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Wednesday, 09/09/09 Helping a Parent Through Cancer, Part 14: How Can I Be Love? The week 2 Michaels died

My brother, Dr. Michael Pasquale, one year ago.
My brother, Dr. Michael Pasquale, one year ago.
Michael and Catherine Galasso

I got Mom to her CT Pet scan on time, Wednesday, 9/9/09. It was going to take over an hour, so I walked across the street to Washington Square Park and walked through the farmers market. It was a beautiful day and the fruits and vegetables looked so beautiful on all the stands. It was then that I got the phone call from, my daughter, Catherine. She said, “Dad died this morning.”

It was a shock and a confusion. I’d been spending weekends with my brother, Michael Pasquale, in the intensive care unit at Christiana Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, and didn’t realize until that moment that I was expecting to hear this news about him. Now my daughter, Catherine, was calling to say her dad, my x husband, known to many as the composer for the films “In the Mood for Love” and “Seraphine”, had died.

We both sobbed. He had a doctor’s appointment this morning and when she went in to wake him, he had died. He had been suffering for many years. He had 2 liver transplants and in May, he had a heart attack.

Catherine had been over there visiting him. He was recuperating and getting stronger. They were marketing together each day, had dinner out with friends and went to the movies. 2 days before she was to return to New York, he died.

It was a great gift he gave her. It was an act of love, to give her that gift of that month, their time together and to die with her by his side. It was as if he had waited for her. Wow.

I called some mutual friends in the neighborhood and walked a few blocks to their house. We had a good cry together. I was married to Mike for almost 15 years and we were together even longer. We had a beautiful daughter together.

I went to pick up Mom and over lunch at an outdoor table at Pete’s Tavern, I told her about Michael Galasso’s death. She said, “Poor Catherine!” They were so close.

We finished lunch and went on to the Beth Israel Medical Center. We began our wait. The waiting room was pretty full. A lot of new faces, or pieces of faces in strange configurations of surgeries and reconstruction. The waiting room is filled with those who were given a reprieve from death, their contracts renewed for another indefinite amount of time because of the skills of these dedicated men and women. Eventually, Mom’s turn came to go into the examining room.

Dr. Urken checked around Mom’s neck. He asked her to take out the prosthesis and then put it back.

He said everything looked great and was very pleased at how well her cheek & eye healed up.

He said, “The ct pet scan looks very good. I’m very pleased. We’ll take a final look and mail you the results in a couple of weeks. Everything looks terrific.”

“What about my eye?” Mom asked. He had to remove her eye because the cancer had invaded it and the place where the eye had been, had healed over. At first, we had thought she would get an artificial eye. Now the skin had healed smoothly over the place where an eye had been. She wore glasses with one black lens over that side, the right lens, and a clear lens was over the left eye. It seemed very normal to us by now.

“Things can be done,” Dr. Urken said. “But I would wait. Do you mind if I take a quick picture?”

Mom said she didn’t mind. Dr. Urken took many pictures of her face from various angles. It only took a minute. While he was doing this, I told him about my brother, Michael, being so sick in the hospital. I told him how he’d had the aggressive chemotherapy and now was in intensive care with infections.

He said he was so sorry to hear it. He said in his own family they were having a similar situation. He was sorry Mom had to have this happen, with all she’s been through.

When Dr. Urken left the room, Mom said she didn’t think she would be having any more surgeries. She was content to leave things as they were.

We finished up pretty fast and then had a long wait for Dr. Okay in the inner waiting room. I think I fell asleep. Mom remembered to bring a book this time, which was great. She was reading the whole time. I also had a book I was reading.

We eventually got into Dr. Okay’s examining room and continued to read and doze as we waited. His assistants came in and worked with Mom, taking the appliance out. Then they did impressions of Mom’s mouth.

Dr. Okay came in and said everything looked good. He said it was time to make the new prosthesis and we should come back in 2 weeks for another impression and fitting.

We made a date for 2 weeks later, Wednesday, Sept 23.

I just called Dr. Okay’s office and let them know we won’t be making it on Sept 23. My brother, Mike, known to many as Dr. Michael Pasquale, died Thursday morning, Sept 17, 10 days shy of his 55th birthday and 8 days after Michael Galasso’s death. Sept 23 is the funeral. Wow. The 2 Michael’s died just about one week apart.

All I can say is WOW. It’s like the universe made a clean sweep of all suffering this week.

At 4:30 in the morning on Sept 18, these words in my head woke me. Love is real. Michael is love.

The scripture is buried somewhere is my bones. I heard it so many times. The one about, if I have not love, I am empty.

I wonder, how can I be love?

I just got the answer.

My x husband, Michael Galasso, and I met in Paris when I was 20 years old and he was 23. I was a dancer with a theater company from the US on tour in Europe and he was violinist in a German orchestra. He heard about our group in Paris and came to check it out.

He left the orchestra and began working with our company. The director was Robert Wilson. Michael must have been smitten with me then because he began to give me music lessons and we saw each other quite often. In the almost 40 years I have known Michael, this is the only time I have known him to give anyone music lessons. He really didn’t like teaching. Years later, we married.

Many people have expressed many things about Michael’s music, but for me, his music is love. Our theater group was like a big family and in it our talents grew. Michael became a composer surrounded by people who loved him and cherished his music. The music swelled up out of him and poured onto us, a visceral experience, an act of love. We heard it first in open rehearsal halls at any time of day and night. We danced to it in free form inspired moments.


It was a time not to be repeated. It was the 70’s and early 80’s. The center of it was Soho, that area of NYC that is now a center for art galleries, night life, and fashion. Back then it was artist lofts and factories. That was the home we returned to after touring Europe and Michael Galasso started composing in earnest. It was a beautiful, creative time for us.

We married and Michael and I had a beautiful daughter, Catherine. When we divorced, Michael and Catherine shared a closeness I hadn’t counted on. She went with him to live in Italy. She went to high school in Venice.  Michael’s career in Europe took off. Catherine enjoyed a most unusual adolescence, punctuated by the artist life of meeting remarkable people. She was brought up in love and music that love created. Wow.

A week later, the word came, my brother, Michael Pasquale, had died. With the news of his death, came this request from my tearful brother, John. Could I please tell our parents.

My parents are remarkable people. As tough as it was, they made it possible for me to tell the sad news. Their ability to accept life, their strong faith, showed me the way to be strong. At first, mom kept saying, “It can’t be true. Why are you saying that? He’ll be alright. He can’t be dead.” Dad said to her, “Your son has died.  We have to accept it.”

Michael died of complications after being treated with chemotherapy. He had a rare form of very aggressive lymphoma. The chemo rid him of the cancer, but he couldn’t survive the ensuing infections. He was diagnosed in May and buried September 23. He was unconscious for most of the last month, except for brief moments.

I was reading a book the week both Michaels died. It may not seem related, but it is. It’s about making money entitled Cash in a Flash by Robert Allen & Mark Victor Hanson. Mr. Allen is known for his books about making money and Mr. Hanson is known for his chicken soup for the soul books, so its like a making money for the soul kind of book.

And they talk about Wow Now. They say appreciating what is now is key to being wealthy. In the book, they advise us to say Wow 100 times a day because there are moments of astonishment throughout every day.

That’s how both Michaels were. They were Wow men with Wow lives. I spoke about Michael Galasso and now I will speak about my brother, Dr. Michael Pasquale. Michael was a cardiologist with a practice in Wilmington, Delaware.

Michael was always thinking of others. In the weeks after his diagnosis and treatment, he wrote his own eulogy and obituary and took care to write every detail of how he wanted his funeral to be. He did this out of love.

Because he wrote it in his eulogy, I know that the spark of love was ignited in him as he was first in line at every Catholic school procession into church. He said it was because he was the shortest.

That’s how I know that the moment he knew he wanted to be a doctor, came when he was 9, bicycling with his friend who fell. He placed his bike to block oncoming traffic, sent the other friend for help, while he held pressure on his friend’s head injury. He knew then that he would become a doctor. Wow.

At the funeral, people came in crowds to tell us how Michael blessed their lives.
His patients came and said he was always smiling, he never kept them waiting, he was so kind. The other doctors came and said he was always right. They are naming the cardiology training wing after him. The nurses came and said he was so considerate and appreciative. The student fellows came and said he was the best teacher.

One of his secretary’s came and said when he needed her to stay late to help out with a project, the next morning, there would be flowers and a note thanking her.
They said he always insisted on getting the newest high tech equipment into the hospital. He got the first gizmo that goes down the throat and takes pictures of the heart through the esophagus’ wall. As soon as it came in, he tried it on himself, alone in the office, gagging. They knew what he was doing. He came out saying it was a success. He knew how to do it now and how to teach it.

He enjoyed life. He organized beautiful family vacations so the family could all be together, enjoying each other while exploring other cultures.

He played hard and he worked hard. He was 100% present for everything he did, in the office or on the tennis court. His tennis buddies rarely beat him. He organized a club when there hadn’t been one. If you missed a morning tennis appointment, and failed to find a sub, you were off the schedule until the following year. He gave New Year’s Eve parties at the tennis club, renting the courts and the clubhouse.

The love of his life, his wife, Eileen is a great gift to our family. We are so proud of his children, Christopher & his wife, Marissa, his daughters, my nieces, Kim and Nicky.

They opened their house to us on so many occasions. They made every visit a feast. Eileen told me, “That wasn’t me. That was Mike. I like things simple.”

He wanted it a certain way, he wanted everyone to feel special and loved and Eileen made it happen. Wow.

He is so proud of his family. The happiest I saw him was one year ago, presiding at Chris and Marissa”s wedding. He took care of each one of us at that event. That’s the picture of him I keep in my heart. He has his great big smile on his face. That smile was with him every day, but that day it was even bigger than ever. It radiated his love and joy. Wow.

So here are my examples. How do I become love? As a child in Catholic school, I’d been given the examples of Jesus and the saints. But those examples seemed so unreal. For pete’s sake, they wore funny clothes and walked on water. I‘m not about to do that.

The words woke me this morning. Love is real. Michael is love. The lesson of his life is love. He did it every day, minute by minute. He wasn’t perfect. He was hard on others and harder on himself. Even so, his life is love.

To all of you who continue to ask me, Mom is doing great, especially under the circumstances. She looked really trim in the dark suits she wore to the funerals.
She and my sister went shopping and got clothes that fit her new trim body. She’s got a clean bill of health. She took herself off the church prayer list. She takes her USANA vitamins every day, just in case they have something to do with why she is doing so great.

I’m so grateful for the abundance of love in my life.

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