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Category Archives: Relationships

As long as we both shall live

I’m watching my body a lot, a habit of may my age, since ones fifties are, on average, when the changes start to accelerate, or seem to. In reality for most of us it’s gradual, but the sudden realizations of the gradual changes are punctuations in the gradualism. Like, suddenly I have three gray hairs, five inches long–where did they come from? Or, how long have my eyebrow hairs been so coarse, my bunions so pronounced, my eyelids this drooping?

I’m pleased, actually. I feel fit and healthy, strong and wiser, and for some reason have less cellulite now than a decade ago. My hair doesn’t fall out as much as it did a few years ago, and I kind of like the veins in my hands. Also, I’m having a resurgence of interest in, and time for, connecting with friends and making new ones, in going out and having fun, and even dating. Not that I get out much, certainly not on dates. I still feel that’s premature, as I am only five months a widow. But as I admitted to a friend and colleague a few weeks ago, I’ve been interested in dating for years, since before my husband got sick. When times were hard between us, and I wondered what the future would bring, whether our paths would stay aligned, I imagined what it would be like if I became single again. I thought I’d enjoy it very much–I’ve always got on well with men, found them easier, in many ways, less intimidating, more accepting and more open to in my style of communication than women.

Not that I ever cheated on my husband, or flirted, even. It was all in my mind. Nor was he unfaithful even through the hardest times, though he would flirt too, in an innocent way–more like being a good listener and making women feel important and worth conversing with. Once we were very secure in our relationship, after the first few years, I never had a problem with that, though I’d tease him at the way he’d get waitresses, church ladies, salespeople, older and younger women, listening to his every word. We talked about the temptations we began to have later, although I kept my confessions at a theoretical level. I had learned how tender and fearful he could be, how insecure, once by a strange circumstance, which I’ll describe below.

I was extremely careful with my attentions, assuming any man could, if I was not very careful, get the wrong idea. Even married men, even churchgoers, younger or older. Because of what my husband had shared about how most men think, and because so many times in the past I had naively pursued and nourished friendships with fellows I had no romantic interest in (but being more comfortable with guys), be my relaxed self, and end up receiving their amorous attentions and having to drop the friendship, not really knowing how to recover from that embarrassment. Though I learned to give hints that I was not interested in that way, which helped. Also, if in a relationship with someone, I was always very careful to be loyal to that person until we parted, and spend little time on other friendships with guys. Just so it was all very clear, because that’s what I would want.

Except that time, after holding out for months against the attentions of an extremely attractive grad student whose passions were, I think, further fired by my attempts to keep my distance and be faithful to my nice Christian boyfriend and my faith. Meanwhile, my secret passions  for him were fired by his respect for me, his self control, and deep, intellectual conversations over coffee in the graduate student bar. He’d found the surest way to win my heart, which he did fully and completely, and I apologized to my Christian boyfriend, confessed my weakness and decision, and soon brought the new fellow to my college Christian fellowship. He was only intellectually curious as wasn’t willing to take on the yoke, however, despite my explaining that I couldn’t get serious with a non-Christian. I refused to let the relationship proceed past the sex before marriage point, for example.

He was unphased, and would not give me up. I was conflicted (he wrote a poem about that, which I later destroyed, but still of which remember the final line). I’d bought tickets to Bruce Cockburn, and we argued about this during the show, with touches and kisses in the dark.

It didn’t help that the wife of the staff worker in our student fellowship, when I brought the fellow for the Friday night worship, sidled by me and said in a low voice, “Now that’s the kind of guy I used to go for!” I had given my ultimatum about the conditions of the continuance of our intimacy. He refused. We spent a glorious spring and summer traveling around Nova Scotia, sleeping at my insistence, in separate tents, surveying fields for drainage, and writing for various environmental projects. The separation didn’t last, as I couldn’t hold out any longer, and, whatever–he was worth it, I thought. Then he went to Dominica, and after being invited there and me paying for my ticket, he called me at work to read the breakup letter. I remember pain in my gut, clenched teeth, and curling up outside in a snow storm almost wanting to freeze to death. Whenever I thought of him for the next fifteen years, I pictured myself punching him in the gut. He probably would have taken it as his due. Apparently I was some kind of project or experiment, to see if he could get me to love him, and if he could love me. Always the gentleman, he confessed that he did, but also didn’t. Something about his heart having been broken previously.

For years, I didn’t know what I would do if I saw him again–would I punch him in the gut? II felt his presence everywhere, as if he was watching me. I imagined running into him on the bus, in a pub, even across the country when I moved there.

That was a relationship I had to talk about with my fiance (a committed Christian, intellectual, multitalented, and tall, dark, and handsome) as we worked through our pasts. Had I bonded with the gur? Was I over him? The fact that I still wanted to but punch him favored a no answer. Does one ever get over that kind of young love and heartbreak?

The other relationship of note–one realizes this after reflecting all these years–was a purer, chaster love, with a sweeter, more friendly attraction. That was the fellow I still call my first love. Had I not gone away on a six month cultural exchange and as a consequence been emotionally exhausted by the experience, we might still be together today. He was sad when I said I just couldn’t be with anyone, and he went in another direction, married a woman I didn’t know well, but liked and respected, and is a happy father of three boys, a teacher and basketball coach.

In some ways, I think I was too much for him–I’m too stubborn, maybe too sarcastic, too many ups and downs, him being sweet tempered and kind, very outgoing and social, but tender–I might have hurt him. The man I married was made of stronger stuff (as a mentor once told me American men are in comparison with Canadians; he said I should marry one, which I thought funny, as well as highly unlikely). So I think it’s just as well. But I still feel tenderness toward him, and always will. I finally let myself look him up online, and there he was, handsome and smiling as ever, and I was sorely tempted to send a friend request! Didn’t seem like a good idea., though I wish I hadn’t sent back the mementos I had from him (which I did when I got engaged). I fancy that he can’t trust himself to friend request me either, for I’m easy to find and he may have checked. We had that kind of parting.

My husband wasn’t as concerned about that fellow, it not having been a consummated relationship. He had the wrong idea about that, but oh well. I’m glad he didn’t worry.

It was strange for me finding out what did worry him. When I caught a ride to my daughter’s fifth grade multi-day trip to the mountains with a divorced dad of her classmate, I didn’t think anything of it. We chatted there and back, and that was that. But when I casually mentioned the drive to my husband, I found out about the tender insecurities in the heart of my otherwise extremely confident, unselfconscious mate. I had to reassure him over and over that there had been nothing, nothing! of any concern, and make sure he believed it. So when I actually did feel attractions, my thoughts remained my thoughts, and I would never hurt him with them, and certainly would never betray him with actions. Over the years of our marriage I’ve had at least as many crushes as the next woman. As my mother, for example, who was fond of mentioning hers, for example.

I feel like my secret attractions helped, in a way, as they had a way of spicing things up in our bedroom, without his even knowing why. And if it was the same for him, I forgive him–whatever! Some might say those are emotional affairs, and just as harmful, but I disagree. Iit’s not as if any were based on an actual relationships, only thoughts, never communicated to the men in question. I was always relieved when an attraction, fizzled, anyway–it’s not as if I wanted to be attracted to anyone but my husband, especially anyone I’d see regularly. And although our marital passions were mellower after over twenty years of marriage, they were still there for both of us, along with all the familiarity and companionship, such as it was, and never perfect. One can never appreciate enough the miracle of another mortal, let alone one’s chosen mate, one realizes after losing one.

Mark, I feel your kindliness toward me, your understanding and releasing me into my new life. It’s not you who’s holding me back. Our children seem okay with the idea of me dating too. I’m just really enjoying my independence, honey, and you know that about me. I love making decisions without consulting anyone, love having all this margin in my days to go out and do whatever I have time and energy for. And also, I want to honor you to your family and not minimize the significance of your presence in my life, to honor your memory. They’re in a different position in relation to you than I, they have different personalities, and their bereavement is different than mine. But they also don’t want me to be lonely, and might think I “need” someone, which I don’t think I do,or not specifically a man. I need people, co-workers, friends, and close friends, as well as people to serve and care for. I’m of two minds, yes–I want to flirt, date, party, be pursued, but I also want to stay free. Freedom and opportunity–two of my most important values, as I told you, when you asked.

 

They is us.

I didn’t get a tree this year, nor am I hanging up stockings. I am at peace, my remaining son at home is at peace. I’ve strung light over the living room windows and across the mantle, and that is enough. There’s a gas fire to sit by, for now, which, with the fatigue from a full day at a job I enjoy, is all the atmosphere I need in the evenings. Weekends I go for a long walk, run, or bike to the coffee shop and do a little reading and writing, enjoy my latte in a mug and the view of the water.

Last week as I was perusing the shrunken local paper, mostly devoid of local news, a man at the table next to me and I fell to talking, and by the end of the conversation, which came about because, as I see it, he had no wish to make an ongoing human connection, I had heard most of the story of his career and life history. I have no reason to be skeptical of it, other than that he told it so freely, which is unusual, as the only opening to the conversation was his jesting that he had to leave from  the table because he didn’t like to be so near a story about Trump.

He told me was the son of Japanese immigrants who had lost their farm to the war and internment, who had then brought up their son as a field worker alongside them, the only Asians among Latino migrant workers. His family moved to successively larger communities, and he came to be the only one of five who went on to college from his small high school in California. He studied agriculture, then switched to medicine, becoming eventually the head of a pulmonary care unit in a large hospital, bringing it into the top ranks of care and then going on to manage many other units and train others to do the same. He said he was semi-retired and had circumnavigated the Puget Sound area and found he enjoyed this town in which he found this particular coffee shop.

He still felt like an outsider, he said, being Asian in a mainly non-Asian community. I suggested that although there was a genetically derived predisposition in folks to distinguish “us” versus “them” by physical attributes, those distinctions could be largely forgotten as relationships developed on the human social plane. He was skeptical.

We spoke a little of my life history, of my early adult plan to be a an apologist and discipler for Christ among university students, then marrying, raising four children, homeschooling, and spending two and a half years living in Israel as a family. How we had raised our children with a pattern of critical thinking, questioning, always learning, and experiencing life in different cultures as we were able. He commended me for this, and highlighted the value in a continued relationship with my adult children as they made their way in the world and tried to discern what was good and meaningful and how to build a life. I tried to draw a connection between the way my adult sons, especially, enjoy a good debate, and the way “his “guys”, as he called them, would get together to debate and argue. he said it was in the [male] genes. That rang the usual off key jarring note for me. I have so often felt “other” as a woman who wants to engage with ideas, argue and debate from a position of emotional detachment. I said so, and explained that my late husband and I had found through the Meyers Briggs typing system that he, apparently, is a type that was 95% women, and I was a type that was 95% men. The coffee shop acquaintance was skeptical, and even took a slightly patronizing tone, as if I couldn’t understand such things, really. Which, though it irked me at the time, is no doubt true, as in the same way, he could never understand my things. All in the natural order/disorder, I suppose, one of the spices of life, like some women being able to beat some men in arm wrestling.

Yet I said my sons would enjoy talking with him. He was gone within minutes of that. By edging around the boundaries of a conversation that was intended as a random positive encounter between strangers, I was at risk of opening the possibility for connection and complication. I felt that, and my habit is usually to leave it that way, just enjoy the hit-and-run, no real responsibility, clean-cut moments that simply add interest to life–bloggable moments, if you will. But I have also felt an instinct to build bridges, especially where there are none of the usual kind, and one could only imagine, and guess and check, how they might proceed, and whether they may bring regrets. I will sometimes succeed.

My friend, when I texted a brief synopsis to her later, asked if he was handsome. I laughed, thinking, not unnaturally: definitely not–he was short, of slight build, and Japanese with a scraggly beard. My idea of Other. But that’s not how I put it into words, becasue I really didn’t want to package things up in that box.

Not an encounter of that type, I said, feeling guilty for my basic instincts, wondering how they may limit my options of happiness, and wondering if my idea of a mate might take new directions, based on something more lofty and soulful than it is now.

 

Open Face #1

I hope that librarian I like will come into the coffee shop after she locks up her bicycle — it seems the right time to introduce ourselves.

The fact that it didn’t turn out to be her after all, though same height, kinky sand-colored hair, and glasses, leaves me just wondering why is she a person I would just go up to, after years of brief encounters at the library, mostly just as I passed with by empty book bag into the stacks, or with my pile on the way to the electronic self-check, to say, hello, I wanted to say hello and have a chat, if you don’t mind. I’ve always been curious about you.

Selfish, of course, because I discerned, I think rightly, that she, with her pleasant, intelligent smile, and vibes, even, has sent the message, for many years, “Nice to see you getting books. I love books, too.” I sensed appreciation, and I do like to be appreciated. I venture to admit that it could be my raison d’existence, and hope that the end justifies the means, as my modus operandi is pretty much socially acceptable.

There’s also her intonation. Can’t describe it — I’m not good with sound and rhythm words—but there was a kind of sonic connection that could be derived from an extended phenotype and/or set of values we both share. Care of articulation, quietly animated tone, warmth, a subdued excitement that is the theme of our small city. I think it would be a good conversation. Over a warm drink and with a silver-blue bay stretching out between us and the mounts of Lummi Island.

There will be other days to make a new friend. It’s an especially good season for that, and I am bursting with an especially hopeful and open sense of anticipation. Can you feel it?

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2018 in Relationships

 

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A podcast Idea: Two old friends reunited

A few years ago I tried to look up an old college friend, AK, searched online and came upon her husband’s obituary. She lost him to cancer, she and their four children about the ages of our four. I had spoken to her only a few times and exchanged a few letters since their wedding a year after ours, and then, flash! So much living and then his death, and life still goes on. What must that be like, to lose one’s partner and have to raise children alone. Though she has a loving and large family around to lean on.

The obituary was posted as a closing piece on his blog. It was correct and appropriate, befitting his role as Anglican priest, but did not remind me of the young man I’d known. But who was he, really, and who am I to say the “real” JW was just that laughing, fun-loving curly-headed housemate that kept the heat too high in his basement bedroom and came up for food and laughter now and then. He was highly intelligent, Oxford classics scholar material for sure, but I was surprised when I heard he was going for the priesthood. The college we attended had full high Anglican chapel services several times a day, complete with fat priest who spoke with an imitation English accent while waving the incense thingamajig solemnly. JW had a beautiful, deep speaking and singing voice, though I know he would never use it to put on airs. Even when intoning on a serious subject, with us it always seemed to be a prelude to a crackup or digression into a Monty Python skit. He’d double up his spider-thin body and shake helplessly with laughter when we got going on this or that imitation or parody. Being goofy was such an important part of stress relief during exams and through that long, dark, slushy winter. For some reason we got into sound plays, which I’d record on cassette, complete with sound effects and voices. I found a recording which I plan to send to the family, featuring both JW and me doing a skit, and AK and me interviewing late night party lingerers about life, the universe, and not much of anything. We lit a fire in the fireplace of our gigantic Victorian living room, which had so little furniture, served peanuts in the shell, allowing the guests to throw the husks on the floor to add crunch to our movements.

AK, proper and devout, the oldest of five and by all accounts the responsible one, with a love of honest engagement, deep conversations, the occasional glass of wine, a commitment to seek God and follow Jesus, and a willingness to dance up a storm with me when the weekend came. She was ever kind and patient with me, accepting of my lack of orthodoxy, always finding something valuable in my attempts to articulate meaning, laughing at my jokes, praying for me a good deal more for me than she let on, I’m sure, as I stumbled through relationships and tried to stay on track with my studies and life. I strayed a lot, and she became a kind of shepherdess to me, by coming into my pastures instead of trying to hook me into hers. She was a true friend to me. We kept in touch after graduating, visited few times, and she was maid of honor at my wedding. I soon got the invitation to her wedding, and it’s a mark of my relational near sightedness that I hadn’t seen the match coming between her and JW, though I knew there was something there at times between them. I guess I didn’t listen very well, just wrote him off as the funnest kind of friend but not the marrying kind. Which worked out well for all of us anyway. JW and I made goofy tape recordings, he being the natural comic and I goading him on and doing sound effects, and during the other hours she and he were falling in love.

We drove over the mountains with our baby son to attend the wedding. I knew it would be a busy day, and I do hate to be in the way, so I didn’t get in touch with AK or her family. It was a lovely wedding–everyone was radiant and the flowers and homily and setting were superb, lots of guests from the upper echelon, her three lovely sisters as bridesmaids and brother ans groomsman, and was that the youngest sister with the buzz cut? Afterward we went the few blocks to the hall where the invitation-only reception was to take place–such an elegant room of well appointed tables, each with shining tableware and printed name cards. We went along the first edge reading these, and suddenly I was filled with self doubt and anticipated humiliation as I pictured not finding our names anywhere and having to slink away. Meanwhile was thinking I’m not dressed nice enough, and I don’t belong here, and I got a lump in my throat and dragged my husband out protesting and told him I didn’t think we were even invited–it was invitation only and I didn’t have one with me, and let’s get out of here, and let’s just go to the evening get together at the family’s house. None of his protests would budge me, nor his offer to go scouting for our names.

This is a hard memory for me, as is the memory of our conversation with AK that evening as she greeted us with tears of welcome, wondering where we had been. I explained my confusion, and saw that it upset her–she said how could I think we weren’t invited–I was one of her most honored guests. I was so embarrassed, and my husband was saying I told you so, and AK had been planning to say a few words about our friendship.

I don’t know why, but I get the wrong idea lots of times about my role in others’ lives, sometimes feeling so much an outsider, other times not noticing I am being welcomed in. So I err on the side of staying out of the way, assuming I’m not wanted or important, and would only be in the way. A holdover from really being in the way as a middle child, my mother always caring for younger ones and older ones doing their own things, my father being mobbed by everyone when he got home and just wanting to have a quite read or at least visit with one at a time.

In academics, topical discussions, or my profession, it’s different—I go boldly and feel confident, knowing my role and prerequisite skills, forgiving myself when I mess up, and feeling I have a reasonably balanced sense of ego. In friendships it’s different, and it takes me a long time to feel secure, and I find it difficult to do the work I need to do to maintain friendships from my end. So you see why all of my true friends have a lot of patience, and don’t assume that because I haven’t said anything to them in months that I do not value them. I really have to work on this fear of rejection or marginalization. Comes out most in informal group settings, when I really don’t know who I want to be in relation to, well, so many unique individuals, and why might what I’d say to one be appropriate for another? I’m not much good an breaking ice or small talk either, and tend to get impatient when no one broaches anything complex or debatable or asks sincere questions about things they’d like to learn. If most of my local family had any taste for alcohol and I enjoyed the occasional social drink, I suppose I’d still be using alcohol on occasion to help me with my social inhibitions, as I did in my first few years of college. Then I rededicated my life to God, and it became preferable to “get drunk on the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit may be empowering, but doesn’t make up for a lack of social graces.

I tried again to reach her this moth, after the death of my husband, and as I waited to see if she’d get the email I sent to what seemed to still be her place of work, I reflected on the similarity of our places in life–both of us teachers, both with fours children grown or almost grown, having lost husbands to cancer. My mind wandered into the prospect of going to visit her in Alberta next summer and taking a trip together, and making our conversations in to a podcast. Because along with the similar experiences, I was sure that there would be some very different points of view to discuss. I had given up efforts to be religious, while I was sure she had not. What would she think of that?

About a week later she replied, with comfort and sweetness, and a religious take on how I could best orient myself in the grieving process. I did not relate, though the words were very familiar. Jesus, well acquainted with grief. But his grief, I think wasn’t about loved ones dying to much as powerful people blocking others’ path to God. I guess we’d talk about that in the podcast.

But we’d start with our childhoods—a study in certain similarities and other contrast. Then college, same there. Then marrying and raising children, teaching, and having our husbands die. I think it could be an interesting show, and I might just propose it.

 
 

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Temptations, Resolutions

I shall address this to you, DD, because I need to feel I am writing to a woman friend this time, and you have proved to be someone who allows our friendship to survive, even thrive, on truth telling. Like when I told you that I am filled with frivolous, selfish desires after the death of my husband, rather than weighty, somber pearls of wisdom won through suffering. How although I had been growing through the demands of loving service, now, with the whole horizon there open before me, and no one of whom to ask leave, I feel giddy, and eager to plunge into any number of endeavors. Such as choosing my home decor, expanding the garden, traveling, organizing my business and publication ideas, and hosting bonfires with strung lights and guitar playing.

I told you I want to keep growing, not descend into a second adolescence. So help me God, I said, I might need to suffer more, because other than mourning my husband, whom I loved, and mourning for our children, who will no longer have a father, I have it easy. He provided well for us, I have a meaningful job that suits me, a nice little house, good friends, family, and interesting prospects. I have lots of time, relatively, to write, could join a book or writer’s group, could do my Master’s degree, could try that business dream.

You told me I could do no wrong, because I am the grieving widow. Though I appreciated the grace extended, I objected on the basis that one’s duty is always to consider others, even in difficult circumstances. No excuses. I made the same argument to a friend who told my husband to disregard others’ needs and focus on his own as a man with a terminal diagnosis. I told him he still had to be nice, at least in order get better care. People have to feel appreciated. He accepted that, as it fit into his life-long drive to grow and become more like Christ. He had visitor after visitor, and nurses and physicians assistants, go away feeling appreciated and encouraged. They told me so. It was a pleasure and an privilege to be his caregiver in the last months, he was so tender and kind.

I want to honor Mark’s memory, spend time properly aware of the loss of his life with us, and the hope that he is continuing some kind of even more meaningful existence in another dimension. I sense he has been lingering in some way with the family he loves, and even checking on us. In my case, through visitations from hummingbirds, and in dreams. My daughter also dreams in that way.

I have been warned that grief takes many forms and happens on different time tables, and the fact that I feel peace, calm, and even happiness, not despair, depression, anger, or a sense of loss and loneliness, does not mean something more intense won’t arise in my emotions and/or body. I want to stay in tune, and allow the process to unfold, as well as be a support to my kids as they walk this road.

So I will do my best to resist these worldly temptations. I asked my kids to keep an eye on me in case I move to make any big decisions this year, as some kind of distraction, release, or suppression of feelings. Though I release myself to be creative with my hands and words on a small scale, to stay physically fit, to build my relationships, to have fun with my kids and extended family.

Early on, I researched houses I could buy and fix up, ways I could add on to my house, and car sales (I would trade in two for one to consolidate–maybe a small truck or VW Westfalia for the trips I wanted to take?). I bought a few new clothes. I started having a nightcap some evenings. I watched two to three episodes of Grand Hotel a night in bed. And I looked up my first love on FaceBook. He’s still the same handsome, smiling guy I fell in love with my second year of college.

I was surprised at myself—usually, in my own estimation, a level headed person. It’s not that I have felt needy; it’s been a rich time of connection with friends, and with my husband, albeit in a new way. He and I related more as friends, without the pressure of other duties. And it was a relief, not a disappointment, to not be pursued sexually by him for a while. A story related to that: He was in his wheelchair in preparation for going to the hospital for a procedure, and I was bent down putting his slippers on, and showing a lot of my cleavage (such as  it is). His cancer was advanced month, and his high potassium levels were beginning to cause some delirium and odd thought patterns. As he sat, He looked down my top, as he had always done, but this time said, “I don’t know what it was about breasts–why they were so popular…”. And we shared a laugh. He also said, “Women smell so nice.”

I’ll work, come home at a reasonable time, take it easy. See how things go, behave myself. I do feel the seasons changing, and that things will be getting stormy soon.

 

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“There are no words…” is not a comfort to me, if I take it literally.

I’m getting a lot of words drafted, but not ready to post any of it, so just a few: My husband died a month ago. We are processing, as we were when he got his diagnosis seven months ago–yes, it was a gradual thing, though not drawn out. His goodbye week was very precious, his death was peaceful and attended by me and his parents. It happened hours after we had him transported to our hospice house, where I was to stay with him and get some rest while he was attended by skilled workers. He was eating and drinking until the last day, though and enjoying time with his loved ones. He started slipping away while we were in the garden. He had reassurances from me that we all loved him a whole lot and that we all knew he loved us a whole lot, and that he’d given us a tremendous lot. And that we’d be okay, and understood if he had to go soon. We wept, comforted each other, and then bathed him and said farewell to his remains. They are now  only ash minerals, in a heavy box by my bed.

We his family planned the memorial service and spoke about him, prayed, reflected, sang Be Thou My Vision, range a bell three times, projected a slide show. Lots of friends helped, as they had been doing in the previous months. My house is full of flowers and cards, and my freezer is full of food. The sweet peas outside our bedroom window that provided fragrant bouquets all summer are going to seed, producing a thousandfold what I planted.

One of the emails I received back from the death announcement I sent out read, “There are no words.” This struck me as standard polite lies. How the hell would I be able to gone if there really were no words?

But I thank you for your patience while I arrange them carefully.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2018 in Places & Experiences, Relationships

 

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Bereavement can be a gradual thing

Is this a frog in a slowly heating pot scenario? If so, ithat’s not always a bad thing. When there’s a necessity of radical change to avert disaster, such as climate change, the frog dies a stupid death. But if something has to die, if death is coming slowly closer just because it’s natural and inevitable, well then, let’s not have any shocks along the way; let’s splash around, enjoy the view through the beaker glass, and hardly feel those nerves as they cook and shut down.

Sometimes I stand back and observe myself in action, amazed. I putter in the kitchen or garden, joke with one of my kids, get irritated at a mess on the counter, post a photo online, respond to my husband calling, plunk down to chat with him, check to see whether he wants his pain meds on time, rub some essential oil onto his tailbone, all normal-like. There I am, in the moment, as if nothing unusual is going on. I receive visitors and care givers, arrange hospital visits, make up to-do and grocery lists, take my son to drum lessons, and go to bed with my husband at night. We adjust without noticing to an infinitesimally shifted normal each day. It only seems shocking and surreal if we compare our life now to a few short months ago, when my husband weighed sixty pounds more and was concerned with work, the games on TV, the newest iPhone, and trying to get the kids out skiing more, wondering how our oldest was doing in his final year of college. And staying awake to welcome me into bed at night with more than a bony, hand extended hand and a sleepy “I love you” before dropping off to a fitful sleep.

The last few days the neighbors and we have been painting our new shared fence, the one that my husband built last year, with sealer. I’m thankful the neighbor is driving this project—I wouldn’t have had the gumption, but do enjoy seeing the progress and being able to offer our youngest son some paid work. Other projects will be picked up in the wake of this—finishing the top of the new retaining wall my husband built, improving the soil by the fence, and planting some nice shrubs and flowers–some daisies, foxgloves, currant bushes, maybe strawberries to hang down by the hot tub my husband installed less than a year ago. There are the trees to prune, and next year’s…next year’s compost pile to layer up. Berries to freeze for the new year, canning and picking for the future. The future will come, and be full of more ordinary moments. Right?

Things will change soon, though–the water temperature will jump and we’ll feel it. My husband’s body continues to lose the battle to pancreatic cancer, despite his belief that he is getting better. I’m trying to prepare, trying to help the kids, and my husband, prepare, but it’s my first time with this, and I don’t know what I don’t know. I try to learn as much as I can, stay level headed, ’cause that’s what I do, as an Enneagram Type 5, but there’s no way to preview what’s about to happen, when, how quickly, or how each of us–wife, children, parents, siblings, and friends, will go through our grieving process.

 

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