Doing my yearly weekend in Madison WI–today tramped through the sales of Maxwell Street Days on State Street between the campus and the Capitol; made a stop at the State Historical library to do some research; walked the lake path to the place where I set up a little memorial to L three years ago–it is overgrown now and I was unable to get down to it so I found a perfect flat stone, wrote his name on it and tossed it into the lake. Next year I think I will bring some special stone or perhaps a shell from Florida and make this the new tradition. Stopped at the Union and got a scoop of chocolate peanut butter ice cream (made on campus and L’s favorite) and enjoyed it as I walked the path. Now I am back in my room–a room similar to those L and I shared all the years we came here–where I will rest up for tomorrow’s early morning visit to the incredible farmer’s market that runs the entire block around the capitol building.
Normally I would have lunch at the Memorial Union overlooking the lake (and I may do that tomorrow) and then head back to Milwaukee. But this year out of the blue an old friend from my college days who lives in California called to say she and her husband are in the area so I am going to stay over and meet them for dinner tomorrow evening in the small town of Spring Green (where Frank Lloyd Wright established his summer home and school for architects). It’s probably been at least 25 years since I saw this friend and we have stayed in touch only with the annual holiday letter to catch up. And yet she is one of those special friends I hope you are lucky enough to have where time and distance have no effect. I know when we see each other tomorrow it will be as if we are simply continuing a conversation.
The truth is that lately I have been struck by the fact that the loneliness of widowhood does not ease with time–in fact it seems to worsen. But then something like this comes along and I weather yet one more storm of loneliness and depression. I hope those of you who struggle with similar pain can find these momentary reprieve in your life as well. Take care! Anna
A few years ago L began a tradition of taking me to our state capital–Madison (home of the U of Wisconsin as well) for a special weekend. He always chose the weekend that the shops along State Street (that runs from the capitol building to the university) were holding the mid-summer Maxwell Street days. I would shop for bargains, we would have dinner in a lovely restaurant then perhaps see a play and the following day (Saturday) we would wander through the incredible Farmer’s Market on the Square–a mile-long wonderland of organic fruits and veggies, baked goods, plants and flowers and soapbox orators speaking out about this or that topic of the day. Later we would go to the wonderful Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota and watch sailboats while we ate huge cones of chocolate peanut butter ice cream made right there on campus. Before heading for home we would take a walk along the lake path that runs from the Union past dorms and other campus buildings along the shore of the lake.
This is a tradition that I have decided to continue. Last year I went there and part of that visit was placing some of L’s ashes along the lake path down near the water and near the dorm he lived in as a student there. This year when I walked the path I stopped to “visit” that spot and restore the rocks I had stacked there last year. I shopped the farmer’s market and the Maxwell Street sales and while I did not see a play I did sit on the Union terrace listening to live music while I enjoyed a cone of chocolate peanut butter ice cream. When I started for home yesterday I felt so peaceful and light-hearted and very much as if I had shared this time with L. About 20 miles outside Madison it started to sprinkle even though the sun was out. And then I saw this rainbow or half a rainbow but it was the best rainbow I have ever seen. It was so close that I could clearly see every single color band and it stayed there riding along as I did for another 20 miles or so. I happen to be a person who believes in signs–I believe they are all around us if we will simply open hearts and minds to discovering and receiving them. I have no doubt at all that this rainbow that came literally out of the blue was L letting me know that he agreed–it had been a lovely weekend.
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!
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.
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.