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Guenter J Szczuka 1940 ~ 2017

July 27, 2017 8 comments

I had the honor of writing and delivering my Dad’s eulogy at his funeral this week and wanted to share it with those who knew him but were unable to attend.

my dad

My Dad was born in 1940.

Family en Szczuka

(R-L) Guenter, Papa, George, Irene, Mama, Christine

His early childhood was spent in war-torn Germany where he experienced firsthand the horrifying atrocities of war. He witnessed things no child  should ever have to see or suffer through.

At age 18, he left his parents, a sister and a brother to immigrate to this country. He followed in the footsteps of his older sister, my Tante Christine, in search of a better life.

For my Dad, that “better life” began when he met a beautiful, Irish-born woman who made my sister, myself and my brother, first generation Americans and to whom my Dad lovingly referred to as his Dah-ling.  Always.

They married in September, 1961 and while there were many things we didn’t understand about my Dad, there was never a doubt that he adored and cherished our mom. This year they would have celebrated 56 years of marriage.

kiss

My Dad had a strong work ethic, something he passed along to myself and my siblings.

He worked hard at everything he did, although work didn’t always come easy to him in the early years. Initially, he was a painter’s apprentice. My mom used to say it was “Feast or Famine” in the beginning of their marriage.

He was resourceful though and my mom would also, often, tell the story of how during one of those famine-years, when my older sister was first born, my Dad scoured the streets picking up discarded bottles in order to collect enough “return” money to  make sure there was a gift from Santa under the tree for her first Christmas.

young dad

Food was always a big part of my Dad’s life. I think because he had so little of it during the war.

He couldn’t bear to see it wasted.

He loved cooking and baking and was pretty good at it — most of the time. smile

treats
Special thanks to my niece Veronica for making “Opa’s -famous- Treats” in his honor for the luncheon after his funeral.

I have fond memories of my Dad making caramelized candy and fonder memories of him making donuts — real old-fashioned, delicious donuts in our kitchen.

The hardest part for us kids would be waiting for the dough to rise. It felt like forever but once it did, he would roll it out on the counter, flour the end of a drinking glass and drop the dough into hot oil. He’d sit us up on top of the refrigerator so we could watch the doughy-circle-molds expand into pure donut yummy-ness!

kds

My Dad loved chocolate, dressing up for masquerade parties, soccer and hockey. Pele was his man and the Islanders were his team. For most of our childhood, we lived on the 4th floor of an apartment building in New Rochelle and everyone, I mean EVERYONE in the building knew when the Islanders scored a goal.

He loved music. While other kids grew up listening to the Beatles, we grew up listening to the ever-popular, traditional volksmusik-singing-sensation & one man wonder — Heino.

Over 50-million records sold!smile

My Dad’s childhood left many scars on him. He was a complicated man.

As a teenager in High School I tried to make a connection with him. I would make his lunch every night for work the next day and leave a small note in his bag letting him know if I had a test, a game or if something special was happening that day. Sometimes I would just write “Have a good day!” but he never responded, acknowledged or mentioned them to me.

Many years later I found out that he had kept those notes, each and every one of them, in a box in his drawer.

He and I walked a similar path in some respects. We shared some of the same struggles. It was difficult for him to express his feelings — until recently.

What happened to my Dad changed him.

circle

I’ve come to view his recent stroke — as devastating as it was to all of us, especially him — as a blessing in a way.

He showed us again and again how strong he was at the core of his being.

After 3 weeks in the ICU, we were pretty much lead to believe that the chances of him ever speaking or walking again were slim to none. And although his dementia progressed during this time as well — so did his ability to let go of the chains of his past, allowing him to be the man I think he always wanted to be. He became oddly contented. He was more open and mellow. He was always happy to see us. He had a pleasant demeanor. He was clever and funny, full of playful humor, eager to engage in any way he could, be it a nod, lifting a hand, pointing a finger or sticking out his tongue.

tongue

He worked hard at his recovery. Not surprisingly, he DEFIED the odds.

We saw him walk AND heard him speak again — in English AND in German.

walk

Some might say that was a miracle. At a minimum, it was a gift.

And as difficult as this has been for our family — especially my brother who so gallantly & lovingly navigated my Dad’s care — we are blessed and feel grateful to have had this time with him.

Ihre arbeit ist getan Papa. Wir Lieben dich. Mögest du in Frieden ruhen.

all

Your work is done Daddy. We love you. May you rest in Peace.

Obituary

Photo Credits: ©2017 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

 

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In Any Form

January 4, 2015 12 comments

kindness

Get up!

Get off that floor.

Can’t you see it’s filthy?

Startled by this stern command, I raised my head from where it had been resting — cradled in the palm of my hands — to see who would have the nerve to disturb my sorrow so abruptly. He was a big, brown man, dressed in green and a thousand thoughts ran through my head in the span of ten seconds or the time it took for us to “see” one another and him to push the empty gurney passed us, through the automatic doors beyond us.

Although his statement was directed toward us, he wasn’t talking directly to me. That was clear. I was in a chair. He directed his remarks toward my daughter who sat on the floor next to me. We were sitting outside of a “room” in the ER of a local hospital. A dusty, powder-blue curtain acted as a door and was pulled “closed” for privacy. Privacy from sight perhaps but certainly not from sound. I could hear the effort that was being made to keep the groans faint. That’s how I knew he was in so much pain. He was trying to hide it. I’d never been in this section of the ER before. It’s where you’re brought to when an ambulance brings you in, where my 15-year NTeich2old son laid behind the curtain.

Several days earlier he’d broken his collar bone during a soccer game when an opposing player, a bigger, heavier boy known for his mean spiritedness collapsed on top of him, breaking that fine line on his left side that connects your neck to your shoulder, in two places. Both boys had been jumping in the air to head the ball. My son needed immediate surgery, pins and a metal rod were permanently inserted into his shoulder reattaching the fractured bone. We were extremely fortunate to be put in contact with the head surgeon at NYU Hospital for Joint Disease in New York City who performed the surgery himself.

A few days after his surgery the boys from my son’s soccer team posted this picture on their team Facebook page after a big win that he obviously missed and couldn’t be a part of.

GET WELL SOON NOAH

GET WELL SOON NOAH

My son was deeply touched. I, was completely overwhelmed by the gesture. Honestly. I’m humbled to be witness to such an incredibly thoughtful act of kindness displayed by teenage boys.

The whole experience had been emotional, fraught with gut-wrenching, roller-coaster moments and as if that weren’t enough excitement for one week, here we found ourselves in a hospital again.

He’d been recuperating nicely up until this night, when he suffered a setback, out of his control and was in severe pain, so much so, that on advice of the surgeon, we called an ambulance to bring him to a local hospital.

Now we sat, my daughter and I, outside the room with the flimsy, ugly, powder-blue curtain acting as a door, between us and my son and his dad, waiting. We waited and waited and waited some more for the doctor-on-call to make his way to my son’s bed.

My heart was breaking as any mother’s would for every minute that passed, for every minute he suffered in pain. Trying to respect his wishes to ‘wait outside the room, please mom’, fighting back fear and tears, anxious for help, my nerves and patience were fried. Where was that damn doctor anyway? It’s easy to lose perspective. I did.

Now this? Really? Some big, barking man, clearly on-a-mission that had nothing to do with helping my son, has the audacity to growl at us, chiding my daughter as he strides by pushing an empty bed! That’s all I needed, maybe even what I was praying for these past few hours as I cupped my head full of worry into my hands; a justification, an opportunity I immediately realized, to lash out at someone, a place to displace the anger and hurt and most of all the helplessness that was filling up inside me bursting to get out.

Thank you and God help you, man.” I thought to myself.

You just barked at the wrong person, at the right time. You are the conduit for me to strike through. I was ready and eager as I looked up about to unleash a mother-load of mama worry on this unsuspecting passerby-er. I locked my bleary eyes onto his and before I could blast away he bellowed,

It’s not clean enough to sit on!

In that moment, when our eyes met, intention made itself known.

Clarity came.hope

Instantly.

Thankfully.

In the eyes of knowing, silence prevailed. This man’s growling abruptness was in reality, an act of kindness and genuine caring.

His scrubs indicated he was probably a doctor, maybe a surgeon and although he clearly lacked in bedside manner, his eyes spoke volumes. They told me his “scolding” was an expression of real concern that my daughter was sitting on this not-so-clean hospital floor. It was just the type of jarring I needed in that moment in time to pull me out of myself and become present, for myself, for my daughter who also waited in worry and for my son of course, who needed me to be there for him and not become lost in my own sorrow. Gratitude grabbed hold of me. Fast.

God helped me. Thank you.

This man snapped me back, which allowed me to be where I needed to be. It also allowed me  to hear the quiet words of an older woman who’d been pacing in and out of a room, two curtains to our right. I’d mostly seen the bottom half of her legs walking in and out when I held my head side-ways but I caught a glimpse of her when I’d occasionally looked up to see if the doctor was anywhere in sight. She was older than me but younger than my mom, probably in her early 60s. Other than knowing she was there, I didn’t give her or who she was with or why much thought until it was too late. When I finally noticed her, she was leaving with another woman, older than her. A nurse wheeled the older woman ahead while the younger, pacing woman trailed behind. As she passed me she said softly,

I hope it all works out for you.

I was so surprised; I barely got the words “thank you” out in time for her to know I’d heard her.

The doctor-on-call finally saw my son, treated him and released him after a few hours. His issue was fleeting in the big picture of things and although I am thankful for that, it’s the fleeting unsuspecting moments that interrupted my life in those hours of waiting that linger with me in a thought provoking way. Kindness matters. In any form.

Twice in one night I was startled by the kindness of a stranger. Two people, in two contrasting ways took notice.

Kindness can be so fleeting and even though it doesn’t always present itself in softly spoken words or a thoughtfully written sign, its effects are always the same; long lasting and profound. It makes a difference.

It did for me.

 


Anticipation

March 9, 2014 10 comments

ruby slippers

“…And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.”

Last week as I was watching the Oscars, a childhood memory was invoked when Whoopie Goldberg said she had to wait a whole year to watch The Wizard of Oz on television when she was a kid. Me too! In fact, when it finally did come around it was an epic household event that called for the taking of early baths, wearing feetie pajamas, snuggling up to cozy blankets carefully laid out on the living room floor and resting excited yet sleepy, little heads on bedtime pillows. In its original form, the movie was a startling 2 hours and 15 minutes! It was tradition, a childhood favorite that was met yearly with much sweet anticipation.

There’s something to be said for experiencing the emotion of anticipation. That good and excited feeling you get when you are looking forward to something; waiting for it, expecting it to happen. With today’s access to immediate alerts and notifications, instant messaging, texting, emailing and Face Booking communication capabilities, I don’t think kids have the opportunity to feel that enough nowadays. Often the answer to their question pings, dings or rings on their phones before they’ve had time to ask or even think it. Other than having to wait for Christmas and their birthdays, there’s not a whole lot they don’t have at their fingertips. Netflix and On Demand have pretty much ruled out having to wait a whole calendar year for the repeated viewing of anything.

It makes me a little sad. Having to wait for something, is not the worst thing. Anticipation invokes longing, another important emotion and along with that comes patience and appreciation. Not bad character traits to have.

dorothy sings

Every year as The Wizard of Oz began in classic black and white film I would wonder why I remembered it in color and then I would be surprised and elated all over again, like I was watching it for the first time, when Dorothy would step out onto a colored landscape after the tornado landed her house in Oz. Spectacular! The munchkins were favorites and the monkeys feared. Always, the scariest but most thrilling part for me was when Dorothy finally defeated the Wicked Witch of the West. Her journey from Kansas to Oz and back again inspired hope that dreams really can come true and there really is no place like home.

The purpose of Whoopie’s stage appearance at the Oscars was to introduce the singing artist, Pink who was performing Over the Rainbow in commemoration of The Wizard of Oz‘s 75th Anniversary. It’s always dangerous when someone “new” attempts to sing something as “old”, cherished, ingrained and beloved to so many. I got teary every time I heard “Dorothy” sing that song and admittedly, I cringed slightly when I heard Pink was going to sing it.

Did you catch it?

Pink’s unique rendition of Over the Rainbow was stellar!

Brilliant.

It respectfully paid beautiful homage to the original, Judy Garland version and reminded me just how much I truly love that song.

It inspired hope that somewhere, out there, over the rainbow, the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

What do you think?

Photo Credit #1 & 2:  Google Images/Ruby Slippers/Dorothy

Harlem Grattitude

February 23, 2014 24 comments

Sometimes things haunt me. Not necessarily in a bad way. They brew and boil and bake in my head it’s true but that just means they’re usually there for a reason.

grattitude Billboard

Several weeks ago myself and two colleagues took the train into the City for a conference. On my way into Manhattan, at 125th Street, Harlem, that’s where I saw this billboard for the first time and thought to  myself…

That’s interesting. I wonder if that word is misspelled on purpose?

Then I thought….

Who would put up a billboard that says ‘Grattitude’ and why?

I didn’t get it but couldn’t dismiss it, so it got me and the brewing began.

Later that day and in the days that followed, I found myself thinking about what I saw and why it wouldn’t go away. I’d already picked my “Word” for the year. It’s Faith, not gratitude. Gratitude. I struggled with the word’s presence inside my head from the moment I saw it sprouting from its concrete carpet straight up into the clear, blue sky.

It was so unexpected. So big. Who put it there? Why is it spelled wrong? Am I grateful? What am I grateful for and how grateful am I? The notion of it all lingered. The boiling set in and it stayed with me, simmering as things I eventually end up writing about often do.

A couple of weeks later I found myself Googling “gratitude in harlem” and came across an article from the Greenwich Post (2012) that offered an explanation for it’s existence.

“It’s a billboard with an obscure message for the powerful and wealthy, the dispossessed and poor, a billboard that says simply “GRATTITUDE.”  It is a copy of an acrylic paint collage of newspaper clips and art books by pop artist Peter Tunney, who added the extra “T” as an expression of, he says, turbo-charged gratitude.”

I found another site established in September, 2013, that uses the billboard to promote their GrAttitude Project.

I love the GrAttitude Project and believe whole-heartedly that no act of kindness is too small and I like the way Attitude is embedded in GrAttitude.

It is after all an attitude:  gratitude.

Last week I took the New Haven line into the City again. This time, to meet friends. Even though the weather was really bad, I was prepared, camera-ready. I craned my neck for 10-minutes before pulling into 125th Street station, afraid I’d miss it, wanting to catch a glimpse and possibly a picture of it this time. Sure enough, I did. Not without thinking “Why?” though. Why am I haunted by this?

It’s just a word. Right?

Not really.

It’s thought provoking.

And this time I noticed something different.

Baball 128

©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

The E is backwards. The E in Grattitude is backwards! I didn’t notice that before. That puts a whole new twist on things, requiring even more thought.

So, I keep thinking about gratitude.

Was the billboard like this a few weeks ago? Or was it like the one I found when I Googled it? What does it mean that the E is backwards now? Is “gratitude” as I know it backwards? Not communicated enough or effectively?

I don’t know.

And I really don’t know what the artist’s intentions were or if the billboard I saw last week is different from the one I saw several weeks ago. I still don’t know who put it there or why and it probably doesn’t matter but I do know this:  I considered myself to be a pretty grateful person until I saw this billboard and the word took up residence in the forefront of my mind.

Seeing this word in an unsuspecting place made me think.

A lot, as in turbo-charged. About gratitude.

That was the effect for me and it’s a profound one.

gratittudebronx

Courtesy my niece, this week, on the train, on her way to work!

In the middle of the South Bronx when people look up and see this billboard, maybe they see a message being sent to the powerful and wealthy, dispossessed and poor…… or maybe it’s just meant to make anyone who sees it think about gratitude and what that means for them, in their life. Gratitude is not bias. People are grateful for different things at different times of their lives. What I take for granted others may be very grateful for and vice-versa.

Sometimes, it’s nice to have a reminder come to you out of the clear, blue sky.

What do you think? Have you seen the billboard?

Photo Credits #1 & #3: Google Images

Photo Credit #2:  ©2014 KarenSzczukaTeich & TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Attitude of Gratitude ~ Greenwich Post

A Noble Profession

May 19, 2013 12 comments
A5

©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

“….He doesn’t know what lies ahead

But he’s always willing to try,

And he hopes he’s always alert to hear

The sounds of a little child’s cry…”

~ Walter J. Hall

This weekend a local firehouse had a party and invited a few close friends.

Many came on foot but most rolled into town, all donning their Sunday Best. They were sparkling and shiny and ready to party!

Pride and dignity accompanied them.

They came to help our Hughsonville Fire Company celebrate 100-years of service. One-hundred-years. It was a sight to behold, one that stirred emotion and awe; something you may only have the opportunity to see once-in-a-life-time, at a centennial celebration.

Among the rolling revelers were The Beast, The Beast from the East, Big Mother II, Foam Boy and Always Ready

The Beast

The Beast
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

A14

The Beast From The East
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

Big Mother II

Big Mother II
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

Foam Boy

Foam Boy
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

Always Ready

Always Ready
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

On hand and in honor of this celebration were a few “old-timers” as well…

Old Timer

Old Timer
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

1952

1952
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

Millbrook

Millbrook
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

The trucks were impressive. The men and woman were inspirational. Are admirable. Often the first to respond to an emergency scene, Firefighters arrive ready to react. These men and women endure rigorous training and are expected to maintain a calm demeanor in the face of crisis, instantly assess a situation and make sound decisions on how to proceed. Many of them do this on a volunteer basis and do not get paid.

Who chooses such a physically demanding career that requires rock-solid resolve and the ability to summon a courage that surmounts all traces of fear in a moment’s notice?

They are the moms and dads at any given PTA meeting, the neighbor who keeps odd hours, a friend whose always working on the weekends. She might be your sister or a cousin. He could be your son or …

My nephew, Peter. ©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

My nephew, Peter.
©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich

…my nephew.

Whoever they are in your life, be grateful they are in your life.

One day, they may save your life.

America

April 21, 2013 Leave a comment

 

Home-of-the-Brave-de

 

 

Art ~ Norman Rockwell

Categories: Art, Culture, Family, Gratitude, Life Tags:

Common Threads

March 24, 2013 9 comments

CommonThreads

About a week ago, I spoke on a Victim’s Impact Panel.

Somehow I ended up speaking last. For the past two and a half years, each time before this time, I spoke first. Not that it matters what order we go in. It’s just how it’s been. And even though going first was the same experience before, there’s always a different kind of vibe to being in front of this room-full of offenders. The first time was scary, kind of like having an out-of-body experience. Surreal. I was fixated and fascinated by the men and women who sat before me. I knew I was speaking but I couldn’t really hear myself. Six months later, the numbness had worn off. My wounds resurfaced and there was anger in my words. The anger stayed with me for the third time as well. Time I have discovered does indeed heal wounds but it does not take them away, completely.

After that, I realized in having their undivided, mandatory attention, if I could manage to get over myself and my hurt, maybe I could seize the opportunity and convey a message. One that might say something like…

“Hey, you had no right to do what you did!” with composure and conviction instead of anger.

So that’s what I did.

There’s a certain kind of pressure that comes with going first though that leaves you wishing you had said ‘this or that’ by the time it’s over but this time, I spoke last.

This time, I began with the words “I’m blessed, because I am. In so many ways.

Being the last to speak gave me the opportunity to really hear the others’ stories in a way that I hadn’t before, even though I had.

After hearing the other women panelists’ speak, I realized in comparison, how truly blessed I was to be in the company of such courage. I also realized how truly blessed my family is. We did not suffer physical assault. We were not beaten like the two brothers that were jumped for their iPods on their way home from school and ended up in the hospital. There was no loss of limb like the carpenter whose thumb was taken from him by a machetes-wielding, teenage boy who pushed his way into his home looking for his daughter. There was no rape; no loss of life. For us there was a repeated home-invasion over a period of several months, there was, the not knowing who or why for so long, but our obvious losses were only material ones.

This time despite how different our stories are I set aside the details and through all of our anguish, heard the common threads.

Fear. Stress. Anger.

We are bonded by these common threads that continue to reappear in our lives as a result of the actions of another human being. We are all still trying to pick up and put together some of the broken pieces of our lives.

So, yes,I am blessed” I said,

BUT…

“…the tentacles of your crimes extend further than you can see. Further than you can imagine. Further than I ever imagined they would continue to go even after you were arrested.”

FNC-FAN2036741

And still, they reach.

No matter how far we move away, or how much we move on, no matter how long it’s been or how incredibly, fiercely, strong we have become, the domino effects of what you did lingers in the lives we live today.

Fractured families.

We all have them, now. Once, we were whole, in a way; in our own livable way but what you did served to sever that. We became unraveled. All of us have children that were affected. All of us felt helpless when it came to protecting them. This is the saddest common thread of all. All of our families are fractured now. Alcoholism. Separation. Divorce. Suicide. Everyone copes differently with any given circumstance. When a tragic event occurs, some of us find the strength to keep moving forward. Some of us get stuck and can’t move forward. Some of us never will.

My message this time was that your actions affect other people – hugely—in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.

Think.

At that moment in time, when you did what you did, you couldn’t possibly have thought ahead, to what your behavior then, might bring two or three or five years down the road. There is no way you considered how many lives; children, families would be negatively effected by your deeds. If you had stopped and thought about it, even just a little, maybe, oh, just maybe, you would not have done what you did.

Bryan Quain unlawfully in my home #1

©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Bryan Quain unlawfully in my home #2

©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

Bryan Quain unlawfully in my home #3

©2013 Karen Szczuka Teich & Takingtheworldonwithasmile.com

I’m blessed it’s true, to be bonded to these women who continue to be a power of example to me, who continue to help me move forward in gratitude.

Related Posts: My Edward,  Life’s Terms – Not Mine, Unsolicited Journey

Photo Credits #1 & 2 Google Images

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