Stories: Who We Have Lost

Make Them Anyway

Story aboutRogelio "Ro" Lechuga

We are celebrating Christmas without you for the second time this year. My therapist told me that I treat it very much like the first. My therapist said that I get to choose what I want to do. Right now, making decisions is the hardest part of my life. We didn’t move our right hand for twenty-three years without the other one knowing. Now it’s just me. I am calling all the shots. I didn’t ask for this.

I kept asking the kids what we should make for Noche Buena and Christmas Day. I wasn’t surprised to get the response of should shrugs, and I dunno. I put my head into my hands and sobbed. I don’t want to do this. Can’t I sleep until it is January 2nd? Why isn’t that an option? As tears as big as diamonds dropped down my cheeks, I heard you say, “Make them anyway.”

What to make? We loved pizza, calzones, ham, turkey; you name it, we made it. Every year was a different cuisine. As I looked in my Facebook memories, I felt my heart say, as I stared at that dreaded picture, tamales. I am a midwestern girl. Before I met you, I didn’t know what a tamale was. I even remember asking if I ate the husk. I flashbacked to the memories of feeding you raw tamales and our long conversations over them. No way, it’s not happening. Not at least this year.

One day later, it kept chipping away at me. Make the tamales. I don’t have a steamer. I honestly can’t remember how to do them. Can’t I buy some and call it a day. Finally, after a temper tantrum in the shower, I got onto instacart and ordered the things to make tamales. I can always freeze the stuff if I can’t do it, I thought as I put the dishes away.

Last night, I sat at the table, everything spread out. After looking at the first husk, I decided, “I’m gonna do that.” Tears streamed down my cheeks. Both boys saw me and offered their support. Their help this time was much appreciated. It was hard to let go, but I must carry on this tradition. We sat at that table and talked about you. We remembered how you laughed, how you ate so many you would swear we would never make them again. I looked at my boys, and I felt you with us. I didn’t want that day to end.

It was hard at first, but I am glad we made the tamales. They were your traditions, and I intend to continue them. Even if it is hard, make them anyway. It’s the little things that matter.

My Father

Story aboutAndrew Gigante

We lost our father, Andrew Gigante, 78, of Old Bridge, New Jersey on Monday, December 28, 2020.

My father was born in Molfetta, Italy to the late Lazzaro and Francesca Gigante. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 10. Our family lived in Hoboken, eventually moving to Bayonne where my dad met and married Joanne Mulewski, the love of his life. They started their own family and moved to Old Bridge which was home for the past 49 years.

My father was a self employed plumber; he owned Andrew Gigante Plumbing and Heating. He was a member and former president of the Sicilian Citizens Club in Bayonne, and a lifetime member and former president of the Cheesequake First Aid Squad. He was named Man of the Year by the Sicilian club for all of his contributions and community involvement with the Bayonne community.

In his spare time he loved to be out on the water fishing. He would love to come home from a day on the Sea Fox or Paramount and show us all the fish he’d caught that day. Afterwards, he would cook us up the fish for dinner. He also enjoyed spending time in his home garden. Every year that he would expand his garden we would joke around with him, laughing that his back yard would soon become a farm.

My mother, his beloved wife of 52 years, his loving children, and his cherished grandchildren, all miss him deeply.

I take a few deep, slow breaths on the drive to work, preparing to face the good people and play-act as my old self. From behind their masks they will say, “Good morning,” and I will add the letter “u” to my reply in my own private little joke: “Good mourning!”

In this solitude, I think of you on the other side of the world, buried in paradise, where the leaves never brown and snow never falls. Did you know that your second family gave a Mass for you? I watched a video clip of it, and it was lovely, but the service was in a language that neither of us understands.

I would have liked to have held my own service here, where I would have served the baked mostaccioli, Italian beef, and deep dish that you craved. I would have eulogized you. I’m not sure exactly what I would have said, but I think I might have poked fun at the black dress socks, gym shoes, and short-shorts that made up your weekend uniform. And I might have described what a passionate hobbyist you were, giving your full heart to each new interest, from crossword puzzles to autograph hunting to big band music. I might have shared how some of my warmest childhood memories involved hanging around you while you shaved, watching your slow, careful movements while we talked about matters small and large.

I look for any piece of you in this city you loved, but nothing easy comes to mind. My imagination wanders to some small, forgotten corner of the courthouse where you worked, where a molecule of yours might lie, sleeping, waiting for an agitating broom to release it to space.

Dog Boy and Holiday Guy

Story aboutKyle Spiller

When my beloved son Kyle was little, we called him Dog Boy. If there was a dog within a 1/2 mile, Kyle would find it and love on it. I’ve never seen anyone so in love with dogs! We had many dogs over the years, so there were many opportunities to give and receive love. Sadly, due to family chaos during his childhood, I had to re-home the two dogs he had come to think of as his own. I know that Daisy, a black Basset Hound-Border Collie mix, and Duffy, a white rough coat Jack Russell Terrier, met him when he crossed over April 6, 2021 at 8:49 pm. He was 38, and had been married only two years.

Kyle was an interesting combination of steadfast loyalty, cranky impatience, infectious laugh, and endless forgiveness. He could be crabby and intolerant. He was willing to be understanding and forgiving. At his memorial, one of his buddies said he didn’t think he’d ever seen Kyle without a smile on his face. At 6’2″, 390 lbs., he was big in every way. Big heart, big appetite, big smarts, big beard, big love.

Kyle was our holiday maker. He refused to let a holiday go by without a get together. The only one we missed was Christmas 2020 because I was just too nervous about the virus. But that Thanksgiving we had a big meal in the living room of our half finished house. Bare grey block walls, a late November Colorado breeze blowing through the many openings yet to be filled with windows and doors, a football game on the TV, a microwave to reheat the quickly cooling food – a memorable day to say the least. We sat across the room from each other in green lawn chairs, Mike and I on one side, Kyle and Charlotte on the other. But we were together, and that’s what mattered to Kyle.

Kyle had a natural facility for sport and language, and became fluent in Spanish for his LDS mission to New Jersey. He played multiple sports and mimicked any accent, frequently making folks laugh with this talent. With the help of the church and his LDS family, he reinvented himself in high school, and created a good life with his conversion. Although he drifted away from the church in recent years, he maintained the many rich relationships he had made. Some of these wonderful people made possible his outdoor Celebration of Life when we were too deep in our grief to do anything, and many more came to share memories of him on that bright May afternoon.

Kyle and I butted heads quite a bit through the years. There were plenty of times when we were both tough to love. But we forged some kind of loving truce, and really enjoyed our time together. Strangely, now that he is dead, we have an even better relationship. We talk every day, though it is brief. He encourages me to stick out this human life, even without him. I miss his laugh and his generosity and his hugs and his genuine positive regard for us. He taught me to look for joy, though that is not my first inclination.

Kyle’s illness lasted just 17 days from beginning to end. He and Charlotte could not afford medical insurance, yet he was given every available treatment. We are forever grateful to his nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and financial aid counselors for their unflagging efforts to help him. Charlotte was able, via a Kickstarter fund, to pay all of the fees that the hospital could not recover from the federal assistance program. Thank you, all you beautiful people.

We have been together in many lifetimes, and I look forward to seeing you again, Kylie, on the other side of the veil. Love you, Honey. See you in a while. Kiss those doggies for me.

Christmas Cookies & The Grinch

Story aboutTommy Sizemore

Dear Pop,

Some tell me that you gained your wings on January 5, 2021. From this daughter’s perspective, you didn’t gain them because you already had them. You were an angel right here on earth. And while I know with 110% of my heart that you are up in Heaven watching over me, guiding and protecting me, I think it’s important to remember certain quirky, funny memories that we shared while I was honored to have you as my Dad on earth.

Christmas is approaching, which is difficult because you were Christmas to me. You gave me the best memories any daughter could ever wish for.

You always let me lay beside you on the couch, resting my head on your chest (I still can hear your heart beating to this day) and we would watch “The Grinch,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” a million times. Our favorites were the Grinch and Christmas Vacation. I remember you laughed and smiled just as much as I did during the Grinch. When you smiled, you smiled with your whole heart, your grin was as big as the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes.

I remember us sneaking into the kitchen, after Mama was sound asleep, and we fought over all the Wal-Mart Christmas sugar cookies with the green sprinkles on top. Because the green sprinkles tasted better than the red sprinkles. Even though we both knew that the sprinkles didn’t really taste any different, we enjoyed the laughter and banter it created. You would take those sugar cookies and put them into your homemade milkshakes that you made us with Breyer’s Neopolitan ice cream and Barber’s milk.

I can still see you carrying our massive, frosted, artificial tree up the stairs from the basement. I was always amazed at the beautiful red and green old-fashioned bubble lights center piece that you set up in the foyer. I remember being 6 years old and looking forward to standing in the foyer, watching and waiting for those lights to begin to bubble. To this day, I set up a bubble light centerpiece and night lights in our home.

To some kids, Santa Claus, presents, and candy were Christmas. But to me, the time I spent with you laughing and making memories was Christmas. So Pop, I know you are up there in Heaven shining down on me and I want to thank you for every single Christmas memory you gave to me. This year will be my first Christmas without you. I must admit that most people want presents under the tree; this daughter has a different wish. Pop, I wish that you could be here with me sharing a cookie milkshake and watching “The Grinch.”

You can find my project “Live Like Pop” at livelikepop.org.

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