The Cheese Stands Alone

I recently enrolled in an online writing class. The class assignments include a requirement to submit two personal essays during the eight weeks of the course. The instructor and other students critique the pieces the participant submits. The student can elect to either submit two separate essays or to revise the first submission based on the class feedback and submit the “new and improved” version for the second opportunity.

For my first submission, I used an essay based on the blog piece I posted here- Sand, Sea, and Sadness ( Sand, Sea, And Sadness – Terri LaBonte- Reinventing Myself in Retirement )– about my trip to the beach the day after my brother died. There was a lot of feedback from the instructor and the students, which I took under advisement and considered in submitting my second piece- the revision of my first essay. I honestly do not know which version I like better. They are quite different, although they relate to the same event and same family dynamics. It was an interesting exercise.

One piece of feedback that kind of threw me was that the class believed my ending was “too pat” and “too neat and tidy.” The general feeling of the critique-ers was that I suggested that simply remembering the good episode with my brother at day camp allowed me to come to terms with grief and resolve my feelings. If I suggested that, my bad. Of course, one memory and one trip to the beach did not punch my grief ticket. My point in the ending of the blog post was simply that the trip to the beach and the memory allowed me to start the grieving process more elegantly and effectively. I expect that I will be grieving and remembering and processing emotions around my brother’s death for the rest of my life. This is one reason that I have continued to share blog posts about my trip and the misadventures I experienced. The grief process is very much still in my mind and in my heart. Even the blog posts that have a comic framework are a way of working through my feelings about my brother and his death. Maybe I am just not ready yet to relate anything even a little bit profound about this experience. I have not found the profundity of losing my brother in a way I can articulate yet.

However, there is a serious issue related to my brother’s death that I want to share in this blog piece. I am now the last of my birth family standing on this side of the Great Divide. My father died in 1996. My mother died five years ago this past September 2. My brother died on July 28, 2022. My brother’s death was not just about losing my brother. My brother’s death caused a tearing away of the last tangible thread I had to my family of origin, my childhood, the hopes I had for my life that never materialized, my youth. Don’t get me wrong. I have a great life and I am incredibly grateful for everything I have. It is just that my life today is not anything like what I pictured when my world was my parents and my brother and me living on the corner of Cerritos and Perdito in Anaheim, CA. Also, as an adult, I see that the world I knew then was not even the world I thought it was at the time… and now, never can be.

While I was in California, I took a sentimental journey. I drove past the house where I grew up. I drove past the church we attended. I drove past my old elementary, junior high, and high schools. I cruised down the streets where the neighborhood children played late into the evening on extended summer days. I stayed in Hemet, where my brother lived. My mother and father, and later just my mother, lived in Hemet for many years, as well. Everything in Hemet and in Anaheim looked so foreign and far away from any relevance to me. Bars and fences on all the schools. A new addition on the house. The church building looked small and lonely. The storefronts did not look the same as I remembered in either Anaheim or Hemet. Even the mobile home park where my mother lived before she moved to Florida was completely different- new owners, new name, and a new sign. I almost missed it completely as I tooled down the main highway.

Finding yourself the only one left is disorienting. I looked online for some context for what I was feeling and found that my perspective is common, though not discussed very frequently. Society, in general, tends to concentrate more on the grief of widows, widowers, parents, and children. There is an unspoken idea that, somehow, the grief of a sibling is not “that bad.” I do not know about that. I am sure it is more about the emotional relationship than the biological relationship. Besides, as someone once told me, “Comparing is despairing.” Nobody needs to win the misery lottery to suffer with grief. The grief of a sibling is as legitimate as any other. It can be quite complex, as well, because sibling relationships are often fraught with difficult emotions. Spouses choose each other. Parents choose to have children. Children may not choose their parents, but, at the very least, children understand that their parents are necessary to their lives. Friends choose each other. Sibling relationships are the only ones where the parties have absolutely no choice in the creation of the relationship.

When the difficulty of losing a sibling combines with the isolation and disorientation of finding yourself as the cheese standing alone in the world, it can be even more difficult. I found myself struggling with that realization the whole time I was in California. I did a lot of sobbing when I was alone, mourning for everything I saw that was not what I remembered it being. There is a lot I could say about what exactly I was mourning. There is a lot I could say about the regret and guilt. There is a lot I could say about disillusionment. There is a lot I could say about when and how I learned to live as myself instead of simply as the oldest child in the Goodness family. And, certainly, how scared I am that maybe I never did learn that. I am just not sure how to talk about any of that yet. As the people in my writing class pointed out, grief does not resolve so neatly.

This trip was about saying good-bye. Yes, it was about saying good-bye to my brother. But it was also about saying good-bye to the me I used to be, the me I thought I was, and the me I dreamt I would someday be. The good news is that saying good-bye to those “mes” may open the door for greater acceptance and appreciation for who I actually am.

In losing someone close to you, have you ever realized you were losing more than just that person? What was that experience like for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a fresh start today!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Scattering The Ashes

I had a few missions in mind when I went to California after my brother Ernie’s death. The most important and most exotic one involved scattering some of his ashes. I have put off sharing about this because it is the most bizarre aspect of my trip. Grief is complicated and I sure I will be navigating pathways into the emotions for some time. Right now, talking about this last strange service I did for my brother seems a little tender.

The only thing Ernie ever mentioned about life after his death was that he wanted his ashes scattered in the river of the jungle cruise ride at Disneyland. And not in “fucking Florida,” as he called it. He only wanted the real thing- Disneyland in Anaheim. He never quite forgave me or Florida for moving his mother away from him. My sister-in-law and I wanted to honor his last wish, within reason. We knew that scattering all his ashes in the drink at Disneyland was not in the cards, but I thought we could get away with a couple of tiny Ziplock baggies of cremains. Distribution of any amount of ashes is against Disney rules.  However, I learned- when my mother died, and I scattered some of her in multiple locations at Disney World- that it is not so hard to do if one is determined. My sister-in-law and I were determined.

The entire process of scattering ashes at the jungle cruise ride was not an easy one. My sister-in-law has mobility issues with her knees and feet. It is hard for her to walk. My step-niece is developmentally disabled and has difficulty with coordination and with managing the hyperstimulation of crowds. These issues did not portend a smooth Disney experience. I knew that there were going to be tactical challenges, so I tried to devise a plan to minimize the burden. Because that is what I do.

I dropped my sister-in-law and her daughter off at the Uber location the evening of our mission. I suggested that they walk to the entrance of the park while I went to the parking lot and took the bus back. I left them walking down the primrose path from the Uber drop-off to the front gates while I drove down the street about ¾ of a mile to the first parking lot I found. As it turned out, that parking lot was closed, and the cast member directed me to one about three miles further down the road. When I got to that parking lot, I parked in row nine. The bus to the park picked up at row thirty-two. I could not even see the bus stop from my vantage point, but the parking attendant assured me it was “over there.” As I began my trek amongst the vehicles, I thought of a potential problem.  The two tiny Ziplock bags of ashes were in my backpack. It occurred to me that, should Disney security search my backpack, they were going to find two baggies of fine white powder. Probably not a good thing. I took the baggies out of my backpack and stuffed them in my bra.

My sister-in-law called to find out where I was because this process was taking longer than she believed possible. I explained that I was en route to the bus and would see her when I got there. She told me that she and my step niece were at the gates. When I finally arrived at the park entrance, I, of course, could not see them. I called her and asked where they were. She told me they were directly across from the stroller rental. I explained that I was right outside the stroller rental place; if I screamed, I am sure an employee would hear me inside the stroller rental stand and would rush to render me assistance. Then, I thought to ask if she was standing up or sitting down and she replied they were sitting down. I looked around for a bench and, indeed, they were directly across from the stroller rental place- about two hundred yards across from the stroller rental place.

Ultimately, we made it into the park. The timing was less than ideal. The electrical light parade was getting ready to start. Oceans of people were tiding from every corner of the park to wash up on Main Street. We were trying to go from Main Street to Adventureland- obviously going against the current. Pre-parade crowd herding is a special skill that Disney cast members learn early on in their magical careers. The bottom line is that the cast members must make sure people are either gathered in the stationary parade viewing areas or continuing to move consistently down the sidewalks. My sister-in-law was having trouble with the continuous moving part. I had suggested a wheelchair, but she declined. I think she thought better of that decision about ten minutes after we started our trek to Adventureland. Because of her mobility issues, she had to stop and rest every few minutes. My step niece did great, but it was obvious that the crowds distressed her. From the Disney cast members’ perspective, we were something of a hazard. They were extremely nice and polite, but the message was still “Keep Moving.”

With fortitude, we did continue to “keep moving.” Finally, we reached the jungle cruise ride. Since everybody and their great-aunt Matilda was on Main Street waiting for the parade, the line for the ride was blessedly short. We got in line, and all was going fine. Until we arrived at the staircase right smack in the middle of the line. I knew this would be Waterloo for my sister-in-law and step niece. I asked the conveniently located cast member if there was an elevator. She directed me beyond a rope outside the regular line. There seemed to be a second line, which we joined. Another cast member explained that this line was for people with disability passes. He sent me over to the jungle-cruise-disability-pass-issuing kiosk. I left my two companions there and hiked back over to the front of the regular line. The nice lady there tried three times to issue me disability passes and get me a time to return to the “special” line. Unsuccessfully. Finally, she gave up and just escorted me back to the disability line and vouched for me.

As we waited in the disability line, I noticed something disturbing. In the jungle cruise boats, riders sit on a bench that goes around the perimeter of the vessel. There is an additional bench in the middle of the boat to accommodate more passengers. I noticed that the cast members were putting people in the disability line on the center bench. This was messing with my whole strategy. I based my whole approach to this ash-scattering process on a simple principle. I honestly believed that people leave bits and pieces of loved ones on Disney property all the time. I think Disney employees often realize it is happening, but will politely turn the other way as long as the ash-scatterer does not flaunt their actions (or the ashes) in the cast member’s face. I had planned to stealthfully dump a little bit of cremains over the side of the boat when the skipper was too engrossed in his patter to notice. I did not see tossing handfuls of cremains across the boat as being stealth in any way, shape, or form. I think tossing handfuls across the boat would reasonably constitute “flaunting.” Luckily, after they loaded us onto the center bench, they let us move to the perimeter of the boat before loading people from the regular line. We were able to sprinkle our little baggies of ashes without drawing attention… and my brother now has an amazing view of the back side of water for all eternity.

Having accomplished our mission, we needed to reverse the process to get out of the park and back to the car. As we passed the restroom, we made a quick pit stop. When I got out of the restroom, the parade was underway. Tinker Bell was passing by, waving her wand, and smiling at the crowd. I chose to believe she was smiling specifically at me.

Have you ever had an experience that was quite stressful at the time, but was actually pretty comical when you look back at it after some time has passed? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have an adventurous day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

She Who Travels The Fastest Travels Alone

A week or so after my brother Ernie died, a package arrived at my front door. It was a painting created by Robert Holton. I used to go to high school with Robert and he is now a professional artist ( I have a couple of his pieces, but I did not remember ordering anything from him. It turned out that my brother, months ago, contacted Robert about creating something special for me for my birthday in September. He asked Robert to create a painting of the street sign at the intersection where we grew up in Anaheim, California. Robert and Ernie collaborated to design the painting, but Robert was surprised when Ernie stopped responding to him about timeframes and such. When Robert learned that Ernie had died, he completed the painting and sent copies to me, my cousin Raymond (who spent some of his young adult years living with us at the house at this intersection), and my sister-in-law Diane.

I loved the painting, but seeing it cracked the retaining wall around my emotions concerning my brother’s death. The fact that my brother had thought of me and wanted to do something so sweet for me certainly triggered complicated emotions. The biggest takeaway, though, was that he did genuinely love me and appreciate me. When I saw the painting, I could feel sixty plus years of emotion rising in my body. I slowly began to sob. Once I started, it was hard to stop.

Days later…

I left Orange County, Florida, on a plane bound for Orange County, California. My main mission was to take my sister-in-law to retrieve my brother’s ashes from the cremation company, create and emcee a dinner at my brother’s favorite restaurant for some well-loved people (some via Zoom and some IRL), and then scatter some of Ernie’s ashes in an exotic way. I will explain more about how these goals played out in a later post, but I first want to share one noteworthy aspect of my trip.

When I arrived in Orange County, California, there was no sign of my suitcase. I was not the only one searching for luggage and, by the mountain of unclaimed suitcases erected beside the Southwest baggage services office, it had been a bad day indeed for suitcases. I joined the line of people waiting to report a missing bag, congratulating myself on my relative calm. When I reached the front of the line, the assistor advised me that my suitcase was still in Denver. Although I had a layover in Denver for almost two hours and had plenty of time to make my connecting flight, my suitcase apparently did not. The assistor told me that the bag was in Denver and was expected to arrive in around three hours. She said that they would call me when the bag arrived.

I devised a plan on the spot. During this trip, I was going to spend several days in Hemet, which is beyond the delivery reach of the Orange County airport. I planned to spend my final day with my friend Judy in Laguna Niguel, which was only about fifteen miles from the airport. My original plan was to have dinner with Judy before making my way out to Hemet and then would return to spend the last day of my trip with Judy before coming home. I decided to have the suitcase sent to Judy’s. I would skip dinner with Judy that evening and, instead, go to Walmart to purchase three days’ worth of clothes and toiletries, and then go to Hemet. The suitcase and I would be reunited on the last day of my trip when I got to Judy’s… just in time to go home with me.

After I called Judy and explained the situation, I kicked myself for not choosing a different route. Since the airport lady told me the suitcase was expected within three hours, I could have gone to have dinner with Judy and then come back to the airport to pick it up before driving out to Hemet. As it turned out, I am glad this option did not occur to me until I was wandering around Walmart. The suitcase had very different plans.

Buying clothes at Walmart turned out to be more of a challenge than I would have anticipated. At the end of August, summer is over as far as Walmart is concerned. The clothes in prominent display featured long sleeves, denim, and sweatshirt fabric. It was 106 degrees in Hemet. The autumn/winter line of Walmart attire was clearly not going to work. I shoved my way through the clearance racks, looking for items that would fit, would go together, and would not cause me to have heat prostration. I steered myself towards dresses to solve the problem of “going together.” There were clearly no pieces left that went together. It took me about an hour, but I did end up finding three summer weight dresses that I could wear over the next few days. Two of them were the exact same dress in different colors, but I was not being too fussy.

When I reached the hotel in Hemet, the predicted 3 hours to get “eyes on” my suitcase had come and gone with no phone call or email. I was so tired that it didn’t really register with me. The next morning, I checked for phone calls and emails, but there was not a peep from Southwest. When I got out of the shower and dressed in my new Walmart clothes, my phone rang. It was the Southwest rep at Orange County airport, calling to tell me that they had no idea where my suitcase was. What a crappy job. I could hear the poor woman holding her breath, obviously dreading my reaction. We talked about the options and decided to give the suitcase one more day to get to Orange County before giving up and directing it back to Orlando if it was ever heard from again.

That evening, I was sitting in the car with my step niece while my sister-in-law made a quick stop at Target. My phone rang. The person on the other end of the line said, “This is Lily at Southwest Airlines in Long Beach. I was just calling to tell you we still had your bag.” At first, I was ecstatic that Southwest had found my bag, but then I realized there was a subtext to this call. “Uh, okay,” I responded. “So, what do I do now?” Lily answered in a polite if bewildered manner, “You can pick it up at any time of your convenience.”

Hmmm… Long Beach is about fifty miles from the Orange County Airport and about hundred miles from where I was sitting in Hemet. “Uh, no. I am not in Long Beach,” I explained.

It took Lily a couple of minutes and me a minute longer than that to realize what was happening. Lily was not calling in response to the “lost luggage” report I submitted at the Orange County Airport. She was calling because they had this random suitcase sitting at the Long Beach Airport and the baggage claim people had no idea why I had never picked it up after my flight. When we ascertained that I had not been to Long Beach, wasn’t scheduled to go to Long Beach, had no expected layover in Long Beach, and had no plans to go to Long Beach, Lily had a couple of options to explore. She told me that she would have to check to see if their luggage delivery company would go as far as Laguna Niguel to leave my bag with my friend. If not, they would put my suitcase on the next flight scheduled to stop at Orange County (a scant fifty miles away) and then have the Orange County luggage delivery company bring the suitcase to my friend’s house. That option sounded sketchy to me and, also, unlikely to produce my bag before I left to go home to Orlando.

Lily called me back an hour or so later to let me know that the Long Beach luggage delivery company could deliver my suitcase to Laguna Niguel that evening but would be pounding on my friend’s door at midnight to do so. We decided to wait until the next day. All went well after that. I did get to reunite with my suitcase the day before I went home. I barely cracked it open. I don’t know why I bothered with all that pesky packing.

Rudyard Kipling wrote, “He who travels the fastest travels alone.” I don’t think by “alone” Mr. Kipling meant without his suitcase.

My sister-in-law was talking to me about how much she missed my brother’s sense of humor. She said, “like this whole business with your suitcase… it sounds exactly like something he would have done to mess with you.” I thought about that and agreed he did enjoy pranking, but I was still stuck on why Ernie would have reached out from the Great Beyond to send my suitcase to Long Beach, of all places. Then it hit me. Where did we live when we first moved from New York to California? Long Beach.

Robert Holton’s beautiful picture of the street sign of the intersection where I grew up
The actual street sign

So what is your luggage tale of woe? Did Walmart make some money off you, too? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at

Have a well-packed day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂