Coping With The Holidays After A Loved One Passes Away

As my Thanksgiving vacation from school began Friday afternoon 11/16 the first thing I did was go to the wake of a co-worker’s father.  The next afternoon I attended the touching memorial service and reception for the wife of a longtime friend.   Neither passing was unexpected but that doesn’t take away the pain the surviving family members are experiencing.

One thought that ran through my mind was how these losses of life took place right at the start of the holiday season.  I experienced this same sad timing four years ago when my sister Marianne died two weeks before Thanksgiving. Two years before, it was my Aunt Lois who passed and three other people I personally knew also died in mid to late November.

As anyone who’s experienced the deaths of loved ones knows, the first year of every milestone/marker is especially tough to handle.  Be it birthdays, anniversaries and cherished dates of note, there are adjustments and a ‘new normal’ to cope with.

Believe it or not,  25 years ago the movie “Schindler’s List” was part of my coping with the loss of my father.  My dad was diagnosed with terminal metastatic lung cancer in late May of 1993 and he passed away peacefully surrounded by his family three months later.

Two months after that, my sister Marianne, her husband Jack and their two kids moved to Albuquerque New Mexico when Jack accepted a work transfer from the post office.  This meant for the upcoming holidays it was just going to be me and my mother and no other family around.  We had relatives in Arizona and Ohio but here in Illinois, we were on our own.  And we had no desire to travel anywhere.

Thanksgiving for us was low key and we moved on to buy and mail gifts to Marianne’s family in preparation for Christmas.  My mom and I got presents for each other but made no special plans for the Christmas holiday.  We were stuck on what to do.

Finally we came up with the idea to go out on Christmas Eve to the Water Tower Place movie theater to see you guessed it, “Schindler’s List.”  The movie was not playing in the suburbs and I reserved our tickets by phone.  So on the night before the world marked the birth of Jesus, my mom and I sat in a sold-out theater watching the stark and depressing film that depicted Jews in concentration camps trying to survive the holocaust.  Looking back, I bet at this Christmas Eve screening my mom and I were probably the only gentiles in the place.

Not exactly a ‘get in the holiday spirit movie’ we spent Christmas Eve watching “Schindler’s List.”

Next on Christmas morning, my mom and I planned to visit our family’s cemetery plot and decorate the graves of my father and his father.  We drove out early to Mt. Greenwood cemetery.  This would also be the first time we’d see my dad’s tombstone in person as it had been installed just a few weeks before.  A light snow covered all the markers and we brought a broom to locate my dad’s last resting place.  I found his stone marker with the first sweep of the broom and my mom and I burst into tears.  My dad had been gone for four months but seeing his gravestone like that drove home the permanence of his passing that much harder.   It was an awful experience on what is supposed to be a joyous holiday.

After dusting off the snow, we posted up wreaths & trimmings on our family plot.  Some prayers were said then we walked back to my car and made the thirty minute trek home.   Keep in mind my mom and I had yet to open any presents or make any Christmas greeting phone calls to family members.  It was ten o’clock in the morning and both of us were already physically and emotionally drained.  And yet, there was STILL Christmas to celebrate.  Ugh.

Spending Christmas morning at Mt. Greenwood Cemetery wasn’t the brightest idea I ever had.

Somehow my mom and I soldiered on through the rest of the day. We made the phone calls, opened gifts and had a nice meal of chicken and vegetable trimmings.  That year we learned how nobody makes up the rules or guidelines on how to handle those first holidays without loved ones.  You do what you do and learn what works and what doesn’t. That first set of holidays without my dad was gut wrenching but they got better after that.  In fact, the next year my mom and I spent a wonderful Christmas in Ohio visiting her sister, father and my cousin Linda.

My mother passed away very suddenly in October of 2009 but for all our Christmases from 1995 on we always spent part of that day seeing a new movie in a local theater.  I still go out and see a  new film every Christmas day. One year the flick I caught was “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The crazy scenes of drug use and debauchery in it weren’t exactly in the spirit of the holidays.   This year’s Christmas day movie choice will probably be the Dick Cheney biopic ‘Vice.”

Anyway, to show how things can come full circle, I noticed that in early December “Schindler’s List” is coming back to movie theaters to mark the 25th anniversary of its initial release.  It was and always will be director Steven Spielberg’s greatest cinematic achievement and I’m going to watch it. But this time I’ll see it BEFORE Christmas Eve.

This blog is dedicated to all the loved ones who are no longer with us.  We miss them all the time and especially at the holidays. 

Previews of Movies Due in Theaters

In the last 2 months of each calendar year a slew of interesting movies get released to theaters.  Not all are Academy Award contenders but since the nominations for Oscars are announced in January, it is from mid-October through December when most of the best films debut at your local big screens.  I took the time to load up the trailers for some of the notable offerings.  For a look at the release dates of these movies, click to this calendar link. Pick what you want to check out and we’ll see you at the movies.

Here are the links to the previews-












For me personally I’m most looking forward to seeing: “Green Book”, “Vice”, “The Frontrunner”  “The Mule”, “The Favourite” and “Mary, Queen of Scots.”   So sit back, enjoy and please silence your phones before the movie starts!







A Rebuttal to Rhapsody’s Bad Rap

Full disclosure– I have always been a fan of the rock group Queen.  I collected their records and saw them in concert twice.  Some may say this means I could not be objective in reviewing the new movie “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  I see it the other way.  If anyone is going to be critical or carefully speculative and discriminating of the movie it would be a longtime fan like me who wants to see their story portrayed in an accurate and appropriate way.

Actors playing the band Queen sing together on the classic mini opera “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

It’s hard for me to follow or agree with the barbs and sharp detractions some critics gave “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  However I will say, as a band, Queen was often given short shrift by the music critics.  It appears some movie critics are following suit with their film reviews.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is more the story of lead singer Freddie Mercury which makes sense.  He was the consummate showman and the most visible guy in the band.  However, all four members are well represented and the actors are dead ringers for the real life stars. Watching Gwilym Lee play guitarist Brian May, was almost spooky because of their resemblance and his stage mannerisms were spot on.

Still, it’s Rami Malek playing Freddie Mercury who IS the movie.  Equipped with prosthetic teeth to mirror Mercury’s choppers, Malek has the look, the speaking voice and mannerisms.  Much is made of Freddie’s extra incisors during the film but that’s just a small bite of the story. (Pun intended)

Rami Malek IS Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury in a well played role that is sure to get him an Oscar nomination.

From a disapproving father, skeptical record company executives to loving his girl Mary but having sex with men, Freddie Mercury was a complex person in private and a bold and bright star onstage.  Some of my favorite parts of this movie are when he talks about how natural and true he feels while performing in concert and the recording studio.  When you see Mercury writing songs and how a sense of satisfaction rolls over him when in the right groove, it’s a great insight to special artistry.

Queen’s music is a joy to re-live in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The inside stories about how those songs came to be are more than just a “Behind the Music” anecdote or two.  For those who followed the band’s discography fairly closely, you will see some date and chronology inaccuracies in the script.  This may have been done for dramatic purposes and we need to remember this is not a documentary. It is an interpretation of a constantly evolving group of musicians who dared to blow off formulated artistic patterns to forge their own visions.

I liked the new version of “A Star Is Born” but gave higher marks (a solid ‘A’ grade) to “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The plot of “A Star is Born” has been oft told and despite great work by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, it’s still a bit of a worn tale.  Freddie Mercury and Queen’s history is as unusual as a band’s story can be and this movie serves it up in a truly entertaining way.

FOOTNOTE-Before seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody” one of the trailers shown to us was for next summer’s Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”  It’s directed by Dexter Fletcher who was brought in to replace Bryan Singer for the last two weeks of filming the Queen movie.   Here is a quick look at the trailer for “Rocketman.”



The School of Rock is in Session!

I teach Special Education to 6th, 7th and 8th graders at a therapeutic school.  My students have a mix of behavioral and learning issues and they always keep me on my toes.  Twice a week I teach these kids a course called “The Arts.”  Since music is part of this, I’m educating them on songs that tell little stories. Together they orally read lyrics to a couple of tunes from the past.  Next, I play them the songs and issue a short quiz.    These songs came out decades before these students were born so it’s a course on music history too.  I’d be more than happy to play songs from their era but let’s be honest, today’s music is beyond awful!

Anyway, here are a few of the song quizzes.


Where does this song take place?

In Chicago                 On a western bay               On the east coast

What job does Brandy have?

Teacher                    Nurse               Waitress at a bar

What does Brandy wear that reminds her of a past boyfriend?

A golden ring          Diamond ear rings            A braided chain

Where did this piece of jewelry come from?

Italy                       Spain                         France

Why couldn’t Brandy’s boyfriend stay to be with her?

He was married to someone else

As a sailor, no harbor was his home

Brandy was married to someone else

What stories did Brandy’s man tell her?

How he used to be a baseball star

The guy shared about his life as a bank robber

He told sailing stories, talked about the oceans and more


SECRET AGENT MAN  (Johnny Rivers)

The man who lives a life of danger, what happened to his name?

He changed it for security reasons

They took it away from him

Nothing,.he’s still known as Patrick Berg.

Why should the secret agent man beware of pretty faces?

It could be a man in disguise

A pretty face can hide an evil mind

All that make-up means she might be ugly as a bag of worms

Where do we find the secret agent man in the song?

Swinging on the Riviera

Laying in a Bombay Alley

Both of these

What got the secret agent man in trouble?

He ended up spying on the Russians

He let the wrong words slip by kissing persuasive lips

Isis terrorists blew up his car

The odds said the secret agent man:

Would live a long and happy life

Might marry a princess and live in a castle

Won’t live to see tomorrow


LAST KISS (Wayne Cochran, also J. Frank Wilson, Wednesday, and Pearl Jam)

Who took the singer’s baby away from him?

Another guy

Her parents

The lord

Who was driving during their date?

The singer             The girl            They took an Uber

What happened on their car ride?

They hit a deer

They swerved into a stalled out car


What were the last words the girl said to the singer?

You’re a lousy driver

Are you O.K. honey?

Hold me darling for a little while

What was the last thing the singer and his girl did?

Share an ambulance to the ER



What does the singer have to do to see his baby when he leaves this world?

Never date another girl

Be good so he can go to heaven

Learn how to drive better


SUNDOWN (Gordon Lightfoot)

The song starts out with the woman wearing:


Shorts and a T-shirt

A satin gown

Where is Sundown told not to be?

Any bar in town

The singer’s back stairs

A local school

Why is the Sundown a queen in sailor’s dream?

Because she loves to sail boats

She don’t always say what she really means

Nobody knows

What is such a shame in the song?

Losing ‘Sundown’ to another man

Not ever having met the woman

When the singer gets feeling better when I’m feeling no paid

What’s your first mistake with Sundown?

Getting lost in her lovin’

Breaking up with her

Letting her steal your car

What is Sundown wearing at the end of the song?

Her satin dress

Faded jeans

A new swimsuit