Monthly Archives: October 2020

When to Move On

Sometimes I wonder if living in this house is inhibiting my ability to move past my husband’s death to make a new life for myself. Jerry, and I lived here together for over seven years. Every room I go into is filled with memories of him, except for my office upstairs. They are happy memories, but I don’t want to live in the past. He has been gone eight months now; is it time to move on?

            The living room has become something of a shrine to Jerry, with his ashes on the mantle (being saved for his son to pick up), pictures and albums on the entertainment center, as well as a folded American flag, given for his military service. The walls are adorned with fish he had mounted, along with a black duck and a fox. The most recent addition is a plaque presented to Jerry posthumously from a local civic group where he was an active volunteer.

            In contrast, my office has always been “a room of my own.” Perhaps that is why I long to go up there to work, to write, despite the fact that my desktop computer died a few months ago. The monitor sits dark on the desk, a lonely testament, waiting for me to return. I still have my laptop/tablet, but I can work anywhere with it, so have not returned to my office. The privacy it afforded so beautifully while I wrote is no longer a factor.

            My office remains my favorite room, however, because of its captivating brightness: the early sun in one window in the morning, and the same sun, streaming through the window next to my desk in the afternoon, creating patterns through the window screen on the wall in front of me.

            My cat, Frankie, used to hang out up there, because he knew I would show up sometime. Often, I would have to shoo him off my chair, and then he would curl up at my feet. He had a hiding place in the closet, and I still leave the doors partly open so he can get in it, but he, too, never goes up there anymore.

            So I have gone from “a room of my own,” to “a house of my own.” I liked it better the old way, which defines my problem. Or is it a problem? I would be mourning Jerry wherever I was. In many ways he was larger than life. A friend from the local civic group told me that Jerry was his hero, because of the strength, resilience and grace he exhibited the last 18 months of his life.

            I recently received a text from a woman in our previous church in Virginia. She had just found out that Jerry had died. She relayed a story about him giving her a recipe for apple dumplings and telling her all the steps involved. I cherish that – it was so Jerry! He used to make a batch of apple dumplings every time his brother, Denny, visited, with plenty to take home for the freezer. It seems everyone has a story about Jerry. How can I move on when these stories keep appearing, touching my heart, reminding me of how special he was?

            I consider what it would take for me to move somewhere else, all the work involved, and I realize there is no need to even think about that. I can see that it’s not necessary to rush the grief process; it will take care of itself in due time. It is okay that my house is suffused with memories of Jerry. I don’t need to forget him to build my new life. I don’t want to forget him, and I never will.

Where Is the Comfort?

We are beginning to experience the change of seasons. We had a few lovely days last week, cool, low humidity, and the temperature has been definitely lower than summer, mostly low 80’s these days, or even cooler. But it could still get hot again. Summer was so hot I couldn’t even wear capris!

            I have not switched out my summer clothes for winter yet, but will soon. I hesitate because I have so many more warm weather clothes than winter clothes. I love the onset of fall, when I can put away my shorts and wear long sleeves or sweaters. I love to think about turning on the fireplace and wrapping myself up in a soft blanket. I bought a pair of casual shoes that I can wear all winter around the house. It is all about comfort.

            But to me, comfort is more than keeping warm as the season changes. It is about living a life that is predictable, knowing what’s important to me, and having the freedom to follow that path. It’s about getting out in the crowds and enjoying the festivals and events of fall. It’s about singing in the choir and preparing for December’s traditional Messiah performance.

             To my regret, life these days is nothing like that, because of the coronavirus. As I write, it is mid-October, and no one knows what will be happening tomorrow. Everything in our lives is up in the air, and there is no comfort. Halloween will be different, and some people are skipping it. Nothing is normal now, but I am tired of the phrase “new normal.”

             I find myself thinking about the comfort foods of my childhood and yearn to be free enough to mingle with friends I have not seen, except on Zoom, for months. I want my life back! I have hunkered down long enough, I believe, so I really do need to go out and do all the things I  used to. I am weary of “virtual meetings.” I want to hug people.

            Normally, I like to hibernate in winter, gorge myself on college basketball, not caring if I see anybody. I think this winter will be different because of my pervasive loneliness. I never realized how much I needed people until these last eight months of living alone. Everyone has experienced challenges dealing with COVID-19, but I feel my loneliness deep inside, in my bones. I will get used to being alone, and even enjoy it, I suspect, but that time has not come yet.

            The best way to describe how I feel about my current life is “discomfort.” I could throw in “anxiety,” “nervousness,” or “on edge.” I just don’t feel like myself. But that’s the problem: I am indeed no longer that person, the old identity that was married to Jerry. My life is new now, and I am in the process of grieving the old life and figuring out who I am by myself. I am becoming.

            Time is my friend, I know, but right now comfort is like a distant dream I yearn for, languishing in my mind, unattainable.

Fly Away, Jerry

I phoned my late husband’s best friend. “John,” I said. “It’s raining again!” It had rained every day all week. John and my husband, Jerry, were fishing buddies. They had gone fishing two or three times a week, mostly at the waters off Fort Macon State Park, about an hour’s drive. It was a “favorite fishing hole,” and seemed an appropriate place for Jerry’s ashes to rest. Now it was Friday, and we were planning a family trip to Fort Macon on Saturday to scatter his ashes.

            “If it rains, it rains,” he replied. “That won’t stop us.”

            Back in the spring my daughter, Stacy, had come to visit me, and we opened the sealed box of Jerry’s ashes. I had waited for her visit because I didn’t know how I would feel. It almost felt like a sacred moment. But when we opened the box, and the plastic bag inside, we saw simply tan and gritty ashes, with tiny white pebbles, not like fireplace ashes, the only ashes I knew.

            Stacy looked at them and said, “Oooh, I don’t want to think those little stones are his bones!” As I looked at them, I did not feel sad, but rather, almost detached. It did not seem possible that my husband had been turned into those tiny pebbles.

            We were filling an urn, which was more like a cookie jar, we were planning to take to Pennsylvania for a memorial service. The service never happened, because of the coronavirus. Now I am saving the urn for my stepson, Duane, who could not be with us. He wants to scatter ashes in meaningful places in Pennsylvania, where he grew up and lives now.

            Although all of our family could not be with us for our trip to the beach, the nine of us would include three grandchildren, so all families were represented. When Stacy arrived that Friday evening, we made our preparations. “Don’t you think these containers will work?” I pulled several lidded plastic containers out of my cupboard and showed them to her. She nodded, and we arranged nine containers on the kitchen island. Since we had opened the box of ashes once before, we did not feel the apprehension we had felt the first time. We put the remainder of Jerry’s ashes into the nine containers, so each of us would have ashes to scatter.

            Saturday dawned overcast, but not rainy. When all the family had arrived at my home, we drove in a three-car caravan to Fort Macon, stopping to pick up John. I was his driver, leading the caravan so he could show us the best place to park.

            After parking, we walked about a half mile, through a wooded area and then sand, as the ocean spread out in front of us, with a steady wind blowing. I used Jerry’s golf umbrella for a walking stick; (John used it going back. He is 91 and battling cancer, but he was a trouper this day).

            We were a little concerned that someone might call us out for “scattering illegally,” but there were few people on the beach and no rangers. We had decided we would all scatter first and then say words, if we wanted to. I went first, throwing my ashes out in front of me toward the water, but the wind took them, and they flew off to the right, never reaching the water. That wasn’t what I had planned, but I loved it, because it felt like he was really flying away, “to a land where joys will never end.” My grandson Michael Paul wrapped his ashes in a paper towel, weighted down with a small stone Stacy had decorated. Each person threw their ashes, and, as he threw his, John could be overheard muttering, “I was always a better fisherman than you.”

            So “I’ll Fly Away” was a most appropriate song, and Stacy played the Alison Krauss version on her phone, as she and I sang along. It is a special song for Jerry and me, since it was our signature song when we both sang with a band in our church in Virginia.

            It never rained, and it was all upbeat. Everything felt right. We all walked back to our cars with smiles on our faces. Meeting back at my house, we had lunch together. We had given Jerry the best send-off we could, and we were content.

John took a group pic of us

Through the woods at Ft. Macon
Walking with John to the beach
Singing I’ll Fly Away