This Is…Me?

I’ve written a few blog posts on Dead Dad Day, and they serve as textual time capsules that remind me where I was, literally and metaphorically, on those anniversaries.

On the first anniversary, I was writing my comps for my doctoral program.

When we were honoring my dad’s memory at our family dinner on the third anniversary, we heard the news that Whitney Houston died. (People were shocked, but losing a 59-year old parent suddenly tends to make you impervious to premature deaths of troubled celebrities.)

But when I think back to this year’s 9th anniversary, I will remember Jack’s death.

Yes, my father’s name was Tom, but Jack Pearson is the patriarch in the popular show This Is Us.

If you’re not familiar with it, This Is Us tells the story of a fictional family across decades with the use of flashbacks (and, recently, one flash-forward). We’ve known from early in the first season that Jack died sometime between the kids’ teenage years and their adulthood. (Warning: The rest of this post contains references to the last two episodes.)

This show has been on the air for a year and a half, yet the writers chose THIS WEEK to tell us exactly how Jack died and what his kids and widow do on his anniversary. Then, two days after this special post-Super Bowl show, we got an episode on his funeral.

Many people refer to the show as a tear-jerker, but I haven’t needed the tissues until these episodes. It was a bit too real, especially so close to Dead Dad Day. I’m cool with art imitating life, but not necessarily my life, and certainly not this week.

This Is Us felt like This Is Me.

Jack dies of a cardiac arrest. My father did, too. (Jack’s was due to a fire; my dad’s was due to type 1 diabetes.)

His widow Rebecca sees him dead on the bed in the ER. Been there, done that!

In the funeral episode, Rebecca is stoic, the pillar of strength she feels she needs to be for her 17-year old triplets (er, kind of…it’s complicated). Before the funeral, I had a chat with my father’s open casket that helped me deliver his eulogy without losing my composure.

These episodes were especially emotional because I had the enormous good fortune 20180210_214854of having a Jack Pearson dad. He painted my face as Raggedy Ann for my second Halloween. He came to my loooong gymnastics meets and dance recitals and softball games. He took me on my college visits. He was a hands-on father who remembered the things that mattered to me.


From flashbacks in the funeral episode, I was also reminded of some of the harder parenting moments from my teen years. Jack didn’t love Alanis Morisette like his daughter Kate did. My senior year of high school, I wrote the lyrics to one of Morisette’s songs on my paper-bag book cover. Imagine my embarrassment when I took the book out in class and saw that my father had written a response: “These lyrics aren’t appropriate for high school. Perhaps next year.” GULP.

Toward the end of the funeral episode, after spreading some of Jack’s ashes at a sentimental location, Rebecca tells the ethereal Jack, “I promise you, we’re gonna be okay.”

We know from watching the 2017 version of the family, almost 20 years after Jack’s death, that this proves true. They’re all a little broken in some places, but the brokenness is what makes them interesting.

And they’re okay. When you have a Jack Pearson, or a Tom Pesola, for a dad, you know you’re gonna be okay.


Five-Minute Friday: Abandon

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity I participate in based on Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, Kate posts a one-word prompt, and people write for five minutes straight, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)


There was a post going around on Facebook attributed to Pope Francis, suggesting what Catholics give up for Lent. Not the typical vices like alcohol, swearing, or sweets, but giving up negative mindsets, harsh words, etc.

What thinking, and resulting language, do I need to give up?

Last night, I had a new learning related to this idea.

Our son is a Type 1 Diabetic, and when he was first diagnosed, I tried to find books, tv shows, or movies with diabetic characters (for him or for me).

The search was dismal.

There’s Stacey in Ann Martin’s The Baby-sitter’s Club series, but other than her, just about every time a character has diabetes, it relates to a negative plot twist (often the death of said character, as was the case of the wife who died in Memento, or Julia Roberts’s character in Steel Magnolias).

I lamented this discovery to my husband, who at that point had written a book. He vowed that the next book he wrote would have a diabetic character that kids like Owen could relate to.

Fast forward to that book’s completed draft. Brendan (husband) gave a copy to one of the nurse educators at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for feedback on the medical aspects mentioned in the book.

One of her comments gave us serious pause: a few paragraphs ago, I referred to Owen as a “Type 1 Diabetic,” yet this phrasing bothers the diabetic community, as the preferred language is “a child with diabetes” (or some such variation).

I understand the logic, as it aligns with the terminology we use in education. A child is not “a dyslexic” but rather has dyslexia. The diagnosis is not the person; it is what the person lives with.

I get it.

And yet.

I have always referred to my father as “a diabetic,” not someone who had diabetes. As far as I can remember, I learned this language from him, who referred to himself the same way (if he mentioned his diagnosis at all, which was rare).

Maybe this is the problem. I have been operating under terminology from the 1960s, when my dad was diagnosed. And, from an English teacher standpoint, economy of language matters to me. Why use 4 words (“a child with diabetes”) when you can communicate the same idea in 2 (“a diabetic”)?

Times have changed, though, and, actually, it’s not the same idea, which was the nurse’s point.

Brendan and I discussed the nurse educator’s note. Brendan was going to change the wording. I disagreed.

“I see the politically correct language she’s promoting, and I get why,” I said, “but if the book is written in the first person from a teenaged diabetic’s point of view, is that really how the character thinks of himself?”

He pondered my point, and I might have convinced him. But I had an idea, one that I thought would confirm my point of view.

“Why don’t you write that sentence both ways – the original way and the way the nurse suggested, and let Owen decide?”

Brendan gave Owen the two passages, and at first Owen said they were the same.

Brendan said, “No, there’s one slight difference. Which one is what you would say? One is the way a nurse said it should be, and one is the way I wrote it.”

For the record: Owen is not a diabetic. He is a child with Type 1 Diabetes.

Abandon any ideas or words to the contrary.

Dead Dad Day #7

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my father’s death, the most life-changing event I have experienced that now serves as my “before” and “after” marker. I have always honored Dead Dad Day, as I refer to it, as a kind of Sabbath, a day I do not conduct business as usual but spend time reflecting on the painfully beautiful unraveling it caused me.

I have written about my rituals on DDD before. Some years I didn’t work on February 11, some I did. Some years I reread sympathy cards, some years I didn’t. What has always been the tradition, though, is a family dinner with my crew and my mother, sister, and brother-in-law. We have a margarita, one of my dad’s favorite adult drinks, toast to a wonderful, complicated man, and share memories.

This year is different. A shared meal is not possible now that we’ve moved 1,000 miles away. Had we been home, it would not have happened anyway, as my sister is in the home stretch of her nurse practitioner program and has class from 1-8 tonight. And though I have always kept the evening of February 11 clear, tonight Owen has a make-up basketball game. Having him skip it would be a very UN-Tom-Pesola move.

Life has changed for us all, as life tends to do. And for the first time since that terrible day on February 11, 2009, when my 59-year-old father unexpectedly died in the middle of the night due, in essence, to Type 1 diabetes, February 11 feels…normal.

I will continue to honor this day, of course. I am looking forward to a great day at work. I will attend a College Board workshop on examining PSAT data, participate in a lower school PLC meeting on math curriculum, finish the annual report to our endowed fund donors, and discuss ways we might compbasketballact the curriculum for our advanced upper school students. After school, I will help coach the middle school Girls on the Run team, our first meeting of the year. Then, we will squeeze in a family dinner before heading to Owen’s game to watch #66, the next generation of my father’s #33, play a great game.


I am also donating $33 to Spare a Rose, a foundation I fortuitously learned about last night. My father and Owen were lucky to have been born after the discovery of insulin, but just because insulin exists does not mean all children have access to it. To coincide with Valentine’s Day (the day we buried my father), Spare a Rose asks people to give the value of one rose to help provide diabetes supplies and insulin to children in degoofyveloping countries. How can I not support that?

So, cheers to you, all of my family and friends who have supported us on our journey of grief these last 7 years. And, cheers to a father who consistently supported me with love and kindness and encouragement. I hold my memories a little closer and dearer today.