When Your Number Comes Up

My husband, Jerry, was a fan of numerology, a “science” like astrology, which goes all the way back to Pythagoras. Proponents believe numbers can affect personality or events. There is no evidence to support that idea, but it’s fun to think about. It’s like magic: a random number can have an influence on some aspect of our life, all of which is out of our control. Who doesn’t love the mystery of magic?

            Jerry’s favorite numbers were: 1, 11, 22, 28, 39 and 1959, and probably some others. I don’t think he ever played them in the lottery, although I encouraged him to. I would have liked to see them come up. His numbers were based on dates, mostly birth dates. When the clock would turn over to 10:10 or 5:55, any identical numbers, he would call out, “10:10, make a wish!” I don’t know where he got that but he got me doing it, too. A lot of wasted wishes, I’m afraid.

            My favorite number is 8, for my birthday. I am always amazed when I meet someone who has my birthday, July 8, and I remember who they are. There haven’t been many, and that surprises me, considering that the billions of people on earth may be born on only one of 365 (or 366 in Leap Year) days. But maybe date of birth is not something you commonly find out about a person until you get to know them better. So all those July 8th people are out there; I just haven’t met them yet! I have had very little in common with any of the ones I have met, so I guess that debunks the “science” of astrology, though I must confess I do read my horoscope occasionally. And I always read it on my birthday!

            Jerry had also heard that “444” was “Die die die!” and would repeat that when that number appeared. I wonder what he would have thought if he knew ahead of time that he was going to die on 02/20/2020. Although 2 was not one of his numbers, he would have nodded his head, and acknowledged that the powers that be had arranged that just for him. By the time he died he was long past such fantasies, however. I know he would have preferred 02/22/2022 as his day to fly away, as that would have given him two more years. But we don’t get to choose those things. I remember telling him that we could celebrate our fortieth anniversary this summer if he lived long enough. “But 39 is one of my numbers,” he said. Was he really saying he wanted to die before July 12th? I don’t think so – but now 39 is etched in our mutual history.

            I discovered recently that Jerry’s mother – who died when he was 8 – was born on February 20th. I don’t recall him ever mentioning that. I think he’d appreciate the eerie symmetry of it, though.

            I am more practical than Jerry. At the last place I worked, I was the only person who did not pay into the group lottery tickets for Megamillions, when the payout was huge. I know, it’s just a fun diversion, but it was just a waste of money to me. I would listen to my co-workers fantasize about what they would do with their winnings, but their numbers never came up. I liked to fantasize with them, however—-: “If I won the lottery, I would set up a foundation to give it all away. But of course the first thing I would do is quit this job.” (It wasn’t a very good job.) My father played the lottery every week well into his 90’s. He wanted to give the money to his kids, but I don’t recall him ever winning anything.

            Now the numbers we try to avoid are the ones that tell us how old we are. We say, “Age is just a number,” “You’re only as old as you feel,” “Life begins at 40, or 60 or…”

            One thing is for sure, like it or not: you will die when your number’s up.

Choose Love

I am reading a self-help book a friend gave me called Life Lessons, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kennedy. They contend that, “Love… is the only truly real and lasting experience of life.” There is power in that statement; love is universal, something we can all experience.

            The book’s authors describe love as the opposite of fear. I had always thought the opposite of love was indifference. Perhaps my concept of love was too small. I did not see how its opposite would have to be larger, gripping, disabling. Fear of the unknown, fear of loss of control, fear of being open and vulnerable is what prevents us from living fully and finding the love we are all seeking.

            In this fractured world we live in, daily life so disrupted, so rife with anger and hate, it can be hard to be loving. We live with the threat of the coronavirus, and we are steeped with the mentality of “us vs. them.”

            How do we find the love in this world? We know it when we see it: a child raising money for a sick friend, people handing out food in a parking lot to their neighbors, choruses and orchestras who get together virtually, making beautiful music together. The music brings peace and joy to us, gifting us, loving us. We can love others by passing on what we have been given. Every act of kindness, no matter how small, can mean everything to someone who is suffering. We all have a story, and we will never know someone’s story unless we see them, and listen to them.

            So the answer to finding love is to be love. If we let fear disable us we will shrink from offering something of ourselves to another. But there is everything to gain if we can move beyond the fear.

            In my current state of early widowhood, I find myself vulnerable, ready to cry at every act of kindness I see. This morning I was touched to see an old man bringing flowers to his aerobics instructor. No longer able to join the class, using a walker while recovering from a broken ankle, he handed his flowers to her. That was love. She was touched, also, but I think I was the only one who felt tears come to my eyes. Others were smiling, but only I was crying.

            My husband was a man who often presented people he cared about with gifts large and small. He gave a rose plant to his cousin when she was battling breast cancer. After she died, he gave two rose plants to her daughter, who posts frequent pictures of the roses on Facebook. I am not sure she knows how much she is loving me with those pictures; I must tell her.

            She doesn’t know how I am affected, but I know she takes special care of those roses in honor of her mother and of Jerry’s gift. Since Jerry died, so many people have told me that they miss his cookies, or his raisin-craisin bread, or something else he gave them. They are saying that they miss him and his loving acts, and they loved him in return. After he realized it was not going to work for a fishing boat, he gave his kayak to a woman friend who says she thinks of him every time she uses it.

            It is not always easy to do the loving thing. But it is so worth it.

I Need a Hug

It was early evening on a Sunday. Summer’s heat had not quite taken over, and I had the windows open to catch a breeze. Although COVID-19 has precluded parties or get-togethers in our quiet neighborhood, I heard voices in the yard next door, so I had to check it out. Walking out onto my back deck I spotted a deer in my neighbor’s yard, a big buck looking back toward Gary’s house. After my initial surprise, I could see it was not a live deer, but now I was curious. Gary and his family have not lived here long, and I do not know him well. I had met the family briefly, but since then, Gary would hail me if I was outside while he was mowing. I hail him back, smiling at how good it feels.

            Gary and another man walked over to the deer and appeared to be examining it. That was it, I had to find out. I walked over to his yard and said, “Gary, you have a deer!”

            He looked at me sheepishly, maybe a little embarrassed. “We’re doing target practice,” he said, “bow and arrow.” He introduced me to his friend, a polite good ol’ boy named Bobby. Bobby reached out to shake my hand, but I moved back, just touching fingertips.

            “Oh,” I said. “My husband used to do some bow hunting.” I realized Gary had never been in my house to see Jerry’s “stuffed animals”: deer head, black duck, fox and several fish. Jerry quit hunting years ago, but his trophies remain. Now I couldn’t invite Gary in even if I wanted to.

            Bobby nodded his head, “Yes, ma’am, I’ve heard so much about you.”

            You have? I wondered. Ah, yes, the widow woman next door. “Well, I brought over some cookies to Gary’s family to introduce myself. I guess I will have to make some more.”

            “Yes, ma’am, cookies would be most welcome.” I wanted to scratch my head over that. I wasn’t planning on making cookies for Bobby! I decided he was just being polite.

            Out of things to say and feeling awkward, I said, “I just had to check out the deer. Bye now.” I walked back to my house.

            This encounter was unusual for me. I rarely initiate contact with my neighbors, and don’t know many of them. The only neighbors Jerry and I had known well had sold their house to Gary. They were an older couple like us, and I miss them.

            Since Jerry died and I have been stuck at home, something has changed within me, and I feel I would do anything for human contact. Not just waving, not saying, “Fine,” if someone asks how I am. I need someone I can touch. I need someone who understands what I am going through and will hold my hand.

            I need a hug.

            Sometimes I hear Gary’s three-year-old daughter squealing next door and I want to go over and play with her! I taught three-year olds in a daycare center years ago. I love kids and I love that age especially. But I can’t do that; I feel like I am on the fringe, outside looking in.

            My sister and I talk via Facebook chat every Monday. Although we don’t cry much, she is the only person I can cry with without feeling embarrassed and vulnerable. She lost her husband a few weeks after Jerry died. I cherish my phone calls with Denise, but she is in New Jersey and I am in North Carolina. I would love to have her closer than five hundred miles.

            So this is where I am. I am not so much sad as starving for human companionship. Sometimes I say, to myself but probably out loud, “You can do this, lady, buck up.” But I can honestly say this is new for me. It is more than grief, but I am sure that is part of it. This is not a normal life. I never knew I liked hugs so much, but now that I can’t hug, I think about hugging complete strangers!

            I know how hard this isolation has been for so many, going on three months now. I am better off than a lot of others. I have some options that others do not. It helps when I am around people, so I am volunteering with a local organization, and it has been good for me. I go there twice a week for a couple of hours, and recently have taken on more responsibility. We wear masks and observe social distancing; I enjoy the interaction. My writers’ group has been meeting outdoors every week, maintaining social distancing. We have been together for years and care for each other. But we don’t hug, not now.

            Today I went to my first class at the Y in three months. It was outside in the parking lot, early enough that it wasn’t too hot. I enjoyed seeing old friends. We wanted to hug but we didn’t.

            I know there are people out there who love me, and I know those friends will be in touch as soon as we can get together. My daughter, Stacy, is coming to visit this month.

            Ah, at least she can give me a hug.

Changing Perspectives

Yesterday I watched the morning sun splash over the end table next to me. All I could think about was the dirty window. I remembered our neighbor last fall, trying to help us when Jerry could no longer do outside chores. He was teaching a hired helper how to use the pressure washer with soap, succeeding only in spreading dirty streaks over windows I had recently washed. I have not washed them since.

This morning I was struck by the same sun in the same place, filling my room with light and warmth. It drifted over my left hand on the keyboard, but soon moved on to another window, dappling the curtain until finally moving away. It will greet me again in a few hours, after journeying over the top of the house, to warm the other side. I will welcome its return.

It’s all in the way you look at things, isn’t it? Glass half-full, glass half-empty. Our experiences of the coronavirus are like that. For those of us who do not live in a city or crowded suburb, we may not know a single soul who has been affected by the virus. We endure weeks of stay-at-home mandates and then we say, “I am tired of this. I need a change,” as if a disease could respond to our wishes. Others are more cautious, willing to quarantine for as long as is necessary. Time will tell how these different responses to the pandemic play out.

A person’s perspective is made up of a lifetime of personal experiences along with a particular orientation to the world. Additionally, what the person is currently enduring is a crucial influence upon their perspective.

So how is my changing perspective working its way through my life? This is not a normal life we are all living during the coronavirus. I am trying to live it while working through grief, which is also not normal. I seem to be sending myself mixed messages. There is no one else here for me to plan my schedule around. Sometimes I am glad about that and the freedom it represents. Sometimes I feel just aimless. In the same way I view the sun differently at various times, I wake up each day uncertain how I will spend it, either happily bustling around or discontented with my idleness. And why does it feel better to be busy during a pandemic? Wouldn’t this be the perfect time for reflection? The problem is, I don’t know what I need. Sometimes I stop in the middle of something and find myself staring blankly, arrested by… what? Nothing, just total distraction. I try to cut myself some slack – it is okay to be confused, it will all work out.

So now I am seeing the perspective I will try to embrace: stop trying to control everything. Stop worrying about things that will probably never happen. Be willing to live with uncertainty, ambiguity and ambivalence. Like the gift of sunlight, welcome joy whenever it peeks through, if only for an instant. Enjoy the present, because that is all we have. Listen for the spirit of God trying to speak to me. Dance, sing, even if alone, knowing how it will lift my spirits. Feel the assurance that it will not always be this way. Be open to all the possibilities that come my way, and hold fast to the promise that, “All will be well, all will be well.”

Bittersweet Mother’s Day

All I wanted for Mother’s Day was to have my daughter, Stacy, come and visit me. I told her that, and she promised me she would come. Now I am lobbying for an overnight stay.

I know she is hesitating because of the coronavirus; she is afraid that she could give it to me, since I am in the “vulnerable” population, being over 60, (and over 70, but I’ll stop there). I don’t see a problem with a prolonged visit. She’s been hunkering down at her beach house, where very few people are around. She orders groceries online and sits on the deck getting tanned in the warm spring sunshine. She is about two hours away, an easy drive. I have no health conditions and have been in good health.

For my part, I’ve been careful, wearing a mask when I go out, keeping social distances, washing my hands and wiping down surfaces. I have not seen her in over two months. And, if she is going to come at all, what’s a few more hours?

She said she would “take it under consideration.”

I did some research and discovered that Mother’s Day came about through the efforts of Anna Jarvis in the early nineteenth century. After her mother’s death, she wanted to honor her, saying that a mother “is the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” It was proclaimed a national holiday by Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Later, however, Ms. Jarvis became disenchanted with the commercialization of the holiday. I guess I am used to all our holidays becoming over-commercialized, which is why I don’t share her dismay! I have always liked Mother’s Day, especially being pampered and going out to eat. And I love the fact that it occurs in spring, my favorite season.

We kids always gave our mom gifts for Mother’s Day, but they were small, like kitchen tools. After we grew up, most of us did not live near our parents, so Mom would get a card and sometimes flowers. Stacy often came to visit me for Mother’s Day, and she, my husband, Jerry, and I would go out to eat. After Stacy married Mike, she had to split her time between me and her mother-in-law for Mother’s Day.

Going out to dinner is my favorite thing to do for Mother’s Day, but this year the restaurants are still closed, except for takeout or delivery. This will be my first Mother’s Day without Jerry, adding another painful twist to my emerging new life. Last year he made me a bouquet of flowers from his garden, but now I will have to do without his presence and his caring. My heart is hurting, and no one makes me feel better like Stacy.

Stacy was my rock during Jerry’s last days. Jerry and I had to travel over two hours from home to the VA hospital in Durham. I stayed with her little family in Raleigh: Stacy, husband Mike and son Michael Paul. I had “my own” room at her home, for the times when Jerry was hospitalized, with a rocking chair, a TV and a stash of books to read, making me feel very comfortable. Early last February Jerry was admitted to the hospital for a surgical procedure. Stacy waited with me for the results, but we were disappointed with the outcome; it was not a permanent solution to his problem. He did not do well from then on. He was hoping for another surgery, but he became weaker and weaker. Stacy took time off work so she could visit every day. On February 14th his medical team – surgeons, oncologists, social worker and palliative care doctor – met with us in his room and told him it was not safe to do another surgery; his body simply could not tolerate it.  “That’s the end of me,” he said, as he agreed to hospice care. He was admitted to hospice and died several days later. Through it all, Stacy and I spelled each other so Jerry was never alone in the daytime. I don’t know how I would have managed it all without her.

Despite the stress of those days, I enjoyed spending so much time with her. We have always been close, even closer after her father died in an accident when she was a baby. She was eleven when I married Jerry, and they were alike in many ways, both extroverted and empathetic toward others. He became the father she had always wanted. Theirs was a Mutual Admiration Society, and I sometimes felt that she understood him better than I did.

 

Stacy and I check in with each other by phone every Friday, and these days we can see each other with Facebook chat, a big improvement over a simple phone call. Today it is Friday, two days before Mother’s Day. I call her and very coolly ask, “So, what is your schedule?” – not wanting to appear overeager.

“Well, I need to be back home for a Zoom meeting Monday morning, so I thought I would come Saturday and leave Sunday.”

“Yay,” I said, “You’re staying overnight!”

She laughed. “I’m staying overnight.”

My heart just got a big boost, and I cannot wait for our long-awaited, non-social-distancing hug!

Back Again

Hello to anyone who may be reading this! It has been several years since I was a regular blogger. I took a hiatus after publishing my book (still available!) and I have been dealing with a significant life change, but I am back. I will try to publish regularly. We’ll see how that works out. Thanks for reading, glad to be back!

A Gift from Jerry

My husband, Jerry, died two months ago. There it is, I said it. Why does it feel so much longer to me? It was winter then, and I felt the cold in my bones.

All the effort I’ve had to put into settling things and getting the benefits I am entitled to have left me nervous and frazzled. And sad.

It all got much harder when the coronavirus hit and everybody had to “shelter in place” at home. What that meant for me was that my daughter had to cancel her visit, and no one was going to come to give me the comfort I craved. Every day I wait for the mail, hoping something positive and encouraging will arrive, so I don’t feel so alone.

Then, scarcely five weeks after Jerry died, my younger sister, Denise, called to tell me her husband, Ed, had died, from lymphoma. I had just seen Denny and Ed. They drove down to North Carolina from New Jersey because Jerry was doing so poorly. They arrived the day he died. They spent the night and left the next day. Ed was weak and had lost a lot of weight, but he seemed stable. He felt worse almost as soon as they left, and was admitted to the hospital shortly after. I had been talking to Denny regularly after the hospitalization. Because of the coronavirus, she was unable to visit Ed in the hospital and he died alone.

I felt like my heart was breaking – how much more could I stand? I wanted to rush to her side, but she was hundreds of miles away. And I couldn’t have hugged her anyway. We cried together on the phone. How well I knew her pain.

But now it is spring, and we are awash in beautiful blossoms, serenaded with birdsong, the air suffused with sun and warmth. No pain, no heartache, no sadness was going to prevent this annual phenomenon from arriving in my life. And I am grateful. The world needed to keep spinning, I needed to believe that all would be well, even if the daily news was relentlessly pursuing dysfunction, death and doom.

A week or so ago, I walked out into the back yard, and there they were: beautiful irises, purple, yellow and white, a surprise I did not remember from last year. A gift from Jerry. I will see more of him as other plants come up. The elephant ears are just shoots now, but they will be so impressive when they fill out, in the front and back yards. There will be hollyhocks in the front, and daylilies, and hostas in several places. All summer we will have color from his roses.

Though I helped with yard work at prior homes, I have not done much gardening at this house. That seems strange to me now, since I had a career before we moved here, and now I am retired. I think it is because this is the place where I finally had time for the things I always wanted to do, primarily writing. I remember offering to help, but I told him, “You have to fit into my schedule, since I am so busy.” Alas, Jerry was too spontaneous for that, so I didn’t help much.

But now I decided to do some beautification, starting with a nasty, prickly weed I pulled off the azaleas in the front. They were just coming out, and I knew the vine would inhibit the blooming. Another day, I moved to weeding the middle garden in the back. I am also cleaning out the winter garden he planted last fall. I got some nice cabbages from it, and onions, parsley and rosemary. Everything else has gone to seed. Jerry never cared about harvesting his vegetables; he just liked to plant them. I was always the one who would bring in the bounty. I will nurture the green onions, parsley and rosemary, since they are doing so well. Perhaps I will plant some other vegetables there.

It amuses me that I even care to do the gardening, since it is not among my usual interests. How could I have changed in such a short time? Something about knowing it was now my responsibility, I guess. Or maybe I was mesmerized by all the beauty and color surrounding me.

I am coming to realize that my future life is a blank slate; I can become whatever I want, but I don’t know what that might be yet because I am still stuck at home, due to the coronavirus. But for now, I have been gardening – it is here, and I am here, with nowhere else to go! Yesterday, another surprise: amaryllis, beautiful trumpet flowers in a burnt amber color, growing in the middle garden, where most of his roses are.

Gardening gives me a renewed appreciation for Jerry, who loved to create beautiful things. I am blessed to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Each time I dig in the dirt, doing a little more to beautify our property, I will think of him, honor his memory, and smile.

The Woman in the Mirror

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my new book, cover above! It is a compilation of 82 of the blogs originally published on Polly’s Tea Kettle during 2014-2015. It is a little late for Christmas, but c’est la vie. You can purchase it by clicking on the button above. It will also be available on Amazon, still working on that at present. If you live in the New Bern area, you can skip postage by letting me know. My new motto: “Have books, will deliver!”

Best wishes to all for the merriest of Christmases and a happy and healthy 2017!

If you are having trouble with the Paypal button, please leave a comment and I will fix it.

I also want to tell you about a wonderful little chapbook of poetry written by a woman of great talent, Jeanne Julian. It is called Blossoms and Loss and is available on her web site www.jeannejulian.com. Her site is very interesting, and worth checking out.

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Hello Again, Are You There?

 Hello to everyone who may have been looking for my blog. As you can see, Polly’s Tea Kettle is a blank slate now. It has been about a year since I stopped my weekly blogging. I have missed “talking” with you all, and I have missed the discipline that weekly blogging brought to my life and my writing.

Polly’s Tea Kettle did not disappear, however. It has become a book! Look here for the announcement of the launch of “The Woman in the Mirror and Other Reflections on Living,” which will be coming out soon. It is a collection of 82 personal essays, the best of Polly’s Tea Kettle.

Silly me, I thought I had to give up blogging. Here I have a perfect vehicle to publicize my book and I don’t have to throw away all those business cards!

You will be hearing more from me in the coming weeks. You may even see a few new  reflections on “what’s been brewing in my life.” Hello again.