Monthly Archives: June 2016

Losing my safe place

Everyone has a safe place. Someplace they can go and be safe – whatever that means. For some that place is a place to hide, to be alone with their thoughts and fears, but be safe – like their bedroom, the woods near their home, or in a cemetery near their loves ones. For others it might be a place they go to read and have a tea and be around people, but feel safe – like Starbucks or Borders. For others, it is a place that brings back memories of a happier time – like an ice rink where their child used to play, walking around the mall where they used to shop, or a restaurant that their loved one used to enjoy.

For me, it is this last one.

For most of our lives, New Year’s Eve was a time spent with our immediate family. Early on, the four of us would go to small gatherings at friends’ homes and enjoy ourselves with others. But as life went on and changes happened, those invitations slowly stopped. We then had a few people over our home for a few years, and it was nice. But what really comes to mind, and with happy memories, are the last several years when the four of us just went out to an early dinner together.

open door

An open door is always an invitation to a safe place.

We chose this particular restaurant, Via Vanti in Mt. Kisco, for many reasons. First, they had been a client of mine since they opened in 2008. Over the years, Dorothy and I became close friends with the owners, Carla and Scott. We had been there many times together, with the kids, and we have taken many of our friends there. We never had a meal there that was not amazing. We had gotten to know the wait staff and the managers – and it was so great when we walked in and they all knew our names…sort of a Cheers thing.


Carlas famous Gelato tasting

So when we had nothing to do for New Year’s Eve several years ago, Via Vanti was the first place we thought of. We had an early dinner, around 8PM, so we could be home before the drunks hit the road, and we could watch the ball drop from the comfort of our living room. I can’t recall what we ate for dinner that night, but what I do remember is that Andrew and Nicole were raving about the meal. The real treat was after dinner – gelato. Carla’s gelato counter is famous. She has won numerous awards for her gelato; the highest ratings from Zagat’s, Best of Westchester, and many more. You could get as many tastes of the various flavors that you want. Andrew and Nicole were in heaven, but making their final choices was always hard.

One thing lead to another, and Nicole eventually worked there. She was known as the gelato girl in the beginning. With her smiles and giggles, and her eagerness to give out free samples, she was always a hit when she worked there for the summer. Then for another summer, and then for a third. Always being able to work around her hockey schedule and her camps. She learned to bus tables, serve food, and was even a bartender before she could legally drink. Andrew could not wait for her to come home after work for she usually bore gifts.  Pasta with Bolognese sauce, pizzette with wild hog sausage, figs, and cheese, five cheese ravioli with roasted pears and pistachios – there was always something left over at the restaurant at night and Nicole seemed to be the one who got it. And it was usually accompanied by a scoop of some devilishly good gelato. Those are the memories I have of when Nicole worked there. She was always happy to bring home food for her brother, and he was always more than happy to eat whatever she brought him.


After we lost Andrew, we too were lost. New Year’s Eve followed Hanukkah, Christmas and Thanksgiving. All very difficult times for us. Andrew’s birthday was December 30th. What could we possibly do the following evening, for New Year’s Eve that would not leave us devastated? I am not sure who brought it up, but when the idea of Via Vanti for dinner came up, it seemed such a natural choice for us. For it was not only my safe place, it was a safe place for all of us. We knew the owners, we knew the waiters, and they all had known Andrew. And we had been there for New Year’s Eve a few times already – in happier times.

So that is where we went, to our safe place, for New Year’s Eve. And we went there the following year, and it was even nicer. They did not come out with party hats for us, they did not come over to the table with laughter and cheer. They knew why we were there and they made us feel so…well, safe. We did not intrude into others celebrations, nor did we share our sorrows with them. Scott sat with us for a long time and talked about life, about what he was up to. He asked about Nicole’s college and her hockey, and Dorothy’s work. It was one of the first times we went out and were able to not cry, but to enjoy being with ourselves, and our friends.

Via Vanti has also been the place I run to when I get upset during the day and I am not near home. There have been times that I received an e-mail from someone who knew Andrew, and they tell me how much he meant to them, or they share a story about my son, or they just want to reach out to me. I love receiving these e-mails, but it makes functioning and focusing for a few hours afterward difficult. Many times over the past three years these e-mails have forced me to take a break and run and hide. But instead of being alone, I head over to my safe place and hang out in the office with Scott and Carla, and share with them what I have received or what I just heard. More than once we have all teared up while talking about Andrew.

But now I am losing my safe place. After eight amazing years Via Vanti will be no more. Their landlord has not renewed their lease and are forcing the closing of Via Vanti at their present locale. And I am selfish in this. I don’t want to lose my safe place. I don’t want to not be able to go there, where everyone knows my name. Sometimes I go and stand near the gelato counter and stare at the table where we sat and had our family dinners. We smiled and laughed and talked so freely about so many things.  I stand there and recall Andrew asking Nicole for more and more samples, just to tease her, but she was always eager to hand them out. I recall the pasta, and the burgers, and the pizzettes that made my children smile and happy to eat. For whatever Carla had on the menu, they loved.

It was at Via Vanti during dinner where, after watching Bar Rescue one afternoon, Andrew had a realization.  I remember he asked us a very simple question he could not understand such an obvious answer to. He asked “so if waiters and waitresses are nice to their customers and smile at them, the customers give them bigger tips and they make more money – why wouldn’t they be nice all the time? I just don’t get it.”  Such a simple thought for such a complex kid who had to analyze everything.


An empty wine rack and missing pictures off the wall, what a sad sight.

And that is how it is ending. Such a simple place, a restaurant, that has given my family and me so many happy memories of being a family, of eating together, smiling together, and loving food and family together. I will forever hold these memories in my mind, and in my soul, Thank you Carla, thank you Scott. Thank you Sal, Alex, Andi, Greg, and Andrew (the last person Nicole trained to take her spot when she went off to college, pretty ironic, huh?), and everyone else who has touched us and kept my safe place for me.

Hopefully, as time goes on, I won’t need that safe place as much as I have for the past few years. But it saddens me that this one won’t be there anymore.


bereavement  child loss


A Thousand Days of Pain, and a Thank you.

A Thousand Days of Pain, and a Thank you.

Last week it was a thousand days. One thousand days without my Andrew. One thousand days ago my life changed dramatically, tragically, and irreversible.  24,000 hours, 1,440,000 minutes. Every one of them painful, without my son. But you all know that already. You have read my posts, you have sat there and cried with me, you have held me up and supported me.

In hindsight, and in his memory, I also have to be thankful. And it is in this letter to Andrew that I have to thank him. Will he read it? Who knows. I am writing it for me, to my only son, and I am grateful that whatever I am writing here I have told him already during his short, amazing life.


Dear Andrew,

It seems that with all my writing, all of my crying, all of my trying to keep moving along with my life, there is one thing I never did. I never did thank you for the twenty-one years of happiness and joy you gave your mother and me.

I am so grateful for the time that we did get to spend with you. We had twenty-one amazing years. I was there when you came into this world…a scattering of your mother’s red hair, gorgeous blue eyes, and tender soft skin. Your mom held you for the first time and we knew our lives had been forever changed. The dreams, the hopes, the future, they were all there for you. I stayed with you and Mom for a while – until they took you to clean you up, weigh you, and give you your first test/evaluation (yes at only ten minutes old and they were already evaluating you). Then I went to tell the others. I remember crying when I hugged Aunt Laurie and told her that I have a son – the first time I cried since I lost my father some twelve years before. Everyone was overjoyed – especially Poppy, who had his first grandson.

You would come to spend thousands of hours with Poppy and Grandma. They fawned over you, they held you most of the time, and proudly shared you with their friends. Grandma could not wait to kiss you and hug you and feed you every day, and you spent more time with Poppy in the garden than anywhere else. You learned to plant, grow and pick vegetables, and to make your own salad before most kids knew what chicken nuggets were. You sat on Poppy’s lap when he mowed the lawn, and when Nicole was there with you, he towed you around the property in a trailer he bought for the tractor – just so you two could be with him all the time. And no matter how wonderful of a day you had, your eyes lit up when Mommy and I came to pick you up, and Grandma had to relinquish her precious Andrew for the night.


Fifteen years later…

I remember you going to pre-school. You had so many friends and the teachers loved you – obviously they loved you more than the other children in class because you were such a great child. How could they not? I watched as you graduated from one group to another over the course of a couple of years at Tutortime. Every day I would pick you up and just stand watching you from the window playing before you knew I was there. Then I would come inside and you would run over and hug me, and we went home to Mom. Elementary school was wonderful as well. We watched you learn to read, to write, and bring home those special gifts of art almost every day. You had birthday parties, play dates, and spent whatever free time you had with Greg and Todd. The three of you were inseparable over the summers.



Then Nicole came along. And as Grandma had fawned over you – you worshiped and protected your little sister. You held her, rocked her, and fed her. You shared your teddy bears and kissed her goodnight. You even insisted on bringing her to show-and-tell in first grade. The teacher said it was the first time a baby was brought in for show-and-tell. But you passed her around and showed everyone in your class your beautiful baby sister you were so proud to have.

I remember your birthday parties. You had a few at Leaping Lizards – where all your friends ran around and jumped into the pits full of foam, feasted on terrible pizza, and shared your ice cream cake. Then you graduated to ice skating parties. Then one day, all of a sudden, and to our dismay, you announced that you were too old for parties. But you still allowed us to take you and your friends out for pizza or ice cream to celebrate you birthday.

Apple PickingApple picking was always a fun time. You and Nicole insisted on taking Greg and Todd with us. The four of you didn’t have to climb the trees or use the poles – you just stood on the roof of my truck and we drove under the trees and you all dropped the apples through the sunroof. I think it was way too much fun because we could never eat all of the bags of apples we bought. But we did finish the apple cider donuts, a lot of them, which came with the apple picking. I also remember taking days off over the summer when you guys were still young to take you to the Bronx Zoo, or the Brooklyn Aquarium, and spend the day at the beach. These little day trips eventually turned into our famous multi-day road trips. I had so much fun when the five of us, along with another friend or so, took our multi-day sleepover trips to all the great water parks in the area – one after another, for several days. We ate so much crap food, drank so much soda, stayed in so many hotels, and we were so exhausted at the end of each and every day – but were ready to go out the next day to the next park. Six Flags, Hershey Park, Dorney Park, and the list got bigger and longer each year. I was so upset when you guys outgrew that, but the four or five years we did it were the best trips of my life.

I could go on and on. This is barely a smattering of memories that I now cherish. Memories that I need to put into writing and to memorialize so that we can relive them and remember them as we get older. Memories that Nicole can recall as she grows up, and that she can share with her children one day about their Uncle Andrew – that they sadly will never meet. Memories that Uncle Roy can share with Andrea as she grows up, so she knows more about the great person she was named after.

Andrew SoccerSo, I thank you, Andrew. Thank you for the thousands of happy memories, the tons of smiles you gave Mommy and me, and the love and adoration you poured onto your little sister. Thank you for making my life, for at least twenty one years, a better life. For teaching me things I would have never learned, and for being there when I needed you, and for letting me be here for when you needed me. You made me the person I am today.

I will live the rest of my life without you, in pain and despair over the loss of my son. But I have to also remember the good times that your life afforded us over those twenty one years we held you in our arms.

Thank you, Andrew.
Goodnight, my son.
We love you and miss you.