The teacher asked us to take notes.

I had no idea what she meant by that. 

Pauli saw the panic. 

She met me where I was. 

She calmed me down and step-by-step, taught me how.

I will never, ever forget her kindness. 

“Look for the helpers.”  Mr. Rogers said. 

I did. 

And I still am.  

In fact, I’ve become one. 

Camille Vaughan Photography


I was in the room when the doctor announced “There appears to be a mass behind your aorta.”  

My father is an intelligent man and although we spent the rest of the week in the hospital for the biopsy and a week more for results, we both knew. 

Fucking cancer. 

I wish I had words for the experience of breath leaving your body. 

It’s as if time stops.  

Short enough for no one else to notice but long enough to recognize when it begins again. 

She left the room. 

And we just stared at one another, half smiling. 

“So this is how it ends.”  He almost chuckled.  

Even when you’re 91, you never expect it. 

And ignorantly, neither did I.  

Weeks later we were having breakfast together, discussing death (as one does when upon death’s door) when he did one of my favorite things:

He spoke in poetry. 

“Death, be no proud, though some have called thee . . .”

I asked him if he had a copy of the poem and he described the color, size and feel of the book I should look for on the wall-to-wall bookshelf.

I found it, along with many of his other favorite poems and (as one does when upon death’s door), I asked him to share. 

Because at the end, isn’t that what we all seek?

Time to share. 


Let us share. 

Written by John Donne. This poem essentially laughs at death.
Death thinks he wins but in the end, we live eternally in the after-life.


“This is my dad,”

I introduce my step-dad to my boarding school Headmistress.

“And this is my Dick.”

I introduce my biological father. 

We all inwardly and outwardly cringe.

“I mean, this is Dick.  My father.  Dick Parise.”

Crawl in a hole. Die. I’m 15. Please, just let me go ahead and die.  

Here they both are- a rare moment- both of my fathers.

The one who created me and the one who raised me.

A chuckle. A laugh.  An inward mortification. We move on to pleasantries.  

But then came my wedding less than a decade a later. 

I’d always imagined both of them on each arm. 

But then he said, after their divorce, “You know that would be hard for me.”

I paused and reconsidered the definition of “dad”. 

And then, I walked down the aisle with my father. 


It’s been a lifetime of regret

For a crime I never committed. 

I was born. 

The illegitimate of a love affair. 

Forever, a child, apologizing for my existence. 

I’m so sorry.

And yet, Here I Am.

You’ve welcomed and accepted me, 

Flaws, painful memories and all. 

I’m so sorry. 

I was born. 

It’s been a lifetime. 

But, here I am.

Here I am.

Camille Vaughan Photography

The Golden Door

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Emma Lazarus

My father is first generation American. 

Italian, born and bred. 

So, when I graduated high school I asked for proof. 

In other words, bring me to them. 

My relatives.  

We traveled first to Rome. 

A hotel, he’d booked online.

We’d spent exactly two nights ever together in a lifetime and suddenly, 

we were residing in a closet.

On to Naples, Pompeii and Calabria: the place of my grandfather’s birth. 

Rich with olive trees, oil and seven-layer fresh lasagna. 

Here, I bonded with my foreign relatives as I screamed “Aye! Aye! Aye!” on motorbike 

through winding streets, experiencing food like it was the first time.  

Eating “al fresca”, pretending I followed their animated conversation. 

Next, to Sicily where we knocked on many a neighbor door 

until we stood in the room my grandmother was born in 1898.  

I looked around and wondered, “how?”. 

And here I am.

Standing in my father’s hospital room wondering, “how?”

If there was ever a man to give to the tired, the poor, 

Those that needed to breathe and required refuge, 

He’s right here. 

Beside the golden door.

And here I am. 

Standing in my father’s hospital room wondering, “how?”.


She called it what it is:  


I had never associated that word with what I had been feeling but it all clicked into place. 

Grief can be due to a loss of any kind: a loved one, job, marriage, friendship or a major life change.

What I had been feeling was grief!

I described how desperate I had been to make sense of it all and store it neatly in its box. 

I’m a writer:  I like a good ending.  

And this . . . this just carried on.

I described it as spilled slime.  

Here I was, frantically trying to return the contents to its original container and no matter how hard I tried, it lingered.  

Grief has no blueprint, no timeline.

It’s messy and ugly and nonsensical.

It does not wield to your plans or box. 

It takes its time and you are merely a companion to it.  

Many try to escape its grasp- be it denial, alcohol or busyness.  

Others drown in it. 

And then there’s me- failing to recognize it for what it is. 

Well, hello grief. 

I relinquish my need to control.

I let you take your time. 

I identify you. 

I respect your process. 

And I walk with you 

Until you move along.  

 It is what it is. 


Camille Vaughan Photography