Returning Home: That Old Familiar Friend

Mom close-up pillow




This blog post was started in my mind about 3 dozen times. Now that I’m poised at the keyboard at Anchorage Int’l airport, poised to launch myself back to the Big Village that I was raised in, the village called The Windy City, The City of Big Shoulders, Chi-town, a.k.a. Chicago.


It’s the land of big meals, big homes, and big cars. It’s the land of blue collars, still, despite a wealthy urban class that continues to stockpile riches. It is the land of a lake big enough to be mistaken for an ocean, with waves in high winds. It is a place where interstates are called “expressways”, and they have names like Dan Ryan, Stevenson and Edens. It is the land that created the permanent tollroad.


I could go on & on about the deep-dish pizza & hot dog cliches, the sports fans (best in the world, ahem), and the weather, but you know all that stuff. What many of you don’t know is the real Chicago. The Chicago that makes my eyes weep every time I visit.




It is the Chicago with the most beautiful urban architecture this side of the Atlantic. No, I’m not biased. I’ve been to New York, DC, & other places. Fancy colonnades, facades, and the like aren’t what I’m interested in. What interests me is how a city’s structures get built, integrated, and thrive over time. Sometimes, it’s adding a crazy red statue by a famous artist, like Picasso, to a building’s outdoor sitting area that makes it. Other times, it’s how train tracks get elevated, and repaired, again & again. Despite San Francisco’s magnificent “ladies” in their Victorian gowns, Chicago’s brownstones, 2 and 3 flats, large skyscrapers, and dingy row houses, all blended together, are what make my heart sing every time I drive downtown.




And then there’s the people. You’ll never find the kind of nice, yet distant, helpful but not friendly, protective yet strike-up-a-convo-at-any-moment kind of people like you find in Chicago. They are proud of where they are from, they know the names of all the interstates, all the bad neighborhoods, and all the mayors, ’cause there’s just been one until recently. (I don’t even know the new mayor’s name yet!) The bus drivers, the sewer workers, the meter maids, they all clock in & out daily with no expectation for promotion, pats on the back, or accolades. They are unsung heros of a City That Works. They do their job. They go home. They watch the Bears game. They are Chicagoans.




Most of my time will be spent with my mom, as she transitions to the next life. The “familiar friend” in the title isn’t Chicago. In fact, I’ve almost been away from there, longer than I lived there. Returning to Chicago to attend to my mother will be an act of re-acquaintance. It’s like your high school sweetheart, that somehow you decided wouldn’t work out for the long term, but you’re both now divorced, he has kids, and after bumping into each other at the grocery store, there you are at dinner, looking across the table from one another, memories of youth flashing before your eyes, noticing some grey hairs, noticing some saggy neck wrinkles, but still being charmed by the sparkle in his eye.


Will it work a second time? Too early to tell. That’s why people date.


This time around, I’m wiser to the ways of dating, to the ways of Chicago. I’ve traveled across the world & back again several times. I know what I like, and what I don’t like. I know what I’ll tolerate, and what I won’t. I know the drivers on the expressways are even more dangerous than when I was growing up, instead of driving 70-80 down the Dan Ryan, it’s now 90-100.


I know the bad neighborhoods are just as bad as ever, with teens beating teens with planks of wood. But, there are several new neighborhoods that I’m not familiar with, like the Middle Eastern one. Raggedy neighborhoods have now become gentrified, with boutique cutesy shops, and hipsters competing for the Most Bizarre Piercing Award.


People will look at me strange. I won’t “fit in” in Chicago. I don’t dress the same, and I like to make new friends, something Chicagoans don’t do. Oh, don’t get me wrong – they’re “nice”, but they keep the same friends they’ve had since the 2nd grade. This is Just So.


My monkey hat will get heckles, my new hand-made turquoise parka with the lynx fur trim will get jaw-dropping stares. People won’t compliment me on my hand-knitted purple hat with the flower, like a nice lady in the Seattle airport just did.




And all that’s entirely OK. I didn’t come to Chicago for that. I didn’t come to prove myself, to fit in, to be liked, or to be cool (certainly not – never have). I came to comfort my mother as she finally reaches peace from her horrible cancer, and help her transition into the next life.


I’m coming because I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted with my brother before he died, due to my stinkin’ corporate job and my lousy manager. Thankfully, without a job, I can be with Mom more, and pick a job that is part-time, or more flexible, so as to keep plenty of time for her.




I will catalog & organize the footage of my project, so that I can attract funding, which will allow me to hire editors, PR people & the like to really make the film go. It’s a source of pain for me to see others filming & editing “as they go”. This was my original intention, but I had no idea the footage would be so overwhelming. It’s a good thing really.


Despite the painful nature of my arrival to Chicago, it will be good to stop. My plan was to stop in Bethel, AK, continue to make Alaska film & community connections, and work & live there for the Winter. If my mom passes away in 2 weeks, then I’ll go back. If it’s two months, then I won’t go back til Spring.


I WILL go back.


This is just a detour. Nothing in life takes a linear path. There’s a reason for all of this, even though I don’t know what it is.




Thank You to all the amazing people I met in Alaska. Thank You for your generosity, your kindness, and your love. I am forever changed (for the positive) from meeting all of you!


As I walk toward the tunnel of darkness known as Grief, my old friend, I am stronger now, less afraid. I have better supplies like headlamps & flashlights, but most importantly the flame of love burning in my heart, the same flame all of you showed me during my time traveling in Alaska. With this flame, nothing will ever be as dark again as it was when Mickey died in February.


I am thankful to recognize grief now, to know what it looks like, feels like, and its’ sporadic arrival & departure. When it comes, I know to hold its hand, no longer afraid to welcome it. Who knew I’d get so much practice in grieving earlier this year? “Practice makes perfect” They Say. Certainly I’m no expert in loss, but at least this go around, it doesn’t feel so bad. Not yet, at least…

Posted in People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

14 Responses to Returning Home: That Old Familiar Friend

  1. Amy Dooha says:

    You are in my thoughts in this journey back to Chicago and to your mom. During my childhood there I found such solace at the lake….sitting for hours watching the waves, reading. I know that you have gained an amazing array of coping skills this year but I want you to imagine the hugs that surround you virtually and know that there are friends- old and new- who are here to support you.
    Amy Dooha

    • marissa says:

      Oh, Amy, thanks for your kind words. They brought tears to my eyes. I can feel the tickley warmth of your hug right now! It’s a gorgeous day today, and I went for another run around the neighborhood. My favorite thing so far is smelling the fallen leaves fermenting in the mud & puddles after Tuesday’s rain. Eau d Autumne, I call it. It reminds me of the good times growing up, the freedom of playing outside on the cul-de-sac, of sledding at the park, wrestling with our dog, Hamlet (who is reincarnated in the neighbor’s dog across the street – uncanny!) and the hum of the wall heaters at school, winding down as the day was about to end & we were released to freedom. I’ll get to the lake as soon as I can – a brilliant idea. Hugs to you & your sister & family today & for the rest of the holiday season!

  2. Aunt Marlene says:

    Your blog comments are beautiful. So many wonderful memories of Chi. You are a strong spiritual big hearted lady with a great talent for writing. We are with you in prayer as you go through another challenge. You are there to send your mother into the light, you are giving her the final gift. Brava. You will always be grateful for choosing to do the gracious, unselfish act.
    We are also sending light and prayers to your mom and brother. Many blessings, aunt M.

    • marissa says:

      Thanks so much, Aunt Marlene, for your prayers & well wishes. You are so right – I am here for my mom, and my mom only. Remembering to get enough sleep, food, and brush my teeth, will allow me to properly care for her. Everything else is just background noise. The days ahead will be hard. But I know folks like you, and God, will cheer me on, helping me to stay strong. Blessings to you & much love to Sharon & Jonathon & the cousins. I’ll be in touch – Happy Holidays!!

  3. Liesl says:

    Hi Marissa,
    I’m thinking of you and sending you love and strength. Call me if you want to talk. Big hugs,

  4. Michael and Loretta Ferraro says:

    Prayers go out from our hearts to yours and your mothers. Loretta, “Luna” and I have been following you since we met in Starbucks in Alameda Ca. The personal growth you have made through your travels is fantastic. continue to hold your head high and you mind in the stars and your ability to soar will be unlimited. There will always be warmth and prayers in our hearts for you for continued successes and to help you deal with any adversity that comes your way. Be strong, your friends and acquaintances whether old or unknown as of yet will be support for you on your journey through life. Live strong shine bright love always. Loretta “Luna” and Michael Ferraro

    • marissa says:

      Wah – Michael! Thanks so much for getting in touch! And Luna too! I wondered if you were still following along. It means so much that you dropped a line. Hope all is well with both of you on your side, and Alameda is treating you well as usual. Your comments mean so much to me – thank you for reflecting back my progress. It’s hard for a person to see themselves in the world sometimes. Your words are in my heart, and I hope to carry them to other new friends & acquaintances as I journey forth.
      Much love,

  5. Sarah Powers says:

    Hi Marissa,

    I am so impressed by the strength and wisdom you continue to display throughout your journey. I hope this journey continues to be inspiring and healing for you, despite struggles, detours, and your mother’s diminishing health. Know that my thoughts are with you.


    • marissa says:

      Aw – thanks, Sarah! That really means a lot. It’s badass babes like you that help me keep going. Wishing you & yours a fantastic holiday season in the outdoors!

  6. Sonja says:

    there is so much peace in your post, it makes me cry. Safe travels for both you and your Mom to wherever you may be going.

    • marissa says:

      Thanks for the reminder, Sonja. Today was not a peaceful day. Some days will be exhausting like this. But, at least I recorded a video for my next vBlog, and we confirmed a 2nd caretaker lady for Mom. That’s huge! Baby steps. I try every day to find peace, but those pesky things called emotions keep stirring the pot… Hugs to you! Happy Holidays to you & yours!!

  7. Marissa … I resonate with life not being on a linear path. You are a strong, open hearted and giving woman. Thank you for sharing of yourself not only with your mom, but with the rest of us as well. You are offering so much inspiration and solace for people in your similar position. Keep on keeping on my friend.

    Love to you from Tulsa, OK,

    • marissa says:

      Thank you so much for your words of support, Natalie! I appreciate them more than you know. Safe & happy travels to you – your giving kindness to others is a true inspiration for helping to remain kind to my mom, evenin her crabbiest moments. Wishing you total & complete success in 2012!

      Hugs & love,

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