Thoughts While Scraping My Deck

Our deck was not my late husband’s finest hour. I do not want to affix blame here, because he did do the job and I did not help, but the paint has not worn well. So this summer I am scraping my deck by hand because the old paint has come off in quite a few places – I have to make sure that what is left won’t peel when it is painted again. My deck cannot be stained because the wood is in bad shape, so it needs to be painted with special paint for old decks. Right now I am just trying to get it ready to paint.

I considered buying a paint stripper, but decided I did not want to deal with messy chemicals and could handle the job myself, with a lot of elbow grease. It is so difficult, however, that I can only work about an hour before I am exhausted. And I must work in the morning, when there is no sun, now that our weather has turned hot and humid. I showed the deck to my handyman (I have a handyman!) but he politely refused to do the scraping, reminding me that it would cost me a lot of money for him to do that. He is waiting in the wings to do the painting. As I scrape, I must confess that I love it when I find a patch that peels way up the board. The pleasures of peeling!

To keep my mind occupied while I scrape, I sometimes sing old favorite songs, or hymns. Some of the words to those hymns come right out of the Bible, and I feel like I am praying when I sing them. Sometimes I talk to God while engaged in this mindless work. To date I have not heard back from Him/Her but that doesn’t mean I won’t.

Here is another thought I had while scraping:

I have been thinking about all the little steps it takes to become the person I want to be, and how I am still trying. Each time I do a kind thing it makes it easier to do it the next time. My first inclination is still toward my own needs before I can do the right thing, however, or even imagine it. So maybe it would help to not care so much. Or maybe I do care about something, but it really doesn’t matter. I can care but I can keep it to myself. How much does it matter?  is a question I need to ask myself. I guess what I am saying is, I need to get away from myself. If I can stop worrying about getting my needs met, I can be more accessible to others. That’s a tall order.

I try to think positive thoughts while I scrape. I imagine how nice the deck will look when it’s freshly painted, and how I will enjoy entertaining then. Or I think about my future travels, this summer with my sister, this fall with my daughter.  I solve problems in my mind by talking them out with myself. I talk out loud to myself so much these days I am afraid I will get caught in the supermarket debating the merits of one vegetable over another!

As far as my deck project goes, I always keep in mind that this task has a finite end and then give myself the pep talk: I can do this! There will be more unpleasant jobs in my future, I suspect, but that doesn’t matter. I am just grateful that I am healthy enough to do it. Good for me!

One Step Back

My left thumb rubs against my ring finger. It is turning my wedding ring, a nugget ring patterned on one side only. Except there is no ring. I took it off several months ago, after the first anniversary of my husband’s death. I felt it was time. I wanted to move into the next phase of my new life as a widow: the transition from my life with Jerry, now over, to whatever comes next.

            Just as my thumb was acting out of old habits, so am I these days. I have good things coming, I am sure of it. But I am stuck right now, feeling out of sorts, not liking myself very much. Today I am not comfortable in my own skin.

            I was sure I was “healed,” ready to move on. So why does everything look so bleak? I am taken back to 2020, when I was so lonely, when the pandemic went on and on. I go out, I see people, but I want more. It seems like nobody gets in touch with me unless they want something. I feel like I am on the outside, watching the world moving along without me. And I am weighed down – again – by home maintenance.

            I cannot define these feelings other than to say it is probably depression. It will pass, and I will feel a part of the world again. I think if someone were here, they’d get tired of the Gloomy Gus I am today. I am sad, missing the partner who, it seemed, could always solve every problem that came along, problems I just don’t want to deal with.

            I guess this is another manifestation of grief. Two steps forward, one step back. Life does this to us, you know. Sometimes it is much harder to do what you need to do. Grief is work, not for the faint of heart.

            This somber mood may have been precipitated by a call I made to my late husband’s best friend, John. I call to check on him periodically, and he is always doing well, although he is 92 and being treated for cancer. I am so glad that he has a support network to envy, several women who call, who bring him meals and go places with him. Nonetheless, he never fails to mention how much he misses Jerry. Today he said, “He and I were so compatible, I really miss him.”

            I replied, with a smile in my voice, though I was blinking back tears, “He and I were also compatible, and I miss him too.” And indeed I do.

I am the Psalmist, offering a lament to God :

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” Psalm 130:1

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” Psalm 130:5

            Hope is the message of the day, and I cling to it. At some point, I know this malaise will be over. I will wake up to greet the day with a smile on my face, realizing that life is worth living. I will know that I have much to offer this unpredictable world I am a part of, and that joy is just around the corner.

            My smile, then, will be real.

Sister Love

I have two sisters and two brothers. Lately, I have been thinking about the enduring connections among siblings. I am closest to my brother, Dave, two years older than I, and my sister, Denise, (or Denny), six years younger. That is mostly because our other siblings are quite a bit older than we are, almost like they were one family, and we three were another. I think Dave loves me as much as I love him, but he is not a good communicator. Denny and I have done a better job of keeping in touch.

            I can’t describe to my satisfaction the “blood” bond between us siblings. It has to be that we spent all those years living together, sometimes playing games, sometimes squabbling, sometimes furious with each other. Love was just a given, a baseline from birth, but never talked about among us.Denise and I have always been close. She was six and I was twelve when our mom went back to work full time. We were the two youngest children. My job in the family was to come straight home from school so I could babysit for Denny. I never minded much, because she was sunny and sweet. In fact, she has a sweetness about her that I can’t define, but it is part of why I love her so much. She has an open, adaptable personality that makes her attractive.  

            Nowadays, it might be frowned upon for a family to require a child to babysit every day, but I think it was more common in the 50’s and 60’s, when we grew up. The age difference between Denny and me as children meant we were not equals – I was the boss, which seemed to suit both of us. I could hone my bossy skills, and she could just be a sweet little girl. In later years we joked that she was my first child!

Singing was a regular pastime for Denny and me. When I went to Girl Scout camp, I developed a love for harmony, bringing all the songs home to teach her. She had a pure soprano I could easily harmonize with. My dad was a Boys Club Executive Director, and all the family was involved summers with the Club’s Brady Camp. I remember Denny and me performing songs for the campers around the evening campfire.

Denny and I stayed close after we grew up, though we did not live near each other after we married. Visits became less frequent, but Thanksgiving and Christmas together were always a given. Thanksgiving was at my house, Christmas at our parents’ for many years.  When my first husband, Jim, died suddenly, Denise was a freshman at Syracuse. Nobody expected her to get to the funeral, just two days later, over 300 miles away in Pennsylvania.  But she managed to find a guy friend with a car who was willing to drive her. I cried when I saw her, knowing she had realized how much I needed her.

This past year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Denise and I have grown even closer, as she grieved the loss of Ed, her husband of 46 years, and I mourned my second husband, Jerry. They died early in 2020, just five weeks apart. We sisters have talked by video every week since March, 2020, and have come to cherish those calls. In the early days we cried – now we talk about everything. We are trying to make our way and find some direction in these new lives we each have been challenged with.

After more than a year of talking every week, with much urging on my part, Denny came to visit me in May. I had not seen her since the day she and Ed came to see Jerry while he was in hospice care last February. We got along so well while she was here that I am comfortable with the idea of us as traveling companions.

When an Alaskan cruise we were scheduled for this summer was cancelled, I became obsessed with the desire to travel in 2021. Why? Because I am feeling fatalistic. Every time I turn around I see another senior who has fallen down, including myself, or has developed some other disability. I am healthy now, and I want to travel when I am feeling good. When my sister and I are both in good health, for that matter. Plus, we have been through so much that we deserve some pampering. Oh, yes!

We looked at several websites with interesting excursions, but they were all booked. We had about given up when surprise! I saw a Viking ad for European river cruises in July, 2021! I texted her immediately, and we found a trip, Paris and the Heart of Normandy, that fits both of our schedules. I am so excited that my travel dream is coming true. The Paris trip I missed in 2018 is happening!

This cruise will be a first for me, and I am hopeful that this will not be our last trip together. We have siblings in Florida, Canada and California whom we have not seen in years, and none of us are getting any younger. Watch out world, here we come!

The Perils of Pickleball

I had heard about pickleball from several people. Such enthusiasm! Their eyes lit up when they talked about it. “You should try it, you’ll love it!” they all said. As an active person who enjoys sports, I thought, Why not? I’ll give it a try.

From the first time I picked up a pickleball paddle and ventured onto the court, I was hooked. Now I understood what people were talking about – it was fun! And it helped me to get all that encouragement from my fellow players: “You are doing great for your first time,” “You’re a natural,” “I can tell you play tennis,” (though I haven’t played in many years). I found it much easier than tennis, played with a paddle and a wiffle ball, and doubles only. I could tell that this was a sport I might be able to master, and I was raring to go. I texted my daughter that I have the perfect Mother’s Day gift for her to get me: a pickleball paddle!

            In my third time on the court, there were only four of us, so we played round robin, moving in a circle after each game so we played with different partners and opponents. It was obvious that whoever played with me was on the losing team, but nobody seemed to notice. My time will come, I thought to myself. I was improving each time, and it showed.

            I remember running after the ball, when all of a sudden I face-planted on the gym floor. I landed on my right cheekbone and right hand. Everyone ran to me, helping me up. I was not in a lot of pain, but I decided I had better go to Urgent Care. I wasn’t sure I would be able to drive my car, so the players helped get me and my car to Urgent Care and then home.  I was lucky to have caring people to help me.

            The diagnosis was a broken bone in my right hand. I suffered numerous bruises: my face was bruised from under my eye to my chin, sporting colors from blue to green to purple and red. Otherwise I was fine. The orthopedist fitted me for a brace, but I cannot type or write with it. It sits by my side, ready to protect me as needed, but it gets in my way. I have things to do! Company coming, beds to make, house to clean, windows to wash.

            I can be blasé about this fall, but the truth is, falls are the biggest downfall (pun intended) for seniors. I fell two years ago and cracked my pelvis. That was SO much worse than this and took many weeks to recover. I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have to go through anything like that this time.

            My daughter came for Mother’s Day with a beautiful swirly-painted purple pickleball paddle. Today a friend at the Y told me I need to buy “tennis shoes.” Everybody around here calls all sneakers “tennis shoes,” but she meant the real thing, for playing tennis. Apparently, the sneakers we buy for all-purpose walking and gym-going are good for forward and back movement, but tennis shoes are better for lateral movement. That makes sense to me, but I had never heard it before. I had already been thinking about buying new sneakers.

            My second visit to the orthopedist is coming up in two days. By then my guests will all be gone. I have already shopped to buy new tennis shoes, and I will have started again with all my classes at the Y (but not pickleball). My purple pickleball paddle sits in the closet, waiting. I will only have one burning question to ask the orthopedist:

“How soon can I play pickleball?”

5 days after my fall.

Help Wanted: My House, My Yard, My Life!

I first noticed how neglected my house looks outside when I had the roof replaced in January. Walking around the house with the roofing contractor, I noticed things I had just never paid attention to before, because my late husband, Jerry, took care of them. My house clearly needs pressure washing to clean mold and mildew off the siding. My yard and gardens are full of debris, mostly from my plentiful pine and oak trees. I have an area in the back where I dumped lawn debris last year. I need a guy with a truck who can take that – and more junk from the garage – to the landfill.

            I didn’t realize how stressed I was until I made a list of who and what I need. Clarity! The relief I felt then made me realize how happy I will be when all the action items, or at least most of them, are completed. I don’t have to do all these things myself. There are people who do them for a living! Friends at my book club meeting last week came through for me, suggesting several individuals or businesses that did just what I need.

            Last year I did quite a lot of weeding in the back yard, and planted a few things in the vegetable garden Jerry had made. I ended up pulling up flowers in the flower garden that I thought were weeds and failing to grow any vegetables in the vegetable garden. This year my strategy is different. Jerry’s vegetable garden will go fallow. Anything I want to plant will be in a container, including flowers in my barrels. That way I can place them to assure they will get enough sun, which was the major problem last year. I might plant tomatoes, but chances are I will only plant parsley, which I use a lot in cooking.

I love harvesting vegetables, which we grew in a large garden at our previous home in Virginia. Digging potatoes is just plain fun, and asparagus is like a miracle shooting straight up out of the ground.  But gardening is just not my thing. I harvested; I did not do much weeding. I helped to plant, if Jerry asked me to, but the garden was really his.

Now I am faced with roses in front and back that I have no interest in managing. Jerry planted so many things, most of which are perennials. If they will grow on their own, fine. If they need help, forget it. Some have gotten completely overgrown. I am hoping my “guy with a truck,” or somebody else, will take care of them. Still haven’t pinned that person down. I did take some time to pull vines off the azaleas in the front yard, which resulted in a run-in with a tick, which I found on the back of my leg at 2:30 in the morning. I go a little crazy around bugs sometimes, and I knew I could not go back to bed with that tick on me, but I managed to scrape it off with a fingernail.

Since Jerry died, I have noticed that I get stressed when I am faced with decisions in areas that I am not familiar with, jobs that he hired someone for or did himself. I feel like a fish out of water until I give myself a good talking to. This is not rocket science. You can do this. Every time I make a little progress I pat myself on the back. I am pleased that I bought a new laptop for myself, by myself, a couple of weeks ago. I did research with Consumer Reports, picked the one I wanted and went out and bought it. It was much easier to set up than in the old days, because so much is wireless these days. Now if I could only stop fat-fingering the keys I’ll be set.

So I have come to the understanding that it is all on me, which is okay. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s freedom! Freedom from others’ expectations, freedom to work – or not – in the yard, freedom to satisfy only myself. Although I have to handle everything, I feel real satisfaction when I succeed. If I run into difficulties, I will have to learn to ask for help. And continue to tell myself, just do it.

Superstitions and Rituals

“That guy hasn’t missed a free throw all night,” announced the color commentator of the college basketball game.

            “Now you’ve done it, you’ll jinx him for sure,” said the play-by-play broadcaster. Sure enough, the player missed his next free throw.

            Why do we say such things? Do we really believe there is a supernatural universe operating out of sight? Is it a form of magic? We all do it; we go through rituals for certain tasks, in an effort to affect things we cannot control. I don’t consider myself superstitious, but I do still participate in rituals.

A favorite of mine is “knock on wood,” a mantra to assure things will continue the positive way just stated. For example, after a visit to a friend in the hospital, I said, hopefully, “Well, it looks like she’s out of the woods now, the worst is over. Knock on wood!” Woe betide us if there is nothing made of wood handy! It feels like a bad sign if we don’t follow through, so I feel some dissatisfaction if I can’t knock on real wood. I have nothing wooden in my car, alas, so I am out of luck if I am in the car when I try to knock

            I think rituals help us because we believe they give us an edge to achieve a desired outcome. Going back to basketball (can’t help it, as I write this we are in the midst of March Madness), a coach will often wear what he considers a lucky sweater, or tie. A player will go through the same routine each time he lines up for a free throw, but that could also be muscle memory, since he practices shooting hundreds of free throws. Each time the routine works, it reinforces the behavior – until it doesn’t work. Then the person needs to find another ritual. Maybe he will cling to the ritual a little longer if he thinks the failure was just an aberration.

            I am a Duke basketball fan; I wear my college gear when I am going to watch a game my team is playing. It doesn’t necessarily work, but it makes me feel like I am doing my part. I have sweatshirts, T shirts and earrings as well as mugs to drink from.

            So many people are superstitious that it seems to be part of being human. I would venture that all cultures have their rituals and superstitions. Anything you can do that might be able to improve the odds is worth a try. But people do these things without actual forethought, it seems to me. If we think about it too much we realize how silly it is to think we have such power. So we continue practicing these behaviors without examining ourselves too closely.

            I remember as a child, when I walked on a sidewalk, hearing in my head the saying:

                        “Step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back,

                        Step on a line, you’ll break your mother’s spine.”

I did not believe it, but I was careful to walk the proper number of steps it took to get through each sidewalk block, so I wouldn’t step on a line. I still do that, to this day.

            Here are some more common superstitions: if you spill salt, you must immediately throw some over your left shoulder (to ward off evil); it is bad luck to walk under a ladder; a black cat crossing your path is bad luck (making it a not-so-great idea to have one for a pet, as I do); if you break a mirror, you’ll have seven years of bad luck. Those rituals and superstitions all portend negative consequences.

            Some rituals are inherently positive. If my daughter and I happen to say the same thing at the same time, we immediately join pinkies. One of us says, “What goes up the chimney?”

            The other replies, “Smoke.”

            The two of us then say, in unison, as we shake our pinkies up and down, “Your wish and my wish will never be broke.” That always gives me satisfaction, even if I haven’t thought of a wish. It’s kind of like breaking a wishbone, which the two people must hold between their pinkies. I always believed the person getting the larger piece had their wish come true, but I discovered that my husband believed the opposite. So we could both win (or lose)!

            Athletes in particular seem to engage in rituals. I am told that tennis player Rafael Nadal goes through an elaborate ritual each time he serves, although I have not seen it for myself. He wins a lot, so maybe it works! Superstitions and rituals help us to believe that we have some measure of control over the universe. Even though we know it’s not so, we continue using them, anyway.

Just in case.

Just Passing Through

My daughter, Stacy, and I were talking the other day, and we came up with the name of an old colleague of mine. “I wonder where she is now,” she mused. I wondered, too. As we talked, her story came back to me. June had told us about nearly dying from salmonella in undercooked eggs she ate while living in England. She was an independent contractor I worked with when I had my own business, and she gave Stacy a beautiful plate as a wedding gift. I have not heard from her in close to 20 years.

Our discussion got me thinking about all the people I have known throughout my life. How many people have passed through my world and then moved on? My mind is a kaleidoscope of all of them, and my memory is filled with their little touches before they or I moved away or just drifted apart. As I continue meet new people, I am delighted that it is not too late to feel the joy of another person joining my life story.

            I have this image in my mind of the little yellow ducklings that float by in a shooting gallery. They just keep coming, until you knock them over. Another will always pop up if one is gone. They are all the same, but the people we meet are all different.

            New relationships arise unbidden, maybe a chance encounter, maybe a new neighbor. Some stand the test of time, some don’t. They bump into me like a bumper car and then stay or bounce away. Some are convenient, perhaps living nearby, but we lose touch when one of us moves. I still remember them, however, and I like to think they remember me.

            I need to go back nearly 50 years to remember Betsy and Tom, a young couple who were neighbors at my first apartment in Durham. NC. Tom was in graduate school at Duke and Betsy was a teacher. The windows were open when Betsy knocked on my door. She had heard me arguing loudly with my two-year-old.

“Pick up your toys!” I shouted.

            Hands on hips, Stacy shouted back, “I won’t!”

            “You will!” I shouted, determined that a two-year-old was not getting the best of me.

            When I answered the door, Betsy asked, “Can I help?” I was embarrassed that Betsy had overheard our scene, and that I had turned into a child myself, but I was grateful for our rescue. If ever I needed a friend, that was the time. I will never forget that moment, but now I have no idea where Tom and Betsy ended up.

            I remember a young woman who worked for me when I was Executive Director of a small nonprofit in Manassas, Virginia. Pam was afraid to drive on the beltway around D.C., and she was also afraid to drive in the dark, so she had to leave work early at 4:30. However, she was very bright, and I really enjoyed working with her. I still have a cross-stitch she made for me that says, “Polly’s Kitchen.” Her baby girl was born the day before my birthday.

            A sudden loss or health crisis may bring some of those old friends to the fore. When they responded on Facebook, even though I knew it was easy to do so, it made a difference to me after my husband, Jerry, died. I was touched that faraway friends still remember me. I also respond on Facebook to others’ sorrows, writing, “So sorry,” knowing how inadequate that is for the person suffering deep pain.

I had several friends in northern Virginia who lost their husbands after we moved to North Carolina. Jane’s husband, Jeff, had recently retired as a pilot for United Airlines when he died suddenly from a heart attack. He had been one of our guitar players and sang bass for the church singing group that Jerry and I were a part of. We loved Jeff and mourned him along with his family. That small singing group has lost almost all its members through death or moving away, but we had a wonderful time singing together.

            I rarely keep cards sent to me, but I have kept all the cards I received after Jerry died. When I am feeling sad, I read them again, sharing my loss with others that loved him, and remembering the connection we each had with the person sending the card.

            I have friends all over this country and even all over the world who go back many years. Some are the kind of friends I pick up with immediately, as if we had never been apart, if I am lucky enough to see them again. There are also friends I have known less time, but they are a part of my daily life, friends I see at the Y, for example. The local friends who know me best are in my book club, or my writers’ group, or church friends. These people feed my soul, especially now. Some I have not seen since the pandemic began; I look forward to spending time with them again, in person. This pandemic has taught me more about loneliness than I ever wanted to know.

            It brings me pleasure to think of all the people who have joined me for a time on my life’s journey. Each has a place in my memory, each special in his or her own way. They may have been just passing through, but they have not been forgotten.

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.