Monday, February 22, 2016


Last year, I blogged about the loss of two dear friends, taken far before their time was done on earth. Writing helped me process and helped me grieve.  On February 21, my father called me sobbing.  His first words were "I have terrible news."  He asked if I was sitting down.  I told him I was.  Through tears he told me that my beloved cousin Leonard, his wife Heather, and their 4 beautiful young children had passed away due to a carbon monoxide leak in their home over the weekend.  I can count on 1 finger, the amount of times in my life that I have burst into tears.  I have wept over the loss of those I love, but my body has always taken time to process before tears could spring into my eyes.  But on February 21, I burst into tears.  My entire body shook so hard I almost dropped the phone.  Len. Len is gone.  Len's family is gone.  My uncle discovered them.  Unfathomable does not come close.  Through the fog of grief, I have to remember the Len I knew, the Len I grew up with, and the Len who loved me with a devotion only known to big Italian families like ours.  This is my Len.

Leonard was one of my first best friends.  I've said that a lot as I've memorialized him, but it's true.  Memories of him stretch back as far as I can remember.  As children we were obsessed with The Mickey Mouse Club.  I was Annette and he was Cubby.  We would watch old black and white episodes of the show in my tiny house in Redford.  We would lay under a long, wooden coffee table with a blanket draped over it.  Our own little fort.  Afterward, we'd pretend we were Mousketeers and sing and dance around the living room.  There are recordings of us singing together.  Two of his greatest hits were a song about Spring and a song about a Skunk.  Leonard clearly loved nature.

Len and I were named for our grandparents and in many ways we were carbon copies of our namesakes.  Len was goofy, full of jokes and puns just like our grandpa and I was (am) a spitfire like our grandma.  We spent so much time together as kids growing up outside of Detroit, #1 and #2 of what would eventually be 23 grandchildren.  

We were ring bearer and flower girl in our aunt and uncle's wedding.  I remember twirling around my grandparent's house in my flower girl dress.  Len was less impressed by his tiny gray tuxedo.  When the big moment came and we stood at the end of the aisle, ready to walk down, Len was frozen.  Some combination of cold feet with a dash of stubbornness kept him standing still at the end of the aisle.  So I did what any spitfire named Nancy would have done, I physically dragged him down that aisle. Refusing to let go of his arm, I got that boy to the altar, all the while keeping my beautiful navy silk flower wreath perfectly attached to my head.  10 years later, that same aunt and uncle would ask us to be godparents to their son Joseph.

Len was a renaissance man, at once, incredibly gifted in all things tech, like his father, but also absolutely content growing up in his family's country home on beautiful tree-filled acreage, far away from any city.  Every fall, their family would host a hoe-down with a huge bonfire, tractor rides, and of course, buckets and buckets of pasta.  Len greeted each cousin, aunt or uncle with his signature bear hug.  He would smile with his whole face at the sight of you.  He was soft-spoken, humble, and loving.  Was?  Can I really be talking about Len in the past tense.  I can't.  He is all of those things.  He is all of those things.

In high school, little Annette and Cubby took to the stage.  In a great coincidence, Len and I were both cast in the musical Bye Bye Birdie in our respective high schools a year apart.  He played Albert and I played Rosie. I remember making the drive from Holt to Linden to see him. He was wonderful, of course. After the show, he pulled me onstage and we did a duet together from the show. The song was "Rosie" and one of the lyrics is, "Now my life is rosy, since I found my Rosie." He changed Rosie to Nancy and we sang and danced together just fumbling through made up choreography. That's Len. Even in his big moment, he made it about family. He wanted to multiply the joy.  

Len and Heather's story was one filled with love and mutual admiration.  As the story goes, Heather's sister Rhonda met Len by chance.  He was wearing a T-shirt with a Bible verse and believing him to be someone with shared values, she asked him if he was single.  Thinking Rhonda to be quite beautiful, Len was all too happy to answer "YES."  She quickly pointed out that the question was on behalf of her sister. To Len's great joy, Heather was her identical twin sister so by nature, also incredibly beautiful.  Len was the first of us to get married.  Len getting married was big.  All of a sudden we were grown ups!  His wedding day was beautiful and Len was beaming.  I promise you, this time, nobody had to drag him down the aisle.  

Heather is a woman who I admire so much.  As a working mom, finding role models can be hard.  Heather managed to foster a career as an ultrasound technologist while raising 4 gentle, loving, and playful children.  She was a perfect match for Len.  They complemented each other in the most beautiful ways.  Theirs was a love that brought so much joy into the world.  Luke was the second great-grandchild in the family (after my sweet nephew Tommy)  I remember holding him at Christmastime sitting next to Len on our grandparent's couch while Len just beamed.  Len and Heather (Leather, as they affectionately referred to themselves) loved their children with a strong devotion.  We all celebrated each new Quasarano that came into the world because a Leather Q was one to celebrate.

Memories swirl around my head- our family cruise in 2002, less than a year after Len married the love of his life.  Along with my brother Tom, we all explored San Juan Puerto Rico together.  I remember standing on the shores of the beach with Len, our toes buried in the sand.  Len gazed out into the surf, the picture of someone whose happiness had been hard fought and hard won.  Len's childhood was complicated.  All of ours were.  But Len's tenacity at carving out and sustaining his own happiness is what drove him to be the man he was, the man we loved so greatly. 

Spring is just around the corner.  Last weekend, in fact, was quite beautiful; our first glimpse into the season that waits just on the other side of the gray.  I mentioned one of Len's favorite songs was about Spring.  The song, which we always called "Your Feet Go Skipping" went like this:

The air is warm and the sky is blue,
The leaves are green-yellow because they are new!
Your feet go skipping, the birds all sing,
The whole world is happy because it is Spring.

Those 4 little lines capture the absolute essence of Len's spirit.  His was one of great optimism and faith.  His warmth, positivity and love of life was contagious.  He is in the background of so many of my most cherished childhood memories.  My little thumb-sucking cousin grew up to be a man of faith, of joy and of great talent.  He prided himself on being a man of God.  Let me tell you, if God is anything like Len, we are loved and cared for more than we could ever imagine.

I also mentioned that he was fond of singing a song about a skunk, which goes like this:

I'm a little stri-ped skunk
Sleeping under someone's bunk
No one likes to sleep with me
'Cause I'm stinky as can be!

And there you have it, the other side of Len.  The goofy, boyish side of him that loved a good or bad pun.  He would sing this song and we would giggle and wave our hands in front of our noses imagining a poor stri-ped skunk stuck sleeping on the floor.

Spring is a season of hope.  God knows we need that now.  Len, I will look for you in the spring.  I will look for you in the playful, rowdy squirrels who dig through my grass and stuff their cheeks and I'll look for you in the green-yellow new leaves.  I will look for Heather in the blossoms about to poke out of the ground into the light.  I will seek out your children in the laughter of my own as I look at them with new and grateful eyes.  I will look for you and I know I'll find you all.  Your very essence is entwined with my own.  Look out for me too, sweet cousin.  Nobody in the world will ever greet me the way you did- eyes sparkling, arms outstretched with a loud and joyful "NAAAAAANCE!!!!  Cousin!!!!" 

I think you always knew how much I loved you.  How proud of you I am.  Your happiness was the result of all of your hard work.  The legacy of your family will live on.  Your light, your joy, and your spirits live on long after you're gone.  I will see you all on the other side sweet, sweet family.  Kiss your namesake for me.  I know he's holding and kissing the grandchildren he never got to meet in this lifetime.


 PS- Thank you for sending the sunshine just now.  It started pouring through our windows.  I wasn't sure how to stop writing, how to say good bye.  You showed me that I don't have to.  You're here.  

Hi Len.