Friday, February 22, 2019

Ahhh... I am doing a happy dance today, and not just because it's Friday! Today we officially BACK with the fourth installment of the Women Who Inspire series, following a holiday season hiatus. Not only are we back, but we're beginning the 2019 series with a fabulous feature about a fabulous woman.

Meet Rosie!

Rosie is one of those people who you meet and can instantly feel her positive energy. She is smart, kind, caring, passionate, and damn hardworking. Rosie and I grew up in the same town and went to the same high school, though we graduated at different times, and now we work in the same field -- and we both love writing! Several years ago, she lost her mom and she shares how that loss shaped her, plus encouraging words that will resonate with anyone who has lost someone they love. Below she talks about her greatest accomplishments, dreams, and challenges and why "the sky is the limit."

1. Let's start with the basics! Tell us a little bit about yourself -- where you call home, what you do for a living. 

I live in Berks County, PA. I am the daughter of two Italian immigrants. I am a full-time proofreader for an advertising magazine and a freelance writer. 

 2. How did you end up in the field you're currently in? What has your career path looked like thus far? 

 Since I was child, my passions included reading and writing. I loved writing little stories and putting little books together. I was a very curious little girl. I was and still am fascinated with acquiring knowledge. In school, I did everything I could to fulfill my passion, which included writing and then being an editor of my high school and college newspapers and then interning at three different newspaper publications and a local television station. 

After graduating from Elizabethtown College in 2006, I worked as a general assignment reporter for a small weekly newspaper in Elizabethtown, where I covered everything except sports. I covered municipal and school board meetings, crime and elections. I also wrote feature stories like business openings, town events, personality profiles, student achievements, etc. I also answered phones and typed up press releases, engagement/wedding announcements, and obituaries to be placed in the paper. I was also responsible for a weekly column called “Word on the Street,” where I would rove the town to capture residents’ opinions on a variety of topics and take their pictures. 

I initially wanted to work a full-time job and attend graduate school at the same time, but plans fell through when I got laid off in February 2009. A few months later, I worked as a receptionist at an insurance agency where I learned a lot about customer service. Some of the great things about that job were that I used my Italian and Spanish linguistic skills for customers who didn’t speak English very well and produced informational kits and promotional materials for prospective clients. Public relations appealed to me at that time. 

In the summer of 2009, I decided to do volunteer advocacy work with the American Cancer Society. I became involved with now-defunct Relay For Life of Elizabethtown. I was named publicity chair, where I wrote press releases, designed the newsletters and posters, and promoted our events via social media. In the next year, I was the event chair, where I oversaw the activities, promotions, recruitment, and events. When I joined the planning committee, our Relays were considered one of smaller events in Lancaster County. Thanks to the dedicated American Cancer Society staff partner, committee members and participants, our event grew each year. We changed our name to RFL of Western Lancaster County to include participants from the Bainbridge, Rheems, Mount Joy, Marietta, and Maytown communities. We also made great strides by reaching our fundraising goals and being recognized for our marketing and promotional efforts. Being involved with Relay was a rewarding experience. I have lost family members to cancer, and I wanted to do my part, though small, to help fight a cure. My father is a 17-year cancer survivor. I met some really incredible survivors and caregivers, and through my marketing tactics, I was able to share their stories. 

I was also a public relations coordinator for Pennwriters, a non-profit organization that helps writers of all levels improve on their craft. I promoted its seminars, online classes, workshops, and writer’s conferences via social media and email blasts. I got to go to writer’s conferences where I was introduced to writers, literary agents and editors and also attended workshops. I missed writing human-interest stories so I decided to some freelance writing for different publications in Lancaster and Berks counties for a while. I also continued to work on my manuscripts. 

With the intention of getting a feel for the classroom again, I enrolled in a 1-year digital print design certificate program at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. I took classes in typography, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. It was a great introduction to balancing (volunteer) work and school. I received my certificate in 2011. While juggling writing, volunteer work and school, I got a nighttime job as an image researcher at my current workplace, where I researched image requests from sales representatives, account service coordinators and artists. I worked the night shift for about 4 years. 

Afterwards, I switched shifts and moved to the proofreading department, which is where I’m at today! 

 3. You are currently a graduate student. Tell us what you're studying and what you hope to do with your new degree. 

 I actually graduated in September 2018. I obtained a master’s degree in publishing from Rosemont College. I’d like to work for a publishing company in some editorial capacity, but I enjoy doing what I do right now. Getting a master’s degree was a dream come true, and I wouldn’t rule out getting another one in the future. Maybe a Master in Fine Arts and/or a doctorate. The sky is the limit. Though Dr. Rosie has a nice ring to it! ;) 

 4. How do you manage attending graduate school while working full time? What keeps you motivated? 

 Lots of caffeine! :) Seriously though, there are two things. First, I could not have accomplished this without the support of my family, friends, professors, and co-workers. Going to school while working full time is not an easy task. Thankfully, those people who believed in me gave me the fuel to keep going through their words of encouragement. I will be forever grateful for their love and support. Second, I’m a very driven person. Whenever I set a goal, I follow it through no matter how long it takes. Some people yearn for a master’s degree in order to get a more lucrative, professional opportunity. For me, it’s more personal. All my life I have felt that I needed to work harder than everyone else because I wanted to prove to not just to others but also to myself that I can achieve great things, and getting a master’s degree is one of them. I knew that the process was going to be challenging. I have had to make some sacrifices, but I learned that if you want something so badly, the sacrifices and hard work would be worth it in the end. 

There are times when life throws you unexpected curveballs that knock you down and test your strength. That happened to me twice during the past five years: my mother’s death and my car accident. Both times I thought about quitting because I felt I just could not handle the stress and the pain any longer or it was a sign that I was not good enough. I am so glad I didn’t give up. It’s the first time in my life that I am proud of myself. 

 5. You're a writer -- are you working on anything right now? What would be your dream-come-true, writing-wise? 

 I have several manuscripts started, but the one I am intensely working on is a young adult novel. Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was a book editor later in her life, once said, “If you produce one book, you will have done something wonderful in your life.” That has always been my dream as a writer: to produce one book. Sounds practical, but it’s a difficult task. I’d love to be on The New York Times Bestsellers List, but in order to do that I have to write a good book. 

 6. You're also an avid reader! What is the best book you've ever read, and what's the best book you've read in the past year?

 I have not read the best book yet because I’m still writing it! ;) I will say that my favorite book thus far is Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. It is the first of four books in her Neapolitan series. I have read it three times, and it is breathtakingly amazing! The series chronicles the lives of two girls named Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo who are best friends trying to create lives for themselves from their violent, poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Italy. They’re both very smart, but they chart a different path in life, as they get older. The story is so richly narrated and beautifully written, and Ferrante’s prose is simple and straightforward with a touch of complexity. I love how she makes her characters seem so real and relatable, even though the story is set post-WWII. The TV adaptation of the book is excellent! 

 7. You lost your mom a few years ago. What has the grieving process taught you? 

 The main lesson it has taught me is that you never stop grieving. You never get over the death of a close loved one, despite what some people might say. You learn to live with it for the rest of your life. Life is precious, and we are here on a journey. It should not be taken for granted. Grief has also helped me see people’s true colors and has allowed me to set boundaries on relationships with certain people. I have learned who are my true supporters and surround myself with them, thus becoming a different person. I also learned that everyone grieves differently, and it’s important to be respectful to his or her process. It’s ok to allow yourself to just be. Being strong doesn’t mean you have to withhold yourself from being emotional. Crying doesn’t make you weak. You’ll go through the 5 steps of grief more times than you realize, and you’ll probably won’t follow them in order. Sometimes, you’ll be in one step for a long period of time. 

I recently saw a quote on social media that speaks so truthfully about the definition of grief. 

"Grief, I’ve learned is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” – Jamie Anderson

 That’s exactly how to describe my grief for my mother. She died of a stroke. Even though she had a slew of health problems and was in the hospital for a couple of weeks before she passed, I never thought that I would have to say goodbye to her so soon.

 Most recently, one of my friends lost her mother unexpectedly. Her mother was around the same age as my mother when she died. My friend’s relationship with her mother paralleled my relationship with mine. They were each other’s absolute best friends. They saw each other every day and spoke to each other on the phone 3-4 times a day. Hearing about her mother’s passing opened up old wounds. It broke my heart because I understood the emotions that my friend was feeling: pain, confusion, anger, anxiety, and fear. She said to me that she wasn’t sure how she was going to live without her mother’s presence, warm embrace, words of encouragement and wisdom, calming comfort and grace. I empathized with her so much. I am trying to help her in any way that I can so that she doesn’t feel like she is alone. 

No matter how prepared you are to say goodbye to someone so close to you, you’re never prepared enough when the time comes. My mother promised me that she would not leave me. When she died, half of my heart died, too. So to have her presence one day and then be taken away from me the next is devastating. I remember holding her hand when she took her last breath. My final minutes with her were emotional and special at the same time. Losing my mother was the most painful experience in my life. I didn’t know how I was going to move on. 

 We live in a society where taking care of one’s self is the utmost priority. My mother’s priority in life was taking care of others. She always put herself on the back-burner. She was the most selfless woman I’ve ever met. She had a heart of gold and was extremely loyal to her family and friends. She was a devoted wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, aunt, and friend. A lot of people remember her for her superb cooking skills, but she was so much more than that. She was funny, feisty, and a perfectionist. She was a great seamstress. My mother and I were like sisters. We finished each other’s sentences. Her love and her hugs always gave me strength. She was the one who gave me the love of storytelling and encouraged me to read books and become a writer. When I was a child, she would always tell me stories about her childhood in Sicily, the people in her hometown, her parents whom I’d never met, and life when she first came to America. She told these stories in such a way that it was magical. I have always wanted to write stories that have the same effect on others as her stories had on me. 

Her final words to me were what we said to each other every day: I love you. She always called me “gioia mia,” which in Italian means my joy. She, along with my dad, succeeded in making my life as normal as possible. My mother always drilled into me to be strong because she knew that my life was going to be difficult so my emotional strength was tested from the day my mother died to the day of her funeral. I allowed myself to hide my grief because I needed to be strong for my father, who was also devastated. I needed to be there for him. I delivered the eulogy without shedding a tear. To this day, I don’t know how I did it. It was the most difficult thing I ever had to do, but my mission that day was to make my mother proud of me. 

 I am not ashamed to admit that I still grieve for my mother. However, I grieve in a different way than how I did almost 6 years ago. I don’t cry as much as I used to, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss her every day. I miss her voice, her words of wisdom, and her hugs. She is still the first person I think about when I wake up in the morning and the last person I think about when I go to bed. She comes in my dreams from time to time. Sometimes I wake up smiling, and sometimes I cry. I learned that I could still have a relationship with my mother, just in a different way. When I go to the cemetery, I talk to her. It’s kind of therapeutic. The day before my mother passed away, I saw a beautiful rainbow outside her hospital window. It was definitely a sign. Since then, every time I see a rainbow, I smile because I know she’s watching me. Not only was she my mother, my absolute best friend, my sister, my confidante, and my backbone, but she’s now my guardian angel. I always wonder what she would think of me today. I will never understand God’s plan to take my mother so soon. But when it’s time for me to enter Heaven, I know that she will welcome me with open arms and then God and I will have a long talk. In the meantime, I will continue live on as my mother’s legacy. 

 8. What would you consider to be the biggest challenge in your life, and how have you worked to overcome it (or make peace with it)? 

 When people see me, it’s easy to figure out the biggest challenge in my life. I have achondroplasia, a common type of dwarfism. It took me a very long time to make peace with it. The physical aspect of my disability wasn’t as painful for me as the emotional aspect. Even though my life is pretty normal, I was a victim of stares and bullying. I've been called midget, which, to me, is as offensive as saying the N-word to an African-American and the C-word to a woman. 

In my senior year in high school, I was forced to dress up like a leprechaun and walk around the halls singing the Lucky Charms cereal jingle everytime students "tap" my head (it was more like hitting and slamming). No matter how much I tried to blend in, there were people who tried to make me stand out in a way that I felt uncomfortable. I had been told that I should date just "little people" or go to a "little people" support group because that would help me feel better. It made me feel worse because I felt like I was being segregated by society. I was depressed and eventually developed suicidal thoughts. If the world was going to be that cruel to me for the rest of my life, then I had enough. I didn’t want to live in a world anymore where people made me feel so different. But I realized that I could not do that to my parents. It was unfair to them since they gave me the gift of life. 

 I compare my disability to kintsukuroi, a Japanese art of repaired broken pottery bowl that is put together by lacquer resin laced with gold or silver. Kintsukuroi has a fundamental, deep, philosophical meaning. Some people may believe that the broken cracks and seams represent the flaws and are part of the object’s design. Others may look at the pottery as a whole and think that it is most beautiful object having gone through the journey of being broken and repaired, similar to my past experience. The proof of the bowl’s fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful. 

 I’ll never forget my dad’s signature lecture to me. He would ask me if I have two eyes, two legs, two arms, two ears, etc. Each time, I would say yes. When he was finished, he then asked me, “What the hell is wrong with you?” I understood his point. There is nothing wrong with me because I am perfect in his eyes. We are all born differently. We’re not born in perfect form. We fuss about our imperfections, but it is our imperfections that make us the most beautiful. We have to make the most out of what we are born with. I may have short, bowed legs and walk funny, but I can still walk. I may have short arms and pudgy hands, but I can still utilize them. When I need help, I will ask for it. 

 A few months ago, a guy asked me why I allow myself to be labeled a “Little Person” or a “Midget” or “Dwarf.” I interrupted him by saying that I detest those labels and that they are not in my vocabulary. It is NOT I who allow myself to be called those names. It is society that does, and I can only control what I think of myself, not what other people think of me. I wish we lived in a world where labels didn’t exist. I am more than just a walking billboard of my disability because it only represents 1/16th of who I am. I am also a woman, a daughter, a niece, a cousin, an “auntie”, a co-worker, a lover, and a friend. I am well educated, a writer, an avid reader, a proofreader, a sports fan, an Italian-American, a multi-lingual, and a Catholic. I am, above all else, normal and able. 

 9. What's something people might be surprised to learn about you? 

 I haven’t read the Harry Potter series yet. 

 10. What would an ideal day look like for you, from start to finish? 

 An ideal day for me would have to consist of either curling up with a good book and/or writing OR binge-watching on a few of my favorite shows OR spending quality time with my dad OR catching up and laughing the blues away with friends or family OR giving copious amounts of hugs to those who are in need of comfort, love and strength.

The sky is, indeed, the limit. Thank you so much for sharing your amazing perspective with us, Rosie! 


  1. She is an incredible woman. I can't believe how much she has been through in her life. I was sad to read the part about dressing as a Leprechaun and people patting her head. People are mean. But ahem to the lots of caffeine comment.

    1. Isn't she fantastic? I went to the same school as her and I had no idea about the leprechaun incident until I read her responses -- how despicable. I think that she's chosen to take those experiences and use them as fuel says so much about her as a person.

  2. Rosie sounds amazing and I love her confidence in who she is and her passion for writing. That's so great you and her go back so far!

    1. She really is! I love it too, and you know we'll be reading a book by her soon. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by to meet Rosie!

  3. What an amazing article! The depth of your relationship certainly reflects in what a great interview this was. Rosie's dedication to her passion for writing and helping others is really inspiring, in contrast to the idiots she has come accross in the past. I loved her Dad's straight up wisdom though, we could all do with someone in our life like that. I most admired her reading her Mum's eulogy- that is true heart of a lion stuff. Her gift for language is so obviously God given, and as a Catholic she may agree with this - it is as if her gift and her courage is guided by the Holy Spirit. I am not one to spout religious stuff, but I call it when U see ir! Fab woman, you are lucky ti call her your pal xx

    1. Thank you so much! I'm thrilled to be able to link Rosie with others who might otherwise not have known her -- I think we can all learn so much from her. I think she'll be so touched to read what you wrote, Joanne. xo

  4. Should say when I see it. I am such a queen of typos, sorry! ;)

    1. :) :) Happens to the best of us, I didn't even notice!


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