To Your Health

If you enjoy good health, chances are you may take it for granted. Until it’s gone. A cancer diagnosis, a heart attack, a bad fall: these can be a wake-up call that life is finite and health is never guaranteed. Even if you have been taking good care of yourself, things can still happen. When you get the wake-up call, you may respond with appropriate action, possibly making life changes, or you may not. It’s up to you.

            I had such a wake-up call in 2019, when I had a bad fall, even though I knew that falls can greatly impair a person’s mobility for life, especially if he or she is elderly.

I was being stupid, standing precariously on a kitchen chair, and I have not been so careless since. I cracked my pelvis and had difficulty sleeping, walking and getting my prescription for pain pills refilled. Although I recovered completely, it took months, and I did not enjoy the experience.

            I have been lucky enough to avoid the coronavirus, and I do believe it was luck, because I have been to quite a few gatherings in the last year. They have mostly been small, with everyone masked and socially distant, except for Christmas with family. I also have a couple of “pods” that I meet with often: my daughter’s family (four of us) and the several members of my writers’ group. I attend classes at the Y where we are all masked and maintain social distance.

            My church offers an in-person service each Sunday, with masks and social distancing required, and I have been attending regularly. Additionally, I belong to a book club that meets exclusively outdoors once a month. It has been too cold for the last two months, but we hope to meet in March. I am grateful that my family and friends have been cautious and follow guidelines, and I am especially grateful to have had these people in my life when personal interactions have been so limited.

            Now I have completed my Covid-19 vaccinations. I intend to proceed with caution and continue to wear a mask and socially distance until it’s safe not to do so. That may be later than we think.

            We have all had our lives compromised over the last year, but there are positive ways of looking at anything. The fact that we even have a vaccine is cause for optimism. Experts did not believe it could be done so quickly.

            Although many thousands have died, we have heard and seen inspiring stories of nurses and doctors who have worked tirelessly to keep others alive this last year, despite all the difficulties involved and the emotional toll it has taken. Others have found creative ways to overcome the hardships of the pandemic, thanks to the indomitable human spirit.

            When the worst is over, we will smile at each other as we emerge from isolation into the beautiful world we inhabit and celebrate that we survived. We will hug the ones we have missed hugging, and we will enjoy the lives that we put on hold. I mourn the loss of every person that died due to Covid, and those that have become debilitated. I know what their loved ones are going through. I also lost my husband a year ago, though not to Covid, and I am still grieving.

            What better wish, at this time or any time, can you bestow upon another than good health? Here’s to you and the solutions you have found to get through this pandemic. Here’s to creativity and love and laughter. Here’s to your health!

Abundant Hope

I am filled with optimism. I sit here with my computer on my lap and a cat looking plaintively at me, hoping for my lap for himself. Such pleading in those green eyes, he makes me laugh. “Not this time,” I say to Frankie, as he finally gives up and settles against me on the couch.

            I am light, I am benevolent, I am joyful. It feels like going back to church again, where the congregation fills the pews, and chatter rolls around the sanctuary before the service begins. We will see that this year, I am sure of it.

            As I go out to the grocery store, I smile at people from behind my mask. I think they can tell because my eyes crinkle up. I learned that from a woman in Harris Teeter one day. Our buggies were headed for a low-speed collision, which was fortunately averted.  I didn’t want her to think I was upset, so I said, “I’m smiling.”

            She said, “I know, I can see it in your eyes,” and her eyes crinkled up too. There are a lot of crinkly eyes at Harris Teeter on Thursdays. We seniors all shop there for our 5% discount. How nice it would be if we could solve all our disputes with crinkly eyes.

            So why am I so optimistic? It feels like a new day dawning, with the changes in Washington. It feels like someone has gone out and hosed down the streets, and then swept them clean. I feel washed clean, too. We are seeing a return to decency and caring for others.

            I believe we have a special opportunity this year to change the atmosphere we live in from hate to love, even if only in our own circles. I have a friend who has told me that he no longer watches or listens to the news or reads about politics. It was making him angry, and he doesn’t want to be that person. We have been at odds for years because we are on opposite poles. I applauded his decision and told him I feel the same way. 

            I have seen people who act out of love, and that is what I am hoping for, for me and for others. I know that behaving in a loving way feels so much better than acting hatefully, because I have experienced this love for myself, and I believe we were meant to live this way. Love is powerful, and a person can act lovingly even when the feeling is not there. The feeling can come later, and can take a long time, but the action sustains the love.

            Now that we are ensconced in 2021, we can all shake our heads in disbelief with what this country and the world endured in 2020. For me, suffering grief and isolation at the same time, I had to manufacture hope. I knew I just had to survive, and I did.

            I am optimistic about my life because I have survived a year without my husband, Jerry, and there is no place to go but up. I rise up a bit more each month as I learn more about myself and my aspirations for the future. There are no timetables for anything, I realize, so I am easy on myself as I consider future home repairs and responsibilities. I can look out at my backyard, now all winter-dead, and picture how it will look when it is green and blooming.

            Right now, it is easy to be kind to others. My heart is happy and grateful. However, I am realistic enough to know that my hopeful feeling probably won’t last. I have always known that I am a bit of a dreamer. But loving others, and praying for them, and being my best self that I can be to them, is not impossible. I pray daily for God’s help, that he will give me the grace to continue to strive for that.

John 13:34  “I give you a new commandant, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Living Through Grief

Losing a beloved spouse is like being sliced open, with a piece of you taken out forever. Not only will you never get that piece back, but you are unavoidably changed from that time on. You still look like yourself, you may keep the same habits, but you are different.

            I have lost two husbands, fifty years apart. The first time I was 24, so young I was still unformed. I had a lot to learn, while taking care of a young daughter at the same time. The pain was intense, and I buried myself in books, which took me to a place where I could escape. Gradually, I was able to live a normal life, and to discover joy again, as the person I was becoming, on my own. I never wanted to remain single, but it took me ten years to find Jerry, a man who complemented me, and who loved me as I loved him. We had almost forty years together.

            Now I am mature, I know what I want out of life, and I feel content with the person I have become and am still becoming. It was not even a shock, as it was with my first husband, Jim, when Jerry died, from Acute Myeloid Leukemia. We had been battling Jerry’s two cancers, off and on, for 15 years, but our times together were almost all good. He was always active, and had great vitality.

            My two experiences of grief were very different. As a young person, it was devastating. My husband, Jim, completed several years in the Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam flying medevac helicopters, from which he came home unscathed. After the service, he took a temporary job as a lumberjack for his dad’s lumber company in Pennsylvania. He had applied to several law schools and was waiting to hear if he had been accepted. One day he went to work cutting trees in the woods and never came home. A tree fell on him, killing him instantly. He was 28.

            I was in shock and had no idea what to do. I was fortunate enough to be able to live with my parents for a few months. I kept this image of a tunnel; if I could only make it through, there would be life and light on the other side. I clung to that, because I just knew the pain would get better. My brother-in-law, who lost his father when he was a teen, also assured me that time would help me heal, and I kept that message close to me.

            About nine months after I lost my first husband, I moved 500 miles away, with my two-year-old, to attend graduate school. By then, I felt strong enough to pursue a life for her and me, although I knew it would be hard.

            After losing Jerry, I suffered again, missing my special, unique man who was smart, caring, had many friends and was so full of life.  I have been very lonely without him. But this time I have noticed a strange phenomenon. I have felt vulnerable, which is normal, but I have also felt like I am experiencing the whole world for the first time, and really enjoying everything, like a wide-eyed innocent. I am reminded of advice which is given to new widows: don’t move or make any big decisions in the first year. Now I know why they say it! I keep running into people who just delight me, people I had never met or people I knew only slightly. I am enjoying the feeling of being opened up, letting down my defenses.

            I am also not afraid; I have this optimism that everything will be fine. There will be challenges, probably some mishaps, but I will be able to weather them. I will soon be entering my second year of widowhood, and I expect it to be full of exciting new experiences.

            I should note that this past year of grief has coincided with the covid-19 pandemic. How much of my experiences and attitude could be attributed to that, I wonder? For example, when I meet someone I really like, I can’t decide if I am really delighted with the person or just the opportunity to actually get out of the house and talk to someone! I feel so grateful that a new year is upon us; it just has to be better, which means my life will be fuller, and I will no longer need to be so isolated.

            Although I knew about grief, I did not know it would be so different the second time around. Perhaps I was more prepared than I realize, but probably it was just the gift of years of living, and not being blindsided. I feel like my grieving has been easier this time, and I am thankful for that. I have survived, and I am ready for tomorrow, whatever it brings.

Homemade, with Love

I have always loved to cook. The smell of a stew cooking, or a roasted chicken, makes me salivate with expectation. I also enjoy the prep work, if I have the time to do it right. I like to line all my ingredients up on the shelf next to the stove, pretending I am a famous chef doing a cooking show. It is a pleasure to serve food that is tasty and nutritious.

            When I married Jerry, my late husband, he didn’t cook much, but he had a few recipes for which he was famous. Well, at least in our family. He did a lot more cooking after he retired. I was still working, and I asked him if he could cook at least once a week, and he readily agreed. He had some dishes that he made by feel, such as his famous potato dumplings. A bit of a perfectionist, he had been known to throw away a batch of potato dumplings because they didn’t “feel right.” I am not so fastidious. Sometimes a recipe looks a lot better on paper than it ever turns out, and Jerry ate a few of my “mistakes.” Although he was always gentle about it, I took the hint. He usually didn’t volunteer the information, but would respond to my question, “Did you like that?”

            He would smile and say, “Well…” He always cooked breakfast on weekends and recently enjoyed experimenting with his instant pot and sous vide cooking process.

            I like to make main dishes, such as soups or pasta with lots of vegetables and a little meat or seafood. I am famous in my family for pea soup, made with a meaty ham bone. My Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, c. 1966, is out of control with loose pages and recipes and has to be held together with a thick rubber band. It was my Bible when I first got married, but now I have recipes in numerous other cookbooks and places around my kitchen. I am always looking for new recipes for main dishes.

            Jerry had the sweet tooth I lack, and he liked to make desserts, even occasionally including his own birthday cake, which saved me the trouble, although I must admit I felt a little guilty about it. I am not that fond of cake, and would eat one piece, leaving the rest to him. Whenever I volunteered to bring a dessert to work for any reason, I knew I could ask him to bake something and he would be happy to oblige. I could even admit to the group that I didn’t make it, and I often received as much admiration for a husband that bakes as for the dessert I brought!

            His specialties changed over the years. Cinnamon Buns were a favorite for a while, but then he moved on. Everyone loved his Apple Dumplings, so he continued to make them. We both made bread and dough in the bread machine, but cut back when the extra pounds appeared. He did have a favorite Cinnamon Raisin Craisin Bread that was a crowd pleaser. Most recently, he made several different kinds of cookies, which were much in demand among golfing buddies and other friends. In fact, he had to make special trips to the golfers’ homes because the wives heard stories about the great cookies, but there were never any left when the husbands got  home!

            Jerry is no longer here, but I have managed to still enjoy forays into my kitchen. I have found that I can cook the amount I used to for both of us and have a tasty leftover meal, plus maybe a lunch. Then I don’t have to cook every day. It may seem strange, but food has tasted just so good recently. I even like my leftovers! I look forward to making my concoctions, and have found a couple of new recipes I plan to make again.

            But there is nothing like cooking for others. How better to show your love? My daughter, Stacy, is coming for a visit later this month. She will arrive on Jerry’s birthday and has already placed her order for the dishes she wants me to cook, including pea soup made with the ham bone from our Christmas dinner. We will drink a toast to Jerry, and I will keep her busy helping me in the kitchen, just like the old days, as I take care of her and enjoy being her mom. Pure love, no recipe needed.

My first cookbook c. 1966

Memories of My Father

We called my dad Pop. We loved him and looked up to him, but he was not affectionate. We knew better than to seek that from him. However, he really came into his own when he became a grandfather, and we called him Pop Pop. By then, he had mellowed. As a father his highest praise had been, “What’s the matter with that?” which we translated into “Good job!”  but, for me, it never felt like the praise I was seeking. In contrast, his grandchildren knew him as the “gamer,” who was always ready to play. When I moved back home to New Jersey after my first husband died, my daughter, Stacy, was only 16 months old. She adored her Pop Pop, and could not wait for him to come home from work. She would run up to him and say, “Pop Pop, fwing me!” and he would happily oblige, grabbing her hands and swinging her back and forth between his legs.

            He also would tease her at the dinner table, throwing a paper napkin at her, so of course she had to throw one back. He would grin and she would giggle until finally my mom said, “That’s enough, you kids.” For Stacy, he was the man in her life, and she felt comfortable crawling into his lap, something we five kids would never have done. We sought solace from our mother, who accepted us just as we were.

            During the ten years before I remarried, Stacy and I traveled home to New Jersey from North Carolina for all holidays and for two weeks every summer. Stacy and Pop Pop spent hours playing, inside and out. She loved all the games they played, mostly board games, and became the gamer she still is today. A favorite game was Clue; one time she caught him moving his token through a wall instead of using the door. He never lived it down that he was caught cheating in Clue!

            After I married Jerry, we moved to northern Virginia, and continued to travel often to see my parents. We also vacationed with them and played golf together. My dad was an excellent golfer, right into old age. He excelled at every sport he tried. His most notable sports achievement was winning the title of Badminton Champion of the state of Rhode Island in 1939.

            Stacy always remained close to her grandparents. When she was beginning her career in Raleigh after graduating from college, they moved to Myrtle Beach, about a three-hour drive from her. She visited them often, and we spent all our holidays with them. Pop Pop developed dementia during that time, and my mom had to take care of him. He would enter every sweepstakes that arrived in the mail, and would buy things he didn’t want or need, thinking that would enhance his chances of winning. Mom had to learn to intercept the mail before he could get to it. He always said he wanted the money to give to his kids.

            As my dad deteriorated, my mom became increasingly anxious about caring for him. One day she called me and said, “Daddy’s acting strange.” Jerry and I were living in northern Virginia, at least an eight-hour drive away. All my siblings were even farther away from them. Feeling frustrated that I could not help, I told Mom I would call Stacy. After I did, Stacy left immediately for South Carolina and spent the night with them. She called me to say that Pop Pop was fine and all was well.

            We kids knew that the situation with my parents could not continue as it was. Stacy volunteered to move to Myrtle Beach to take care of them, but my mom quickly squelched that idea. “You are not going to give up your life for us,” she said. My older sister, Marilyn, living in California, had been trying for years to get them to move close to her. She stepped up and took charge. Marilyn and her daughter flew to Myrtle, held a yard sale and packed up the old folks to move to California. Mom protested that she didn’t want to move so far from all her other children on the east coast, but Marilyn knew she was the one who could take care of them.

            “You know their best years are behind them,” I told Marilyn, and she understood what she was getting into. Pop Pop, now called Poppy, was 89 by then, and Nanny 84. The following year, we all flew to California for a family reunion to celebrate Poppy’s 90th birthday. He lived another five years, and died in his sleep.

            Remembering my dad, I am sure he had a lot to do with the woman I became. I was shy and insecure when I ventured out into the world, a bit of a dreamer who never wanted to be anything but a writer. I think Pop saw himself as a molder of his children. He wanted us to try harder, to be better. When you are a kid, you think every family is like your own. Probably a lot of dads were as emotionally unavailable as my pop, critical and slow to praise. He did the best he could, as we all do. In the end, we loved him, and we all turned out okay, each flawed in his or her own way, but living life and loving each other.

My Pop and me c. 1948

New Year, New Life, New Possibilities

How many of us have been counting down the days to 2021? How many of us have just survived the worst year of our lives? I am so ready for the new year! We are like snakes, ready to cast off the old, dead skin and slither into a better life.

            I think about December, 2019, and our last Christmas with my late husband, Jerry. He was sick then, not doing well with his cancer, but we had seen a miraculous remission before, and we had hope. Despite that, we all suspected that this was Jerry’s last Christmas, although no one talked about it. We bought a cut tree and I decorated the whole house. We entertained our family, including a baby great-grandson, and had a wonderful time together. This year I did not decorate, but enjoyed looking out the window at my neighbors’ lights and decorations. We had our family Christmas in Raleigh. We loved being together, but we were always aware that Covid-19 could be lurking.

            What do we have to look forward to in 2021? Vaccine! At some point we will all be vaccinated for the coronavirus, at least those of us who are willing. The disease will no longer be something we have to fear, and we won’t have to endure daily updates on how many people have died.  We should be able to go out, mingle with others as we choose, eat at any restaurant we like, and hopefully go back to life as we once knew it. Trump will no longer be president, and (if we’re lucky) we will no longer have to endure any news of him. I look forward, actually, to ignoring politics in 2021. I will save a lot of time when I do that, and it is an opportunity to live in a more loving way.

            Many of us have traditionally considered the new year a time to initiate self-improvement projects: lose weight, read more, write a book, take classes, be kinder, eschew politics, etc. Usually, these resolutions don’t last long. What might make 2021 different? Some people had enough time to work on those things already. Forced to stay home, others discovered how creative they were, and some families got closer. A couple of my resolutions are to be more compassionate and to work to be closer to all my family.

            A big difference in 2021 will be freedom! We’ll have a lot more choices in how to spend our time, and where we can go and who we can see. At some point, we can abandon our masks. I will be able to wear lipstick again! I want to travel and visit places I have only read about. I feel like the whole world is opening up to me.

            My optimist self says it’s about time for all of us to enjoy the good things we anticipate are coming in this blank slate of a new year. As I lived through 2020, I always knew it was going to get better, and it could always be worse. Yes, my husband died in February, and I had to endure intense loneliness along with my grief. But I am here. I did not get Covid, and no one close to me did either. I am emerging from my grief with profound gratitude for the life I do have, and the people who have helped me along the way, many unbeknownst to themselves. Dare I say it? Life is good.

A New Relationship with Money

I have always run my finances out of a mode of scarcity. I’ve said that I only needed whatever it took to live. I paid the bills and made up a monthly budget, based on whatever money I (or we, when I was married) had coming in, and I balanced it every month. If I ran out before the month ended, I revised my budget to reflect that reality. Same thing if I had a surplus for several months. I followed the budget throughout the month, always aware of where I stood. I hesitated about telling my husband, Jerry, if we had a surplus, because if I did, he was sure to spend it. Sometimes I told him, sometimes not. I always had some money put away for emergencies or modest vacations. Jerry and I had talked about the fact that my income would go down after he died, but we were both confident that I would be fine, because I am an expert on getting by with what I have.

            I thought my careful control of spending was healthy, but I think I had it wrong. I had a fear of running out of money. Perhaps this stemmed from the ten-year period back in the 1970s when I was widowed the first time, living with my young daughter on a fixed income, supplemented occasionally with temporary jobs. I was proud that I could afford to dress her in nice clothes and let her join the Girl Scouts and take gymnastics. I would save for anything else that I felt was important, including trips to visit family and friends. I was not going to let lack of money get in the way of a good life for us. I had my husband’s life insurance invested, and never touched it, because I was saving it for her college fund. I felt like I was on top of the situation, but I remember asking her when she was 11, some months after my second marriage to Jerry, if she felt that her life had changed much. She replied immediately, “We have more money now.” I wondered then how many times she had wanted me to buy her something and never said anything because she knew we couldn’t afford it.

            This year my life has changed: Jerry has passed on and I now have investments to manage that I can check whenever I want. I never paid much attention to them before, because Jerry handled them and reported that they were doing well. As I delved into my holdings, I came to realize that I could loosen the purse strings, and I am no longer just getting along. I can afford to do things I have only dreamed about.

            This is a paradigm shift for me; I am still trying to absorb it all. So how am I going to spend this money I didn’t even know I had? I do have home maintenance to take care of. I have already started giving more to charity, and I plan to travel, if I can find one or more people to go with me. My younger sister Denise and I want to visit our siblings in Florida and California, maybe even Canada. She also lost her husband, shortly after Jerry died, so we both are free to travel. We are going on a Viking cruise to Alaska next July together, and I hope that is the first of many excursions. 

            This change in my thinking comes directly out of the grief process I am working my way through. I am developing a new image of myself as a person alone; I am evolving, and it feels good. I am also aware that I need to take advantage of my good health while it lasts, before I am truly “old.” The “faraway places with strange-sounding names” are really just around the corner. It is time to get started on all my adventures!

Thanksgiving: to Stay or to Go

           As we did every Friday, my daughter, Stacy, and I were having our regularly-scheduled video chat, the week before Thanksgiving. We were discussing the upcoming holiday in Ocean Isle, where Stacy, her husband Mike, her son Michael Paul and I would be staying at their beach house.  For the holiday meal we would gather with a number of Mike’s relatives, including his 91-year-old father, at Mike’s brother Ken’s nearby beach house.

            “You know,” I said, “Covid is on the rise here, and everywhere, actually. The health experts are telling everybody to stay home and not travel for Thanksgiving.”

            “I know,” she said, “I was watching it on Good Morning, America.”

            “What do you think?” I asked. “You know we’re going to go through this all over again at Christmas. I am in that older population at risk, over 70.”

            “Yes. If I had to give up one holiday together, it would be Thanksgiving.”

            “Me, too,” I replied. At Christmas we would be celebrating at her home in Raleigh with her family and members of my step-children’s families the weekend before Christmas. I now have a one-year-old great-grandson to add to the holiday fun, another generation coming up.

            “Mike’s not home now. Let me get together with him and we’ll decide what we want to do.”

            “Okay,” I said.

            By late November we were eight months into the pandemic of Covid-19, the coronavirus. We had been inundated with accounts of doctors and nurses working heroically around the clock to save lives. We heard sad stories about tens of thousands who had died. We were asked to stay home except for essential errands, like finding toilet paper. Kids had to do schoolwork by computer, and many didn’t like it, but there was fear that children in classrooms would spread the virus. For a while it appeared the virus was slowing, and businesses began to open up, but now cases were rising exponentially, all over the country. People confessed to having “Covid fatigue,” and many were just careless about observing precautions to prevent catching it. Some felt their rights were being infringed upon, and refused to wear masks. Now we were faced with what had traditionally been the biggest holiday travel days of the year. Thanksgiving meant being with family and friends; no one wanted to be forced to stay home.

            During these last months, people complained of loneliness, wanting to see friends and loved ones. I knew loneliness like I had never experienced it before. I had just lost my husband, Jerry, in February, scarcely one month before everything shut down. When I most needed people, I had to do without my friends and family. In all my life, I realized, I had never lived alone.

            The good part is that I adjusted, and I came to enjoy parts of the single life. Now I feel confident that I will be okay with my new reality. Although I could live with staying home for Thanksgiving if I had to, I was ready to go. This was my first Thanksgiving since Jerry had died, and I wanted to spend it with my family, but I felt it was Mike and Stacy’s decision to make, since I was coming to their house.

            I woke up the next morning after our phone conversation wondering what was going to happen. I texted Stacy to ask if they had made a decision. She texted back, “We want you to come,” saying we would decide how much to see Mike’s family after we all arrived. Pleased the decision had been made, I smiled as I responded, “It feels great to be wanted!”

            I knew we would be careful, and do what we needed to do to be safe. Most importantly, I was not going to be home alone on Thanksgiving, and that felt good.

            Little did we know then… Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving I received an email from Stacy: Mike’s niece, who works as a physician’s assistant, had just tested positive for the coronavirus. She and her family would be isolated for 14 days. Her father, Mike’s brother, Ken, had been to visit her, and might have been exposed. People were bailing out of our wished-for family gathering right and left, including me, after she told me. So the virus answered the question for me: no hugs, no family, no overeating and overdrinking. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I know I still have a lot to be thankful for, most importantly, my good health.

Feline Foibles

My big black cat, Frankie, is just a little bit crazy these days. He still has his own “scaredy-cat” habits, running out his cat door the minute a stranger enters “his” house. Or escaping out his door as soon as I come into the laundry room to feed him in the morning. I always say, “Wait, Frankie! I am going to feed you! With your special paté!” It doesn’t do any good. He comes back pretty quickly, but insists that I let him in through the sliding glass door – just a few feet from his cat door.

            Recently my contrary cat has added some new peculiarities. I can often be found on the couch in the family room, working on my computer, reading or watching TV. Frankie will be sitting on the floor in the kitchen, staring at me. I can tell by his expression that he is getting ready for action, and I look away, pretending I don’t see him. “Oh, boy, here he comes,” I say, as he runs at top speed towards me, jumps on the couch and right into my lap. Oh, he knows there is loving to be had here, because I absentmindedly pet him the whole time he is here. So he will plop himself on me and stay until I have to get up to do something. But he never ran like that before. He does this more on days after he was out all night, because he misses me, but lately he has been staying out every night. His newfound “attack” is kind of sweet, and not a problem, except that I am getting a kink in my neck from looking at my computer sideways. Frankie is a big cat; he takes up all the room on my lap.

            I have also caught him slinking, walking slowly close to the floor. He is more likely to do that when a storm is approaching, and thunder and lightning are present, but he looks so funny he makes me laugh. He will not let me calm him until he is ready; he will come to me. But he will let me dry him if he comes in wet, because that is like petting.

            Lately, he has been compulsively washing, making me wonder if I should take him to the vet, but I want to wait and see if he stops eating or develops any other strange behavior.

            Frankie is a talker. If he meows, I will meow back, trying to duplicate the particular sound. He will meow again, so I will too. This can go on for some time. Right now he is expressing displeasure with me, I believe, because I was away for four days last week. He is giving me the business; I think he will get over that soon.

            I prefer to have Frankie in at night for a couple of reasons: it is safer for him, and he cannot bring in critters. I solved the critter problem by preventing his access to his cat door after dark. That means I have to let him in or out the sliding glass door. If he’s got a critter in his mouth, he is not coming in! He still loves to be outside, day or night, but at least he is not waking me up to show me his latest “catch.” I have to admit I sleep better without him, since he insists on sleeping right up against me, and I worry about disturbing him when I turn over. Not a problem when he’s out, so lately I have been sleeping very well!

            My kitty had a tenuous relationship with my late husband. Jerry always said Frankie didn’t love him, but Jerry didn’t know how to talk to him, refusing to talk baby talk, which Frankie always responds to. Jerry was really a “dog” guy, expecting slavish devotion. That is not Frankie, or any other cat I’m aware of.

            Frankie has a benign thyroid tumor. To keep it from growing, I have to give him liquid medicine from a plunger twice a day. I sandwich the medicine between two small spoonfuls of paté and he gobbles it up. He also eats dry food, but he loves his paté, and his thyroid tumor is not growing.

            Frankie has been a pleasant companion for me during these last months without Jerry. It makes me happy that I am not totally alone, and have a pet to love. Some days I never see him, some days he hangs around. Whenever he decides to grace me with his company, my day is a little bit brighter.

Frankie keeping my seat warm

Finding Joy

This morning I woke up to silent darkness, as I do every day. But this day was different. I slipped quietly out of the bedroom, so as not to wake my roommate. I found my way in the dark to the slider opening to the small balcony outside our beachfront apartment on the 15th floor. The cool air and wind blew in, and I closed the door quickly. No sitting outside early today!

            My writers’ group and I, four of us, are off on retreat in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Far from the cares and worries of the pandemic at home, we have come to write, to shop, to have fun and just to be together. Right now, I am smiling, because the others have gone to walk on the beach and I am alone, perfect for writing! I have already had my beach walk this morning.

            Time for reflection reminds me to look at all the joys in my life, things I take for granted every day, but which I cherish when I think about them. Appreciation. I am compelled to tell people of the joy they bring me by being part of my life. I do believe grief has made me vulnerable, so these feelings are new for me. I have always enjoyed my friends, but I never appreciated them in quite this way. A joy to hold onto.

            Yesterday I told the other women in the writers’ group that I feel they have rescued me from the inmost depths of my loneliness since my husband died eight months ago, right before the pandemic hit. Just to be around people who know me and care about me takes me a long way to wholeness.  

String paintings created
at the beach: Pam, Diane, Polly and Diana

          In addition, my book club has been meeting once a month outdoors for several months; we have been friends for years and it lifts my spirits just to be with them. There are nine of us regulars, and I smile and bask in the warm feelings.

            My daughter, Stacy, has always been a blessing in my life, holding a place in my heart for her alone. I also value my relationships with my four siblings, though we are scattered and rarely see each other. I cherish all my family, those who were mine and those who were Jerry’s. We have a history of caring for each other, and they have been loving to me throughout. All of them are mine now.

            I am a second-time widow now, but I have loved two wonderful men who loved me back, and I knew it. How can I not be thankful for that? I will always cherish those memories.

            In addition to the people in my life who make me happy is the joy I derive from writing my blog. It brings purpose and direction to my life and contributes immensely to my wellbeing and sense of identity, feeling wholly myself.

            I am in good health, something else to celebrate. I come from long-lived families on both sides, making me likely to live a long time. Not sure if that is such a good thing!

            I could mention the small pleasures I have found in my daily routine of living alone with my big black cat, Frankie. It grounds me and gives me hope that my solitary life will truly become joyful for me.

            I am hoping more joy will seep into me while I am here. If I look at the whole of my life, I can find more things to appreciate. I believe there are adventures ahead of me, and that thought is tantalizing. I need to be open to welcome my future story. I know it will be filled with joy.

Working on blog

View from our apartment
Sunrise from the lifeguard stand,
last morning