Friday, July 16, 2021

One Year

 July 16, one year ago today my life changed forever.  There have been days that I didn't think I could go on and days I wished I wouldn't.  Part of me left with Rick, maybe he didn't mean to take it with him, but he did.  

All has changed, nothing has changed.  I'm keeping the farm the way he wanted, the dogs are fine, the chickens are happy.  It has been a cooler wetter than normal summer.  That means some crops have thrived some have not.  The blueberries were the tastiest ever and the hens are laying like crazy.

I almost see him sometimes out of the corner of my eye, I feel him daily.  I hear his voice urging me on, saying you can do this.  

I am finding my way, I have stumbled blindly so many times and fallen.  I find the strength to get back up, though it takes awhile and there is nothing easy about it.  The love and support of friends and family has been my fuel, without them, without his voice in the back of my head the will to live would have withered.

Today there is weed eating to be done,  the chicken pen/house has to be cleaned.  I slept very little last night, but all through the darkness, his voice was there for comfort, "you can do this."  Before I go to sleep tonight, there is one more thing that will have to be done...I am picking up my guitar for the very first time since he left and just for him I am singing a song.  That's my gift for him on this unwanted anniversary.

I think of the phrase he told everyone he met... How you doing, they would say?  and his answer..".I am living the dream."  We had an incredible dream together, I am left with the fragments but somehow some way, I am putting them back together and adding new parts.    Nothing will ever be the same,  but my answer now for that same question,  How you doing?...."I'm ok."   

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

4th of July

 July has arrived, on the 16th of this month a year will have passed since Rick died.  It seems like yesterday, it feels like forever.

The Fourth of July was our last holiday to celebrate, who knew in 12 days he would be dead?

His sister, Mary Lois invited me to her daughter's house for the holiday.  My nephew Haven invited me to his house.  I chose to stay home alone.  I got up that morning, feeling a kind of sacredness and a realization of the difference between lonesome and loneliness.  For me, I will always be lonesome because I miss him so much.  But I am not lonely.  Keeping this farm going, friends calling and visiting, daily chores,  still sorting out my life has kept the loneliness at bay.  But missing him...how I miss him.

On Monday, the 4th I decided to take a leap of faith, a giant one.  I got out my paints and canvas and started to paint.  Other than my cards, I had not painted since his death.  Deciding on a subject to paint was easy, I had taken a photograph of flowers in the kitchen window a couple of months before he died.

He loved the photograph and kept asking me to paint it.  I did do a small water color card of the image, but me being my usual self critical self did not believe him when he told me he liked it.  I wish that I  could have bottled his confidence in my art and drank a sip every day.

So with a prayer to Rick, I sketched out the canvas with the image from the photo, but I added something that I did not capture with the camera.  I added my broken heart.  Tears and paint cover that canvas, but something happened to me as the salt and acrylic blended.  I felt at peace with myself and love from Rick.

I knew that for creativity to come back to me,  I couldn't push or force, it would come when the time was right.  I still have not picked up the guitar, but I now know, that too will come when the time is right.

This grief process is  not for the impatient.  Sure you can push it to the bottom of your soul, but I can assure you it will fester and come out in ways you never expected or might not recognize.  I didn't deal with the grief of my parents or my brother and my body and heart taught me how powerful and destructive unrecognized grief can be.

So in a very unusual way,  Independence Day brought me my independence and started the loosening of the chains on my creativity.  My celebration was not the average one, but it was the celebration I sought and needed.

There are two photos with this blog this morning, the original one I took of my kitchen window and the painting.  Fireworks of my own making.




Sunday, June 27, 2021

This Morning

 I awoke this morning with a heart overflowing with gratitude.  I was thinking of friends  and family members who have stood the test of time with me these last eleven months.  Some of them pulled me from the depths of darkness and never knew it.  I can't remember a morning since Rick died that I have not cried .  Many who grieve tell me the nights are the worst, and I agree nights are tough.  But for me, mornings are the toughest.  I have never liked Daylight Savings time, but now I dislike it even more.  The evenings drag on forever, the sunsets seem to hide on purpose waiting until I am coming out of my skin before they show their color and the stars take over the skies.  

There is something about night that allows me to breathe a sigh of relief.  I have made it through another day.  I might cry myself to sleep, I might toss and turn but I know the sun will rise tomorrow.

And then tomorrow comes.  The mornings were when we planned our day.  When we talked about about serious stuff, fluff, nothing and everything and tossed around ideas for columns and our blogs, as we drank our morning coffee.  We would sit on the deck or the screened porch,  if the weather gods were in our favor.  I would often chastise him about his phone, because even then it was in his hands, but that was Rick and for whatever the reason, he wanted to be connected 24/7.  We would pet the dogs, talk about how we lived in a piece of heaven and discuss breakfast, and listen to the hens cluck.  The mornings were sacred and we would both be a bit out of sorts if something robbed us of that time. 

So this morning before I looked at my phone, I spent some time sending love to those who have gone through this hard season with me.  I carry all of you in my heart, like tokens and charms of love and kindness.  Sometimes I call your names and see your faces, almost able to physically touch each one like a prayer bead.

When I did look at my phone, I laughed and cried.  My nephew James, the publisher of our daily paper and one of the papers that Rick wrote for had tagged me in a FB post.  Last night at the Alabama Press Association Awards, one of Rick's columns that he wrote for a paper in Birmingham, 280 Living, won first place for best humorous column.  Rick would be beside himself with joy.  Winning that award was something he had strived for.  I hope he is somewhere this morning drinking champagne and laughing, because that is what we would have done today.  Congratulations Babe, I kept telling you it would happen!  This morning just got better.


 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Summer's First


 She is the first for the summer of 2021.  I fell in love with gardenias as a child.  My grandmother Mamie had them in her flower garden.  Each time I smell that rich sweet, yet earthy fragrance I feel a beckoning. I think the scent is like the siren's call, reminding me summer is here, enjoy its bounty.  The purity of those white petals against the  malachite of her leaves gives me indescribable joy.  When I saw this first blossom on Monday by my grill, my first thought was of Rick.  I think he sent me a gift, because so far there are no other blossoms, plenty of buds, but no other blooms.

Every summer, I fill the house with gardenia blossoms.  She makes the heat and humidity of summer tolerable.  There are a least a dozen bushes on the farm.  Most are taller than me, some have the circumference of my Outback.  Some years the flowers are small, but if this first one is any indication of this year, they are going to be large.

Our friends, Keith and Roberta's wedding was one of those wonderful memories forever etched in my brain.  Rick and I were in the wedding party, we took the photographs, it was the day before my birthday and it was in NYC.  They had gardenia bushes in full bloom for their flowers.  Not sure where they got them in March, in NYC but I think of their wedding and the happiness we all shared when I see gardenias.

The temps are rising, so is the humidity.  There is rain this morning and for most of the week. But the gardenias will bloom and as nature has shown me so many times since Rick has died, life goes on.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Solitude

 " Blessed are those who do not fear solitude, who are not afraid of their own company, who are not always desperately looking for something to do, something to amuse themselves with, something to judge. If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself."  -Paulo Coelho

A friend sent this quote to me this morning and I smiled.  I believe in synchronicity.  I have been thinking for the past couple of weeks how being alone during the pandemic with my grief has been a gift.

It's been ten months now since Rick died.   Three, almost four seasons have passed and each has brought endings, beginnings, darkness and light.  Those first few weeks after that horrible night were hot and oppressive.  The shock and knowledge of tasks that had to be done, completions of projects he had started, moved me forward in a weird slow motion .  It was mid-July, all around the pandemic was hitting its stride and other than phone calls, emails, cards and messages the outside world had disappeared for me.  My brother and his wife, their daughter and grandson who lived with them became the only humans that I saw on a regular basis and even that was social distanced.

There were some projects on the farm he had started that I couldn't do by myself, but with the help of a couple of friends,  and my nephew they were  completed.  I spent most days on the phone those first couple of blistering hot months taking care of the business that a spouse gone suddenly left  behind. 

I was beginning to understand grief.  I had buried my parents and an older brother, but I pushed my grief far  down into the recesses of my heart, went back to work and tried to understand when unexplained tears came.  But this isolation,  taking care of business, maintaining the farm and the hours of being alone day after day made me face my grief for Rick, made me acknowledge how I dealt with pain, sadness, exhaustion and who I was.

Fall brought comfort yet  deep grief as well.  The blue skies, the changing of the leaves and cooler temps brought with them memories of how much Rick loved fall, but how much I loved it as well.  Walking through the crunch of brown leaves,  the geese arriving at a nearby pond and deer walking by my front windows triggered sobbing and wailing that I had never experienced before.  Being alone,  I made myself find gratitude even when my face was buried in a pillow wet with tears.

Winter and its starkness and grey skies gave me a different perspective on holidays.  Not being with friends and family, not pushing through  each holiday trying to hold on to old traditions,  I began to understand what was important to me.  It was not being in a house full of people, opening gifts, and yet never really connecting with anyone, what did matter was wishing peace to all those I loved, blessings of good health and joy and how wonderful a fire was on cold winter night or the sweetness of a cup of hot tea or cocoa.  Those surprises of handmade gifts that appeared in the mail, roses that appeared out of the blue, a painting that sits on my mantle. The bare trees gave me a strange connection to grief.  I felt the loss of all those leaves that  had fallen and yet I knew the trees would see leaves again in the spring.  Nature brought me memories of Rick, and all that time alone gave me the gift of fully grieving my loss.

Spring brought a cruelness I did not expect.  I had anticipated new beginnings, the excitement of renewal.  The clear blue skies and the explosion of new growth made me angry and sad.  I had spent the holidays and his birthday alone, for some reason I had not given much thought to being alone for my birthday and when it arrived in March, along with forsythia and violets and honeysuckle and green leaves it hit hard.  I realized the grief still lurked in every cell of my body, waiting for each opportunity to stab a bit more.

My fellow widow friends tell me this year of firsts is the worst.  The firsts are not always the big ones you expect either.  It's the first cup of coffee without him, the first meal you cook, the first hummingbird you see, the first snowflake, the first ripe blueberry, the first time you get sick and realize you are alone and the dogs are not very sympathetic.

I made it through what would have been our 47th anniversary on May 5th.  On July 16th I will face the anniversary of his death.

So here is what I have learned about myself during all this time alone.  I have faced grief head on, and though there were times I wish it had killed me, it didn't.  Other cultures deal with grief differently, I think most of us deal with it as I had in the past.   We were sad, we cried some tears and hurt, yet we forced ourselves to continue life as usual.  For me, grief in the pandemic has been a sacred ritual, a cleansing of my mind, and spirit.  I know what is important to me and what isn't, that working to the point of exhaustion  brings sleep when nothing else will,   I have learned to let tears flow freely, that it's ok to experience anger and fear and that breathing always helps.  Being alone has made me much less tolerant of BS, much less tolerant of hate, and very much aware of how loss and suffering have come to so many since 2019.   

My wish for myself and all of you continues to be peace and good health.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

April 1


 March came in like a lion and pretty much behaved that way towards me the whole time she stayed. April 1, today is beautiful and cold, we will see what she brings.

Losing Taz at the beginning of the month was a true heartbreaker for me, but I got my first vaccine that next week, I felt hopeful.

My friends in the widow's club had urged me to prepare for all these firsts, this first year of widowhood.

I was ready when Rick's birthday came in January and  I faced Valentine's Day bravely.  For some reason I had given no thought to  my birthday in March.  That first birthday alone knocked the wind out of my sails.  I was not ready to face my 69th birthday alone.  There were calls, and cards and messages, but it was a very difficult day.

As often happens we had violent weather in March, my chicken house flooded twice, a massive tree fell on my backyard fence, limbs fell on the chicken pen.  I was lucky, many across the state lost their homes, some lost their lives.  Rick loved spring, but I have always faced it with a bit of fear and lots of respect because we live in a tornado alley.  Being alone with the dogs as warnings came was frightening.

Unexpected repairs cropped up in March along with vet bills, and as Rick would say, life happens.

Another first I had not given much thought about, taxes.  For most of our married life, I had paid the bills, but he always handled the taxes.  Suddenly I was faced with personal taxes and his business taxes to sort. Panic and anxiety raised their ugly faces.

March/spring always brought excitement because we/I live on a farm.  Lots of physical work (added to what is done daily) plans for the growing season,  and routine maintenance. I pruned fruit trees, readied growing beds, mulched blueberry bushes, and I have learned to operate our John Deere mower.  I admit, I am in even better shape than I was when I taught 12 to 15 yoga classes weekly.

The scariest part about March, I found myself becoming a procrastinator.  That has never been a part of my personality but it has surfaced and now I find myself pushing to take care  of things that have to be done.    

It has been 8 months since Rick died and there are still days I find myself on the sofa sobbing.   It's not the work or living alone that gets me, it is the sheer emptiness of not having him  here.  I am reminded daily of the hole. Seeing the first hummingbird, the first dandelion, the fruit trees blooming, the first butterfly or bee has been gut wrenching, because those were moments we delighted in together.  The Sipsey River has been at a record crest this week and each time I drove by I looked the other way.  He would have been there taking pictures.

I write these blogs, not for sympathy but in hopes that as others join this club I can help them navigate their path and transformation.  I knew many widows, friends and family.  I knew their hearts were broken with their loss, but none of them ( at least not to me) talked about what it was really like to lose that spouse or partner.    I try to paint an honest and open picture of how my life has changed, my transformation since day one.

I get my second vaccination next week, I hope April is kind, to me and to all of you.  I hope it is a very long time before you become a club member.

PS. the photo is my wildflower garden

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Story of Taz

 She came to us on a frigid February night, a scratching on the door so faint, we thought it might  be the wind.  But the scratch became frantic and when I opened the front door, there she sat.  She was a little fur ball the size of a five pound bag of sugar, shivering in the cold darkness.  I brought her in, wrapped her in my warm fuzzy robe and fixed her some food.  She gulped the food, and inhaled a small bowl of water.

I made her a warm bed in front of the fireplace.  We went to bed and minutes later I felt something on my feet.  She had somehow jumped onto our bed and found the place she would be for the rest of her life.

We named her Taz and she created her place with Caliou  and in our hearts.   As most dogs who appear at our door, she had some serious health issues, but we have a good vet and as Rick always said with each dog that appeared and we wrote the vet a check,  we didn't really need to go on vacation anyway.

She bonded with me.  I think because we both had an intense love for fine leather shoes.  She never chewed my shoes, but she would go to my closet and pick out the finest leather, bring it to the sofa and sleep with it.  You could hear these soft little moans of love for the smell and the feel of the leather.  Her biggest delight and greatest joy was when she dragged a 30 year old pair of knee high Gucci boots onto the couch.  

Taz arrived during the midst of some treatments I was receiving and after each one, when I would be so ill, she would curl up beside me on the sofa, never leaving me, even when my head  seemed to stay in a waste basket for hours heaving.  Rick always said she was a gift and he was right.

After Rick died in July, she truly became my shadow, never letting me out of her sight.  If I left to pick up groceries or supplies she met me at the door. I would pick her up and tell her I would always be there for her, I would never leave her.  At night, just as she had since the night she arrived, she slept with me.

I knew she was was aging, that is the heartbreaker about loving dogs, their time is so short with us.

In February when the snow and ice came, she struggled with our daily walks to the barn.  Her breathing was starting to be more labored.  I knew there was heart and lung damage from all those years ago, and I made sure every day I told her how much she meant to me, how much I loved and needed her.

The first week of March, breathing became difficult and I took her to the vet.  I was fearing the worst, and it was not good but we had hopes with the right meds her little heart might beat awhile longer.

On March 4, at 1:15 am she woke me up, she wanted to go outside so we did and she walked around the back yard one last time.  We came back into the house and around 3:30 that little tiny heart that was so big, beat for the last time.

I have grieved deeply for her.  I look for her everywhere,  and now not only do I reach for Rick at night, but Taz as well.  The big dogs, Kodak and Hook miss her too.  But Rick and I talked often about the aging process of humans and dogs and we had decided months before he died that Kodak would be the last rescue.  It takes tremendous resources to take in rescues, it's expensive ( they always have health issues, usually serious ones) and the bond that forms is unconditional love on their part and gratitude and love on the human part. 

Love on any level comes with a price and sacrifice.  Whether it is for another human or a creature, to love with all your heart means if you live long enough, that heart will be broken.  But what can I tell you, lasting love is so worth it.

RIP  Taz.