Another Year

A lot of people have said that the second year after the loss of their spouse was worse than the first. In some ways, that has been true. Some of the numbness of the first year has worn off. The reality of one’s ‘new life’ is really setting in. So I really dreaded the protracted holiday season that seems to run from Halloween to New Years. I am pleased to say that I have made it most of the way through the gauntlet at this point. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I remember so many years when I savored every holiday. It was always fun to get together with family and friends, to see the lights and store windows, to plan for events. To shop for presents, to bake, plan elaborate meals, to decorate. We started with Halloween, decorating early in October and whenever the weather allowed, staying on the front porch for hours enjoying trick or treaters, then had a big Thanksgiving celebration and on it went up to New Years.

The first year that Jovito and I were married, I painted an entire nativity set complete with the Holy Family, shepherds and sheep, magi and their camels and servants and one angel. I made a Christmas tree skirt that I am still using this year. I made several dozen Christmas cookies and we gave tins to family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Our apartment was decorated, we had a huge Christmas tree loaded with ornaments. We added to those ornaments every year, many from travels. In subsequent years I began to host Thanksgiving dinner and often either Christmas Eve or Christmas as well. We usually had a large New Year’s Eve party because we found it more fun to do that than to go out. The holidays were busy and fun.

The year my mother died, I found it hard to get into the spirit of the season. Jovito did most of the work of putting up the Christmas tree and decorating that year, but we shopped together because our daughter was just three and deserved a nice holiday. After a few years, I began to enjoy the holidays again. Many years I took off the whole Thanksgiving week so that I could clean and prep and cook for days. Although our house is not large, we always liked to have it packed full of people.

Last year, after Jovito passed away, it was again hard to get into the spirit of the season. I was glad to be invited to my brother’s house for Thanksgiving. I remember how odd it felt to do the preparation for the one dish that I was bringing then get in the car alone to drive there. The day was nice, but I really missed Jovito. He loved to be with the family, he teased all the nieces and nephews, sneaked treats to the dogs under the table, and always had some good jokes to share. And it was always fun to talk about the party on the way home.

Christmas and New Years last year were rather grim. In the early part of December I had an Emergency Room visit and spent about a week fairly sick. Then I had a tooth pulled just a week before and it was just healing so I could only eat soft food.

But in the end that all turned out to be pretty unimportant. The thing that was really devastating was that my daughter experienced what we thought was a miscarriage, which would have been difficult enough. But it turned out to be a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. She was in the hospital on New Year’s Eve, had a procedure on New Year’s Day, and was hospitalized for the first week of 2019. It was an incredibly frightening time; and once it became clear that she was going to be ok, it was a very sad time. We had all hoped to see 2019 start off well so that we could begin to put 2018 behind us. That wasn’t our reality.

I remember not long after Jovito passed away, my pastor told me that after great grief, her experience had been that the second year was a little better. She said that she found it comforting to look back and be able to say ‘last year at this time I felt worse than I do now’. I thought of that comment often during the holidays last year; I hoped that I would experience the same thing. It gave me some small amount of hope. I realized this year that indeed, I shared her experience. I still have a long way to go in the healing process; but I do take comfort in looking back and being able to say ‘last year at this time I felt worse than I do now’.

I allowed myself a little more freedom to do things the way I wanted to this year. I decorated less, I shopped less, I baked less; I spent more time reading Advent materials and scripture, attending special Advent events. My daughter and son-in-law got me a smaller tree that I could put up and take down without help. Instead of frantic holiday preparations, I took time for things that were relaxing and spiritually nourishing: attended my book club, participated in a four week Advent study and several other special advent events. I hosted a wine tasting party, had lunch with a friend, went to dinner and a movie with another friend, attended a night of drag bingo for yet another friend’s 70th birthday.

On Christmas Eve I went to a candlelight service then came home and watched some of the holiday classic movies with Guac and Arby (my dog and and my daughter’s dog). They are great companions!

Guac and Arby

Christmas Day turned out to be nearly 60 degrees, which is the second warmest Christmas on record in Chicago. Instead of going out, I stayed home. I took the dogs for three walks and we spent most of the afternoon in the yard. I got the grill and air conditioner covered for the winter, which has been on my to-do list for many weeks. I made a fruit cake. (Mine is WAY better than the store-bought varieties that everyone hates.) And we watched more holiday movies.

Keeping the holidays lower key and doing things differently than I had in the past relieved some of the stress and anxiety. Instead of trying to recreate holidays ‘the way they used to be’, I simply took a little break. I am reminded of the book ‘Atlas Shrugged’. Strangely enough, that is a book that has been important to me; I reread it every few years and still find meaning. Ideologically it is far to the right of where I am. But still, there is a lot of wisdom that speaks to me. A passage that has stayed with me over the years is:

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

To shrug.”

Last year, I really stayed blindly on the same path that I had always followed in the past. I thought that the best approach would be to continue with the traditions I have loved in hopes of reclaiming them. This year, I gave myself the freedom to shrug. Just a little shrug, but it has helped. Perhaps next year I will be ready to reclaim some of the old traditions. Or maybe not. We will see.

Stuck on Dead Center

For many years I corresponded with my Uncle Harold; he was my mother’s much older brother. He suffered from depression and possibly other mental illness; in his final decade or so he was pretty much a hermit, living alone in an old farmhouse where his parents had lived. When family members cleaned out the farmhouse after his death, they found years of saved newspapers and magazines and many other hoarded items.

Uncle Harold was an avid reader. He read everything from history and politics to poetry and literature. My mother always said that if he had nothing else to read, he would read the back of a box that was on the table or an ad flyer or pretty much anything else he could lay his hands on. He was a painter (a house painter by trade, but an artist by vocation). He was a kind man who took care of both parents in their last years. He was morose; but he was also incredibly smart and a deep thinker.

He and I started writing to each other (yes, real letters in those days) when I was 10 years old and moved to Tennessee with my family. He was in his late 50’s at the time. Our correspondence continued for about 25 years until close to his death. His letters were were usually several handwritten pages. He nearly always included an obituary that he had cut out of the local newspaper. He read the obituaries every day; and he made sure to keep us informed of the deaths of friends, acquaintances, neighbors and distant family members.

He wrote beautiful letters that were wide-ranging in topics. Sometimes they would be about nature, for example describing fall coming to the mountain area where he lived. Other times they would be filled with family and neighborhood news. He might write about political events, new scientific discoveries, a new book he had read. His interests were wide-ranging and he read multiple newspapers every day.

One letter that I remember so well came to me when I was in high school. He talked about being ‘stuck on dead center’. That term comes from the railroad. As I understand, it is talking about a specific alignment of the axle and pistons on a train. If the train gets stopped with the wheels in this position, it can get ‘stuck’. The term was common in a community with lots of railroads. In the case of the train, to get it moving, usually it meant that the train had to move backwards to get unstuck, then start moving forward.

As a teenager, I didn’t have a frame of reference to grasp the meaning of what he said. But it stuck in my mind, and over the intervening years, from time to time I have thought of that phrase.

At this point in my life, I think that I finally fully understand what he meant. Over the past year and a half, I have managed to keep moving forward fairly well. I have been dealing with deep grief following the loss of my husband Jovito. I have had some health issues. My daughter has had some more serious health issues that really scared me. Yet I still managed to keep going and be productive for the most part.

But in early September, I had oral surgery. As procedures go, it was pretty minor. I had three posts inserted in my jaw that will later be used to hold dental implants if all goes as planned. The surgery went well; the protocol my doctor followed really minimized the pain and swelling. I healed very quickly.

But part of that protocol was to take a prescription strength pain medication for 48 hours. The doctor emphasized that I should take it faithfully for those two days regardless of pain level. He wanted to control the swelling to ensure that the posts remained properly placed. And it did that. It also kept me drowsy and lethargic for those two days. And the impact continued for at least a few days after I stopped taking it. For several days, I sat in a recliner, binge watching Netflix and dozing intermittently. I managed to rouse enough to take Guac for three walks each day. Then it was back to my chair.

As soon as the required 48 hours was over, I stopped the medication because I really hated the feeling. But having broken my normal routine with those days of inactivity made it really hard to get back in gear. Of course I went to work and did other required things. But I had a really hard time keeping myself on task. There was a quilting project I had been enjoying. But it sat untouched since before the surgery. For those who know me, that is pretty unusual. I just couldn’t seem to get going.

Just a few weeks after the surgery, I made a trip to Tucson for the National JFON Roundtable. As the date crept up on me, I didn’t do anything to prepare for the trip. I finally managed to pack the night before I left. The trip was energizing in some ways. It was a time of great learning. But it was also emotionally draining. I got a real first hand look at many aspects of our immigration system. Some were things I had known intellectually; some were completely new to me. I learned new language, like ‘militarization of the border’.

I will write more about the experience in Tucson as time passes. There is much to say. But for now, I would just say that it was and is a lot to process. I came home exhausted. I found it hard to jump back into doing the things that needed to be done. I did the things that had to be done, but anything optional sat on the back burner. That phrase from Uncle Harold’s letter came to mind. I was, indeed, ‘stuck on dead center’. It felt to me that, like the locomotive, once I got stopped, I just couldn’t seem to make any forward momentum.

The one thing that I have continued to enjoy during this time is taking Guac out for walks. We have continued to walk three times a day. Usually at least one is a longer walk. As the weather has gotten fall-like, I have enjoyed it even more. I am really grateful that my daughter and son-in-law encouraged me to get a dog. And I am so glad that I ended up with sweet little Guac. He is a great companion, and he keeps me moving every day.

Once I began to realize what was going on, I started to make a conscious effort to push through and do things that I want to get done. And I have made definite progess. A couple of weeks ago, with just a few hours of work, I finished the quilt square that I had cut out in August. I prepped for the group I leading. I did some of the tasks that had fallen behind for my volunteer work. And I sorted through the piles of stuff that accumulated over the six or so weeks of inactivity. I did a lot of routine things that needed to be done.

Hopefully with the help of a robust and detailed ‘to do’ list, I am getting back to being somewhat productive. But even now, I am clearly not fully back in the swing of things. It is easy to put something off rather than just get it out of the way. I am not typically someone who procrastinates. I tend to obsess and drive everyone around me crazy. But lately I have been doing things at the last possible moment.

Gaining insight into what was going on has made me wonder if perhaps I haven’t allowed myself enough space to grieve. Especially in 2018, I found that I felt better when I was working, studying, or participating in the various committee in which I am involved. I did attend a grief group last year; it was a Grief Share group, but it did not really follow the full Grief Share format. In addition, it was cut short from 12 to 8 weeks. While it was somewhat helpful, I don’t think it was quite what I needed.

I believe that I still have grief work that I need to do. I will be participating with a couple of friends in an informal group, reading a couple of books around the grief process. I have found talking with these friends to be really helpful, and with the structure of these books I think it will be even more helpful.

I am going to make every effort to spend more time on meditation, walking and various craft activities. A friend of mine said that someone close to her told her that she was good at ‘doing’, but not good at ‘being’. I think that tends to be true for me. Between now and the end of the year, when tax season begins, I plan to focus on allowing some intentional time for this work. And I need to make sure that the time is not just time to watch TV or scroll through social media; but that in fact, I allow myself some space for processing and for just ‘being’.

I guess we will see how it goes!

About Treasuring Memories and Still Moving Forward

Six years ago last week my husband and I took a trip to see the Grand Canyon. Over our 44 years together we took many, many trips. This particular trip was one of top 10 for sure. Rather than do all the planning and research, we decided to go with Road Scholar. Our tour group was small and fit on a mini-bus with a tour guide/driver. We started in Scottsdale and got to see Flaggstaff and Sedona and some really gorgeous scenery on the way.

We spent 3 days on the South Rim, then traveled around to the East and spent 2 days on the North rim. In the course of the trip, we got to put our feet in the Colorado River at its starting point, see the Vermillion Cliffs, visit the Cameron Trading Post, hike part way down Bright Angel Trail, cross the Navajo bridge on foot, see condors, watch the sun set over the Grand Canyon, watch a raging thunderstorm on the South Rim from our vantage point on the North Rim, and so much more. We both agreed it was one of our best ever trips.

That trip is a great memory, or more realistically, quite a few great memories. I have enjoyed seeing the pictures show up as Facebook memories over the past week or so. They remind me of all the things we saw and did, and of what a great week it was.

So many of my favorite memories come from traveling. I remember visiting Provincetown on Cape Cod in the early 1980’s and walking to the docks in the late afternoon to watch the fishermen bring in small-ish boats towing giant tuna that weighed 800 – 900 pounds. I remember a second trip to Provincetown where the late afternoon was a ‘Barbie Parade’, but that is a story for another day.

I remember the night we couldn’t find the right subway entrance in New York City and ended up walking all the way back to our Financial District hotel from Little Italy. I remember watching firewords from the beach at Jekyll Island and taking a ghost tour in Savannah. I remember walking up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh at night in a drizzly rain looking for the Elephant Cafe. I remember the one and only time that Jovito and I tried canoeing and went in circles for the entire time in Horseshoe Bay in Door County. I remember spending hours in a corn maze in Lancaster County in blazing hot sun, and when we finally made our way out, finding that almost all the restaurants were closed.

There are hundreds or maybe thousands of images and memories. Some are full stories, things that seemed like a big deal even when they were happening. Others were frustrating at the time, but are funny years later. Like the time that we traveled and traveled on a narrow, dirt path to get to the Cana Island Lighthouse in Door County. We finally arrived, only to find that it was accessible only on foot. And to get there you had to cross a rocky passage that was covered in water about a foot and a half deep. And none of us had water sandals. The rocks were too sharp to go barefoot, so rather than wear wet gym shoes for the next day or two, we were relegated to standing by the passage looking across at the lighthouse.

And there are other memories that are just a brief image, almost like viewing a slide. Like the view one early morning heading down the east side of the Appalachian mountains into Charlottesville when the light was just right and everything was covered in dew. An image that lasted only a minute or so but one that I remember 25 years later. Or the image of the Bath Cathedral at dusk surrounded by the Roman Baths on one side and a contemporary mall on the other side.

I am looking forward to a trip to Tucson at the beginning of October for a National JFON conference. I like the Southwest and have seen very little of it. But I am thinking that I really do need to take a short trip somewhere with no business agenda. I am going to plan a trip sometime in the fall, hopefully while the leaves are still turning. Perhaps Galena (one of my go-to places), or Door County. Or maybe somewhere I have never gone but have wanted to go. There is a fall festival in the Spoon River Valley that I have wanted to visit … but that may be right at the same time that I go to Tucson. It will be fun to figure out where to go and plan a trip.

The main reason for a trip is that travel takes me out of my day to day life. It helps me to put duties behind for a while and lets me be in the moment in a way that can be harder to find at home. Travel is so often restorative. And it might just add a few new images to that bank of memories.

Of course as the Enneagram 3 retired project manager, I am not unaware that the trip would accomplish the 4th goal that I set for myself in July. I do want to meet my self-imposed deadline. At this point, I have completed three of the original four goals. I have eaten in a restaurant alone, trimmed my hedge with a power trimmer.

And in honor of National Dog day, I am happy to tell you (drum roll…..) that I adopted a sweet little dog, which was goal 3. His name is Guac (or Guacamole) and he has just been with me for 10 days. Last week I walked more steps than I have done in a week in a very long time. And he is there to welcome me home and hang out with me and follow me around. Here are a couple of pictures:

Guac enjoying the sun by the door
Basking in the sun

I am going to add one new goal: I will finish assembling the quilt top I am working on by Thanksgiving and get it off to the longarmer. I find quilting and a few other hobbies to be relaxing and enjoyable. I have a lot of UFO’s (unfinished objects) and I am going to see how many I can get done over the next year.

I may come up with more later, but for now, that leaves me with two pretty significant goals still this year:

  1. Finish the quilt top and send it for quilting
  2. Plan and actually take a trip, other than the conference trip to Tucson.

Stronger Than I Thought

A lot of people in an online grief group I am part of say that the second year after the loss of a spouse is harder than the first. I didn’t really believe that was possible. But it turns out that in some ways it is true. It is different; there is not the raw pain of the early months. But the adrenalin that carried me through the first year is wearing off and reality is settling in. I am coming to terms with the idea that this is my new life. It will be as good or as difficult as I allow it to be.

During the first year, I had a lot of help. People turned up in surprising ways and it was incredibly helpful. I wouldn’t have been ready to deal with a lot of things and folks helped with those. But in the long run, I don’t like being dependent. I am ready to stand on my own two feet. I am beginning to tackle some of the things that I put off, including some that I never tried before.

One example is a really nice walk in closet in my new addition. It got turned over to me after construction was complete, which was a couple of days after Jovito entered the hospital for the last time. I began to use it, but just sort of put things in as I needed them without much thought or organization. There were still some boxes and other items left over from construction; I just worked around them. It kept nagging at me, and I spent some time considering how to organize it earlier this summer. I figured out how I thought I would like it and ordered containers. Finally a few weeks ago, I got tired of seeing it on my to-do list. I spent an afternoon organizing it. I am pleased with the outcome; it is a lot more usable now.

Because of the timing of completing construction, there are other areas with similar issues. There is a pantry closet that was the same. I just started putting things in it to get them out of the way. Early this summer I cleaned out all the food I will never eat and got rid of it. Now I need to figure out how best to use it. Other areas that still need attention are my upstairs office and my craft room. Both are usable, but I would like them too be organized. My new bedroom still has completely unadorned walls, with the exception of a calendar. I actually have a pretty long list. As a retired project manager, I recognize that I need to make a plan with clear goals. Once I have a plan, things tend to get done.

I started last month by setting a few goals. I committed to accomplishing those goals by publishing them in a blog post with due dates. Two of them (going out to eat by myself and trimming the hedge with the electric trimmer) I promised to accomplish by the end of July.

I went out for two meals before the end of July. The first time, I went out for breakfast at Golden Nugget and not surprisingly, I found it to be totally comfortable. By the time I got there, the breakfast rush had passed and it was pretty empty. I brought a book. But since I sat in a booth by the windows, I found watching pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, trains and a Brinks truck was pretty interesting.

Then one night, I didn’t really have anything to cook. I didn’t want a Lean Cuisine or cereal which tend to be my fallback meals. So I went to a Mexican restaurant near where I was going to meet with a small group a bit later. It was a nice restaurant, white tablecloths, waiters and all. It wasn’t terribly crowded, which helped, since I didn’t feel like I was taking a table away from a larger party. It turned out to be just fine. In fact, there was another person who was alone as well, and I really didn’t feel out of place. Hopefully now, I will feel comfortable incorporating an occasional meal out into my normal routine.

The other end of July goal seemed harder to me; that was to pull out the power trimmer and trim the hedge. I don’t know why I find myself so intimidated by that tool. Last year, I actually trimmed the entire hedge (at least 20 feet long and 7 feet high) by hand, just so I didn’t have to deal with the electric trimmer. It took forever. But it shows you how ominous this tool seemed to me.

I had planned on doing the hedge last Monday, but it was raining when I woke up, and it rained pretty steadily throughout the day. So I was off the hook for that day. Tuesday was a work day, so not an option. But Wednesday, I woke up to a sunny day with a forecast in the low 70’s. And of course I was painfully aware that it was July 31. Since my goal was to trim the hedge by the end of July, my choices were limited. Either give up on a goal (not very likely for an Enneagram 3) or just do it!

I put on my work gloves and my baseball cap and headed out to the yard. I decided to mow the lawn first; I find that I kind of like mowing the lawn. It is a task that gives instant gratification. I like seeing each swath as I cut it; and when the whole lawn is done, it looks really good. I did the front and back lawn, and it really looked nice.

After that, the only thing that kept my yard from looking great was the shaggy out-of-control hedge. So having run out of options to delay any further, I got out the electric trimmer, found the long extension, figured out how to turn it on, and away I went. I was surprised at how well it cut. I got the whole hedge done and the debris cleaned up. The whole process (lawn and hedge) took around 3 hours. And now I no longer get smacked in the face by branches when I come in my gate.

The feeling of accomplishment is great. I thought that the electric trimmer was going to be a really scary tool to use. I expected it to be cumbersome and hard to maneuver, and I worried about accidentally cutting the cord. It turned out that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected. The worst parts were trying to get the hedge trimmed close to the chain link fence without hitting the fence, and reaching over the hosta border to get close enough. It is pretty encouraging to do something that I have been avoiding for over a year. If I can do that, I feel more confident that I can do other things as well.

The next two goals I have already set are to get a dog by the end of August, and by the end of the year to plan a short trip. I plan to add to those goals so that I can begin to tackle some of the things that I would enjoy having done around the house. Each time I hit a goal, I remind myself that I am stronger than I thought I was. I can do more than I thought I could.

I can remember a time when I used to resent the time I had to spend sleeping. There was so much I wanted to do, and I felt like sleep took up time I could have been using for other things. I like to think that I can once again get to a point where I am that excited about things ahead of me.

Tackling Fears, One at a Time

This was a post I started to write when I got distracted by a cardinal the other day.

I like doing yardwork, so I do pretty well at keeping the dahlias weeded and the grass mowed. But I have other tasks I want to get done. One is to trim the hedge. The neighbors did their side weeks ago, but mine is not done yet. I am a bit afraid of using the power hedge cutter. I have never used one and I need to just force myself to get past that.

Earlier this week, in the middle of the day when it was already 95 degrees out, I decided that one section was so long that it was really getting in the way of the gate. So I went out with pruning shears and trimmed a six foot section of hedge in full sun. They are taller than I am, so it was a pretty big expanse of bushes to trim. It took about a half hour, and it looks so much better. But I bet that I could have done the whole hedge if I would just get over my fear of the power trimmer!

There are some other things I need to move past and just do. One is to go out to eat by myself. A friend suggested that I start by going out to breakfast. She said it is quicker and it is a meal where a lot of people go alone. And she also suggested taking a book. I have actually gone out alone a few times, but only to Chipotle or Culvers. And I eat pretty quickly, those are not places conducive to lingering.

I have been thinking about getting a dog. I have always loved dogs, I absolutely adore Arby. I think it would be good to have a companion. When Arby is here I get out for walks; when he is not here, I only walk if I have somewhere to go. And in general it would just be good to have the company. But the idea of taking care of a pet seems like a big deal right now.

I also haven’t traveled alone. I used to travel on business, and often alone. But that was many years ago. I did go to the JFON Roundtable in San Antonio last year and after getting past the initial anxiety about traveling, I enjoyed the trip. This year I am going to the Roundtable again; it is in Tucson in October. I had made reservations to go to Galena for a long weekend in December, but I got sick and had to cancel. So it is time to schedule a short trip somewhere. I have always really enjoyed travel and would like to get back to being able to take short trips from time to time and to planning some larger trips.

Maybe what I need is to set some goals. As a former project manager, making a plan is the best way for me to ensure that I get something done. So here are a few goals. They may not sound big to most people, but accomplishing them would be a pretty big deal.

  1. Before the end of July, go out for a meal (not a fast food restaurant).
  2. Before the end of July, use the power trimmer and finish the rest of the hedge. (Let’s be smart and do it when the temperature is under 80 degrees and the area is shady.)
  3. Before the end of the year, plan and take at least a 3 day trip.
  4. Before the end of August, adopt a dog.

There are a lot of other things that could probably go on the list, but this seems like a pretty good set of goals. They range from pretty small (using the power trimmer) to one that takes some gumption (taking a trip for fun). If I accomplish these things this year, I think I would call it a success.

So wish me luck and feel free to hold me accountable.

Cardinals and Eternal Life

I sat down this morning to write a blog post. My plan was to write about things that I am finding challenging and to talk about how I want to set goals so that I can conquer some of those things. I think it will be an interesting topic, and it may help to motivate me to get past some hurdles. And in fact, I started that post. I will plan to finish it up another day. Today, my attention got diverted. As I started writing, a cardinal landed on the fence right under my window, and seeing him there sent me in a completely different direction.

This particular cardinal and his mate have a nest in the neighborhood; he visits my yard every day. Many days both the male and the female stop by, sometimes together, more often separately. When I turn on the sprinkler, the male comes by and sits on the fence under the sprinkler. He seems to love letting the water run all over him. He ruffles his feathers and shakes, sings and clearly enjoys the water. I see him flying around in the neighborhood and hear him singing at all times of day. Now, hours after I started writing this morning I have come back to the computer. As I continue writing, his mate has been sitting on the fence under my window for at least five minutes. She is just looking around, sitting in the small shady section of the fence. Occasionally she looks at me, but she seems to be surveying the whole area, as though she is watching for something.

The belief that cardinals are messengers from someone who has passed exists across many cultures and beliefs. I don’t know if it is true or not. But I do know that Jovito loved cardinals. He would call me when one was flying around to be sure I didn’t miss it. If he was going to send a messenger, I think he would certainly think a cardinal was a good one. Last year, the week after Jovito’s memorial, a neighbor posted that she had heard and seen a family of cardinals in the neighborhood for several days, and she was convinced that they were bringing a message from Jovito. I found that a comforting and beautiful thought.

I have found myself thinking more lately about eternal life, resurrection, and what happens after we die. I seem to not be alone in that wondering. Just out of curiosity I googled ‘what happens when you die’. Google promptly returned 584 million results. So I am not the only person to wonder about these topics.

It is clear to me that there is a life force that leaves a human body when a person dies; the essence of the person is no longer there. What is left behind looks like a wax figure of a person, lacking that essential something. I have heard people say ‘she looks like she is just sleeping’. It has never seemed that way to me. Many cultures open a window when someone is dying so that the soul can escape. While the idea makes sense to me, I suspect that the soul can escape even when the window is closed.

I believe, with Hamlet (and Shakespeare), that: ‘There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy ‘. Over the years I have chosen to not dig too deeply into these phenomena, and to simply take them at face value. But it seems to me that there are ‘thin spots’ where eternity breaks through occasionally.

In a blog post last year, I wrote that a couple of days after Jovito’s death, I got in the car to go to church. As I turned the car on, the first words I heard were ‘hello from the other side’. The car radio was playing Adele’s song ‘Hello’. It isn’t a song that is played often on the station I listen to. And it was more remarkable, given that Adele was by far Jovito’s favorite singer. When any of her music came on, he would turn the radio up way too high. I remain firmly convinced that it was no coincidence, it was a message. He was letting me know that although he is not in this world, he continues to exist. As do so many other people that have departed along the way. It was a message that I really needed to hear that day, when grief was still so very raw.

As we get older, in the natural course of life, more and more of our family and friends are gone. I remember my father telling me about what he did on one of his birthdays, probably when he was in his mid-eighties. He told me that he had a nice day. He said he went bowling, got a pretty good score; then he went to a wake for a friend; then he went to a favorite restaurant for a fish fry. I remarked that I was sorry he had to spend part of his birthday at a wake. His response was that at his age, it was a fairly normal part of life.

Over the course of many years, I have found myself very reluctant to delete folks who have died from the contact list on my phone. It is kind of silly, but the idea of deleting them from the phone made it seem so ‘final’. As though death was not final….. A couple of years ago, I noticed that the list of the departed on my phone was growing fairly long. At that point, I made the decision that when the list of those who have died is longer than the list of folks who are actually still available to answer, then I would start deleting people. So far, it hasn’t reached that point. In some way, keeping them in my contacts list is a way of keeping a small reminder of their lives.

The book of Hebrews is one of my favorite books in the Bible; there are many passages in it that I really love; but perhaps my favorite is Hebrews 12: verse 1, where we read: ” Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” It is pretty obvious that I am not alone in liking this passage. There are thousands of paintings, stained glass windows, posters, memes, books, magazine articles, videos etc. that depict this ‘cloud of witnesses’.

We may all have varying ideas of what it means to be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. It seems to come down to the idea that some essential aspect of a person continues after death in some way. I would use the word ‘soul’ for that part that continues. Others may have a different term. Some believe that they exist in a spiritual realm; others think we are reborn into this world and begin a new life cycle, most likely with no memory of prior lives. Some think that this may happen over and over again. There are many interesting books that touch on this subject. I remember as a teenager being fascinated by the book ‘Below the Salt’ by Thomas Costain, which touched on this.

In Catholic tradition, in the rosary, one prays ‘holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’ Many people pray to saints for help. St. Jude for help with hopeless cases, St. Joseph for a happy death, St. Anthony for lost items, St. Francis for sick pets, and to many other saints for many other causes. Many people talk to friends and relatives who have passed on. We believe that all of these saints exist in some form.

It seems to me in some ways to not matter so much how these folks exist; whether they have a physical existence somewhere, or whether their presence is a ‘spark of energy’ or some other form. The real point is that in some way, their spirit continues to be a force in the universe. And in some way, they continue to be a part of our lives. Certainly they live on in family. I look at my daughter and I see so much of her father. But I also see my mother. My brother Doug is so like my father, and in other ways so very much like my grandfather. My brother Steve bears traits from my other grandfather and at least one uncle.

But I believe that there is more than just traces that are passed along to progeny. I believe that there is a cloud of witnesses that surrounds us; and I believe that all those who we have known and lost still exist in some way. I also believe that this is not limited to human beings; I fully believe that our beloved pets (and probably animals that were never pets) continue to exist as well. This doesn’t begin to touch on questions of bodily resurrection, heaven, hell, purgatory, nirvana and so many other topics.

I would be interested in hearing from others about what they believe about these topics. I plan to continue to explore, to read, study and think more deeply about topics surrounding life after death, eternal life, and what happens when we die. But for today it is enough to know that I have a cloud of witnesses that surrounds me. And I am so grateful for that.

Another Chapter

In the last two weeks my daughter Gloria received her MSW from Loyola University and her  MDiv from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.  I am so very proud of her.  She has completed the two programs, which would have taken five years separately, in four years.  She was able to persevere through some major obstacles.  Last year, she took a semester off after her father passed away to allow space for grief.  This year she underwent a life-threatening cervical ectopic pregnancy that included a week in the hospital and time for recovery.  She has taken such a heavy course load throughout the programs that she still finished in four years.  This is a true testament to how hard she has worked from beginning to end.

The Loyola graduation was a joy-filled occasion.  I was happy to have her husband Tim’s family and part of my family there to celebrate with us.   At the Garrett graduation, Tim and I were accompanied by and some very dear friends.   I so wish that her father could have been here to see it as well.  He was incredibly proud of her and he would have loved these occasions.  But I also remember that when Gloria was in high school, Jovito had health problems that left us all wondering if he would be able to celebrate her high school graduation. Not only was he there for that, he celebrated her undergraduate graduation, and her marriage to Tim.   And he thrived for many of those years.

These last few weeks were filled with joyous occasions, and I was able to see that I am really beginning to deal better with things.   Last year we attended the Garrett graduation because a number of friends were graduating.  I spent the first half of the ceremony in tears.  I finally had to step out into the hall to collect myself.  This year I got through both graduations without a major meltdown.  I was prepared and I practiced breathing exercises during the ceremonies when it got emotional, but I got through and was able to feel joy.   That feels like a huge step forward.

I feel flashes of guilt;  there is a part of me that thinks I should not feel joy in Jovito’s absence.   But I know that is unreasonable.   His biggest worry the last couple of months of his life was that Gloria and I would not be okay.   He wanted us to be able to move forward.   Both Gloria and I assured him that we would do okay; it was very important to him to hear that.

I was surprised last month at how difficult I found Easter Sunday.  It is hard to believe that it was the second Easter without Jovito.  I thought that it would be easier, but in the end, it felt more difficult.   I think that last year I was managing on adrenaline, and somewhat numb.  As I look back on this time last year, I realize that I don’t have much memory of a lot of it.   Really the first half of last year while Jovito was getting more and more ill, then when he was in the hospital and finally in hospice is pretty much of a blur.  That is probably a protective mechanism.  It allows us continue to function through difficult times.  I am glad that I keep a journal and have blog posts to look back on.  Those at least provide me with some snapshots of where I was and what I was doing.

I recently re-read Joan Didion’s book, ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’.  Of all the books and articles I read over the last year, this was the one that spoke most to me.  I read it last year and many parts of it stuck in my mind.  I thought it would be interesting to read it again now that a year has passed;  if anything, I found that it resonated even more now that I have a little more distance .  Near the end, she says ‘All year I have been keeping time by last year’s calendar:  what we were doing on this day last year, where did we have dinner…..’  She goes on to say:  ‘I realized today for the first time that my memory of this day a year ago is a memory that does not involve John.’

I think that is part of what makes this second year hard.  The last two months, my memories from last year do not involve Jovito.   After being together for 44 years, I now have memories that are me alone.

I am surprised to realize how changed I am in many ways.   I have always been strong, and in many ways I still am.  But there is a difference.   There were a couple of observations that Joan Didion made which are true for me as well.  The first is:  ‘I notice that I have lost the skills for ordinary social encounters, however undeveloped those skills may have been, that I had a year ago.’     This has felt true for me as well.   I am fine in meetings and work or committee settings where there is work to be done.  But social situations, other than family events, are challenging.   In fact, most of the time, even if I accept an invitation, I find a reason to back out at the last minute.

Her other observation is also true for me:  ‘I also notice that I do not have the resilience I had a year ago.  A certain number of crises occur and the mechanism that floods the situation with adrenaline burns out.  Mobilization becomes unreliable, slow or absent.’  There has been a lot to deal with in this last year, and in the past I would just continue, taking things one at a time and dealing with them.  I still am able to get things done.  But I find that it wears on me more.

In the last few weeks I have had house guests, gone to two graduation ceremonies and hosted a graduation party.    Those are large things and I have managed them on my own.  To be fair, I have had a lot of help from friends and family.   Yesterday some close friends came early to the party and helped with the last minute preparations.   And my sister-in-law helped me clean up and wash dishes after, so that when everyone left all I had to do was put clean dishes away.   That is more help than the people involved probably realize.

Today I planned to plant dahlias with the help of a number of people; but a torrential rainstorm came through leaving the ground too muddy for planting.   I am really fortunate to have folks willing to help with the task.  My physical stamina isn’t enough to manage this on my own, especially after having pneumonia just two months ago.   I am getting stronger and stronger, but I still have a way to go before I am back where I want to be.  I am working hard to get there, but I expect it is going to take a while.   I did plant a few plants in the front garden, and I hope to start to thin out the plants in the garden where the dahlias will go.   We will give it another try at the end of this week.

I am grateful for strong support from my daughter and son-in-law, my brothers and my sister-in-law, my nieces and nephews, dear longtime friends in my covenant group, my former pastor, people in my small groups and some new friends who have been amazingly supportive.  I belong to a couple of online grief groups and so many people in those groups talk about friends and family disappearing after the loss of a loved one.  I have not had that experience.  I feel that all the people I have named have been there for me in so many ways, and it has helped me so very much.   I don’t know how I would have survived the last year without all of them.  I do know it would have been a lot more difficult.

I am still lonely at times;  but the loneliness is for that person who knew me better than I know myself.  The one who knew what I was thinking before I knew it.  The one who had 44 years of shared history.  The one who remembered my parents and friends who have long since moved on.  The one who knew that I often take on too much then get stressed out.  Who knew that I loved yellow cake with butter cream frosting, roses and tulips, garnets and visiting New Buffalo.   The one that was with me on hundreds of trips, who celebrated every happy and sad occasion in most of the decades of my life and who adored our daughter as much as I did.

In those lonely times, I have always known that there are people I could call to say ‘I need company’ and they would be there.  Who put their arm around me at an event and said ‘Jovito would be so proud today’.   Who brought a meal and sat with me or left a quart of soup on my porch when I had pneumonia or who sent grub hub certificates to ensure that I ate when I was ill.  Who gave me a job and who invited me for spontaneous dinners.  Who asked me to serve in the church in ways that would involve my whole heart and my whole mind.  Who made a mason jar of old fashioneds to bring to the BYOB restaurant to remember Jovito with a toast.  Who just keep in touch with me regularly.  Who have helped me with home maintenance so that I never had to worry about it, who gave me advice when I wasn’t sure how to deal with something.

I always knew I would survive; as a friend who also lost her husband said to me early on, ‘we are strong Southern women’.  But I am finally beginning to see that possibly the best is not in the past, that there can be joy and pleasure in the future.  And that is a huge step forward!








Another Anniversary

My alarm clock stopped working this week.   To be fair, it still works in the sense that the alarm goes off at the appointed time.   But the device that allows me to change the wake up time stopped working.  So I have my choice of 8:08am (the exact point where it stopped working) and 6:45am.  In the overall scheme of things, this isn’t really a very big problem.   I can just use my phone, a new alarm clock would be pretty inexpensive, or I can figure out how to work the one my husband used to use.

But what is really bothering me is that Jovito got the alarm clock for me when the previous one stopped working.  It was at least 15 years ago, a good life for an inexpensive electronic device.   It feels like bit by bit, things are changing and traces of him are being erased.   There are the bigger things:  I turned off the service on his phone and sold his car.   Both made economic sense, but weren’t easy to do.  I got a job working for the church down the street.  And there are smaller things.  I replaced the coffee maker because the one cup side wasn’t working and I was throwing out coffee every morning;  I cancelled the Sun-Times because that was his paper, I have always read the Tribune.  I got a new air conditioning unit, the gas mains and water mains were replaced.  And there are changes in the neighborhood outside our house:  On the major street near our house, the entire streetscape is changing due to several large buildings replacing much smaller structures.  Pretty soon he wouldn’t recognize the area where he lived for 40 years.

It is the nature of life.   1 Peter 1:24 says:  “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.”   We are really bit players in the universe, with a short time on stage.   But even so, I find myself sad as change seems to widen the gap between the time Jovito was here and part of my life and where I am now.

Today is the 41st anniversary of our wedding (yes, we were those people who got married on April Fool’s Day!) and the 2nd anniversary without him.  It is a bittersweet day.   It brings back so many good memories.  Memories of our actual wedding day and how happy it was.  wedding-cutting-cake

And memories of many anniversaries together, especially including number 39 which came just months after he had brain surgery which saved his life and gave us that very special last year together.


I wouldn’t trade those memories and so many others for anything.  In an online grief group, someone asked if we knew what pain would come with grief, would we do it all over again.   For me the answer is easy;  yes, of course I would.   We had a good life.  Like all marriages it wasn’t all perfect, but it was so very good.

I am probably more reflective than usual because I am not feeling well.   On Saturday I learned that a cold I had for the last 10 days had turned into pneumonia.  I started the medicine right away and cancelled everything for three days.  I have been home resting for two full days.   Yesterday I felt a bit better, so I took out the garbage.  It wasn’t much, but it got me out in the sun for a few minutes.   Today I am planning to walk to the mailbox.   I have have had e-mails and messages with offers of food, errand running and other help.  My brother and his wife stopped by and brought lunch yesterday.   My pastor dropped off chicken soup today for lunch.  I feel cared for and supported.

Last year, unfortunately, I also had pneumonia, I was diagnosed just 10 days before Jovito went into the hospital for the last time.   That time, my big fear was that I would be unable to do what I needed to do to take care of him while I recovered.   But of course, I managed to take care of him and still get better.   In looking back, I can’t really remember my recovery, I was so focused on how much sicker he was getting day by day.  I do remember that the walk from the parking lot to his room in the hospital seemed very long although it was probably no more than a block.   This year with the same illness, I am able to sit, nap, read, watch TV and focus on getting better.    In an odd way, I feel worse because I have way too much time to dwell on every symptom.   I will be going back to work tomorrow for a four hour shift, and I am looking forward to it.  Last week when it was ‘just a cold’, Arby was here and needed attention, and I think I felt better for it.   I made sure that we got in at least a short walk every day.

This first year without Jovito, I have been in a sort of ‘holding pattern’,  allowing myself time to grieve and become accustomed to life without him.  And to become accustomed to living by myself for the first time ever.   It was definitely time that I needed.   I worked part time,  which helped giving me routine and outside contact and purpose.  I am resolved that this second year, I am going to try to be more forward looking, beginning to build a life that has meaning, and hopefully one that makes me look forward to things that are coming.   Part of that has to be making certain that I get out and about regularly, more than just to and from work.   After several years of care taking, I got so in the habit of staying home that I have to make the effort to get out.

During those years I learned to use online ordering and delivery services for everything.   Now I need to break away from that and begin to go out and ‘run errands’ again.   While I am working it is not an issue, because as a tax pro, I am out with people every day.  But once tax season ends in a few weeks, I need to make sure that I still get out.

Physically, I know that I am going to have to rebuild my stamina after having pneumonia.  Last year I didn’t realize that and didn’t make a conscious effort.  So it took many months to get my strength back.   This time, I don’t want to make that mistake.  I plan to start taking short walks and progressively extending them so that I get back to full strength much faster.    I was doing really well until I caught the cold; I was feeling so much stronger.  This illness is a setback, but I am not going to let it get me down.

But just for today, I am going to take some time and remember so many good times over the past years and the sweet man who made me feel so loved and gave me such a good life.

The Cruelest Month

I am sitting by the window looking out at the gray March day.  Even though the sun is filtered through a layer of clouds, it is enough to burn off most of the light dusting of snow that fell overnight.  There are still a few frozen, gray piles of snow left from the many February snow.  In the garden, although the ground is still hard from winter, tiny tips of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils are beginning to poke through.   Although this winter has felt very long, spring will eventually come.  It always does.

March has always seemed to me to be the bleakest of months, at least here in Chicago.  The weather is unpredictable.  The temperature is gradually creeping upward, but still there are often cold, blustery days.  The sky is usually relentlessly gray.  The days are growing longer but the end of Daylight Savings Time makes mornings dark again.  Just as we begin to hope for spring, a new round of cold, snow and sleet inevitably comes through.

My dislike of March is more than the weather though.  In my life, many of the more difficult events have occurred in March.  Many years ago, my mother died on St. Patrick’s Day.  Last year, my husband Jovito struggled through the first part of March and ultimately lost his battle in the early morning hours of March 10.   The early part of March this year is filled for me with memories of those last days.  And with the memory of coming home from the hospice for the last time, carrying bags containing the few things he had taken to the hospital on his last trip.  The belongings included the jacket and hat he wore in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.  The less than three weeks between the diagnosis and his passing did not give us much time to absorb the news; maybe that is why I never took the jacket home, and transferred it to the hospice.  Taking it home would have felt too final.  I wasn’t ready for that.

Last year the rest of March was spent preparing for the Memorial Service, and of course doing the many tasks that are needed after a death.  In addition, with the help of friends and family, I moved belongings so that I could finally use the new room addition and have space for the get together after the memorial.   Ironically, construction finished the day Jovito went into the hospital for the last time.  He never saw the space furnished.  To this day, I haven’t fully finished moving, arranging and organizing the new space.  I am just now beginning to have a spark of interest in doing that.

I moved through the latter half of March last year in a fog, and as a result, the memories are dim.

At some point in the spring last year, I met with my pastor.  She was not a stranger to grief, having gone through much of it herself.   She said to me that after passing the one year mark, she was starting to feel a little better.  She told me that even though she was still struggling with grief, after passing that marker she could look back and see that a year earlier things were worse.  She found some comfort in that.    A year ago yesterday we made the decision to move Jovito to an inpatient hospice.  Things moved quickly and he was moved and settled into the hospice just a couple of hours later.   I can definitely look back at that day and say that things were worse, or at least more acute, then.   When he was initially diagnosed, the prognosis was for less than six months.  By the time he moved to hospice less than three weeks later, the prognosis had changed to less than 48 hours.  That proved to be accurate.

Yes, things were worse a year ago.  I have good days now.  There are things that I enjoy.  But I haven’t been able to recapture that joy with which I lived previously.   Even the last couple of years when Jovito’s health was so poor, I found many moments of joy.  And I could still find things to look forward to.   I was his caregiver those last years which meant that most of our outings away from home were for doctor visits and lab tests.   But we did them all together.  During the five years of my retirement, we were closer than we had ever been.  Except for the last couple of months, we found ways to have small outings.  It might just be a family visit, a few hours at the Botanic Garden, breakfast at Golden Nugget after an early morning blood draw, or a trip to the Puerto Rican market;  but we enjoyed doing all those things together.  We had some favorite TV shows that we watched together and we both had fun watching and talking about them.

Tomorrow will mark a full year that I have lived without Jovito in my life.   I promised him that I would be OK, although I had no idea how I would manage that.  But I have managed.  I am still here. I have managed to keep the plants alive, furnace filters changed, I got a new AC unit installed, kept the snow shoveled, garbage and recycling taken out, the house clean and in decent repair (with help from my wonderful nephew Jason), I sold a car and took on a new job.   I keep busy (sometimes too busy) which has helped a lot.   Early on, I felt high levels of stress and anxiety;  those are not as bad now for the most part.  I still have days when I am overwhelmingly sad, but I also have some good days.

Until this past year, I have always been an optimist;  I always looked for the best outcome and it seemed I always had something to look forward to.   This year I have found myself getting dragged into wondering if the best part of my life is behind me.   In my head, I think the answer to that is ‘no, there is more to come’.  I saw my father have a whole new life after losing my mother.  He lived another 23 years after she died.  He was lonely for several years, but then he built a new life and had many really happy years.  And my Aunt has lived over 20 years without my uncle.  During that time she had an entire new career that was well respected by others and rewarding for her.  She found ways to have lots of fun with friends and family.  So I know that it is possible, and I am committed to building a new life that is rewarding.  And like my father and my aunt, I am determined and persistent.  But  until this year, I  had never even had a passing thought like the best might not be yet to come.

The thing about grief is that it sneaks up and takes you by surprise.  With so many years together, there are so many memories.  And that means so many triggers.   Today as I was driving I got off I-94 at Peterson and headed east to go home;  it somehow evoked memories of hundreds of trips where Jovito and I were together and followed that same route.    It was like being hit by a wave.  In this case, fortunately, a smaller wave.   The last couple of weeks have been so filled with memories from last year at this time; it is draining to walk back through those experiences again.   I am often taken by surprise by a song, a smell, a place, someone laughing like Jovito laughed, or so many other little triggers.  And then I am back in that place of grief.

But sometimes I am surprised by the opposite.  A couple of weeks ago, I was watching NCIS, which was Jovito’s absolute favorite TV show.  There was a surprise plot twist, and I had to laugh thinking how he would have loved it.   A couple of weeks ago, I had a client about the same age as Jovito was, and he joked around through the entire appointment.  He didn’t look or sound like Jovito, but he had the same zest for life and the same love of a good joke.   It left me smiling for hours afterwards.

So yes, I am doing OK.   I have help from my daughter and her husband, and their sweet pup Arby.  And I have friends who keep in touch.  I belong to a couple of small groups that are really meaningful.  I get together with family and friends socially on occasion.  My jobs and volunteer roles help me to feel useful.   And I am proud of myself for managing to keep the house and car maintained.   I will solicit help in the spring and plant the dahlia tubers, I am hoping that my fall care was done right and that many of them survived. I look forward to beautiful flowers in the summer.

Tomorrow a group of family and friends is coming together to say prayers, share a meal (Puerto Rican food of course) and remember Jovito. It is my hope that it will be an occasion to remember the good times and honor the kind, fun-loving person he was.

And then I will continue to live life, and I will be okay.   Just like I promised him.






Winter Thoughts

I have started so many posts in the last couple of months, but never finished any of them.   The holidays were pretty challenging, which I expected.   This has been a difficult year, and December was no exception.  I had some health issues that caused me to be under the weather to varying degrees for most of the month.  I looked forward to New Years as a symbolic line in the sand.   But as we all know, life is more complicated than that.  It is pretty rare to get a clean line, a fresh start with a clear delineation.

On New Year’s Eve my daughter was admitted to the hospital. I won’t go into details, it is her story to tell.   But suffice it to say, the next few days were frightening.  It was a period where time felt like it stood still.  She is getting back to herself physically, but with another loss to deal with.  As a family, the last year has challenged us greatly.  Intellectually I understand that no one is immune from loss, pain and sorrow.   But going through it, I still feel like I am in a small boat being buffeted by high waves and a strong wind.

Over the latter part of the year, with the possible exception of December, I felt that I was getting stronger and adjusting fairly well to the new life in which I find myself.  But now that we are at the beginning of February, I feel that there is some backsliding.   This time last year, from the beginning of February through his passing in early March, Jovito’s health declined rapidly.  He was so ill and we didn’t know why.   He couldn’t eat, could barely drink.  It took all of his strength to get up and get dressed.  For most of the day, he slept, with occasional small bursts of energy.  There were multiple 911 calls and ER visits, many doctor visits and tests.

When we finally got an answer to the question of what was causing the issues, it was not what we hoped to hear.  He had late stage pancreatic cancer.  It was hard to absorb and hard to accept.   It moved far too swiftly.  Somehow I was able to listen to and converse with the medical team, to make the decisions that needed to be made with help from my daughter and son-in-law.   But looking back on that time,  it seems that I was in a deep fog.

Each day now, Facebook presents me with memories, some from last year.   And my mind presents me with far more.  My birthday this year reminded me of how ill Jovito was on my birthday last year.  Another day reminded me of an ambulance ride.  I remember watching last year’s Superbowl game in the kitchen.  That night, Jovito ate a small bowl of chili for dinner.  Spicy food had always bothered him, but those last few weeks food had little flavor, so he was pleased to have something that he could taste.   It was the last meal of solid food that he ever ate.  I had no interest in watching this year’s Superbowl.  I chose Netflix and ignored the game and all the surrounding hoopla.

Although every day brings back memories from last year, on a different level I am able to continue to function.   Life and grief somehow co-exist.  My daughter and I were talking recently about how people have said to each of us ‘you are so brave’.   Really that is not the case, there is no bravery involved.  There simply aren’t other alternatives.  In his book ‘Just Mercy’ Bryan Stephenson said ‘we are all broken’.   When I first read the book, that concept took me by surprise.   But now, I now realize how true it is.  I belong to a couple of Facebook groups for people who have lost a loved one.  The comments and stories on those sites make me realize that the world is filled with people who have suffered loss, disappointment, abuse, injustice and so many other things.  So many people are living life every day with a deep undercurrent of grief and loss.

And yet, we all continue to function.  We get up, wash our faces, get dressed and put one foot in front of the other.   Many of us have moments of joy, even in the midst of sorrow.  I certainly have good hours, even good days.  I have attended a few movies that fully captured my attention.  I have enjoyed some excellent concerts.  I have read books that captivated my attention and have greatly enjoyed meeting with my book club to discuss them.  I have started looking for some art for my new room.  I have done some craft type things, and find that they absorb my mind while I am doing them.  I work, right now at two jobs, and find that work gives me a focus.  A few weeks ago, I hosted a family game night.  The house was filled with family, food, games and laughter.   I hope that over time those moments become more and more frequent.

Coming through all of this has forced me to dig far deeper into spiritual reserves than I have ever done before.   Although I have a strong faith life, dealing with this loss and its aftermath has made me so aware that I have more work to do.  There are big, tough questions to I am wrestling with.  I am no longer as content to sit with the mystery as I was in the past.  On a deep level, I believe that there is something better;  I don’t believe that death is the end.  I am putting my trust in God to see me and my family through this, as God has done with humankind throughout history.  But I am also working my way through much deeper theological questioning than I have needed to do in the past.   As a result, my faith is strengthening.  I participate in a weekly Bible Study with a group of women, many near my own age.  This group is willing to dig deep into scripture and search for the meaning for us today.  In many ways, those studies are the best hour and a half in any week.

The journey of grief is longer and harder than I ever anticipated.  My life is changed in ways I never anticipated.  At first I bought in to the common myths that ‘time heals all wounds’.  I thought of grief as a tunnel, and looked forward to first seeing then stepping out into the light at its end.  I think instead that grief is simply another part of life.  The grip it holds may loosen over time, or it may be that I will simply find better ways to live within its grip.  C. S. Lewis likened it to losing a leg.  Over time the pain is gone and one learns to adapt and find ways to live without the leg.  But the leg is still gone. The greatest consolation is possibly that I am far from alone.  The world is filled with people at various points on this difficult journey.   And there is a hope for a future in which ‘every tear is washed away.’