"I LOVE Thanksgiving—-

I’m a holiday kind of guy. I love the Christmas season with its “peace-on-earth” and ‘”joy-to-the-world” messages and Santa Claus, and elves and Christmas lights and all that comes with the excitement leading up to Christmas Day. Most of all, I love the “reason for the season”—acknowledging the birth of Christ.

I also am fully aware of the pressure and stress Christmastime can bring to so many; the homeless, the unemployed, those with serious illness, and especially the parents with no money who desperately want Santa to visit their house on Christmas Eve. Let’s face it, kids are kids and Santa is Santa; to them the “real world” has no place in their little, anxious hearts. The stress this can cause for a mommy and daddy who might be struggling just to make rent can sometimes be overwhelming. Single parents have a double whammy. They are missing a spouse to vent with. This I shall address in a week or so. But, for now, it is Thanksgiving week.

I LOVE Thanksgiving. To me it IS the best day of the year. Why? Because it is the one day of the year when we pause and simply give thanks for all that we have even if it is just a little. A job, good health, a cancer in remission, connecting with a long lost relative, the birth of a child, so many things that we can be thankful for. People from every economic situation can have a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens and prisons serve turkey. Folks who have little money are able to receive turkey baskets from various charitable organizations so they can have a turkey dinner at home with their families. No-one in America needs to go hungry on Thanksgiving Day. You do not need to purchase gifts. All you have to do is show up, hang out, eat and enjoy the uplifted spirit of family and friends that are with you, even if they are strangers in a soup kitchen. It is a beautiful thing.

“If the only prayer you said in your WHOLE LIFE was,”THANK YOU”, that would suffice.”
Meister Eckhart 1260-1327, Theologian and Philosopher

"Grippers" FINAL EPISODE (how to get homeless without even trying)

Final Episode: “Down & UP”

Bob had been right when he told Tracey that Greg was a “good guy”. Greg, feeling partly responsible for Bob’s back injury, had “forgiven” their rent payments for October, November and December. But now it was January and Greg, seriously impacted by the tough economy, was strapped for cash. He needed his rent payments from all of his tenants. Tracey, bringing home a meager  $780.00 a month from her part time job, was terrified. She was actually having nightmares about being “homeless” and kept waking up soaked with sweat as she visualized Jake and herself cowering together under a bridge as rain pounded down around them as they attempted to stay dry. Bob, at that moment in time, was quite useless and Tracey felt as if she was almost alone. Having been to several Nar-Anon meetings with Judi Pavano, she had started praying.  She was now praying as hard as she ever had in her entire life and was finding a certain inner peace when talking to God. Just like that one of her prayers was answered.

Tracey arrived at work and her manager called her in to the office and told her that one of the full time cashiers had abruptly quit. He offered her the full time position and, just like that, Tracey’s income doubled. When she went on break she called Greg Margolese  and told him what happened and then asked if he might possibly rent them a smaller house with a smaller rent payment than the one they occupied. Greg happened to have a two-bedroom, one-bath vacancy only six blocks away from where they were living and readily agreed. The rent would be $250.00 a month less.Tracey, suddenly re-enforced by her new job and Greg’s cooperation gathered her inner strength and resolve, said a prayer, and went home and packed a suitcase with Bob’s belongings. She placed it in front of her husband and told him, “Either you enter re-hab today or Jake and I are leaving you.”

Bob Slider, possessing an inner strength he did not realize he had,  was admitted to the Rosedale Wellness Center an hour later. Tracey gave him a big hug, told him that she loved him, and watched as he walked down the hall with a nurse to the elevator. She was sick to her stomach and simultaneously happy. That Sunday she and Jake went to Mass with Judi and Tommy. It was the first time that either of them had gone to any kind of church service in years.

Bob was released from re-hab 28 days later. Tracey drove him home to their new house. She had, along with help from Jake, Tommy, Judi and  a few neighbors, completed the move. Bob was stunned but relieved. He began attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings three times a week, enrolled in school and a year later received a certification as an X-Ray Technician. He got a job at Memorial Hospital and remained in school to get further certifications in CT Scans and MRI’s. His pain meds now consisted of only non-narcotic NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) like ibuprofen. The previous year’s events had brought them to the very brink of homelessness. The love that flowed among them as a family had been their greatest ally shoring up their weakened defenses in their struggle to survive.. They had beaten the odds. Many do not.

On Easter Sunday, Bob, Tracey and Jake began their day at an Easter Sunrise Service. They were all dressed up and, when the service ended, they had somewhere to go.

PLEASE PRAY FOR ALL THE HOMELESS who are not as blessed as Bob, Tracey and Jake Slider.——

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #18)

Episode #18 “Christmas” (click on the “Grippers tab for previous episodes)

A year earlier Bob and Tracey Slider both had full-time jobs, health insurance, two vehicles, a nice house, and were bringing home over $4300.00 a month. Their success as an average American family was obvious as the twinkling lights from the Christmas tree sent out tiny flashes of color that bounced off the wrapped gifts below. There was peace and contentment in the hearts of the Slider family. Two days later, Tracey was laid off.

In February, Bob’s hours were cut and on the Friday prior to Memorial Day his company, Bildot Building Supply, closed its doors and went out of business. In September, Bob hurt his back and was unable to work at all. Ignoring the warnings about the dangers of prescription pain pills and constantly seeking pain relief he began taking more meds than were prescribed and became a “prescription junkie” using the last bit of the family’s monies to buy pills on the street. Then he was arrested for DUI. He wound up on probation, had to pay heavy fines and was required to do community service. Tracey, who had been hired as a part-time cashier at the local super-market, was fighting the good fight to make ends meet but the pressure to pay bills and Bob’s addiction problem were pushing her to the edges of despair and resentment.The only time that Bob seemed like the “old” Bob was when he had a few pills in him and had a supply stashed somewhere. However, being an addict it never mattered how many pills he had because it would never be enough. An addict is always scheming about how to get more drugs even if their pockets are filled with them.

 Christmas morning arrived and the usual joyful atmosphere that accompanied the day was absent. Jake was inside a vacuum he did not really understand. His dad had changed and his mom seemed so unhappy. Tracey did her best to make sure her boy received some gifts but it was impossible to live up to the standard of past years. Jake, whose grades had slipped and who had become somewhat withdrawn and distant, had reached inside of himself and had planned to do something special for his mom for Christmas. In addition, he had asked his folks for nothing for himself. The 12 year-old had been greatly underestimated. He pulled her aside Christmas morning and gave her a card. In it was $100.00 in cash. Jake had quietly been working after school hustling lawn jobs and cleanup jobs around the neighborhood. Tracey did not have a clue. “Mom,” he said, “I’m not a baby anymore. I can see what’s going on around here. This is between you and me. I don’t think you should tell dad. Merry Christmas, love you.”

Tracey looked at her son and just began to cry. It was the greatest Christmas gift she had ever received. She hugged her son so tight he thought he might break. It was the best feeling he had ever had.

Next Time: “Here We Go Again”

'Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #16)

Episode #16 “Thanksgiving” (click on the “Grippers” tab for previous 15 episodes)

Tracey was standing in her own living room feeling completely lost and helpless. She had managed their meager finances with painstaking care and just like that there was no money, no food and she could not follow through on making her agreed payment with the power company. Embraced by a sense of despair she instinctively hurried over to Judi Parano’s.

Judi hugged her and said, “C’mon Trace, I’ll make some coffee and we can sit down and talk.”

Judi quickly became Tracey’s navigator and began guiding her friend and neighbor on a straighter course. The first thing she did was reach into her purse and pull out $80.00 and hand it to Tracey. “Here, put this in your pocket and don’t tell Bob you have it.”

Tracey tried to say something and Judi said, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to say anything. Now, I want you to call the St. Vincent De Paul Society—“

“Oh no, Judi. I can’t. They just helped us about two or three  months ago. I’d feel so embarrassed asking again. I don’t think I can.”

“You can. I’ll stand right next to you for moral support.  Now, I have this pamphlet I want to give you. I know you have not said too much about Bob’s pill problem but I know he has one and he will need help with that. But you need help dealing with it. This is a schedule of Nar-Anon meetings in the area.”

“What’s Nar-Anon?”

“It’s like Al-Anon which is for families and friends of alcoholics. Nar-Anon is for families and friends of people hooked on drugs. Tracey—I’ve been there. My brother Anthony is a user. He was tearing the family apart.”

“Anthony? The computer guy with the great job. I had no idea–“

“Tracey, he USED to have a great job. He was fired for missing so much work and he blames everyone else and, oh my God, we don’t even know where he is. Haven’t seen or heard from him in two months. I’m sick over it but I have learned that I cannot do a thing about it. We’re here for him if he decides he wants REAL help. But, in the meantime—–Anyway, you need these meetings. Trust me, there are so many people out there with family members that have gotten caught up in this prescription pill insanity you wouldn’t believe it. You need to remember that Bob Slider, your husband, is still the man he was. That person has been taken over by an evil entity that has transformed him. The real Bob will be back. He just needs you and Jake to be there when he begins his journey home. Understand?”

Ron and Jan from St. Vincent De Paul came out again. Once again they were able to assist with the power bill. They also included Tracey in their “Thanksgiving Giveaway Program” and, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Tracey went over to Sacred Heart Catholic Church and was given a holiday “basket” which included a frozen turkey and all the “fixins” including dessert for Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving turned out to be a good day in the Slider home. Bob had his “medication” and was acting normal. He and Jake were watching football together and joking around with each other. Tracey, temporarily upbeat and enjoying the moment, happily prepared the meal. On this Thanksgiving day they all had something to be thankful for.

Next time: Here Comes Christmas

"Grippers" (how to get homeless without even trying #14)

Episode #14: “Living with Consequences(click on the “Grippers” tab for previous 13 episodes)

From the Webster Dictionary: Con’ se-quence,  n.—that which follows as the result of some preceding act, cause, etc.

For the Slider family the act was Bob’s driving into the side of a new Toyota as he parked his truck. The cause was his having taken too many prescription pain pills that had severely dulled his senses. Did this just affect Bob? Not quite. Consequences oftentimes have this insidious ability to give birth to tentacles that reach out and wrap themselves around others in an unexpected and seemingly inescapable grip, clutching so tightly that the person(s) trapped have no idea how to break free. It also follows that the first people these tentacles reach out for are those closest to the person who had activated the whole process, in this case Tracey and Jake.

Having one vehicle had been sufficient for Tracey to get back and forth to her part time job, for Bob to go back and forth for doctor visits and his 3x a week physical therapy treatments plus, get Jake to his after school activities, winter baseball practices and weekend games. Now it was all on Tracey. She had to somehow get her husband and her son to where they were supposed to be and still be at work. It was a daunting, almost impossible task. The consequences of Bob’s Halloween “fender-bender” included his having to put in three hours a week of community service (which he was able to do at the St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store) sorting and separating donated clothing. He needed 50 hours so this was, at best, a 17 week commitment. He also had to go to DUI class, the “Law & Substance Abuse Program”, get to physical therapy and, of course, report to his parole officer once a week. .

Tracey managed, after some serious pleading, to get her manager to let her begin working from  6:a.m to 11: a.m. Thursday through Sunday. This gave her Monday through Wednesday to schedule Bob’s probation requirements and PT appointments. It was, to say the least, a tenuous arrangement. Bob had to be somewhere at least four times a week. Since his dad’s appointments were “absolutely necessary” to keep, Jake was forced to quit playing winter baseball. There was no way Tracey could get him back and forth to practices and games,  get her husband to his various appointments, get to work, run errands, and do all of the other things that take place outside of the home.

Jake took this very hard. He tried to understand but he didn’t. Baseball meant so much to him. It ain’t fair. How could they let this happen. It ain’t fair. It really was not the baseball. After all,  it was only winter-ball, sort of an instuctional league where the kids prepared for the regular season. It was just the catalyst that drove the boy’s feelings to the surface and these feelings began to exhibit themselves through a sullenness, a drop in grades and, in a few instances, by playing “hooky”.

Tracey, like her son, was slowly developing an unwanted bitterness towards her husband, the man she had truly loved since high school. She had the inner strength to deal with all the adversity, confusion, tension,  financial chaos, and the mountain of uncertainty that had entered her life over the past year. What was seeping into her psyche was that Bob had turned himself into a “victim” and had climbed upon a train called the “Pity Party Express”. This journey that he had embarked upon was like a slowly moving knife, cutting deeper and deeper into his wife. Bob had no idea and could not see past  himself or his need for “medication”.

Next time: “Here come the Holidays”I