We are the individuals that we are today as a result of events which occur in our lives. Events shape us. Job offers. Births. Deaths. Graduations, or lack thereof. These events define us as people.
I am who I am as a result of an extremely particular string of events. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that this is the first time I have ever described said events publicly, much less on the internet. When it comes down to the honest truth, this is a blog about my life. Many bloggers skip the past, undesirable stories and focus on the present “point-and-shoot” happy moments to capture and share with the digital world, proving to that world, and often times themselves, that everything is as ideal as it should be. I assure you, I am not one of those bloggers, I am not one of those people.
There are my events.
I was born to a sixteen year old unwed high school student. My father was a twenty-one year old truck driver. Coming from an extremely Catholic family, my birth mother went through with the pregnancy and put me up for adoption via Catholic Social Services. I was born on November 22, 1985 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. During the second week in December, 1985, I was given up for adoption to Eugene and Lynn Lattari of York, Pennsylvania.
Gene and Lynn, both being born in the 1940’s, were slightly older than the “traditional” parents. They were in their 40’s and unable to have any more children than the two girls previously born to them in the late 1970’s – Shay and Reagan. Lynn was a diabetic and was told that she was medically unable to have any more children as a result of her condition. Because of this, they resorted to adoption.
Adoptions were awarded to the financially comfortable. Gene was an engineer, Lynn was a speech therapist for special needs children. They earned a good living, were able to send my siblings to private Catholic schools. They built an in-ground swimming pool in the backyard the year that I was born. We lived in a four bedroom home in a nice suburban neighborhood. Any social worker or adoption agency would clearly pick these two as the ideal Catholic family to raise a Catholic baby.
Then certain events began to occur.
As previously noted, Lynn’s health was not in peak condition. She was diabetic and received insulin daily. When I was 2 years old (1987), she became seriously ill after contracting the Strep virus. A normal immune system would be able to battle this illness. Her’s was damaged and she died on May 16, 1987. I was 2 1/2 years old and without a mother.
I moved past this, young enough to be emotionally resilient. I have faded memories of the funeral, relatives in and out of the house. It was not until I was in preschool and kindergarten that I realized I had something “missing.” I was different from the other children, both being adopted and experiencing the death of a parent (an event typically reserved for those in their 50s and older).
A few years after this event, my father lost his job. I think I was six. It may have been earlier. This left him a widower and jobless, when he had the unfortunate responsibility of providing for 3 girls. He had no idea what to do, where to turn. He was floundering. During this time, our babysitter, Karen, had continued caring for me since the death of Lynn, as I was still a small child in need of constant attention, discipline and guidance. She took the courageous role of parent when no one else was able to. In the summer of 1993, she married my father, an event that I have decided forever ensured my success as a human. When no one else was there, she stepped in.
My father fell ill in the summer of 1996, noticing pains in his abdomen. He had recently gotten a job working in the dairy section of the local grocery store. It wasn’t much, but it provided him with health insurance. Which, it turns out, he was in dire need of. My father was in the advanced stages of pancreatic, lung and liver cancer. I was at the tail end of fourth grade when this was discovered, around memorial day. He began aggressive treatments of radiation and chemotherapy. I was eleven years old and witnessed my father, the man I loved and looked up to my entire life, be literally weakened and destroyed by a disease and the treatments which accompanied it. We sat by him in the hospital on the cancer floor receiving his chemo. I watched him become emaciated because he couldn’t eat and then gain so much weight that his clothes were unable to fit him as a result of the steroids for his lungs. I personally witnessed him vomit so violently from the chemotherapy that he broke a hip and was unable to walk. I was there for when the oxygen tanks were delivered to the house to allow him to breathe. I experienced the hospice nurses coming to our home, not yet aware of what “hospice” was, or what was actually going on around me. I sat on the front porch while the attorney came to the house to have my father grant Karen, my stepmother, as mine and Reagan’s legal guardians. I was taken to my neighbor’s house when the ambulance brought my father to the nursing home, as Karen did not want me to have to live in that house, knowing what inevitably was going to happen.
I visited my father in the nursing home twice that week. One time he was hallucinating, seeing people who were not there as a result of the extreme pain medication. The other time was a short visit, just to say hello. I remember hugging him, letting him nap as he was exhausted.
On May 17, 1997, I went grocery shopping with my mother and Reagan. Shay and my grandmother were at the nursing home with my father. I remember coming home and seeing their cars in the driveway, knowing that this was odd. I remember taking some of the groceries to the basement and staying down there as my grandmother broke the news to my mother and sister. I remember thinking to myself “If I stay down here forever and don’t let them tell me, it won’t ever become real.” I went upstairs. My father had passed away on Saturday, May 17, 1997, ten years and one day after the passing of Lynn Lattari.
This story is not meant to garner sympathy or illicit feelings. While unique, I was raised after this point by a wonderful woman who gave all she had to make sure that I became a person of character and faith. I want to honor my father, and note that his death, while tragic and unfair and untimely, was an event that shaped who I have become, and that is something to recognize.
The lessons that I have learned from this event are that I, under no circumstances, should ever take my family or life for granted. Life is a gift. Daily stresses are just that, daily, common and mostly trivial. We are given one life and should do our best to make our family members, living and deceased proud of us. I ask myself everyday what things would be like if my father would be here, not with regret or anger, but as a test for myself. Am I using my intelligence to my full potential? Am I making the right decisions. I know without hesitation that my father would love Justin. There are so many similarities between the two of them and I take comfort in that. I only regret that Justin was never able to meet my father, or understand the special place that oatmeal patties and spearmint leaves have in my heart.
Events shape us. And so do people. People shape us.
- Posted in: Family