The week in Madison was exactly what I expected and needed–moments of bitter and moments of sweet; a little pain and a lot of good stuff; new connections made; new lessons learned. In short: I’m so glad I did this.
Home was a new reality–not as difficult coming back into the home we shared as I might have thought but still my only greeting was silence. I got my plant containers resettled into their places after clustering them in one spot so my friend could water them (in the 90 degree heat!) and was glad to see that everything had survived. I awoke on Sunday morning and opened the shades to look out at the patio and noticed for the first time hollyhocks in full bloom (see photo in the banner of my website at http://www.booksbyanna.com ). I laughed out loud — for years L teased me about never wanting me to plant hollyhocks. “They attract bees,” he declared with that twinkle that told me he was simply giving me a hard time. It became a running joke between us. Every planting season I would plant a hollyhock somewhere in the yard and announce that I had done so. He would react with mock horror. The thing was that no matter how many times I planted them the hollyhocks NEVER bloomed–until now. So you decide who got the last laugh!!!
Emotional day that began with taking L’s ashes to the spot I found last night. On the way–practically outside the door of where I’m staying I found this black feather. Somehow feathers have been symbols in this journey beginning with the eagle feather that L found on that Maine beach the day before his stroke. So I picked up the feather and walked along the lake to the spot.
I climbed down to the spot–not difficult–and found some small rocks lying there. One of them had a flat surface and all of them were this wonderful reddish color. I had brought along a marker so I wrote L’s name and Class of ___ and his birth/death dates on the rock. Then I sprinkled some of the ashes on the ground and stacked the rocks. I finished it off by placing the feather with the rocks. Then I walked to the spot where I saw the fisherman last night and scattered the rest of the small packet of ashes I brought on the lake.
There’s a park bench there so I sat down to look out at the lake and just think about L. It was a perfect day, huge fluffy clouds against a brilliant blue sky and the crew rowing teams out on the water practicing. L would love that.
All of a sudden I noticed this dragonfly fluttering around close to the lake–definitely close enough to see but far enough so that it was out of reach. The thing was it had these incredible pale blue tips to its wings, like no other dragonfly I ever saw before. The rest of it was black. I watched it land on a stalk of dried grass, flutter away, come back, and repeat several times. When it left for good I decided that it was time to go, but on my way back I stopped and retrieved the feather–I didn’t want to leave that there and I have it to put with the other feathers I’ve found.
I really wanted/needed to cry but the tears just did not come.But then I turned on my phone and there was a message from last night where friends back home had called just to see how I was doing–that started the tears.
I went to class. A couple of odd things happened there that were mildly upsetting–one person deciding to leave early and not come at all and another becoming upset in the class and leaving suddenly. It felt like the ending that it was and I found that played on me through the rest of the day. I had lunch with most of the rest of the class and then went off to walk and think. Around five I decided to go get ice cream as a kind of final visit to the terrace (for this trip) and ran into someone from class. When she and her husband seemed inclined to perhaps include me in their plans for the evening I found myself telling them that my husband had died some weeks ago and felt more tears coming so I left them quickly, got my ice cream and walked along the terrace.
The music was jazz and I found it unsettling and jarring so moved to the far end where I couldn’t hear it so well. Checked messages and here was yet another call from friends in AZ. I decided to call back since I had just missed their call by minutes. Got voicemail and started leaving a message and once again started to cry. So the tears did come along with a feeling of endings and loss that was for now as much related to this week coming to an end as it was to grieving for L.
Tomorrow farmer’s market, tarot and then home again and then…???
Some incredible surprises today–when I was reading a classmate’s comments on my work yesterday I saw a note offering to serve as a reader for the ms. Because I respect her comments and knowledge I decided to take her up on it since I regularly employ readers anyway. We ran into each other at b’fast and made the deal. So surprise #1.
Surprise #2 came in a kind of back-handed way: I find comfort in getting a tarot card reading from time to time and had added it to my list of what I wanted to accomplish with this week. So when I went to the shop where I had had a really great experience a year or so ago, I was disappointed to sit down with someone who not only didn’t read tarot but seemed to be intent on offering me advice rather than giving me insight into the psychic world around me. It was, of course, as much my fault as hers but I left there really upset and disappointed. It was definitely out of proportion to the importance of this one thing. Anyway I returned to my room and the disappointment festered until I decided to look online and there was this woman–nearby who is an artist of some repute in the area and I just liked her photo and her blog and her work–so I called her and we have an appt. for Sat. morning–so perhaps it’s fitting that this will be the last thing I do before leaving and bringing this week to a close.
Surprise #3 came when I decided to take a walk along the lake path and find the spot where I wanted to scatter L’s ashes (not all of them–there are other special places he asked to reside in) and I came to this place that I thought might be the right spot and right behind me came this guy who climbed over a barrier to get closer to the lake for fishing. FISHING!! L loved it. Was he telling me something? I think maybe so. I talked to the guy some and he kind of indicated that a little further back the way I had come was an even better spot for fishing. I had looked at any number of places where people had made paths down to the shore but they had all seemed too steep and treacherous for me to So I thought I had the spot but then I started back and sure enough not ten yards from there was a path that was neither steep nor treacherous — it was perfect. Tomorrow I will go back with ashes — I think early morning or perhaps sundown might be best.
Finally surprise #4 came when I returned once again to my room and found a lovely note from someone I have met this week reaching out to say Can we have coffee and stay in touch? Now THAT is L at work! Continuing to bring people into my life from all sorts of directions — people who will ease the way for me with their friendship. As I said to our minister when we were planning L’s memorial: this is not A love story; this is THE love story–one that continues to sustain and comfort me even as I struggle with every new day. Til tomorrow….
Couple of things came to mind today…
First I realized that one of the appeals of Madison for L and me has always been the energy–the campus even in the quieter days of summer throbs with activity and life. There’s a feeling of new beginnings as I sit on the Terrace at the Union and watch young people in their prime living out what is hopefully some of the best times of their lives. Sometimes I see younger kids–even toddlers–and think about someday when they are old enough to come to school here…and build those memories that they will carry with them all their lives–friendships they will cherish. And I know when I go to the farmer’s market on Saturday there will be a different kind of energy. At either end of State Street there is a wonderful acceptance of the diversity of people–ages, ethnic groups, gender–as well as a kind of feeling that it’s possible to open new doors –even to start over.
And that brings me to the second observation–it has been a week of new beginnings in many ways–the start of some new connections that I hope will continue, the flitting idea of new possibilities for how my life might look going forward. There is no denying that it has shifted to an entirely new–and scary–plateau, but there are possibilities as L always reminded me there would be. Then I did not want “new”–I wanted him and our life. Now I have no choice–or actually I do — I can choose to embrace the idea of possibility or not. Stay tuned.
Another 90+ day–L would hate it mostly because he wouldn’t have been able to breathe. I like to think that now he’s breathing free–running, hiking, biking–doing all the stuff he loved and had to let go of as his health deteriorated. (BTW I’m not delusional–I do get it that he’s no longer breathing period but that spirit–his wonderful courageous indomitable spirit–THAT cannot be shut down!)
Class today was good–everybody feeling more open and connected. I didn’t sleep last night for some reason–went to bed at 1:30 and woke up for good at 4. The others critiqued my work today and I got some really good feedback and insights into how others are reading the story. Really appreciate that and it inspires me to keep going. I walked over to the Chasen Art Museum and saw a remarkable glass exhibit–some really beautiful pieces. And there were some majopr paintings and sculptures that L would have loved.
Did not do the Terrace today–somehow I have the sense that L is driving me to work while I’m basically in this place with little else to do. I’m looking forward to Thursday when it’s supposed to cool off and I will take longer walks along the lake path and over the the gardens we always loved. ..and I will scatter some ashes.
The adventure continues and I can really feel L here–my therapist was right in reminding me that “grief travels” but the good news seems to be that so doies that comforting spirit!! Til tomorrow…
Ninety+ degrees but that’s Madison in summer. Workshop started. I had begun to fear that it would require more of the time I have here than I wanted but now I see that indeed it’s going to be a welcome respite from my work and processing my grief. I spent the afternoon doing researxh at the Historical Society’s library–I love this place–walking up a flight of marble stairs that a gazillion people have climbed over decades. The stairs actually have taken on the shape of that foot traffic–dipping closer to the handrail where most people would choose to walk. I love the stacks–musty and filled with shelves so tightly packed that they almost bulge in places. And the reading room that’s been restored to its former glory–but with the modern conveniences of computers and good lighting and such. I was there three hours and it felt like twenty minutes.
Afterwards I took a walk and then parked myself in a chair on the terrace for an hour–lovely way to end the day. Although the day is not yet over–I still need to get some reading done for class and some writing done for me. So where does the grief therapy fit into all of this?
Well, the thing I notice is that I want to call L as I would whenever I was traveling without him. We would talk several times during the day and always always call to say goodnight at the end of it. I have thought abolut calling the house and leaving a voicemail as I would have if he hadn’t answered, but I’ve already deveoped a habit of speaking to him each night before I go to sleep and that seems to be working. I won’t pretend that this isn’t hard but we had so many good memories here and reliving those is in itself healing.
Not that there’s a chance in hell I will truly “heal” during this week–but I had always told L and everyone else that once he died I would go off on my own for awhile. The reactions to this were mixed–L was in full support of the idea and we spent some time considering where I might take this little retreat. Others were stunned–“A whole week?” “By yourself?” Others were “helpful”–“Maybe I could come with you.” “You should call ____ as long as you’re there–have lunch, see a movie.”
A number of options for location came to mind–I had always told L that if the timing was right I would return to Nantucket where I spent several days (yes, alone) one autumn researching a novel. But it’s June–high season on the island so not a good choice. New York came to min d for both L and me because he knew how I love it there and the truth is that I will be going to NYC later this summer–perhaps that will be phase 2 of this whole healing thing.
In the end I settled on Madison and the University by the lake. I woke up one morning thinking about a writers’ retreat I had always thought of attending–one L had encouraged me to attend. It fills up fast and I was a latecomer to the party but I decided that if there was a spot for me plus a room at my favorite place to stay in Madison it was meant to be. The answer was YES to both and here I am.
I arrived late this afternoon, got settled in and then took a walk on State Street. Our favorite restaurant has closed and that made me a little sad as I recalled the times L and I sat at a little bistro table on the sidewalk eating our lunch or supper and enjoying the passing parade. I also checked out the performing arts center half hoping for a play but nothing is scheduled–L and I always attended a play when we made our annual trek to Madison each summer. There are other theatres and I will check them out as well. I stopped at a shop that does ‘readings’ and scheduled a tarot reading for Thursday–more on that later in the week. I came back to the hotel to drop off some stuff and then headed to the Memorial Union for supper.
The Rathskeller has changed for the better–instead of pre-packaged salads and sandwiches plus a grill, etc. they now have a limited menu. You order get a pager and pick up your food when the pager beeps–much more efficient!! I ate on the terrace with a great view of the lake. IKt was hot and humid but no bugs and eventually it cooled down. I made some calls and did some prep work for the class tomorrow and then got an ice cream–chocolate peanut butter (L’s favorite) and walked back to hotel. And all I wanted to do next was to call L and tell him all that I had seen and done today as I did any time I traveled without him.
And that is the hardest part of any day–that moment when I have to face all over again the fact that he is not there…that I cannot call…that while I have friends who are incredible and a family that is there for me, I do not have HIM.
Was this a mistake? Not sure. All I knolw right now is that it is much harder than I thought it would be…and I still have to walk the lake path and scatter his ashes….more tomorrow.
Saturday it will be one month since L died. In so many ways it seems like much much longer–in other ways it seems like he’s still just in the next room. The process continues and here’s what I’m learning as I go…
- In the absence of family (mine is small and I have no children.g’children to help soften the blow) FRIENDS are everything. One of the things L most feared (because he knew me so well) was that once he died I would crawl into my shell and push people away. I promised him I wouldn’t do that and I have kept that promise–I have answered/returned every phone call and accepted every invitation even when sometime I just want to be by myself. LESSON? Well, in spite of my thinking that I would prefer solitude, I find that at the very least talking to and being with others passes the interminable hours–especially in the evenings when I miss L most. At the very best, I actually enjoy myself and for a little while I can see the possibility that the world just might settle into some kind of new normal in time.
- I wake up some mornings and for a split second I forget. L had slept in the family room in a recliner for months (it helped him breathe easier) so being alone in bed is not new and some days I simply have the instant where I forget that he’s not here.
- Work is a godsend!! As a writer I get to escape to other worlds and take on the lives of characters I create and make their lives turn out the way I want. It helps.
- Grief is a process–one each person must go through in her own time and at her own pace. My grief is not someone else’s even though that person’s best friend and true love has died. We may be able to walk the path side by side in companionship but I cannot be in her shoes and she cannot be in mine.
- Some days are better than others and tears do not necessarily come when I need them most.