After four years that on some days feel like an eternity and on others feel more like L just died yesterday, I ask myself this question often. Trouble is that I don’t know what ‘There’ looks like. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life–[physical and mental and emotional. I have changed my living space three times–as in physically moved from one abode to another. I am getting ready to do that yet again, but this time it feels like this might finally be ‘home.’
Shortly after L died, I started to ‘downsize’–actually I drew into my shell, making myself and the space I occupied as small as possible because that felt easier to manage. This new space will be larger than any place I have ever lived and the adventure of spreading myself over that space will no doubt prove challenging. And yet perhaps it is an omen that tells me I have moved on, become more settled in this new landscape that is my life. There have been other omens as well….
After years of half-heartedly trying to get my weight under control and take better care of my physical health, I have made some actual progress. Also I have begun to accept that I can fill my days with work and activity but for the most part, the nights are going to be long and lonely. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but go to bed at eight and wait for tomorrow. I have come to a new appreciation of my friends–recognizing that they are there when/if I need them and that they care deeply, even though sometimes it may seem as if they have overlooked me as they gather for dinners or plays or such. And when my reaction is to be hurt, I try to think ‘blessing’ and move on. I have made efforts beyond what either L or I would have thought possible to reach out and form new contacts.
And although all of these things are beyond hard for me, I see positive results and so I keep on keeping on. Day in and night out I feel L’s presence with me…sometimes I am out for a walk and I see something that triggers a memory–and a smile. Sometimes I talk aloud to him, ‘showing’ him something I know he would have enjoyed.
And so the days and weeks and months and years pass and it occurs to me that perhaps there is no end of this trail–this is the road I am on. L and I came to a fork and he had to go a different way, and for now I must follow the path that lies before me.
I was at a play today–I love going to the theater and to films and it’s something I truly do not mind doing alone. Often I prefer it especially since I can’t share it with L. Unexpectedly today was definitely one of those days. The play was not one I am familiar with and I will not name it because in fact the story line was a little too close to real life for L and me. Having admitted in these pages that I feel I have not cried nearly enough let me assure you that tears were falling freely by the time the play ended.
It brought back so many memories of how L and I came together–our first meeting, our first dates, the turbulent year and a half that led up to our marriage. As in the play there were secrets we kept from each other and choices we made and times when we both thought there was no future for us–not really–but stayed in touch any way. And as all of that came flooding back I wanted so much to talk to L about it–to explore those early days from the distance of forty+ years, to hear what he was thinking then, and most of all to marvel at the miracle that over time those early struggles (and they continued into the early years of our marriage) eventually blossomed into a love story without parallel–one that sustains me every day that I am alone.
Isn’t it strange–the things that bring us comfort?
We were so packed with activity the last several days of the trip that I have not had the opportunity to post. I am in Chicago now and today will return home to Florida. Once I have my own computer I hope to post some of the almost 200 pictures I took while on this incredible journey. Just to catch up with the itinerary: on Sunday we spent another full day with our English guide, William Jordan, seeing Utah Beach, the village where the film THE LONGEST DAY was set, the German cemetery and the wonderful museum in Caens. On Monday we left early in the morning for the long bus ride to Mont St. Michel–an incredible place rich with centuries (dating back to the 8th century) of history and wonderful places to explore. Our guide here (*and indeed for all the sites we had yet to see) was equally knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic as William had been. They brought history to life. My impression of Mont St Michel was that J.K. Rowling must have visited the site while inventing the setting for her Harry Potter series–the church on top of the rock as well as the village with its narrow streets and charming little shops was Hogwarts come to life. I kept expecting to run into Harry himself!!
On Tuesday we spent the day at the home and beautiful gardens of Claude Monet. Because it is truly spring in France, the gardens were exploding with tulips of all colors, daffodils of all varieties, fabulous lilac and other flowering bushes and of course the wonderful Japanese gardens that so inspired his work — including the famous painting of the water lilies. I learned two important things about the Impressionist movement–the painting is all about the reflection/play of light on different surfaces from water to fabrics to buildings, etc. and 2) Monet was inspired by the art of Japanese woodcuts, many of them hanging on the walls of his colorful cottage. We had lunch at the museum and then a lecture by a member of the museum staff showing how in so many ways Normandy had been the “birthplace” of the Impressionist movement.
Back to the hotel for our farewell reception–how we had changed since that first night when we were all strangers–and to pack for a five a.m. departure for Paris and the airport. I did not sleep much because my mind was so full of thoughts about the trip and how much L would have loved everything about it (except perhaps the strong coffee and long bus rides). I thought of how proud he would have been that instead of burrowing into my shell (as is usually my habit when in a group) I had made a real effort to get to know almost everyone in our group and in the process made some connections that have the potential to last beyond Normandy. And I knew that L had been with me on this incredible journey when as we walked back to the bus after touring Monet’s gardens I spotted a single perfect feather on the ground. Since his death–nearly two years ago now– I have often found feathers like that when I was missing him and wishing I could tell him all about my adventures. The feather–along with the lilac in bloom reminding me of the lilac he used to gather for me every spring–made me smile and allow the peace and comfort of knowing he was indeed there and that he knew all about the trip…because he is watching.
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.”
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.
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
I am starting to prepare for winter in Florida–it was a promise I made to L.that I would back–at least for one more season. Actually my feelings about Florida are mixed (as selfish as that may sound to those facing winter winds, ice and snow!). We started going to Florida eight years ago and it did not take long that first season for me to face two hard realities: 1) L’s health was deteriorating and the best we could hope for was to cling to status quo for as long as possible–there would be no chance for improvement; and 2) going to Florida meant we were done traveling–even for brief weekend getaways close to home. So I am not at all certain how I will feel about being there now. Of course, I understand that I am free to come and go as I please and I am grateful for the wonderful network of friends and family down there. But it’s going to be a new chapter–a new adjustment and I am so very tired of facing new challenges that test my coping skills now that L is gone.
On a more positive front, I stumbled across a wonderful memoir the other day. GRIEVING: A LOVE STORY is Ruth Coughlin’s account of her journey through widowhood. A couple of quotes from the fly leaf illustrate how spot on her observations are:
- “No one can tell you about grief, about its limitless boundaries, its unfathomable depths….No one can tell you about the crater that is created…the one that nothing can fill.”
- “There’s no right or wrong to widowhood; nobody’s written the rules….You make them up as you go along.”
Like I said: Spot on!!!
As I had expected once the hustle and bustle of handling details — financial, home maintenance, plans for immediate events–lessened, the reality that L is not here and will not be here is beginning to settle over me like a dense fog. A contributing factor is that from the time I was eight or nine the season of October-November has depressed me so that doesn’t exactly bode well for slogging through these days in a normal year. This year is, of course, anything but normal. So I wrestle with the usual sadness and despair that comes with the season even as it is finally beginning to sink in that L is truly irrevocably gone. Yes, his spirit is with me but that is not at all the same. I can’t curl into the side of his spirit the way I used to; I can’t discuss frustrations with all the details that come with handling the house maintenance–workers not calling back, not showing up, etc.; I can’t go through the financial stuff to be sure I am doing it right.
Yes, there are others in my life I could turn to but it’s not the same–they have their way and it’s not L’s way–or for that matter my way. So tough times right now–I know this too shall pass but that small comfort. The truth is that I feel like I am simply moving through the hours– continuing to accept the invitations and attend the various functions and tell myself how blessed I am to have so many who care–and I know that things could be ever so much worse for me. L used to use that argument whenever I started to whine and feel sorry for myself–and I would fire back that we were not talking about “other people” and their problems–we were talking about me and what was going on in my head. Guilting me out of it never worked–and it doesn’t work now although I’ll admit that I am deeply ashamed of myself for not focusing on what is rather than what isn’t.
No real conclusion to this post…just rambling…feeling sorry for myself…and missing L more than ever.