Thursday, June 19, 2014

My Brother: Kicking Cancer's Butt for Eighteen Years! (UPDATED)

This post is revived from five years ago. I decided it was time to share our story, again.

There we are... ages three and one. Aren't we cute?

Eighteen years ago, my brother, "Bubba," was diagnosed with erythroleukemia. He was 17 years old.

Erythroleukemia is a rare type of leukemia that accounts for only 3-5% of new acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) cases. It differs from most forms of leukemia in that it affects the red blood cells, rather than the white.

Although we were different blood types (he was O+ and I was A+), testing showed that our chromosomal match was close enough for me to donate bone marrow for my brother.

You may have heard that donating bone marrow is a painful process. I won't lie. You heard right.

When I came out of my general anesthesia-induced sleep, I felt like the victim of a blanket party. My hipbones were literally black and blue from the pressure exerted upon them to withdraw the marrow.

I'm not sharing these details to make me look like a hero.

The real hero was several floors above me, receiving 850 ccs of my bone marrow through a Hickman line. (He was so hip he had a "triple Hick," with three tubes, so he could get the orange Kool-aid colored chemo mix, a blood cocktail and a beer, all at the same time.)

On the pain scale, I rank donating bone marrow with giving birth. It's the kind of pain that I never thought twice about because the result was so valuable. Sure, it may be uncomfortable for a few days or even a few weeks... but what would you sacrifice to possibly save a life?

My brother's blood type is now the same as mine (A+). Our blood DNA is the same. If you placed blood samples from each of us side-by-side and examined the DNA structure, they would be identical.

I've had eighteen more years with my brother because I was a viable match for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. He truly is my hero, and I love him more than I can say.

Would you do the same for someone who needed a bone marrow transplant? Would you be more inclined to do so if it didn't cost you anything?

Be the Match Registry (formerly known as the National Marrow Donation Program (NMDP) Registry) provides marrow typing and registry, which can match you with a recipient to potentially save a life. The online registration process consists of a few basic questions. Once you apply, the Registry will send you a cheek swab kit to complete and send back for typing so that you may be added to the Registry and matched with potential recipients.

Please, consider registering. You may save a life... I did.

If you'd prefer not to register or are unable to because of medical conditions that prohibit your registration, please consider making a donation to the Registry. It costs about $100 to add an individual to the registry, and the program ends up providing about half the cost. Contributions are necessary to grow the Registry and find matches for those needing life-saving bone marrow transplants.

My brother is my hero. Will you be someone's hero?

Please comment to let me know when you join. Time is running out for some recipients. I'd love to celebrate your decision with you!

If you have the ability, please share this post on your own blog or social media account (click on "Share This" below this post) or email the link to your contacts. Let's see how many people we can get to register in the next 60 days!

I'll leave you with my favorite photo of my brother and me, taken in 2000 - four years post-transplant:


See the comments section for news on how people are helping. Please pass on any action you take or hear of so that I may add it! Thank you!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Tiki Moon Villas, Our Laie Home Away from Home

If Oahu is in your future, Tiki Moon Villas is the place to stay. 

Nestled along the shore, and directly across the street from the Polynesian Cultural Center, Tiki Moon Villas is a private, secluded paradise.

Comprised of several small bungalows, the Villas are absolutely beautiful, and well-appointed. The hideaway is not only picturesque, but also romantic -- even if you happen to be dragging your kids along on your vacation. 

Wi-fi is available, and included in the reasonable nightly rate. The bedrooms are cozy, with plenty of storage space. The full kitchens include dishes, utensils, coffee maker, microwave, refrigerator, toaster, and everything else you could possibly need. (Crock pot, anyone? We had one!)

We're leaving today for Waikiki, and I know we're going to miss the privacy of the safe, unpopulated stretch of beach right outside the door of our bungalow. The kids have swam, played in the sand, boogie-boarded and kicked around in the surf for the past few days, and done so without Mama having panic attacks over losing them on a crowded beach. 

As for me, I'll miss lounging in the hammock with Mr. Wright, hearing the roosters who hang out next door, watching the kittens who live here frolicking and trying to hide from Curlytop and Snugglebug, and listening to the soothing gurgle of the many water features on the property. 

One of the most enjoyable parts of staying in the comfort of Tiki Moon Villas has been the feeling of belonging. The owner, Ray, is a fantastic conversationalist, is friendly and open, and immediately makes you feel like a friend whose presence will be missed. 

Want to know the history of the property? Need to find a great surfing beach, tourist attraction or shopping venue? Ray is your guy, and he's ready to help.

Do yourself a favor, and make Tiki Moon Villas your next travel "home away from home." Here's the 411:

Tiki Moon Villas (I'll hot link that address when I get to a computer. My mobile app won't let me. For now, copy and paste.)
Ray: 808-371-4507,

Tell him The Gonzo Mama sent you!

Tiki Moon Villas also facilitates beautiful events, such as weddings. I can't think of a more beautiful place to "put a ring on it!"

Feeling Electric at Hanauma Bay

Yesterday, the Gonzo clan packed a picnic, slapped on some sunscreen, and went to Hanauma Bay for some snorkeling. 

Should you be inclined to do so, here are some things to know:

Parking is $1.00 per car.

Admission to the beach is limited each day, so arrive early. 

The price of admission is $7.50 per person, with kids 12 and under free.

Snorkeling gear is available for rental, if you don't have your own. 

Don't skimp on the sunscreen, and consider wearing a t-shirt to reduce chances of getting sunburned on your back while snorkeling around. There's not much shade to be found on the beach. 

You will see amazing, colorful fish and sea life swimming along the coral reef. If you're lucky, you'll meet a sea turtle. However, don't touch, chase, or otherwise harass the sea life. A great conservation effort is underway to protect the beautiful ecosystem found in the bay. 

Sometimes, tiny jellyfish come in with the tide. But... I'll get back to that in a moment. 

I'm not a snorkel fan, by nature. I grew up swimming in Lake Chelan, and I'm a strong swimmer, but I never had much need for a snorkel. If you've seen one squawfish, after all, you've seen them all. 

The very act of putting a mask on my face is enough to trigger my claustrophobia, but I was determined to snorkel with Mr. Wright, who had been looking forward to the outing for months.

So, I took a deep breath, slapped on my mask, shoved the snorkel in my mouth, and set off. It was like swimming in an aquarium, with the fish up close and personal.

As I began to get the hang of breathing with the snorkel, Mr. Wright led me over the top of the reef to venture out farther. The deeper water revealed even more types of sea life, and I was really hitting my groove, until...

Ouch. OUCH! What was that?!

It burned. It stung. It was painful, and it was inside my swimsuit. I ripped my mask off, spit out my snorkel, and motioned to Mr. Wright to surface. 

"I'm getting eaten!" I yelled.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"No! Something is getting me!

It may have taken us fifteen minutes or so to get past the reef, but the return trip took about ten seconds. I raced out of the water to the outdoor shower, but I was still on fire. 

The information booth told me some micro-jellyfish had been reported in the surf that day, and sent me to the lifeguard station. 

The lifeguard checked my breathing, and sent me back to the shower to scrub my skin because, he said, "the stingers are still in your skin."


I had Mr. Wright hold up a sarong to shield me as I stripped down and scrubbed my red, welted skin, then popped an antihistamine and passed out on the beach. 

The day wasn't a total loss, though -- I saw some really beautiful sea life, spent one-on-one time with my husband, and made friends with this rooster, who shared a sandwich with me:

Bottom-line advice... If given the opportunity to explore Hanauma Bay, do it. Take your family, invest in an underwater camera, and go. But, stay on the shore side of the reef, and ask about any jellyfish conventions. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Boogie Boarding and the Booger Monster

My first boogie boarding lesson didn't go well. 

To be fair, I don't have a lot of experience communing with the surf. When I was little, I lived on the Oregon coast, and kicked around in tide pools, and I did a bit of sea kayaking in a calm bay in Sanibel Harbor with Mr. Wright once, but outside of wading into the ocean in the Bahamas, I'm an ocean noob. 

Mr. Wright has filled my ear with stories of summers he spent surfing in Hawaii, but -- and I quote -- "(He is) too old and fat to pull (his) body up on a shortboard," so he decided boogie boarding would be the best recreational choice for this trip. 

I've been fighting a chest and sinus cold for a few weeks, and although I'm mostly better, I keep coughing up mucus. Sexy... I know. 

As we started paddling out from the shore, I dutifully nodded at the instructions my husband gave. Did I mention I've lost my voice, in addition to boogieing with the Booger Monster? So nodding was the best I could do. 

(As an aside, it is Mr. Wright's greatest thrill, seeing his wife in a bikini, and unable to speak.)

"We need to paddle out, so we can catch the waves where they're bigger, before they break," he said.

So, we paddled. And paddled some more. And kept paddling. I took a look behind me, and the beach seemed very, very far away. 

A big wave was approaching, and I thought, Okay, this is it. Finally, we can turn around, catch this big wave, and ride in to the shore. But... No.

"Okay," said Mr. Wright, "when the wave breaks, you need to push the front of your board down, and dive under the crest, so it doesn't flip you over."

I nodded, but didn't quite have time to process the instruction before I found myself rolled by the tsunami. Damn!

I also got a nose full of salt water -- sort of an impromptu netti pot, actually. Oh, and also a big swallow of ocean, which reminded me of my mother's advice to gargle with salt water any time I was sick as a kid... Which always made me feel like puking, by the way. 

After paddling out some more, Mr. Wright began cursing the dying winds, and the lack of "gnarly waves," and instructed me to turn around so I could get ready for the "okay" wave coming. 

By that time, I had snot running down my face (I guess the saline cleared my sinuses?), and I was hacking up loogies the size of coconuts. I turned around, started paddling and kicking... Too late. The wave sucked me back, and I totally missed it. 

I spent the next 36 hours (give or take) paddling and kicking myself back to the shore -- by which time, my arms, abs and legs had turned to the exact same tissue from which sea slugs are made. 

As I emerged, coughing (coconut-sized loogies coming up), sputtering and wiping the snot from my face, I glanced and my sister-in-law, who was calmly reading her Kindle. 

"THAT," I wheezed, " SUCKED."

"Hey, you're getting your voice back!" she noted. "Did you gargle with salt water?"

If I wasn't so tired, I would have flipped her hammock. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Aloha From Oahu!

So, maybe you've noticed things have been strangely quiet here with The Gonzo Mama... I assure you, I am alive and well. Just really, really busy. Funny how "life" can get in the way of the things that really make you feel ALIVE -- like, for me, writing. 

The Gonzo clan (or, at least, most of us) are enjoying our first non-work-related vacation since 2003, when we went to Disneyland with our (then) five kiddos.

Princess is toiling away at vet school, so she didn't join us. The Dude is... Well, he's alive and kicking, but going through some challenges and living with Mr. Wright's parents (who are currently in Oahu with us). Pockets moved out for a few months, and wasn't around when we booked this trip, but things didn't work out, and he's back home, which means we don't have to pay a house sitter. Yeah!

So, Pepper, GirlWonder, Curlytop and Snugglebug are enjoying the sand and surf here on the North Shore with us. We're joined by Mr. Wright's parents, his brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces. 

That makes 12 of us, crammed into a little 3-bedroom bungalow, 200 steps from the beach. 

It's a crowded house, but complete paradise. 

I'll be updating more while we're here... I'm enjoying the downtime!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Project 2,996: Remember Christopher Zarba

Image source
Christopher R. Zarba, Jr. was born with music in his blood. The 47-year old from Hopkinton, Massachussetts was the son of a composer/piano teacher, the nephew of a talented vocalist, and grew to be an accomplished pianist and French horn player who played with local symphonies when he was free from his work as a software engineer.

A man who never stopped learning, Christopher spoke fluent German and Italian, painted, gardened, and considered algebra and calculus books "pleasure" reading.

Image source
His wife, Sheila -- also a horn player -- and son, also named Christopher, were a source of joy for Zarba. I watched this compilation of home videos, edited by Sheila, with a smile and tears. The love Christopher shows for his family shines through. You'll see him smiling, playing with his son, and being a bit of a goofball at times. For some reason, I noticed a Band-Aid on his thumb in one of the videos, and it made him even more real to me.

Early the morning of September 11, 2001, Christopher boarded American Airlines Flight 11 for a rare business trip in California. At 8:46am EST, the plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

I'm honored to remember Christopher in life -- that husband, father, son, brother and friend who made silly faces in the mirror, occasionally injured a thumb, created beauty in his life through music, painting and gardening, and never stopped learning about the world around him.

Thank you, Christopher, for the life you lived, and for reminding all of us to truly LIVE.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Project 2,996: Remember Renee Newell

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Have you ever had excellent customer service? The kind that brightens your day, and makes you grateful someone listens, and understands? That was the type of service Renee Newell was known to provide for her clients.

In our busy world, we often have little time to connect with cherished friends. For Renee Newell, 37, of Cranston, Rhode Island, a seminar in Las Vegas was the perfect opportunity to indulge in a girls' "getaway" with her friend, Carol Bouchard, of nearby Warwick, Rhode Island. A customer service agent with American Airlines, Renee booked a flight to Los Angeles, then on to Las Vegas, and secured a companion ticket for Carol. The women planned to stay over an extra day to see the sights of Las Vegas, hit the clubs, and tour the Strip.

At 8:46am EST, their plane -- American Airlines Flight 11 -- crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Renee is described by those close to her as having "...a sense of humor; an eagerness to laugh." She was "a great person and a great mom," and "always had a smile at work."

Renee seemed to have a natural gift for brightening the lives of others, and perhaps that is why she followed a career path of service -- including helping out at her family's restaurant, bartending, and her work for American Airlines. She touched people's lives in a way that made a difference, so much so that customers came in from out of state to honor and remember her life at her wake.

A loving daughter to Lillian and Raymond Tetreault, Renee not only helped out at her family restaurant, but also helped when her father moved into a nursing home, and was a tireless and doting mother to her son, Matthew. She was the loving wife of Paul, and sister to Michelle, James, Robert and Steven, and a special family member or friend to so many more.

Image source
It is an honor to remember Renee Newell today. Her story inspires me to work hard to put a smile onto the faces of my clients, to love deeply, to live boldly, and to laugh as often as possible.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

We Need to Remember, Not Relive

Image from Project 2,996
I wasn’t anywhere near New York City or Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. In fact, I was in Snohomish County, Washington State, the morning of the great tragedy. When I woke up, Mr. Wright had the news on.

The south tower had just collapsed and, as I watched, speechless, the north tower began to fall. When I finally found my voice, all I could say was, “Why? Why is this happening?” I desperately wanted to believe it was all a hideous dream, and that I would wake up soon.

My friend, Jewel Cripe, was working in Washington, D.C. that day at Courtesy Associates, a meeting planning firm on 20th and L, eight blocks from the White House. As she walked into work late with a co-worker, her colleagues were in a stir, saying the area was being evacuated. Jewel was quickly briefed on the crashes at the World Trade Center, and informed that more flights had been hijacked, believed to be headed for the White House.

Minutes later, American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.

It was two miles to Jewel’s home. Traffic was gridlocked, no taxis were available, and the lines at the Metro backed up for blocks. She began walking.

On the way, she called her brother, who lived and worked in New York City. She was able to confirm he was on the Brooklyn Bridge, trying to get home, though he had friends in the World Trade Center. She called her parents to let them know she was safe.

When Jewel arrived home, she watched events unfold on television. She again called her brother, who was home with his then-fiancée. They were both tuned in, hoping for news about their friends in the World Trade Center.

For days, and even months, D.C. remained on high alert. The tours of school children from across the country halted.

In fact, it was a year before Jewel heard a child laugh on the Metro. At the time, she thought, “Aha—that’s what’s been missing… Laughter.” It was a sign that time had passed, and parents had eased their anxiety enough to allow their children to see the city.

Today, Jewel says, “We need to remember, but not relive; be prepared, but not fearful. We need to pray for peace, no matter our religion—whether for world peace, or peace in our own hearts.

We never know who we’re meeting, or who is next to us… and we don’t know how the peace in our own heart, or the joy we give others, can affect their history, or their community’s history.”

I agree.

That’s why Project 2,996 is so important to me. By writing a tribute to a victim of 9/11, we remember, but not relive.

Fellow bloggers, there is still time to join in, and remember a life—not a death—by writing a tribute post. Go to Project 2,996’s website, select a name, and remember.

Never forget.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Project 2,996: Remember Christian Adams

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Christian Adams, 37, was a resident of Biebelsheim, Germany and a well-known authority in the wine industry. Christian served as the deputy director of the German Wine Institute and director of its export department. He was father to Lukas, 7 in 2001, and Theresa, 5 in 2001, and husband to Silke.

Colleagues described Christian as quiet and thoughtful; a man who thought no job was beneath him. He'd worked his way up in the wine industry, and he was known for doing whatever job needed to be done, without hesitation - whether it was hefting cases of wine or uncorking bottles. Carol Sullivan, friend and colleague, said, "One of the things that impressed us most was his depth of knowledge."

Indeed, Christian was revered as an authority on wine, and he'd worked hard to gain his knowledge, obtaining a degree in winemaking and grape-growing from a German university and going on to earn a degree in marketing at University of California, Davis. It was at a German Wine Society convention in Los Angeles that Sullivan, director of the German Wine Information Bureau in New York, met Christian in 1989. Wine Institute officials were so impressed with him, they asked him to help with a symposium on Riesling grapes later that year. He met the director of the Institute at that event, who hired Christian to work in the export division. Christian worked his way up to deputy director in 1995.

Dedicated to keeping fit, Christian enjoyed playing and watching volleyball and basketball and - while known for his quiet demeanor - he enjoyed a good laugh or joke with friends.

Photo source

Christian also ran a winery owned by his wife's family, and September was a busy time for winemaking. Still, the calendar of holidays allowed him to break away from his obligations to attend two wine events in the United States in 2001 - one in New York, which ended September 10, and the other in San Francisco, scheduled to begin on the 13th. It was the second event Christian was headed for when he boarded United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.

Flight 93 was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after an attempt by crew and passengers to reclaim control of the plane.

Today, I'm asking you join me in remembering the quiet, motivated young husband and father who was Christian Adams. Please say a prayer for his family and loved ones. Christian, you are not forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Project 2,996: Remember Zandra Cooper Ploger

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Zandra Cooper Ploger, a 48-year old resident of Annandale, Virginia on September 11, 2001, was a manager at IBM for over 20 years. She was dedicated to her work, loved her two adult daughters, reading, and hosting parties. In fact, she was busy planning a birthday party for her new husband, Robert, who would turn 60 in December.

Zandra and Robert had married on May 12, 2001, but their busy work schedules - Robert was a computer systems analyst for several different companies - prevented the couple from honeymooning right away. When they boarded American Airlines Flight 77, they were headed to finally enjoy that honeymoon, in Hawaii. Zandra was looking forward to not thinking about work for two relaxing weeks, and enjoying a break with her new husband.
Photo source

Friends called her "Z," and she was known for her ability to organize and throw parties which brought together her many loved ones. She was a devoted mother, attending sporting activities and school events for her daughters, and even helping to orchestrate their high school graduation ceremonies. Described as a self-starter, Zandra didn't sit around, waiting for life and opportunities to come to her. Rather, she seized every moment and threw her ambition into exceeding the goals she set for herself, whether it was a work issue, or planning a social event.

Zandra's older daughter, Zena, was born with a heart condition, and Zandra carefully loved and comforted her child through childhood and into adulthood while avidly supporting the American Heart Association. She was the sort of mother who taught her children they could accomplish anything in their lives, and when her younger daughter, Erin, wanted to make a big move, Zandra supported her choice. Even though the distance would be difficult for the two, they maintained a strong bond. In fact, both of Zandra's daughters continued to look to their mother for advice and wisdom, even after they reached adulthood.

Max, Zandra's cat, was a source of joy for her, and by all accounts, she pampered him. Her daughter, Zena, related:
I just remember that when Erin and I were younger, my mom told us we could get a cat. On the trip to pick it up, we were thinking of a name. By the time we got there, she had named it and it was just her cat ever since. Max would cuddle up with her. He slept with her. She would spoon-feed him. He got groomed once a month. One time my husband came to visit and [he] was going to shoo the cat out of the chair and my mom said, ‘Let me get you another chair.’ She just loved this cat, and she showed him a lot of affection.
Photo source

Flight 77 was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the Pentagon at 09:37EDT, cutting short Zandra and Robert's much-awaited honeymoon.

Zandra leaves behind a legacy of love, friendship, laughter and inspiration to those who knew her. Please remember in your prayers Zandra, Robert, Zena, Erin, and all those whose lives were touched by this beautiful woman.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

"Like" The Gonzo Mama on Facebook, and don't forget to see what's cooking with Sexy Vegan Mama today!

Project 2,996: Remember Michael Theodoridis

This tribute is respectfully reposted from 9/11/09.

Michael Theodoridis, 32, and his wife, Rahma Salie, 28, were passengers on American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11, 2001. Rahma was seven months pregnant with their first child. The two were looking forward to being parents as they boarded the plane, intending to travel to California to attend a wedding.

Michael was of Greek descent and grew up in Switzerland. He graduated from Boston University and worked as a technical consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It was difficult to find information about Michael's life, but many online memorial comments helped me to understand the kind of man he was, and how desperately missed he will be:

It's nearly 8 years later and I still vividly remember the day shortly after 9/11 when it went from being a national tragedy to also being a more personal tragedy for me after I found out that Micky and Rahma were on Flight 11. Each summer when my second son has another birthday, I think about Micky's unborn child being the same age as I remember Micky congratulating me and telling me how excited he was about his future as a father.

I pray that they both rest in peace and be granted a place in Heaven. Amen.
- Abdullah Haydar


I never forget your kindness and always positive outlook on life. I had a great time working with/for you at i-cube in Cambridge.

On this 7th anniversary of the attacks, I pray Rahma's, your kid's and your souls are blessed and somewhere special.
- Rob Garcia

Sincere sympathy for the loss of my cousin Michael, rest in peace in God's hand. - John Pondelis

In a business culture full of people whom you forget and whom forget you the instant you part, both Micky and Rhama were anything but forgettable. I still remember Rhama asking me to do an imitation of her accent and it makes me laugh with the memory. Like someone else who commented on this site, it was also Michael's humour, patience and support that kept me going in a very difficult work situation. The world is a much colder place without these two stellar human beings.
- Colin Owens

I worked with Mickey on multiple projects in i-Cube (Stuttgart, Germany; Phoenix, AZ and later in NYC). He was a great friend of mine in addition to being a professional colleague. He was very funny and used to crack me up at difficult times. He worked very hard and managed to keep his sense of humor. He and Rahma were made for each other. It is sad that they could not be together longer. It's so sad! My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
- Jay Natarajan

America Cries
We see your sorrow-
and our hearts cry....
We can not erase your pain
but you do not have to face the anguish alone-for we-
-the American people-
are beside you.
We so desperately want to have the touch that brings you comfort,
the strength that gives you courage,
and the words to lighten your spirits.
And when we are left speechless
may the silence of our nation weave love into your hearts
to ease your sorrow.
May you find healing through our nation's strength as we-
-the American people-
face this difficult time together. Our hearts are with you.
- Teresa Jahn

Please light a candle for Michael, his family and those who loved him. Say a prayer for the father-to-be, husband, and friend who lost his life on September 11, 2001.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Joseph DiPilato

This post was originally published on 9/11/09 on Citizen Gonzo. I've moved it here because I haven't blogged at Citizen Gonzo for a long, long time, and I get thousands more hits on this blog than on CG. I think Joseph deserves those thousands of views and more, don't you?

Electrician Joseph DiPilato, age 57, was working in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center when Tower 1 was struck on September 11, 2001. As he prepared to leave the building, he called his wife and childhood sweetheart, Maria, to tell her he was safe. He was last seen in an elevator, intending to evacuate.

Joseph was a romantic fellow who took his wife to dinner every Friday and held her hand as they spent summers strolling the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. He took pride in maintaining his backyard, patio and swimming pool. He coached and managed his sons' Little League team. He was, above all else, a husband and father.

Neighbors like Mrs. Phyllis Buono grew to appreciate the blooms Joseph planted and look forward to the seeing the flowers he would select each season. "He set that yard up like it was a resort," Mrs. Buono said. "In the spring the flower pots would explode with blossoms." Phyllis's husband, Mike Buono, enjoyed working on cars with Joseph.

Maria and Joseph grew up together in Little Italy, where Joseph's childhood friends gave him the nickname "Joey Brillo," a nod to his short, wiry hair.

I didn't know Joseph DiPilato, but I am touched by the words of those who did:

"He would do anything for me. He cared about me and I always came first," said his wife, Maria.

"We loved him more than anything and he's going to be missed by a lot of people," said his son, Joseph. "He just meant everything to us."

"I remember Brillo as a kid, a year older than me. He was the best basketball player in Columbus Park on Mulberry Street. He gave me great pointers on getting the ball through the hoop. Everyone in the neighborhood loved Brillo. He was a great role model in a tough neighborhood. A natural athlete, terrific sense of humor and a decent human being. A guy like him is surely missed by many,"
said childhood friend Anthony Venturato

And this, dated August 19, 2008, from his daughter-in-law, Andrea:

Dearest Dad,

It has been almost 7 years since you have been with us. We miss you tremendously. Something wonderful happened yesterday that I wanted to share. Your granddaughter Olivia typed in what she thought was her brothers name & brought up this website. As soon as she saw your picture she screamed with such excitement and said, "Mommy hurry come see Grandpa on the computer". It stopped me in my tracks & touched my heart more than you could ever know. All I could think about was how much you could not wait to be a grandfather. And little did we know on the last night that I was with you, I was already pregnant with your first grandchild. Leo & I would have given anything to be able to tell you in person you were going to finally be a Grandpa.

Olivia talks about her "Grandpa in heaven" all the time. She wishes she could have known you. You would be so blown away by Olivia. She has such a huge heart just as you did.

As Olivia & Joseph grow up they will know everything there is to know about their very special "Grandpa in heaven". We all miss you terribly!

All our Love to you in Heaven, Leo, Andrea, Olivia & Joseph

Please light a candle for Joseph, his family and those who loved him. Say a prayer for the father, husband, neighbor and friend who lost his life on September 11, 2001.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Deborah Merrick

Image from Project 2,996
Mr. Wright originally wrote this tribute for Deborah on 9/11/09. He posted it on a blog we set up for our business, but never ended up using. Therefore, it gets relatively no traffic. I wanted to move Deborah's tribute here, where thousands can stumble upon it and say a prayer in her memory.

Deborah Merrick
45 years old
Resident of New York
Worked for the Port Authority
Victim of World Trade Center Attack 9/11
Appears to have passed away subsequent to 9/11

I looked and searched for details of your death. I looked and searched for details of your life. Unfortunately, not much was to be found.

Forty-five years old is too young to die, but certainly there was time to live.

There must be a story there. There must be a story to tell.

I wonder: What if...?

What if your story is never told?

Then it occurs to me...

How many other stories never get told?

Deborah, I want to recognize you.

In the end, you are not a story. You are not a statistic. You are not a name. You are a person; you have a soul. You had a life and that life was cut short because of 9/11.

Deborah Merrick, we remember you by name. As we remember your death, we remember to celebrate life.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Kenneth Watson

This tribute is respectfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Kenneth Watson was laid to rest on November 9, 2001 - almost two months after terrorists decimated the World Trade Center, where his body was finally found. He served as a firefighter with Engine Company 214.

Engine Company 214 responded to the devastation caused when the towers were struck. By mid-day, several members of the crew were missing. Kenneth was among them. The company's remaining men searched through the rubble and chaos with their bare hands - they had no tools.

In the days and weeks that followed, Engine 214 members continued to search for their fallen comrades, and became part of the bucket brigade, filling and passing buckets of debris from the wreckage along a line to be dumped into trucks, then hauled off to Staten Island.

By early October, there was still no sign or information about the fallen members of Engine Company 214. Then, the crew received word that a shield badge from a 214 helmet (belonging to Lieutenant Christopher Sullivan) had been found - but no body was recovered to go along with it.

October 31, the body of one of the company's men (Michael Roberts) was recovered, along with shields from two more 214 helmets (belonging to Carl Bedigian and John Florio).

By this time, enough rubble had been cleared that recovery crews were finally able to get to where Engine 214's men had been - on the first floor near the elevator, waiting to go up to rescue people.

The surviving members of Engine 214 dug and tunneled and worked, moving the debris, concrete, blocks of marble and ash, until they recovered each of their fallen, the last being Kenneth Watson.

It is a long-held tradition that each company recovers their own men. It is a tradition of honor, of pride, of sacrifice, of brotherhood.

Each of the fallen heroes of Engine 214 deserve so much more than respect and honor. They deserve for their stories to be remembered and told again and again.

For Kenneth's story, I looked to the people who knew and loved him, and their comments on his tribute page.

Kenneth was a loving husband to Susan, and devoted father to his five children. Friends and family describe him as brave, generous, and heroic.

Attempts to find more, more details, more stories, more specifics about Kenneth's life fell short. It saddens me that somewhere, today, a wife and children grieve Kenneth's loss, and I can't share their story, can't tell how he met and married Susan, how he felt the first time he held each of his children, how he became so devoted to committing his life to serving others.

But, really, that's the enormity of it. 2,996 lives were lost on September 11, 2001. So, so many stories I'll never know, so many names I won't be able to remember, so many prayers left to say.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Matthew Gerard Leonard

Image from Project 2,996
This tribute is respecfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Please note: I was heartbreakingly unable to find a photo of Matthew Gerard Leonard. If any friends or family stop by to read this post, first, I hope you'll read in the following words my respect, care and admiration for such a wonderful man. Secondly, if you have a photo you wish to donate to this post, please contact me at so I may add Mr. Leonard's image to this tribute.

Matthew Gerard Leonard was a 38-year-old lawyer working as director of litigation at Cantor Fitzgerald in the South Tower of the World Trade Center when tragedy struck on September 11, 2001. He was husband to Yolanda, brother to Helen, and father to Christina, seven months old at the time.

Matthew was a devout Catholic, steadfastly involved in his church. He was compassionate attorney, with an extensive history of pro bono work for those who could not afford legal help. A good singer, he sang Christmas carols in the hallways of his office and with the homeless on the streets of New York.

He was an early riser - always wanting to get started on work before the busyness of the day set in, and September 11, 2001 was no exception. He awakened, got ready for work, and headed out the door. His wife, Yolanda, looked at the clock as he left. It read 7:11 a.m.

How could Yolanda have known he wouldn't return that day?

People described Matthew as "kind," "a saint," "loving," "wonderful," and so much more. Remember Matthew Gerard Butler, a compassionate attorney, a loving husband, a doting father, a son, a brother, a friend. Let his memory, and the mark he made on the world, not be forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Andre G. Fletcher

This tribute is respectfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Andre G. Fletcher was a 37-year-old firefighter with Rescue 5, an emergency response unit with NYFD. Andre and his twin brother, Zack, also a firefighter, responded to the crisis on September 11, 2001. Andre was killed in the first tower collapse at the World Trade Center.

Zack described he and his brother as "type A-plus" personalities, thriving on action, adventure, danger and excitement. The brothers last spoke as Andre raced toward the burning towers. Zack told him he'd be there soon, to work alongside him, and not to do anything stupid - "Don't be a hero," he told his brother.

But Andre Fletcher was a hero, through and through. And he was a man of action. When he joined the fire department in 1994 and learned they didn't have a baseball team, he started one. He played on the department football team. I imagine him playing catch with his son, Blair, 12 years old in 2001.

I imagine, when Andre arrived on the scene at the World Trade Center, he never had a second thought about being a hero. It seemed to be what came naturally to him, and that, quite simply, is how I imagine him; a hero in death - and in life.

Say a prayer for Zack, who must certainly feel the loss of his twin each day. For Andre's parents, Lunsford and Monica, Jamaican immigrants who must be incredibly proud of their sons, but mourn the loss of one of the twins. For Blair, who lost a father at that all-important time of adolescence when a boy needs his father's guidance and patience. Say a prayer for the memory of Andre G. Fletcher, killed in the line of duty, doing what he lived for.

Never forget.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Shekhar Kumar

This tribute is respectfully reposted from September 11, 2010.

Shekhar Kumar was a 30 year-old programmer analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He'd been married in November 2000, and didn't have the opportunity to celebrate his first wedding anniversary.

A co-worker described Shekhar as "a gentle man with a great capacity for figuring our arcane problems, and who had a smile on his face and a way about him that when he asked you to move a mountain, you'd say, 'no problem.'"

On Shekhar's page, friends describe him as "a really great friend," "energetic, enthusiastic and optimistic."

Please say a prayer for Shekhar, his family, and the young widow left to grieve for him.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Paige Farley-Hackel

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Paige Farley-Hackel of Newton, Massachusetts was a motivational speaker and writer, on the verge of her dreams. Her new radio program, "Spiritually Speaking," was preparing to hit the air, and she had lofty goals of appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show - or of becoming Oprah's competition. She had a Master's degree in substance abuse counseling, and was a tireless advocate for the Salvation Army.

In keeping with her passion for spiritual growth, 46-year-old Paige was headed to California for a conference at Deepak Chopra's Center for Well Being on September 11, 2001. She was traveling with her best friend, Ruth Magdaline McCourt, and McCourt's four-year-old daughter, Juliana. Together, they'd celebrate Paige's certification at the Center for completion of the Debbie Ford Shadow Process and take Juliana ("Miss J") to Disneyland.

The group ended up flying out of Boston on different airlines through the use of frequent flier miles - Paige on American Airlines Flight 11, and Ruth and Miss J on United Flight 175.

Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, followed by Flight 175's collision with the south tower, minutes later.

As USA Today noted, "Ruth Clifford McCourt and Paige Farley Hackel were inseparable in life. Tuesday, in a fluke of airline ticketing, they became inseparable in death."
Paige Farley-Hackel with Juliana and Ruth McCourt
Photo source

Family, friends, supporters and loved ones have not allowed Paige's untimely death to derail her passions. They've established the Paige Farley Hackel Free Care Fund, which provides addiction treatment at no cost to those most in need. In 2007, the Paige Farley Hackel Memorial Playground was dedicated at the Salvation Army Children's Learning Center in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

In my research on Paige Farley-Hackel, one of the most profound and all-encompassing statements was what she wrote in her 1973 yearbook:

There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.

Paige knew changing lives begins with changing oneself. She bettered herself to better the world. I am proud to remember Paige. Please say a prayer for her family and those she loved so dearly.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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Project 2,996: Remember Rahma Salie

This tribute is respectfully reposted from 9/11/09.

Project 2,996 volunteer Asher Styrsky wrote the following tribute to Rahma Salie, wife of Michael Theodoridis, on Facebook. Since only Asher’s friends can see this wonderful tribute, Asher asked me to copy and post it here, where Rahma’s tribute can be joined with Michael’s.

Here is Asher’s tribute to Rahma:

For several years now, I've participated in Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. This year, my assignment failed to come thru via email, but fortunately I was contacted by another participant last minute who got me on track.

The name ... Rahma Salie.
Rahma was of Sri Lanken descent, and grew up in Japan. It seems she considered her Muslim faith to be a very important part of her life, for her husband Michael Theodoridis converted to Islam just before their marriage in 1998. Soon after, Rahma discovered she was pregnant. Seven months later, she and Michael left their home on the outskirts of Boston and boarded a plane headed to California where they intended to attend a wedding. Tragically, the lives of Rahma, Michael, and their unborn child were taken from them by radical jihadists in an event that would change history.

As I searched online for information on Rahma ... trying to learn as much as possible about her ... I discovered an online collection of photos from her life, including childhood gymnastics and pictures from her wedding. A beautiful human being ... (look on the right under 'Tribute' for more photos) Also, please note that a tribute has been put together for Rahma's husband, Michael here.
Having never met her, I have no way to know first hand the type of woman that Rahma Salie was. And so I must rely on the words of those who knew her.

Common words used to describe her ... effervescent, smiling, joy, and kind.

"Rahma was a beautiful person, always smiling, always caring. I had the pleasure of working with Rahma only for a short time, but she made a distinct impression on my life.
~ Pam Sheen, Kingston, Massachusetts"

"Mmissing you rahma! and remembering you. i never got a chance to tell you just how much of a role model you were to me. thank you."

"I met Rahma when I became a teacher at the International School of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo in 1990. I'll always remember how welcome she made me feel. She was so friendly and warm. The following year I was lucky enough to be her International Relations teacher. We had lots of laughs in class. I was so proud when she majored in International Relations. When Rahma was killed she was seven months pregnant. My wife was seven months pregnant too. Our daughter is now five and a half years old and my love for her sometimes is a reminder of how lucky I am, and how Rahma and Mickey were robbed of their happiness. My deepest condolences to their parents.
~ Paul Doolan, Zürich"

May we never forget the lives that were taken so suddenly on September 11, 2001.

Today, I hug my wife and children a little tighter, remembering the life and tragic death of Rahma Salie, killed at age 28.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

Project 2,996: Remember Pendyala "Vamsi" Vamsikrishna and Prasanna Kalahasthi - a Victim of Grief

Photo source
This tribute is respectfully reposted from 2011.

Pendyala Vamsikrishna, "Vamsi" to friends, was 30 years old on September 11, 2001. A project manager for the consulting firm of DTI, he was a talented software developer.

Vamsi and his wife, Prasanna Kalahasthi, like most young couples, had dreams and plans for their future. Both from India, they'd moved to the United States to pursue education and career opportunities - Vamsi to study engineering, and Prasanna to attend USC as a grad student in the International Student Program for Foreign-Trained Dentists. Brought together by an arranged marriage, the two were lucky enough to truly find love and devotion in one another, and had been married two and a half years in September 2001. They'd planned to start a family, had received their green cards, and dove into their pursuits in the U.S.

A devoted employee known for his strong work ethic, Vamsi had been in Boston for business and ended up staying an extra day, missing his original flight. On Tuesday, September 11, he left a voicemail for Prasanna, telling her he'd be home to Los Angeles soon:

Hi, sweetie, I've just boarded the flight, and I'll see you in Los Angeles this afternoon.

Vasmi never made it. His plane, American Airlines Flight 11, was the first to strike the World Trade Center, crashing into the north tower at 08:46:26.

Photo source

On October 19, 2001, Prasanna took her own life, leaving behind notes and an audio recording for her family, stating she just couldn't go on without her husband.

All I want is for you people to understand and respect me for what I'm doing. It's a lot, I know... But I'm responding to this in the only way I can bring peace to myself.

I chose Vasmi's name blindly from a list. Within minutes, I knew I had to include his young wife - and the tragic end to both beautiful, promising lives - in this tribute. Please, pray for the families and friends of Vasmi and Prasanna. Years may have passed, but this loving couple must not be forgotten.

This tribute is part of Project 2,996, a cooperative online effort to keep alive the memories of the 2,996 victims of the 9/11/01 tragedy. See other participants, and their tributes to those lost, here.

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