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Above: Keith climbed the hill to the 4000 sq. ft. workshop. Facing the new year without him begins one step at a time.
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It was New Year’s Eve and I met it with intense trepidation. 2012 began so full of promise… we had just celebrated our older daughter’s wedding, bought property that would be Keith’s new shop, I had been awarded the Fulbright grant to Russia, and our younger daughter was graduating from the university. Yes, 2012 was going to be a good year.

And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. What a difference a day makes.

With Keith’s cancer, the world as I had thought it would be changed on a dime. From diagnosis to death… less than 3 months. And now Keith is gone.

This is that stage on the grief journey where I would get angry, cry, and doubt my ability to survive. Saying goodbye to 2012 was like saying goodbye to Keith all over again, like he was moving further and further from my reach, my daily experiences, my future.

This is what is most frightening to me. The future. A future further and further removed from Keith, the person with whom I shared two-thirds of my life. My entire adult life. And now, with my own life expectancy to be many years into the future, I face an entirely new unanticipated life.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were supposed to grow old together, two greying codgers puttering around our studios, bouncing ideas off each other, traveling on our bikes… or trikes … as we got too old to hold up the 2-wheelers. Visiting with our grandchildren, helping our grown children with their own journey as maturing adults. This is the part where I get angry again. It wasn’t supposed to be this way!!!

Getting through the end of 2012

I spent most of the last two days up to New Years Eve slipping in and out of tears, my voice on the edge of cracking, grief bubbling up to the surface even as I struggled to squash it from my psyche, all to no avail. I’d sometimes have to turn away when someone stopped by to ask how I was doing. Or during a call, I’d go silent as I swallowed back unexpected tears that threatened to choke me.

Yesterday afternoon, when this stubborn grief threatened to overwhelm me, I decided to do what I had been doing nearly every day, but this time with more focused effort. So as the sun started sinking in the west, I packed a sandwich – leftover ham from Christmas dinner – picked up a fresh Starbucks coffee in my insulated mug and headed over to Perry Road. The gallery house stood before me, nearly done, final details with corbels and gable trim were installed and I couldn’t help but smile. All that’s left is a few little things outside, and finishing the paint and electric inside which should all be done by Monday.

I walked around this building that was originally going to house a showroom of Keith’s furniture on the first floor with older daughter’s photo studio upstairs. The latter will still happen. But downstairs will be a bit more flexible gallery studio space. A piece or two of Keith’s furniture might be on display until it finds a home with one of us Fulmer gals.

The snow crunched beneath my feet as I headed around back, the Himalayan wind chimes with the inscription to Keith greeted me with a deep resonating chord. I said hello to Keith’s chimes in return greeting. With work gloves on my hands, I dragged a couple of cinder blocks to the crest of the hill and piled one of Keith’s furniture blankets folded on top for me to sit. For the next half hour I sat and listened to the sounds around me, nibbled on my sandwich and sipped my coffee. It’s a beautiful space to meditate and I always have felt stronger for it. This night was no different. But when I stood up to move on and out of the cold darkening space, I said my goodbyes again, a prayer for peace in my life, in the girls’ lives, and in the next life Keith is in, somewhere beyond my reach.

Then, as I went into the old workshop behind the newly renovated gallery house, I started to putter, my usual activity here, familiarizing myself with little things I find in the many dusty corners. Then I picked up a broom and a shovel. The huge 4000 sq ft shop has piles of saw dust everywhere. It was time to begin cleaning it up if it was to become the real artists’ working studio I hoped (and Keith asked me) to make it. An overwhelming task, for certain. But having just seen the other building nearly completed, I understood a little more about what it would take to do this one. I swept up a pile of sawdust and scooped it up into the big trash can. It’s a big job. But it all begins with one step… One step at a time.

Next Steps, New Year, New Life

So what is it all for now? Yes, I have two beautiful daughters who I love with all my life. They are the reason I continue to look forward. Yes, I have my work. Yes, I have my studies. Yes, I have my art and even music and writing.

But, it can be very lonely at the end of the day. And frankly, as sweet (and sometimes noisy) as they are, my dogs are poor conversationalists.

As much as it pains me deeply, I am not sure I am meant to live the next chapter of my life alone. The pain comes from guilt… Am I being unfaithful? How can I think about sharing ideas and the day’s news with another “companion”? conversations that were meant for Keith?

And that’s where 2013 will begin for me… trying to find my footing in this new territory of widowhood. Boy oh boy has the dating scene changed since the ’70s. And, of course, so have I.

A close friend told me the other night, during a very late night conversation about our mutual grief, of people she has known who have created close bonds or even marriage to someone new after a losing their loved husband or wife. She said that they had found love in this new relationship, but that their new spouse (who may also have been widowed) recognized that there will always be this other love in their life who came first and who was taken too soon. They understood that they are second, sharing their new companion with this other ghost lover who holds their heart.

That gives me at least a little comfort that there may be a future not entirely alone, that there may be a way to balance these two competing dynamics – a positive future and the beautiful past. But it is heartbreaking when I think that I must even face this new future without Keith, my beautiful husband and best friend who never will see another New Year’s Day or welcome in another year.

I woke up New Years Day feeling so much better. One step forward, one swept pile of sawdust, one more day closer to the next chapter life has in store for this new widow.

It’s going to be a tough journey. And I guess I really have very little choice in this matter. But I have the love of my family and good friends to help carry me forward. I’ve learned that much in these past months and days. And if I’ve learned anything else from 2012, it’s that you can’t take anything for granted. I love and appreciate them all.

So here’s to surviving this new journey in the New Year! Find time to listen to the wind, the rustle of leaves, the sounds beneath your feet… All of these remind us we are alive, here to make a difference in this world… One small step at a time.

May peace be with you in 2013. – mjf

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Above: the nearly completed “gallery” house. Keith asked me not to sell the property, but to instead prepare it for use by me and the girls rather than its originally intended showroom gallery for his furniture. Behind this building is a 4000 sq ft workshop (one section shown below) filled still with vintage woodworking machines and small tools and materials. Someday it, too, will become art studio space for me and my girls.

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