Yesterday the deer grazed on the edge of the cemetery looking in, just waiting. Tonight they were not in sight. I sprayed more deer deterrent around the pot a radius of about two feet.
Yesterday I went to the greenhouse Jerry frequented where the owner knew of his purchasing habits. The man liked flowers. This time of year he would purchase dusty miller, geraniums and lobia. The owner reminded me of Jerry's love of yellow daisies. I chose another purple trailing flower to drape over the edge of the pot to adorn his grave.
Jerry's best friend Dennis and I created the arrangement. Tonight I drove to the cemetary alone. I sat. I prayed and then I spoke to Jerry. While watering the flowers a song popped into my head and I began singing," You are my heart you are my soul, you are my breath when I grow old, you are my lover, you're my best friend, you're in my soul." What a perfect song for the moment. I laughed right outloud.
Maine winters hang on. Just last week (the calendar says May), I was wearing boots and wool socks. Today as we prepare for highs in the mid-70's everyone is wearing short sleeves. Meanwhile, my winter jackets remain by the door. "I think I will switch out my winter clothes for summer," I remarked to another teacher. Suddenly, I felt a pang of sadness deeply in my gut.
Jerry's winter clothes never came out of storage this year- the first time unworn. As I prepare for warm weather and the passing of yet another season, his brightly colored swim trunks will remain in the closet. Even after seven months since his passing, I still have moments when I think he is coming home. I think he will wear his brown 'Upto Camp' tee shirt while we both scramble into the truck loaded with fishing gear and food and head to camp. Once we are on the dirt road, Jerry will roll down the window for Rex who is panting with excitement. Our dog loves camp as much as we both do; this place where my husband has spent every summer since he was four years old. This summer will be one of bittersweet firsts.
On Saturday, our middle daughter graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing. She put herself through school (with her husband's help) while working part-time or full-time. I'd say that is quite a feat. Although joyous, the day pulsed with sorrow-missing my husband. The conflict of emotions was palatable. How great it would have been for him to be with us. His laugh loud, I imagined his arms wrapping around our daughter, kisses marking her forehead, "I am so very proud of you. You've worked so hard," he would draw her close. How does one parent make up for the other's sudden absence? I don't think this is possible. I am me and I am not him.
I am the more practical, level-headed; I bet my kids would categorize me as boring in comparison to their father. Feeling sad and a bit inadequate without him, blinking through tears, I look up and ahead spot a whole truck solely dedicated to Ritz Crackers. Don't you think this is odd? That was my first reaction and then it reminded me how much my husband loved Ritz. He would sit and eat a sleeve of the buttery crackers at a time. The message is fun. Fun can be infused into my life. Spontaneity can still be a part of my life too. So can joy.
Then I remembered the first minutes of this day. After a few slobbery kisses across my nose and lips from my dog Rex, he rolled over for a rub and wagged his tail furiously, batting it across my face. I laughed out loud. My head resting back on the pillow, I smiled. Immediately my thought was, "I am happy. It is a new day." My husband's philosophy: Each day we are given is a gift. He taught me so much, among the lessons...infuse each day with fun-each day is indeed a gift. I certainly digested Ritz's public service announcement. Thanks Jerry.
Facing Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays are hard enough; I was not prepared today for the constant heartache during such an important family celebration-my daughter's college graduation. Both my husband and I were so very proud of our daughter who was able to hold her own engaging in medical talk with the specialists at Dana Farber and Brigham and Women's. Jerry and I were quickly lost in their consultation necessitating that Gabrielle skillfully translate day after day and week after week during our month-long stay. We were forever grateful for her capacity to grasp a depth of medical knowledge elusive to us. We are forever grateful for her ability to love and support us through one of the most difficult times in our relationship, preparing for the untimely end of my husband's life.
Today Gabrielle earned a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing. Today I am carrying the lightness of elation as well as the somber, "'God, I miss my husband'-grief." Moments of empty silence throughout the day inflated my sorrow.
I prayed often. I whispered to my husband to give me strength-crying in private, while smiling and laughing celebrating the accomplishment of our remarkable daughter. Her father's death is shaping us both; I know she is destined for great things. My husband always knew this.
There was a time, a long time ago that a woman, a busy mother sat on a cushion and meditated. This woman woke early each morning and from the perch of her yoga mat, she breathed, she stretched and smiled. With this practice of prayer, meditation and yoga she felt balanced, strong and vigorous. She took care of her husband, her kids (too many to count) and her mother-in-law. This life was filled with responsibility, but she was able to find peace and contentment.
The house this woman lives in now has two dogs, four cats and a teenager. Everyone else has grown up and moved out of the house to seek themselves. The mother-in-law passed away, Alzheimer's robbing her of a life long before her body gave out. And sadly, the woman's husband who was the love of her life died quite suddenly and unexpectedly leaving her mostly alone in the big house. Wanting to take care of herself and ease the grip of grief, the woman remembered how peaceful and balanced she felt on her mat moving and then sitting and emptying her mind. The woman felt good paying attention to her breath and reciting prayers of healing and light. She remembers.
For a long time the woman was able to just think about doing yoga. Weeks and months passed. She thought and thought, but that is all she could do. One day she bought yoga pants and a shirt. The woman dragged her yoga mat from the closet. Standing in the mountain pose, feeling tall and strong the woman breathed deeply, she stretched, she twisted and for a short time felt her body. The woman's mind was occupied with her breath, her strength and all the possibilities that her daily practice brought her.
Sitting in a crowd of seventy people young and old who have lost loved ones, the woman was told by Rosie Dalton, a once grieving mother turned life coach, "Your only job is to take care of yourself-that is all you can do." The woman took this advise seriously.
In darkness, I fumbled around the bedroom that my husband and I had taken over in the last six weeks. My bra in hand, my brain in a dense fog I was unclear what to do with it. The strap hung from my fingers. "Breathe," I reminded myself. My clothes were all laid out for the day; it took me forever to dress as though each article of clothing was foreign. Buttons and zippers impossible. My husband's best friend was coming to pick me up shortly after 4 a.m. taking me to the hospital, as I began my first hour without my husband.
In the aftermath of loss, there are some days that I just don't know what I want other than my husband to return by my side and stay there. Alone the simplest of decisions are major events. Still mundane tasks seem to take forever to execute. My bullet journal has become a tool that helps to alleviate an over-taxed brain. To do lists have become instructions to live day by day. These written reminders have become doable blueprints for living.
One day, I will adjust to a degree to this new life. Despite the everyday challenges, I still look for joy. I look for the blessings even through loss. However, courageous I am, right now I haven't a clue what to ask for, but relief from this pain. Asking isn't all that simple, is it?
Standing in a half crouch, I turn away squeezing my eyes shut and pressing my ears closed with my fingers. I do not breath, until I hear a muffled, "Barbara it is OK." I blink furiously and watch the flame surround the pan on the stove top. Jerry thought it was funny, but anxiety is debilitating.
My father held fear in his back pocket. I couldn't mow the lawn because I might cut off a foot. I couldn't climb a ladder because I might fall off. Everything in my life was a potential life threatening affair. As an adult, my anxiety is tempered somewhat, but at times I can still hear my father's voice in my head audio flashing, "Unsafe. Warning. Stay away. You'll get hurt or blow up. Warning. Warning."
Tonight I had planned a dish that required sauteing and then baking. After chopping an onion, I turned the knob to engage the flame under the cast iron pan and nothing happened. I tried another. Nothing. I thought I detected gas with those few attempts, so I stopped. If Jerry were here he would confidently get a match and light it manually. If that didn't work, he would check the level of propane. Hearing warnings chattering in my head, I did neither; instead I plugged in the instant pot and began sauteing the onions. In less than 20 minutes I was eating. Sometimes, it just isn't worth it to stress.
Travelinma is 10 years old today. Ten years ago, my friend Jeff Kirlin encouraged me to begin a photoblog. He had started one and was having lots of fun. Having just returned to Maine following my first trip to Costa Rica, I had a slew of really great shots. Exotic location plus perfect lighting equals engaging photography, right? So, on May 7, 2007 I posted a guest photo of a questzal taken with my camera (Panasonic-pocket type) by Ricardo the guide that led us into the Rain Forest on a search for the bird and other creatures that showed up like a sloth.
I had thought of myself as a writer until sometime in high school when the English teacher marred by piece with a red pen. He offered little encouragement and frankly, I was a bit angry and discouraged. My image of myself as a writer was tentative. In college, my professor Jay Hoar who was a Civil War buff and writer helped me as we wrote volumes and read and read. When my twins were two, Jerry supported me in applying to Stonecoast Writing Retreat. Lasting a week or two, that experience changed my life. At that point, I hadn't done much writing beyond professional pieces like IEP and Assessment Reports as part of my teaching job until my youngest brood could fend for themselves. Again encouragement from a friend Lynn Bonsey led me to the Maine Writer's and Publishers Alliance and my mentor, Susan Hand-Shetterly. Without nudges, Travelinma would not exist as it is today.
For a long time, I continued to photograph my life, but the desire to marry image and words gnawed at they thirst to express myself in ways beyond photography. Travelinma chronicles family-in good times and in challenging moments. Travelinma seeks answers. Travelinma shows the evolution of a woman who rediscovers herself with every new day. Travelinma supports those dealing with loss. Travelinma shows the frailty and the uncertainty of life, as well as the possibilities. Travelinma records love.
Travelinma is likely to outlive me. Just think of that! Depending upon the technological format that my grandchildren will encounter, it is possible that they will learn about their grandparents and their aunts and uncles living during this time. On that day in May a decade ago, never did I imagine that a blog, my blog would mean so much.
Option A is not available. So let's just kick the shit out of Option B. -from Option B written by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
A year ago we walked hand in hand out of an appointment with the oncologist elated that we received the news that we had been hoping for-my husband was going to survive cancer. It seemed easy. My husband strong, vibrant and healthy, later we both talked about how lucky he was to get out of it so easy. No further treatment necessary. Other people suffered so, we both carried a tinge of guilt and relief. Well, long story short. My husband suffered greatly. I stood by him helpless, despite our attempts to find answers. Month after month everything got cloudy as overnight my husband who was doing 1,000 sit ups a day in June transformed into a frail old man who could not bend down to tie his shoe. Six months after we received repeated messages, "He's not going to die from this," my husband died early one morning holding the hand of one of his dearest friends. I don't really want to be a widow, but I am. I cling to routine. It gives me comfort. I tire as easily as I cry. I laugh when I think of my husband and my heart literally expands when I think of our love. Fortunately, he gave me room to explore and discover myself while we were a couple. Igniting my creativity makes me feel whole. I write. I am a photographer. I dabble in drawing and play around with Zentangles. I paint, but I don't really know what I am doing. (I have enrolled in two online classes.) I can sew a fairly straight line with not so even stitches and I knit-usually one scarf a year. Metalsmithing is something new for me and it gives me great satisfaction even though I am just learning. Because I built a life beyond a "couple-ship" through the support of my husband, I am able to engage in activities that help piece me back together. This was a gift from my progressive husband who let me spend hours in the darkroom while he tended to the kids by changing diapers and doling out snacks. I know how lucky I was and I consider myself to be darn lucky now despite the fact that I no longer have the physical presence of my love by my side. I intend to "kick the shit out of plan B" and recreate and expand myself. I have many options. There is no escape from grief, but I intend to learn to live with it.
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
It is only going into the darkness that one will see the light and take note. When in the light all that is seen is light. When darkness settles however, shadows stretch and the contrast between darkness and light casts its' own wonder, dancing across time and space. Without spending time in darkness would I notice the splendor?
It seems to have happened overnight. After days of dreary weather, the sun today gives respite from darkness and unending bone-chilling rain that makes the grass appear a vibrant green. Once it grows; it never stops.
My husband was a collector. We have windows, if you are in need of any window of any shape and size. We have lawn mowers (at least I think). Historically, he had an array of push mowers and ride-ons. Yet the shovels are not yet put away, leaning against the door, while my winter coats still hang on hooks throughout the house, just in case. I just don't know if I have one working lawn mower. Thoughts of tackling this, just overwhelm me. I am out of my territory. Meanwhile the grass grows at a furious rate after months of dormancy.
It has been decades since I have pushed a mower. I am not sure how to start one. It seems that my anxiety about another change of season and my first spring without my handy husband may have been alleviated had I planned ahead a little bit. Yet, I need to give myself a break; after all I am carrying the load of two adults. My schedule opens a bit this weekend. I will walk the property checking for rocks and sticks that may catch in the mower, but not before I find at least one mower in working order and pray for dry weather.
These days, I am looking for inspiration everywhere. Losing Jerry's physical presence is a struggle. This reality has become a part of me, just as his living is a part of me and so is his passing and the aftermath of this life-changing event. I am able to get up in the morning, make a decent cup of coffee, feed the cats cat food and the dogs dog food. It has not always been this way, for a long time I was unable to read and unable to carry on a conversation because I would lose my train of thought. Some days are better than others, but for the most part I am doing OK.
Most days, I make sure that I walk preferably in the woods or along the ocean. I engage in activities that feed me and make me feel good. Soon after Jerry passed, I bought some yarn and began a big project. So now and again, I pick up the yarn, knit a bit and marvel at the deep shade of garnet. Soon the poncho/shawl will be a perfect addition to my fall wardrobe. Recently, I signed up for two online art classes. I dabble in drawing, painting and collage. Writing has also been an avenue for expressing my inner most thoughts and feelings.
Costa Rica during one of my visits to the mountains.
Any reference to grief and loss, emphasizes self-care. When I think about self-care, images of plates filled with fresh vegetables and walking through the doors of the YMCA to work out swim in an out of my brain. This is how I define self-care. Through this experience I have expanded and revamped my vision. It might be the cup of tea that I savor while watching the birds waiting for the squirrel to stop feeding. It might be stopping and thinking about what I need at the moment. Just days after my husband's passing I chose to close the door to the room I was staying in. I chose to lay in bed. At that point I wasn't sure that I ever wanted to get up and have to function. Too agitated to sleep, I rested. And when I could rest no more, I realized that I have a choice: to stay in bed or to get up. And then, for some strange reason I had the urge to curl my hair. (If you know me, you know just how bizarre this thought is for me.) Heating up the flat iron, I soon had styled my hair so it was smoothed out, but flipped up at the very end. It made me feel beautiful. It made me feel something other than sorrowful, if only for a moment. I wore this hair style for weeks.
Now, I schedule pleasantries into my day by tuning into to what I need everyday. An affirmation suggested by Maria Sorois, "I wish to love myself a little bit more today." I am a work in progress, ever-evolving.
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it matters. As if the nourishment of your body in such a simple direct way matters...and it does. All other wisdom about gathering happiness after loss rests in our ability to bring toward ourselves that which sustains us. Before we can thread together a life that rises in the presence of sorrow we must include loving ourselves through acts of care. When we do we can begin to experience the world as if love and hope and goodness do exist.- Maria Sirois from A Short Course in Happiness After Loss
After a weekend of staring grief in the face, my body is in revolt. I stayed home from work, fearing that pieces of myself might break off in big hunks as I raced down the hall. (Use your imagination, otherwise TMI!) This morning, after some extra rest I sipped warm water and lemon, drew a hot bath and then anointed my body with oil. Slowing down moves me inward. This is what I need: Sit with my feelings of sadness and loss to move beyond it. Sip miso broth and coconut water and seek help with my inner work-pray and meditate throughout the day.
Sirois says that happiness rests in our ability to bring to ourselves what sustains us. This has continually been a question throughout my life. Nourishing myself spiritually and physically have been key. Specific answers come when I am quiet, open and mindful-trusting that intuitively what resonates is what I need. This is my role in taking care of myself through my journey with grief and knowing that really despite all the love and kindness offered to me by others, I must, in kind extend gentle love to myself. I am enough.