Perhaps that’s the rhythm of this journey–as time goes by there are whole weeks and months when life just goes on and we get caught up in the daily ins and outs. Of course it does not mean the loss is less–maybe the grief but never the loss. Today is Valentine’s Day and I am remembering all the years that I awoke on this day to find a piece of yellow paper from a legal pad placed on my nightstand or the kitchen table. Sometimes it had been cut into a crude heart shape but always it carried the handwritten declaration I LOVE YOU BIGGER THAN I CAN REACH AND BEYOND! scrawled in pencil usually but sometimes Magic Marker.
We didn’t do a lot with gifts on this day–our gift was one more day together especially in those last months. In some ways every day became Valentine’s for us.
As I approached this particular February 14th, I became acutely aware of how my life has changed and continues to change–more to the point how I am changing. In my zeal to fill each day and get through each night I have made deliberate efforts to expand my circle of friends and surrogate family–not an easy thing for this introvert, I assure you. But recently I joined a writer’s group–one that was new to me and one where I knew no one. After several weeks, it lifts my spirits to hear these new friends greet me by name and share bits of their lives with me. I also took a six-week workshop on making handmade books where I met four fabulous women and the instructor and we ‘jelled’ in a way that gave me such a lift.
And here’s the exciting and surprising thing–because I have found these new connections, I am more patient with my main support network–if they don’t call or fail to invite me to something, I no longer assume it’s because they don’t like me or that I have somehow offended them. I give them the benefit of a doubt, accepting –and even applauding–the fact that they have their own lives to lead with their own problems and challenges. In short I am becoming not only stronger but a nicer and more generous person than I ever was before. I’m pretty sure L is smiling big-time on this Valentine’s Day–I know I’m finding smiles easier to come by day by day.
Two years? Feels more like two months. Feels more like yesterday.
As I write this dawn is breaking over Lake Michigan. It rained overnight so the skies are gray and there will be no pink/orange line of light on the horizon as the sun comes up–just a gradual coming of light and morning. The first day of year three on my journey.
Given the fairly massive changes I have made in my life over the last two years I have to accept that indeed time has passed. Those changes–selling our house, buying a condo in Florida and renting an apartment in downtown Milwaukee that overlooks the exact spot on Lake Michigan where L liked to walk and sit to watch sailboats and such–have left me feeling both unsettled and incredibly at peace with the life I am crafting without him. For example the place I own in Florida still feels like a rental–someone else’s place while this apartment where I had spent only a few days before leaving for Florida felt instantly like “home” the minute I walked in a couple of weeks ago. I have realized that it is because here I am surrounded by so much that L and I shared–furnishings, art, even the dishes in the kitchen cabinets. He was never a part of the things I have furnished the Florida place with. In so many ways the two “homes” represent the two parts of my life–a past I treasure and cherish and an uncertain future.
And so I move forward determined to honor L’s life by living mine to the fullest–open to new adventures even as I find comfort and even laughter in our shared past. He is not here physically and yet I feel his spirit walking beside me wherever I go–and that, dear friends of this blog–is something to embrace and celebrate.
The question I am asking myself these days is: Am I moving into a manic stage of this journey or is this just the way I need to handle moving forward with life on my own?
Here’s what the last month has brought my way–I had a book deadline on the first of October. A few days before that I was walking with a friend along the shores of Lake Michigan. I mentioned that when I returned from Florida in the spring I was considering selling the home L and I shared for the last four years of his life and renting a smaller apartment closer to downtown. L and I always talked of living downtown closer to plays and ballgames and friends but because of his lung disease it was no more than a pipedream. My friend–who has lived downtown for some time now–urged me to put my name on the waiting list for an apartment in her building. “Even if you decide not to take it at least you’ll have the opportunity to make that decision.” It sounded like a reasonable first step.
Long story cutting to the chase: there was no waiting list; there was a sweet little apartment perfect for one person and facing Lake Michigan and the sunrise. I protested that there was no way I could finish my book, put my house on the market, pack up and move to the apartment and pack up for my stay in Florida in the time available. But then I did not sleep for two days unable to get the apartment out of my mind and by the weekend I had signed a lease, listed the house and begun the incredible adventure called “downsizing” in a serious way! And yes, I met the deadline for the book.
I have been here now for about a month–actually moved in and began staying here as “home” a week ago and the truth is that it feels right. I even think L gave it his stamp of approval for when the movers were bringing in the furnishings a gift edition of GONE WITH THE WIND that I have no idea how I could have overlooked in packing up the rest of the DVDs, CDs and such stored in that credenza fell out. L had given me that our first Christmas after we were married knowing it was not only one of my favorite films but also would remind me of the time I took him to see it (his first time–my fifth) at a theater in Chicago and when the intermission came with Scarlett raising her fists to the heavens vowing never to be hungry again, L thought that was the end of the picture. How we laughed about that over the years!
And so while life does feel a bit chaotic these days the one thing I know for sure is that I am living the life that L wanted so much for me to live–to not sit around, but to travel and do things that we could not do together because of his health. The truth is that when I make a move like this–or even something much smaller in scope–I feel that I am honoring not only his memory but the love he had for me. No, not everyone is as blessed as I am to have choices such as those I have made BUT everyone who has experienced the death of a loved one does have a choice about how best to honor that person’s life…and the love shared during that life. Take care. Anna
Recently I spent a few lovely late summer days with friends in northern Wisconsin. L and I made many happy memories up there–hiking, fishing, eating!! I had not gone fishing since his death but found it’s a little like riding a bike–it all comes back. L used to tease me about my side-arm method of casting and he was clearly stunned when I put bait (worms or leeches) on the hook myself. His favorite photo of me was from the time I caught a sizable small-mouthed bass from the pier of our friends’ cottage. One afternoon I sat alone on that pier while my friends went off in the boat to fish and thought about all the wonderful times L and I shared–all the ideas for stories that were developed as we sat together or hiked through the woods in the fall, all the plans we made for our future. I find that at moments like these I am not saddened but rather grateful. For over forty years I had the joy (and yes, sometimes the frustration) of life with this incredible man. And every day that he is gone I appreciate more fully how carefully he prepared me for the life I would need to move forward with once he was gone. I am doing that–it is not always easy but as L and I always said, “It is what it is” and now I have added, “And it will be what I make of it.”
It occurs to me that a great deal has been written about survival of the first year but very little about what happens after that milestone has passed. Other people in my shoes but a little further down the grief trail have agreed that this is not a journey with an end or destination in sight. This is a road with curves and turns and bumps and no real end.
I have just returned from what a friend referred to as my “vision quest”–a week alone in beautiful Door County Wisconsin. For those not familiar with the geography: when you look at a map of Wisconsin, Door County is the “thumb” that sticks out in the upper right. It is–in my opinion–the Cape Cod of the Midwest–charming, quaint, picturesque. I planned this trip last August as I began to look ahead and wonder what/how I would be feeling when I reached that one-year anniversary. I looked at various locations across the country–places L and I had enjoyed together–and settled on this quiet bucolic setting filled with memories. I am happy to say I made the perfect choice.
The week held so many serendipitous surprises that I have created a separate page to describe this adventure. I have added this page (like a bookend) to the pages I wrote in December of 2011 when I first started this blog. But in the event you haven’t the time or inclination to read this journal of a journey, let me give you the gist of it: the thing I kept finding myself focused on as I explores haunts of the past and encountered new venues was that L and I had 42 incredible years together–years that were filled with adventure and love and laughter. We had our bad days–we had days when we each thought we had made the biggest mistake of our lives hooking up with the other one.
But I see now that those were detours and construction zones as we found our way down side roads and byways until we came together again breathless with the relief at still being together. In short, for 42+ years he loved me and I loved him. We were each other’s best friend and wisest counselor and the fruit of that love story will sustain me for whatever time I have left in this world. Yes, I will cry and I will rant at what I will declare is the unfairness of our fate–we all want more and more and more of something so right. But in my heart I know that what we shared is more than most people get. Yes, I am a widow and I shudder every time I even think that word much less speak it aloud or mark its check box on some form. But I am now and ever shall be a woman who was half of an incomparable love story–and for that I am truly blessed–and with that always in mind I begin year two.
It has been some time since I wrote on this blog and much has happened. I was in Florida for the winter–something I had promised L I would do although the idea of being there without him (in spite of a host of caring friends there as well as here in Wisconsin) made me hesitatnt to commit to a time frame for being there. Still there’s something to be said for taking next steps in life by walking on a beach rather than trying to plow through snow.
The first surprise came in the form of the people down there– another widow who I have admired greatly but known only slightly agreed to have dinner with me and talk about her experiences now that she’s several years out from the actual death of her husband. He–like L–suffered for several years and my friend was cast in the role of caregiver as was I. We talked at length and I learned that much of what I have experienced was similar to what she had gone through. Following that dinner we went to a couple of movies together and in general connected on a level we had not known before. And I knew that L would be so pleased because he admired and respected her so very much.
The second surprise came in the form of “the guys”–men L used to talk sports with and watch games with started sending me e-mails to comment on a game or player. Their respect for my sports knowledge touched me greatly and the fact that these male friends that I had counted as much mine as L’s did not feel the need to stay away was so very touching.
The third surprise was the biggie–always before he died L would ask me several times a week to talk about what I was going to do once he was gone. We both thought that I would travel because our ability to travel–which we both loved–had been so compromised by his illness. I came to Florida with the idea that I would use the time there to plan a trip or two. There’s a couple I’ve gotten to know who run small group tours to Europe and I had for many years longed to take one of those. Imagine my surprise when I realized that–for now–I have zero interest in traveling.
But that’s not the surprise–the surprise came when I went to look at a condo thinking I was looking at it for my sister and her husband and realizing that as I stood in that space with light streaming through the many windows that I could see ME living there and I felt such a sense of peace and happiness as I had not felt since L died. Things did not go smoothly and yet I felt L with me–prodding me to see this adventure through–every step of the way. All along I kept it quiet from my friends but sought the advice of professional friends–my banker, tax accountant, a real estate attorney in Florida and a friend whose business is buying (and reselling) property. With their support and encouragement and that of my family I moved (make that inched) closer and closer until on March 12th, I found myself the owner of a FL condo–a second home–an investment property that will hopefully bring me years of that same feeling of peace and happiness.
I am well aware that most in my position cannot salve their grief by buying a 2nd home–that is not the point. What happened here was that something moved me in a new direction — I turned a corner and I saw before me the possibility that once I turn dozens and perhaps thousands of corners I will find my way. Now that I am back home in Wisconsin, I will admit that there has been a sense of letdown–the excitement and angst of that adventure in Florida is over for the time being. I have a lot of work to do, deadlines to meet, etc. What has not changed is that time of day–right around now at six or seven in the evening–when I have to face yet again the fact that he is not going to be there to watch the TV shows tonight, to talk about the news of the day…to ask me what I plan to do once he’s gone…
And so I have made it through the holidays–quite peacefully actually. I feel L’s presence with me in almost everything I do and over the last week or so have only really had one slip/breakdown. As I sat here last night quietly bringing in the New Year it occurred to me that true to my nature I have unknowingly created a kind of checklist of things I need to take care of before I can focus on my own future. Let me be perfectly clear here–NO ONE has inferred that I need to do these things–they are strictly self-inflicted. But they are part of the path I feel I need to follow to lead me to my new future.
What’s on the checklist?
Little stuff–perhaps even stupid stuff like organizing not only my studio and condo back in Wisconsin but also this place that I rent here in Florida–this morning was spent reorganizing where the beach toys/chairs, etc. are stored to make them more accessible to those who stay here.
Must-do stuff like preparing the tax info for the accountant and praying I get it right!!
Good-for-me-in-spite-of-myself stuff like joining an exercise program that REQUIRES me to show up and do the work.
Friendship-stuff like making sure I travel to visit everyone here in Florida since for the last few years they always had to make the trip here to see us.
Get-it-done stuff like writing the books on my schedule.
Plan-ahead stuff like figuring out my schedule for the next several months.
Nothing huge–just normal life and I do get it that the list will likely continue to grow and will never truly be done. But the good news is that on this first day of 2013 I do feel as if I am moving forward–not that I don’t have my sad/bad/furious-at-the-unfairness-of-it-all times. But if L: taught me anything it was that this is the moment (not the hour or day–but the MOMENT) we get so use it well or lose it forever.
And in this moment it is a gloriously sunny warm day outside and I will not lose it…Happy New Year!!
From last night’s Eve service, a quote from Howard Thurman:
When the song of the angels is stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with their flock
The work of Christmas begins:
- to find the lost
- to heal the broken
- to feed the hungry
- to release the prisoner
- to rebuild the nations
- to bring peace among people
- to make music in the heart.
This my first holiday season without L has been an eye-opening experience filled with unexpected surprises and “gifts” in the form of calls and cards from so many, a visit from two people I have had contact with for years but am just beginning to truly know (and appreciate), family, friends, tears and laughter. It has indeed been a joyous season–a time for reflection on the wonderful life I have been given and always always the realization that L continues to be with me in spirit if not in body and for that I am so very thankful. Blessings to you and yours! Anna
It occurred to me the other day that this journey–like many journeys in life–is all about making choices. Each choice becomes its own destination–its own little postcard moment. Some of the choices are pretty routine–when to eat, what to eat, where to eat for example. When L was alive we sat at the dining room table (more spacious and a better view than our small kitchen table) every evening somewhere around six. The meal was well-rounded–meat (usually chicken), rice or potato, veggie, salad. If there was going to be dessert it came later as we watched TV. Up until about 2 yrs. ago L might have made the meal–when he retired (at age 50 because his health was beginning to fail even then) and I went to work (mostly for the health insurance) he made supper three nights a week. It was the only meal of the day we shared (altho he was dedicated to eating three well-rounded meals a day). Over supper we would talk about all the things that had happened that day–in the world, in the workplace, in the neighborhood, among friends, and most of all with us. We never ever lacked for conversation. Now that I am alone I find I need to make different choices. These days the dining room table is often covered with some project I’m working on–bills and bank statements and such that need attention; my latest writing project; lists I need to make to be sure I take care of everything now that he’s not here to remind me or handle it himself. So I don’t so much eat as I graze–a slice of cheese or some carrots with hummus, or a bowl of soup or sometimes something I pick up at the store. Blessedly I go out with friends at least once a week for a “real” meal. But altho I thought when this all began that eventually I would settle into some kind of routine for eating normal meals again, I can see that this is unlikely. The choice has been made–not the best choice perhaps but one that for now works for me.
One of L’s closest friends came for a visit over the weekend. We were pretty much on the go and/or surrounded with others who wanted to see him and catch up from his arrival last Friday until he left yesterday morning. We spent a wonderful day in Madison although it was really cold for September (and he’s from Florida). We went with another couple and visited the farmer’s market, some campus hangouts from their days at UW and the place where last summer I left some of L’s ashes along the lake path. It was a good day. We pretty much ate our way through Sunday–a wonderful brunch with friends and then supper with other friends–but the stories, memories and laughter were the richest part of the diet. It’s so incredible (and comforting for me) that when friends speak of L it’s always with such joy at having known this incredible man. Oh, they miss him as I do–his male friends especially miss the opportunity to rehash a football game with him or dissect the latest political or business fiasco. But their memories (as mine do) bring only smiles and a kind of peace. On Monday I cooked for the football party we were hosting that night while our friend tackled some outside painting that L had asked him to do whenever he got here for a visit. Then he helped me set everything up and it was so nice having another person here to bounce things off–would it be best to set the food here or there? Would there be enough food? All the stuff I would have fretted over with L. The game (Packers vs Seahawks) will go down in sports history (look it up) but the evening was wonderful in spite of it–a house filled with friends and laughter and moans and groans and good food as it always was when L was here…and somehow I know that he was!