaced by a gaunt look — another symptom.

On Tuesday, as my mother and I took a seat in one of Robert Wood Johnson’s waiting rooms, mom turned to me and said something that I’ve never given much thought to.

“Isn’t it something that in the 37 years we’ve in this country, we’ve never had a hospital stay, much less a surgery,” she said. “We’ve been lucky, thank God.”

And yet here we were, stuck waiting as surgeons performed a crainiotomy on my father.

While the wait was tough, chatting with relatives of others in surgery was a positive experience.

Surgeons said the operation was a success but that my father would have to work hard when he got home.

And so with our help, he’ll work hard. Anything for our superhero.

Gina Vergel can be reached at (732) 565-7228 or at gvergel@thnt.com

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With my parents, Virgilio and Maria.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (When our parents age)

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Excerpt from “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast of the New Yorker.

“I was just talking to somebody yesterday who said the worst thing for a parent is to have a child who’s a writer.”New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast.

I would like to write about my parents.

I wrote a couple of columns about my father’s Parkinson’s when I was a newspaper reporter for the Home News Tribune, and I’ve blogged about his illness on this blog once or twice. But I would like to someday write stories about them, their childhoods, and especially, how my dad was pre-Parkinson’s.

And as for my mother, that’s more complicated.

I’ve never been the super close daughter (the type to talk about every single detail with her mom) that she was with her mother. (My grandmother is still alive, but she has Alzheimer’s, which means my mother has lost, in essence, her best friend.) Add in the fact that she is stressed because she’s my father’s full-time caregiver, and it’s even more complicated.

Thankfully, our relationship is a bit better (much less bickering) since I’ve lived on my own (after a separation and subsequent divorce that she didn’t agree with at first) but, like all things, it could be better.

I have some things to work out, or talk about (?), in order to make that happen. And then I hope to write about them more, especially my mother, since she’s not very open about her feelings (hey, maybe we are alike, after all!) because as the most hardworking immigrants I know, my parents have some interesting stories that deserve some pixels on the Internet.

Now back to cartoonist Roz Chast. I learned about her latest work via a wonderful interview on “All Things Considered” on WNYC:

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Roz Chast

“The longtime New Yorker cartoonist is an only child and became the sole caretaker for her parents, George and Elizabeth Chast, when they reached old age. In her new, illustrated memoir — Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury USA, 2014) — Chast mixes the humor with the heartache. It’s about the last years of her parents’ lives and her relationship with them as their child and conflicted caretaker.

“They never had what’s known these days as ‘The Talk’ — an acknowledgement that their deaths were inevitable. As a result, Chast says, everyone was in denial and actively avoided the subject, even as it was staring them squarely in the face.”

“Chast’s parents — who were both born in 1912 — lived independently in Brooklyn up until their early 90s. Things started to go downhill in 2005 when her mother fell off a step stool at age 93. ‘She was in bed for a few days, and it was clear that what was going on was more than the fall off the ladder,’ Chast recalls. ‘That was the beginning of their sort of slide into the next part of old age — you know, the last chapters.'”

My parents are in their late 60s, early 70s. I can’t imagine it getting to this point Chast describes, but I guess my brothers and I should prepare ourselves sooner rather than later. And today, after reading this story in The New York Times, about a man who is 111 years old, I agree wholeheartedly with Chast:

“When people talk about extending the human lifespan to 120 it bothers Roz Chast. ‘That upsets me for a lot of reasons,’ she tells NPR’s Melissa Block. ‘I feel like these are people who don’t really know anybody over 95.’ The reality of old age, she says, is that ‘people are not in good shape, and everything is falling apart.'”

Though my parents aren’t in their 90s, my father has a chronic disease that renders him pretty immobile, and so, I too, can’t imagine wanting to live to 111. (God bless this man who has, though!)

Listen to the entire interview with Roz Chast here, and read an excerpt from her illustrated memoir via The New Yorker.

A word about demographics and missed opportunities

Screen shot by me.
Screen shot of the sad and lonely Spanish-language option by me.

I don’t purport to know very much about running a business. Aside from deciding whether I want to take on public relations work on a by-project basis, I’ve never run my own shop.

But I can safely say that Great American Opportunities, a fundraising corporation, has dropped the ball on an additional “opportunity” for their constituents to make more money.

Back in my day, for grammar schools to raise funds, students had to sell chocolates or Christmas wrapping paper. Today, with the power of the Internet, you can imagine those opportunities have become more diverse.

My cousin’s son’s school in Florida is raising funds by using Great American Opportunities to sell magazine subscriptions. It’s much simpler now. Parents forward a link and we help raise funds by shopping.

Or so I thought.

I’m in media relations. I don’t want for many magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I have plenty and they are all digital. So I figure, I’ll shop for my parents.

My folks are Colombian immigrants and American citizens who have been living in this country for more than 40 years. Yet Spanish is still their first and preferred [reading] language. They’re senior citizens, why wouldn’t they enjoy a subscription?

Sadly, the only Spanish-language magazine Great American Opportunities offers is People en Español. No offense to the celebrity magazine industry, but my parents have no interest in who J-Lo is dating. (Well, maybe if she finally moves UP in age of the person she’s dating. Just kidding!)

Has Great American Opportunities not looked into changing demographics of this country, especially in Florida? There are a TON of Hispanics/Latinos in the United States and they are a huge buying power. The more Latino-friendly products a business offers to the Latino community, the more they will buy. (Take a hint from the many corporations that advertise and offer circulars in Spanish.)

And that, mi amigos, in my opinion, is a missed opportunity for Great American Opportunities.

In case you’re wondering, I *did* buy a subscription to help my cousin’s son’s grammar school. I bought an interesting-looking health/neuroscience magazine, but certainly would have purchased much more had there been more than one entertainment-based, Spanish-language option.

Perhaps this is something Great American Opportunities can consider in the future. After all, many of Spanish-language readers and speakers are shopping in America!

 

Baby boomers: Documenting a Generation’s Fall

(Photo by Sam Newman/NYT) George Ross, a former IT project manager in  Livermore, Calif., and his wife, Linda, as seen in the documentary "Set for Life,'' by Susan Sipprelle and Sam Newman.
(Photo by Sam Newman)
George Ross, a former IT project manager in Livermore, Calif., and his wife, Linda, as seen in the documentary “Set for Life,” by Susan Sipprelle and Sam Newman.

By Michael Winerip
New York Times, Jan. 17, 2013

One of the lasting effects of the Great Recession has been the economic spiral downward of the American middle class, and no group has been harder hit than the boomer generation, men and women in the prime of their working lives.

From 2007 to 2009, workers 55 to 64 year old who lost jobs had been making an average of $850 a week; those lucky enough to be re-employed by January 2010 were earning $647 a week, a 23.9 percent drop in income.

Younger boomers, ages 45 to 54, had been averaging $916 a week; the jobs they were able to find after the recession paid $755, a 17.6 percent decline.

That is the story Susan Sipprelle tells in her new documentary, “Set for Life,” about the generation that was so sure that they were — until their lives came undone during the Great Recession.

Read more here.